Challenger 1

In the early 1970s, the United Kingdom and the Federal Republic of Germany combined resources to develop a new Main Battle Tank (MBT) for introduction in the late 1980s. Differences in design philosophy however led to a cancellation of this project in 1979, with Britain embarking on a unilateral project (MBT 80). This project fell foul of budgetary problems leading to a decision to adopt a revised design based largely on the Shir 2 MBT which was being developed by the Royal Armament and Development Establishment at Chertsey for the Iranian army (later cancelled by the revolution).

The resultant tank, Challenger, was completed in 1982 and quickly accepted by the MoD as a suitable replacement for the existing Chieftain Mk.12s presently in service with the British Army. Production of Challenger was undertaken at the Royal Ordnance Factory in Leeds (later Vickers Defence Systems), with eventually a total of some 420 tanks of this type were delivered to the British Army between 1983 and 1990.

Challenger reflected British thinking on tank design, being heavily armed and armoured but being somewhat slower than contemporary Warsaw Pact tanks. The composite Chobham armour, which was virtually impenetrable to enemy rounds, and the accuracy of its proven stabilised 120mm rifled main armament (the same as had been used on Chieftain) coupled to a computerised fire control system and laser rangefinder created a tank with very good survivability on the modern battlefield. A key factor in a European war with the forces of the Soviet Union and her allies where existing NATO strategy was based on defence and holding enemy forces until reinforcements could arrive.

Standard equipment included day/thermal sights for commander and gunner, NBC protection system, and mounting points for additional fuel drums (at the rear), or a combat dozer blade at the front of the hull. Later upgrades for operations in the Middle East, such as Operation Desert Storm, included the installation of explosive Reactive Armour (ERA) on the front of the hull and passive Chobham armour skirts.

Challenger I remained in service until 1994 when it was superseded by Challenger II.


  • Observers Tanks and other Armoured Vehicles ( Charles Meessenger, Penguin ,1990)
  • Collins/ Jane's Modern Tanks (Chris Foss, Harper Collins, 1995)
  • Armoured Fighting Vehicles (Philip Trewhitt, Dempsey Parr, 1999)

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