The current Life Extension Programme (LEP) for the British Army’s 227 Challenger 2 Main Battle Tanks has been failing to deliver anything for some time. It started as an ambitious programme but as industrial capability and financial reality has dawned, the scope, ambition and timescales have shifted also.
Challenger 2 is a proven and effective design but is staring into an evolutionary dead end in terms of lethality, a withered industrial base to sustain and develop it, and to be blunt, a lack of interest from Army leadership, having spent all the money on transformational equipment like FRES/SV/Scout/AJAX (stop laughing at the back)
In May 2014, the MoD let a market survey for the Life Extension Programme (LEP) that would extend the out of service date from 2025 to 2035.
The inference of this is that between then and 2025, there would be work carried out on the existing fleet of vehicles. In October 2014 Caterpillar were awarded a £47.2 million contract to remanufacture CV8 and Cv12 engines, putting any notion that a new MTU powerpack would be included in the LEP. Since then, the focus has been on replacing only those components with spares availability or obsolescence issues, not including the main gun.
After failed attempts at teasing industry with CSP, CLIP and LEP, the Army seems to have developed an interim strategy, commonly known as ‘someone else will sort this out sometime in the future, maybe’
CR2 LEP has been reprofiled, with Defense News reporting that following the Concept Phase, the Assessment Phase would start in early 2016.
Obviously, this depends on SDSR, and the other programmes like Ajax, Warrior CSP, MIV and MRV-P.
So why post this now?
A market survey contract note published today provides details of a requirement for a pre LEP equipment project to maintain or replace Challenger 2 thermal imaging system.
The UK Ministry of Defence (MOD) Armoured Vehicles Programmes (AVP) has a possible future requirement to deliver an interim solution to maintain or replace the Challenger 2 Thermal Imaging (TI) System. The existing TI system is suffering from obsolescence in key components and is required to be supported until its replacement under the CR2 Life Extension Programme (LEP). In order to maintain the capability of the Platform AVP would like to gather information on the options available, including, but not limited to, maintain or replace the existing system, either in part or in full. This requirement is an interim solution until an enduring solution is provided by LEP and is anticipated that it will be required from 2017 with the interim solution sustained until 2025 on a fleet of 227 vehicles. The MOD AVP is conducting a Market Survey to inform the CR2 TI Procurement Strategy and the Business Case
Estimated cost, between £10 million and £20 million.
A couple of days after Cambrai Day it is particularly hard to swallow, but the sensible answer is to bin CR2 LEP and start a programme of replacing Challenger with new build Leopard 2’s, or provide some cash and one or two selected technical capabilities to whatever Leopard 3 will eventually look like for the longer term whilst trickle funding the pre LEP projects like that described above.
But that would require the British Army to admit a few harsh truths.
And therefore, unlikely.