From crates to craters: The evolution of a battlefield revolution

As the International Armoured Vehicles conference in London comes to an end, it is worth considering how far technology has come, where it is going, and how the British Army are exploiting innovation and talent from both home and abroad to ensure it is prepared for the future of warfare.

The Challenger 3 upgrade was a key discussion point, with a focus on the New Modular Armour and the introduction of an Active Protection System. This gives us pause to think back to the first sight of tanks rolling across the battlefields of France and Belgium in 1917, which must have fascinated and disturbed in equal measure.

As heavy armaments became more mobile the battlefield expanded. It moved and morphed and now, suddenly, everywhere was within reach. It changed the character of warfare forever.

Just as the Royal Navy dominated the high seas with their Dreadnaughts, now the Army had its land equivalents; its ‘landships’ as endorsed by the then Minister for the Navy, Winston Churchill.

We are excited about the new capabilities it will offer to us as future end-users of the platform. The Trophy APS will make the CR3 even more lethal and survivable, helping us to fight and win on the modern battlefield. Lieutenant Jess Ecott, QRH

The project was so secret that the new vehicles were shipped in crates labelled ‘tank’, and the name stuck.

Fast forward 100 years and advances in technology are still providing battlefield solutions. The tanks that first inched their way across the cratered landscape of no-mans-land, compared to today’s iterations, are arcane oddities; like comparing a stick to a rifle.

However, some concepts never change. As we can all appreciate, a strong defence provides a good platform for a better attack. This school of thought informs and is pivotal to providing our assets with effective defensive capability.

The British Army, always keen to ensure both tactical and technological advantage, will be applying the ethos of this strong defence to the cornerstone of our armoured warfare capability, the Challenger 3 main battle tank.

The Challenger 3, manufactured by Rheinmetall BAE Systems Land (RBSL), is a much improved and vastly more capable version of the Challenger 2 that entered into service in 1998.

The Challenger has been the mainstay of the British Army over recent decades. The modernised Challenger 3, which will enter service later this decade, intends to employ an Active Protection System (APS).

The concept is simple although the execution is not. You destroy a projectile coming at you with one of your own. Simple, yet when you consider some of the factors like the speed of the incoming projectile, the time taken to detect it, and then reacting to it, it becomes very tricky.

The Trophy MV (Medium Variant), manufactured by Rafael in Israel, is the newer, lighter variant of the system that is currently in service with the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) on the Merkava MBT and Namer APC, and more recently the US Army’s main battle tank, the Abrams.

In the time it takes you to blink, Trophy tracks, classifies, and then neutralises the incoming threat by firing its own projectiles to intercept the missile at a stand off from the platform.

A successful demonstration of the system has already taken place in Israel after the completion of the first phase of the project.

A final decision on the Trophy APS is not planned to be taken until 2023. If taken forward it will be the first time that the UK will have integrated such a capability on a land platform.

If adopted, this cutting-edge technology will ensure that Challenger 3 meets the most demanding survivability requirements, continues to give our heavy armour the tactical advantage, and ensures our defensive capability is as lethal as our offensive.

The Queen’s Royal Hussars (QRH), are due to take on Challenger 3 within the next five years. The Tidworth based regiment, which can track its lineage back to 1695, are excited at the prospect of not only receiving the new Challenger variant but also the defensive capabilities that Trophy can offer:

Lieutenant Jess Ecott from the QRH said: ‘We are excited about the new capabilities it will offer to us as future end-users of the platform. The Trophy APS will make the CR3 even more lethal and survivable, helping us to fight and win on the modern battlefield.”