Tank driving instructor Sgt Arron Anderton tells us all about the experience of operating a Challenger 2…
What does it feel like to drive the Challenger 2?
Sgt Arron Anderton: The Challenger 2 is a complex piece of equipment but once trained it is not that difficult to drive. It can take some time to get used to its size when you first start driving it, [but] once you gain more experience it can become quite fun to drive. The Challenger 2 has exceptional cross-country capability but due to the driver’s restricted vision they need to read the ground up to 50 metres [164 feet] away so they can make adjustments to the direction and speed. The Challenger 2 is quite easy to handle at high speeds but is more difficult to negotiate around tight corners. The tank is [manoeuvred] by two steering levers located on either side of the driver.
What is the hardest part about driving a tank like the Challenger 2?
AA: The hardest part of driving the Challenger 2 is judging the size of the vehicle’s width on public roads and driving it in confined spaces. The driving position is located in the centre of the vehicle which is different to standard cars and lorries and does take some time to get used to.
How does it feel in the tank when the main gun is fired and when you come under fire?
AA: When you are sat inside a Challenger 2 during ‘live’ firing of the weapons systems you tend to become oblivious to the firing of the chain gun or the bang from the 120mm [4.7in] main armament gun. The vehicle does shake a little but this adds to the adrenaline when you’re scanning for targets and ensuring you engage the targets in time. Coming under small-arms (ie rifles and machine guns) fire can sound like hailstones on a tin roof, it does give you a sense of invulnerability!
Can you tell us a little about the roles of each of the four crew members?
AA: The Challenger 2 has a four-man crew: a driver, gunner, loader (and radio operator) and commander. The driver steers the vehicle and carries out all the daily and major maintenance and running repairs. He also assists the REME (vehicle mechanics) with major repairs.
The gunner maintains the weapons systems and engages the targets identified by the commander and the crew. The loader loads the main armament and the 7.62mm [0.3in] chain gun. They have secondary duties of assisting the commander with operating the radio. The commander is in overall [charge] of the vehicle and all crew members. They navigate, send and receive radio messages and prioritise targets to be engaged by the gunner.
Due to working and living in a confined space, the camaraderie has to be second to none. As you can imagine working, living, eating, sleeping in a confined space for extended periods presents some problems – the smell can be eye-watering!
What equipment does the crew rely on to navigate in the field?
AA: Combat navigation is fitted to the vehicle and personal GPS. Additionally, good old-fashioned maps still form an integral part of navigation around the battlefield; the commander needs to be an expert in this form of navigation.
What roles do tanks assume in a warzone?
AA: A tank is a highly sophisticated fighting machine. It has the characteristics of firepower, protection, mobility and sustainability – it is also designed to operate in a CBRN [chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear] environment. It is used in all phases of battle (the advance to contact, the attack, the defence and withdrawal). It will invariably operate in an all arms environment, ie with infantry, artillery and air support. Due to its night-vision ability it can fight a 24-hour battle. Although it will normally operate in open spaces it can, with intimate infantry support, operate in built-up areas. For example, in recent years it proved highly successful in the Iraq conflict.