Meet Megatron, the British Army’s tank transformer

The British Army’s Challenger main battle tank is a beast of a machine. It weighs around 62t (equivalent to 30 large family cars) and sports a huge 120mm gun, and can go up to 35mph on the roughest terrain.

The Challenger 1 saw combat in the first Gulf War and was then superseded by the Challenger 2 in the 1990s, which fought in the 2003 Iraq war and beyond. Its performance during these conflicts has earned the Challenger the title of one of the best tanks of its generation, up there with the US M1 Abrams and German Leopard 2.

But not content with this, the British Army is constantly looking at how it can boost the Challenger 2’s capabilities further.

Here’s where ‘Megatron’ comes in, it’s the army’s nickname for an experimental Challenger tank that is kitted out with a range of new technologies that could eventually be rolled out across the tank fleet.

Challenger 2-Megatron

While not quite being able to transform into a giant alien robot like its namesake, this version is very much a Challenger 2 on steroids. Operated by the Armoured Trials and Development Unit in Bovington, Megatron has been extensively modified compared to its regular Challenger 2 counterparts.

One of the key elements of Megatron is a significant increase in its armour protection, pushing its combat weight up to 75t, making it one of the heaviest, if not the heaviest, tanks in the world. This armour configuration is similar to the Dorchester Level 2 (DL2) package fitted to Challengers deploying to Iraq for Operation Telic.

To protect the crew, the tank is fitted with double-layered explosive reactive armour blocks on the hull, as well as additional armour blocks on the turret. Slat armour, is fitted to protect the rear of the vehicle against RPG attacks, and the underbody is uparmoured to protect against mines and buried IEDs.

One of its most notable external features is its mobile camouflage system, which is essentially an invisibility cloak for both the visible and thermal spectrum. Indeed, this is no ordinary camouflage netting, this MCS is able to mask the vehicle’s heat signature when viewed through thermal binoculars and can even make the tank look like a car or animal.

Challenger 2-Megatron

MCS is also capable of reducing a vehicle’s radar signature, just like the stealth coating on a fighter jet.

Fielding ‘smart’ camo is a growing trend for land forces around the world, particularly with the proliferation of thermal technologies beyond first-tier militaries. The British Army will field this system on their new Ajax vehicles, and it’s likely this fielding will extend to the Challenger.

The US Army has also trialled MCS on its Stryker 8×8 vehicles that are currently stationed in Europe.

Another external feature of Megatron is a comprehensive ECM suite, evidenced by the array of antennas on top of the turret. These effectively jam signals that could be used to trigger a roadside bomb, creating a safety bubble around the vehicle.

Although these new capabilities give the Challenger formidable capabilities, they also present several challenges. Adding so much armour, for instance, weighs the tank down and puts extra strain on vehicle parts, not least the engine and the suspension. Megatron has reportedly been fitted with a new suspension system and a new 1,500hp engine to retain its mobility.

Challenger Megatron 2

But at 75t, the tank becomes ungainly, particularly when it comes to air mobility and utilisation of infrastructure including bridges (military and civil) and roads.

Megatron is just one example of how the British Army is trying to maintain the combat relevance of its ageing tank, with some of the lessons learned likely informing the ongoing Challenger 2 Life Extension Programme (LEP).

The LEP, currently in its assessment phase, will see the tank get new sighting systems, gun control equipment and an enhanced electronic architecture and brought up to a ‘Mk2’ standard.

Its rifled 120mm main gun could also be replaced, although that is not a main requirement.

Challenger 2 upgrades are long overdue, with allies such as the US (M1), France (Leclerc) and Germany (Leopard 2) already forging ahead with their own upgrade programmes. Russia and China have also been busy developing their own latest-generation tanks, which have the potential to outmatch western tanks in the not-to-distant future.

Megatron, therefore, is the tank that the British Army needs, sooner rather than later.

2 comments

  • Ssgt Gareth Blacklock Troop Leader Kings Royal Hussars.

    Amazing how people still refer to it as Megatron
    .. it was me that named it Megatron. I was the Troop Leader at ATDU at the time and as we were constantly testing new equipment and adding technology etc. One morning I just thought of.calling it Megatron.. I had the blokes in my Troop make up some decals for it…. The rest is history.. amazing.

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  • Way too heavy! Cut down the weight! The original design was perfect! And was tested in battle, (why fix something if it’s not broke?) a remote weapon station will be a huge benefit.. with a .50 cal Gun. What we really need is Numbers! France has more tanks than us (UK) So do the US and Russia. If we want to remain a Great fighting force and a key player in NATO. Then atleast 400 Challenger 2’s is needed! Reactive armour.. will do the job. As will the already great Dorchester Armour. There is no need to add more. The engine upgrade to 1,500 hp is a must! It’s needs to be faster. Even at 35mph it’s still 10mph slower Than the M1 Abrams and leopard 2a6. A New Ap round will benefit the 120mm rifled barrel. Instead of changing them all to smooth bore. Hesh rounds need to go.. they are obsolete! Especially against spaced armour or reactive armour. Which is currently being used on pretty much all modern tanks. Upgrade the sight system. The New ‘smart’ camo which will be fitted on the New ajax ifv and as shown on the ‘megatron’ looks terrible to be honest! If it does serve a purpose in giving the Tank a low ir signature then great. But make it more appealing. And is it fire resistant? As if a he round hit the tank or ifv.. this cover could attract fire. In which could ignite the tank. Take inspiration from the leopard 2A7. Spend some cash! The Chally is our MBT! And more than likely our last! But the tank Is still needed in the battle field! And will be needed in many years to come!

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