Prime Minister Rishi Sunak confirmed on Saturday that the UK will send Challenger 2 tanks to Ukraine, the BBC reported, marking the first time a Western country has sent its most powerful heavy armor to Kyiv.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy thanked the UK and said the move “will not only strengthen us on the battlefield, but also send the right signal to other partners,” per the BBC.
He added while the UK’s support was “always strong” it was “now impenetrable”.
The BBC reported that it understands the initial commitment is for about a dozen tanks, which would be enough to equip a squadron, but falls well short of the hundreds of tanks that Kyiv has requested.
The tank would be superior to every Russian battle tank it opposes, an expert told Insider, and some reports suggest they could deliver a significant blow to Putin’s forces on the battlefield.
According to Justin Crump, a military veteran and the CEO of the risk-intelligence firm Sibylline, a small number of Challenger 2 tanks would be a “token gesture” because tanks need to be numerous to be effective.
But, more significantly, the move could open the floodgates for other Western nations to send tanks to Ukraine, he said, notably the mass-produced German-made Leopard 2 tanks that several European countries already use.
“The Leopard is not as good a tank one-on-one, but I’ll take 400 Leopard over 10 Challenger 2,” Crump said.
Representatives for Poland said on Wednesday that the country plans to transfer Leopard tanks to Ukraine, but needed Berlin’s permission to re-export them. Germany’s Vice Chancellor Robert Habeck said on Thursday that it would not stand in Poland’s way, and reports suggest that Germany is also considering whether to follow suit.
The Challenger 2 is far superior to Russia’s battle tanks
The powerful Challenger 2 tanks would easily outmatch Russia’s battle tanks, mainly the Soviet-era T-72s, Crump said.
“The Challenger 2 was designed to do the job the Ukrainians need this tank to do,” Crump, who has personally operated the tanks, said.
“They’re certainly far better than anything the Russians have because everything we designed during the Cold War — so Challenger 2, Leopard 2, M1 Abrams in the US — all of these vehicles were designed to be substantially better than the Russian equivalent,” he said.
The tanks measure around 27 feet long and about 8 feet tall, weigh 62.5 tons, and have a 1,200 brake-horsepower V-12 diesel engine.
In terms of firepower, the tank is equipped with three guns. The main armament is a 120 mm rifled gun that can fire anti-tank or high-explosive squash-head rounds, which Crump said are designed to take out things like slightly lighter vehicles and bunkers.
The other two guns are a chain gun and a hatch machine gun.
Crump said that the tank’s fire-control system is incredibly accurate. He said that while the gun can fire much farther if needed, it is especially precise within a range of two kilometers, or around 1.2 miles.
In the first Gulf War in 1991, a British Challenger tank scored the longest tank-on-tank kill ever, according to reports, after knocking out an Iraqi tank three miles away.
The tank has a laser-range finder that adjusts the gun before firing at a target, taking numerous factors like wind, temperature, and the direction the target vehicle is moving, into account.
Thermal imaging also helps track targets at night, and the commander’s station has a periscope with 360-degree vision.
The tank’s armor can survive a direct hit from a Russian T-72
The tank can carry four crew members, including a commander and a gunner. They have what’s known as a “hunter-killer capability,” which refers to a targeting system where the gunner and the commander can track two separate targets simultaneously.
Another thing that makes the tanks especially formidable is that they are well-protected by Chobham armor, also known as Dorchester armor, which Crump said is some of the best armor in the world. The exact composition of the armor is top-secret, and it can survive a direct hit from a Russian T-72, according to a report in The Telegraph.
Crump said that, in his experience, what most impressed foreign commanders about the tank is its efficient suspension system, which allows it to easily glide over landscapes that other tanks could find difficult to traverse.
He said that his favorite feature of the tank is a large electric kettle that runs off the vehicle’s power system and allows soldiers to make hot drinks and “boil-in-the-bag” meals.