On 3 October, BAE Systems have unveiled Black Night a working example of BAE Systems vision for the proposed upgrade of the British Army’s BAE Systems’ Challenger 2 Life Extension Project (LEP) technology demonstrator. 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.
The Life Extension Project (LEP) is intended to address mission system obsolescence and ensure that the vehicle remains supportable until 2035. However, BAE Systems’ proposal demonstrated in Black Night not only addresses obsolescence but also improves capability. 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.
The tank was created at BAE Systems’ combat vehicles hub in the West Midlands. Furthermore, the design process has provided commonality with the Ajax, the UK’s future reconnaissance vehicle currently under production by General Dynamics Land Systems (GDLS) UK, to the extent that an Ajax commander could operate in a Challenger 2 Mk 2 with relatively little adjustment. This will reduce the training and support burden, an issue that many countries have encountered when deploying a mixed fleet of vehicles. Black Night is a demonstrator designed to show what Team Challenger 2 has achieved during the assessment phase. It includes the core offering of advanced mission systems as well as options such as active protective measures.
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 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.