Following months of speculation regarding the possible involvement of British Challenger 2 tanks in frontline combat operations in Ukraine, Ukrainian footage has confirmed that at least one of the vehicles has been destroyed. Fire and considerable quantities of black smoke coming from the turret indicate burning from inside the tank and destruction beyond recovery likely through a missile strike. The footage has emerged as Russian Vikhr-1 air launched anti tank missiles deployed by Ka-52 helicopters continue to be a leading thorn in the side of Ukraine’s attempts to launch armoured offensives, which have been ongoing for three months. Where footage previously confirmed the destruction of large numbers of German supplied Leopard 1 and Leopard 2 tanks, and over 60 American supplied Bradley infantry fighting vehicles, sightings of Challenger 2 tanks have been relatively few and far between with only 14 of the vehicles having been delivered . The tanks are considered to have superior armour protection to any other vehicles in Ukrainian service, although their rifled guns, low speeds and ageing fire controls put them at a disadvantage against tanks such as the newer Leopard 2A6s donated by Germany or higher end Russian vehicles such as the T-90M and T-80BVM.
The destruction of a Challenger 2 tank follows reports in August that the vehicles had been modified with cage armour to provide a degree of protection against drones and ‘top attack’ missiles such as American Javelins – which are in service on both sides with significant numbers having been captured by Russian forces. The tanks were first sighted near the frontlines the previous month in July. As provision of further tanks to Ukraine is being debated in the Western world, losses among what was the only major class of armoured vehicle not to have been destroyed so far, and a class which was considered by far the most survivable, is likely to have an influence on the debate. The ability to destroy Challenger 2s taken directly from British Army stockpiles will send a concerning message to the United States, which is set to imminently begin deliveries of downgraded M1A1 Abrams tanks to the Ukrainian Army that are significantly less survivable than either the Abrams tanks in the U.S. Army itself or than the Challenger 2s. It remains to be seen whether Britain will move to quickly replenish Ukraine’s losses, or whether the latest victory in Russia’s campaign of strikes on Ukrainian armoured units will press its Western adversaries to reevaluate their positions in the conflict.