BAE Systems officially unveils its Black Night, first fully upgraded Challenger 2 main battle tank

On 3 October, BAE Systems proclaimed: “We have unveiled Black Night – a working example of our vision for the proposed upgrade of the British Army’s Challenger 2 Main Battle Tank.” The company is leading a major strategic partnership of world-leading defence firms – Team Challenger 2 – to bid for the tank’s Life Extension Project (LEP).

BAE Systems officially unveils its Black Night first fully upgraded Challenger 2 main battle tank
Challenger 2 Mk.2 "Black Night" at DVD 2018 (Picture source: Army Recognition)

The Challenger has been in service since 1998 and was first involved in actual combat during the invasion of Iraq in 2003. The British army plans to extend its service until 2035, hence the LEP (Life Extension Programme). It is currently in service with the Queen’s Royal Hussars, the King’s Royal Hussars and the Royal Tank Regiment.

BAE Systems 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 would bid for the Demonstration, Manufacture and In-Service contract phases to provide the finished vehicles. Rheinmetall said it is 'working on a proposal for enhancing the combat effectiveness' of the vehicle, a key aspect of its offer being to involve UK-based suppliers. On its side, BAE said the tank would be delivered in the UK, at an assembly and testing facility in Merthyr Tydfil, Wales.

The upgraded tank – dubbed “Black Night” due to its enhanced night-fighting ability – would bring for the first time to Challenger 2 two independent night vision systems, allowing the gunner to focus on one target while the commander identifies other targets simultaneously. This is just one of a host of other proposed upgrades including laser and missile-based protection systems, thermal imaging technology and regenerative power sourcing.

As the Army Recognition team was explained at DVD 2018, the tank was created at BAE Systems’ combat vehicles hub in the West Midlands. The Black Night comprises the following cutting-edge technologies and capabilities, which are being offered by BAE Systems to the Ministry of Defence as part of Challenger 2’s LEP:
- Active Protection System: systems allow the tank to detect incoming anti-tank missiles or armour penetrating rounds and automatically launches a counter-explosive to neutralise the threat.
- Laser Warning System: when targeted by enemy weapon systems, the tank can identify the source of the threat then automatically slew the gun to point at that source, making it quicker for the crew to counter-fire.
- Regenerative braking: the tank has been made more energy efficient by using less energy-hungry kit and installing regenerative braking in the turret, which generates power when the gun slows down into position.
- Thermal Imaging Technology: front and rear infrared cameras (similar to those used in television programmes such as Planet Earth II) provide extremely sharp night imagery, helping troops identify potential threats and move undetected in hostile situations, while also shaving valuable seconds off reaction times.
- Accelerated fightability: new equipment controlling tank’s weaponry is faster, meaning the crew can identify an enemy, target and engage more quickly.

BAE Systems officially unveils its Black Night first fully upgraded Challenger 2 main battle tank 2
Closeup on some of the "Black Night" hi-tech improvements (Picture source: BAE Systems)

Simon Jackson, Campaign leader for Team Challenger 2 at BAE Systems, 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.”