BAE Systems unveils its ‘Black Night’ tank to upgrade the Challenger 2

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A design has been unveiled for an upgraded British Army tank with a laser warning system, automatic AI-powered targeting and ‘Planet Earth II style’ thermal imaging.  

The latest design by BAE Systems is a proposed upgrade for the Challenger 2, a tank which has served in Iraq and Bosnia and which defence chiefs are planning to extend until 2035.

The firm – which released a Hollywood-style trailer for the vehicle – is one of two bidders, along with German-based defence contractor Rheinmetall, who are competing for the contract to prolong the Challenger’s life.

The Challenger 2 has been in service since 1998 – the successor to the Challenger 1 which was used during the first Gulf War – and served during the invasion of Iraq in 2003. 

The tank was also deployed in Bosnia and Kosovo during the NATO-led mission in former Yugoslavia in the late 1990s.

Challenger 2 has a crew of four and carries a 120mm main gun and two 7.62mm machine guns, with a top speed of around 37mph. 

It is currently in service with the Queen’s Royal Hussars, the King’s Royal Hussars and the Royal Tank Regiment. 

The latest design for the upgrade was developed at BAE’s its combat vehicles hub in the West Midlands. 

Its features include an ‘active protection system’ which allows the upgraded Challenger 2 to detect incoming anti-tank missiles or armour penetrating rounds. 

The sophisticated defence mechanism can automatically launch a counter-explosive to neutralise the threat, the manufacturers have said. 

In a further defensive upgrade the new tank can identify the source of a threat with a laser warning system and automatically turn the gun to face in that direction. 

The new tank also carries front and rear infrared cameras described by the firm as ‘similar to those used in television programmes such as Planet Earth II’ – the nature documentary presented by Sir David Attenborough. 

They are intended to provide extremely sharp night images, in one of the new features which gives the upgraded vehicle its name ‘Black Night’. 

The vehicle would have two independent night vision systems allowing a gunner to focus on one target while a commander identifies others simultaneously 

Its gun turret features what the company calls ‘regenerative braking’, which generates power when the gun slows down into position. 

The vehicle also uses less energy-hungry kit to make the whole tank more energy efficient, the manufacturers said.  

The new equipment controlling tank’s weaponry is also said to be faster, meaning the crew can identify an enemy, target and engage more quickly

Simon Jackson, campaign leader for Team Challenger 2, said: ‘The UK is home to some of the world’s finest engineering companies, who have pushed the boundaries of combat vehicle design with Black Night.

‘We are providing the bulk of this upgrade from home soil, however, we have chosen the best defence companies from around the world to collaborate with also, including names from Canada, France and Germany who bring unique skills and proven technology.

‘The British Army has our commitment that we will deliver the most capable upgrade possible, and the best value for money.’ 

The firm is leading a partnership of major defence firms, collectively known as Team Challenger 2, to bid for the tank’s Life Extension Project (LEP). 

The LEP is intended to push the Challenger 2’s withdrawal date back from 2025 until 2035.

BAE and Rheinmetall won £23million preliminary contracts in December 2016 for a development phase of the bidding in which both companies were ordered to come up with designs. 

Both contractors will bid for the Demonstration, Manufacture and In Service contract phases to provide the finished vehicles.  

Rheinmetall has not yet revealed details of its own plans for the Challenger 2 upgrade. 

The German-based firm said it was ‘working on a proposal for enhancing the combat effectiveness’ of the vehicle. 

BAE said the tank would be ‘delivered in the UK’ including at an assembly and testing facility in facility in Merthyr Tydfil, Wales. 

The rival German firm said a ‘key aspect of the Rheinmetall offer’ was to involve UK-based suppliers. 

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