Following the release of footage on September 5 showing the first destroyed Challenger 2 tank in Ukraine, further details regarding the Russian strike that neutralised the vehicle and footage of the incident have emerged. A video captured by a drone showed the tank being hit by a guided projectile, with the vehicle emitting a large plume of smoke after the strike which appeared to trigger a fire onboard. The missile in question was initially speculated to be a Vikhr-1 – a new missile type launched by Russian Ka-52 attack helicopters which have taken a heavy toll on Ukrainian armour in recent months. Unconfirmed Russian reports, however, indicate that the missile in question was in fact a Kornet – a man portable anti tank missile. The British Ministry of Defence notably claimed that the Challenger 2 was destroyed in an artillery strike, with two consecutive hits on the vehicle destroying it, although these claims were undermined by the later released footage of the incident. A report from British state media further claimed that a Lancet drone was responsible for the strike, although this was also contradicted by the footage. As tanks and other similarly sized moving targets are difficult to target with artillery, claiming that an artillery strike destroyed the vehicle would have done less damage to the reputation of the Challenger 2 program than conceding that they are vulnerable to Russian guided anti tank missiles. The Challenger 2 is notably slower, has a less powerful gun and has less advanced fire controls than top end American and German tanks, and is promoted primarily for the degree of armour protection it enjoys. This makes its apparent frontal penetration and destruction particularly damaging to its reputation.
British Secretary of Defence Grant Shapps on September 6 confirmed the destruction of the Challenger 2 in Ukraine, and stated the there were no plans to replace the vehicle. With only 14 Challenger 2s in its fleet, the Ukrainian Army has avoided deploying the vehicles for frontline operations as it has withs its Leopard 1 and Leopard 2 tanks and American Bradley infantry fighting vehicles, which have all taken very heavy losses in recent offensives. Challengers 2s were first sighted near the frontlines in July, and have been modified since delivery to Ukraine with cage armour to provide a degree of protection against drones and ‘top attack’ missiles. The Challenger 2 notably lacks blowout panels like American Abrams and German Leopard 2 tanks, which appears to have been a factor in the turret’s destruction after the strike – a vulnerability shared by Ukraine’s T-64 tanks. A similar internal detonation of ammunition occurred during the Iraq War when a Challenger 2 was destroyed by friendly fire. The footage showing the destruction of the Challenger 2 tank notably showed a line of Ukrainian military vehicles which had all been similarly destroyed including a Soviet-built T-64 tank. It is one of multiple similar pieces of footage to have been released since early June indicating very significant losses for Ukrainian armour.