The British Army's new battle tank project has seen the first steel cut for a new turret – a major part of the upgrade from the Challenger 2 to the Challenger 3 (C3).
Initial operating capability for the incoming C3 is expected in 2027, despite troubled heavy armour programmes putting defence procurement under the spotlight in recent years.
An upgrade to 148 Challenger 2 tanks – 79 will be retired – will see the new turrets swapped into the same hulls, offering greater targeting, surveillance and survivability for the C3s.
- Ajax problems may never be solved, spending watchdog says
- Challenger 3: New smoothbore guns enter production in Germany
- Tank rescuers tackle challenges and complex issues on the job in Exercise Iron Challenge
It's also hoped the turret will be versatile enough to be fitted to tanks belonging to global partners and military allies.
After the £800m transformation contract was awarded to Rheinmetall BAE Systems Land (RBSL) in 2021, some experts raised concern over potential difficulties when fitting mass-manufactured components into older hulls with unique patterns of wear.
Challenger 3: Could tank upgrades be cancelled like Warrior's?
Nonetheless, excitement surrounds the pending arrival of the new tank.
Upgrades will include a shift to a 120mm smoothbore gun – munition developments have seen a move away from rifled arms – which entered production in Germany last September.
It will fire high-velocity and digitally programmed ammunition – in fact, the entire vehicle will be digitised.
A new engine cooling system will be added alongside improved suspension to increase accuracy for firing on the move.
Targets will be more easily detected and tracked in the new C3, and thermal long-range cameras will be added to bring a quicker tank up to speed at night.
Officially announcing the turret milestone at Pearson Engineering, Defence Procurement Minister Jeremy Quin said: "Challenger 3 tanks will be at the forefront of the British Army's ground force deterrent against our adversaries.
"They will be equipped with the latest digital enhancements and weaponry, providing support and reassurance to our allies.
"This steel cut represents progress on delivering on our ongoing upgrade to British Army capabilities and on investment in skills and manufacturing in the North East and across the UK," he added.