by: Jason Bobrowich [ ]
Entering full service in 1998, the British Challenger 2 Main Battle Tank has proven its value during deployments in Bosnia and Kosovo. The ability to battle test a tank is critical to its success and longevity. The Challenger 2 did such that in 2003 during the invasion of Iraq and the subsequent deployment in the Basra area of Iraq until approximately April/May 2009. The fighting in Iraq was not the tank vs. tank battles envisioned by the Challenger 2 designers. The insurgent warfare encountered tested both vehicles and the crews to the limits and required the development of both new tactics and new vehicle advancements in order to keep the crews safe while operating in very adverse urban conditions.
The Challenger 2 went through multiple upgrades during the deployment in Iraq that ranged from simplistic slat armour for the hull and turret to state of the art electronic IED counter measures. The armour protection was enhanced with belly armour, additional side hull armour, turret armour, and glacis armour. Taking into account the difficulties in operating 24 hours a day in all weather the driver was provided with the Caracal Driver’s Night Vision System (DNVS) 3. This wide angle indirect view system provided the driver with forward and rear day and night thermal TV. Lessons learned as the combat in Iraq changed from the desert to close proximity in urban areas showed that crew members exposed out of the turret would face extreme danger from attacks on the ground and above the tanks. As a result the Enforcer II Remote Controlled Weapon System (RCWS) was mounted on the turret in place of the loader’s 7.62 mm GPMG. The RCWS provides a fully stabilized day and night firing weapon platform for the Challenger 2. The Enforcer is so advanced it can be interfaced with Battle Field Management Systems. Battling the enemy was not the only concern for Challenger 2 crews in Iraq and sustaining combat operations in the blistering heat meant that measures needed to be taken to reduce vehicle heat. The Barracuda Mobile Camouflage System (MCS) was the solution of choice for many nations and the Challenger 2 was fitted with MCS on the turret and upper hull.
The result of all of these modifications and enhancements is the Challenger 2 Theatre Entry Standard (TES). It is an impressive looking tank that now can be built as a result of Cromwell Models’ Challenger 2 TES 2009 conversion. The conversion provides all of the parts to convert Trumpeter’s Challenger 2 Enhanced Armour kit #01522 into the lastest version of the Challenger 2 before the Squadron was withdrawn from Iraq in 2009.
The conversion consists of 68 parts by my count. Included are parts for the following sub-assemblies of the conversion:
• Enforcer RCWS- includes 12 parts for a 7.62 mm armed system.
• Add-on Armour- includes belly armour, four parts for the bow armour, four parts for RAFAEL hull armour, and four parts for hull slat armour.
• Counter IED ECM System- includes 10 parts for front hull components and nine parts for the turret mounted components.
• Caracal DNVS 3- includes front and rear cameras.
• Hull components- includes a Barracuda covered driver’s hatch, four tow cable clamps, and a Barracuda covered upper hull.
• Turret components - includes antenna mounts, wire cutter, barrel, Barracuda covered mantlet, Barracuda covered hatches and hatch ring, Barracuda covered panoramic sight, and other minor turret fittings.
Parts Quality and Packaging:
The parts are simply packaged in zip lock type bags. The level of casting is top notch and the parts are full of fine details. Foremost, the Barracuda looks great with a natural look to the shapes and a variety of directions and sizes. Bolt details are displayed with finesse and make the parts, especially the hull armour, really pop out. The quality of the casting is very evident on the RCWS parts and even the wire mesh for the sight is well defined.
Large parts such as the Barracuda covered hull and turret are hollow cast and do not appear to have been warped during the casting process.
The slat armour sections are solidly cast but do have a great deal amount of resin flash in between each slat. This will require some careful clean up.
The instructions are provided on three B&W sheets and appear to be modified versions of the kit instructions redrawn to highlight the conversion parts and the combining of kit parts. If time is taken to inspect the conversion instructions and how the parts fit blend with the base kits parts the conversion should fit together very well. The instructions include drawings for both the 2008 and 2009 hull armour versions so ensure you know which version you are building.
Adding the parts to the hull is fairly straight forward. In comparing the parts with available reference images it appears that time has been taken to ensure the parts look accurate and fit together well. That being said, the belly armour is provided only as a quarter length of the hull bottom. I cannot comment on whether this is accurate or if the belly armour should extend further along the hull bottom. Unless you intend you build your Challenger 2 to display it upside down only the front portion of the belly armour is visible when complete.
The RAFAEL hull armour sections are nice big chunky pieces of resin. They really add to the look of the Challenger 2 with the other TES modifications. The bolt detail on the armour modules is great and when these parts are painted and weathered they will look great.
The ECM components are very well cast. The front hull mounts for the ECM pods are very “pontoon” like and include both the top and bottom parts. Some of the TES 2008 version Challengers can be seen with only the bottom portions, but the 2009 TES versions appear to use the bottom and top covers.
My first thought when seeing the resin hull slat armour was why? Why include resin slat if it is already included in the kit? The reason is that the side hull slat armour used with the TES 2009 version is actually higher than the standard slat armour and it extends about the back deck. The slat is nicely cast but as stated before is going to need some careful cleanup.
On the right rear hull kit part C18 is replaced with an updated resin part. The front hull armour module adds even more of a menacing look to the tank. References images show both this armour module covered or not covered with Barracuda, either way is correct. Cromwell chose to not cover the part with Barracuda and correctly included the two thin strips of Velcro on the top.
The driver’s front and rear cameras mount straight forward. The rear vertical back up indicator will need some modification of the kit part to have it accurate. This amounts to simply cutting off the mount and moving it to the left a small amount.
The hollow turret casting is very well produced and, as with the replacement upper hull, is covered with Barracuda. The look of the Barracuda on the turret is equally as nice as the hull. The pattern is varied and includes small blank area that is quite common to see as wear and tear sets in. The small parts such as the Commander’s hatch ring, turrets hatches, panoramic sight, and mantlet are also cast with the Barracuda in place transforming the turret into a very unique heavily armoured monster.
A resin replacement barrel is included. If there is any warping in this part a quick dip into hot water and a steady hand should be able to straighten it out. A wire cutter is also included and while it depicts in the instructions that it is to be mounted on the outside of the left grenade discharger the reference images I have seen show it mounted on the top centre of the grenade discharger. This is a very easy change to make.
The ECM “table top” mount gives the turret an even more “technical” look. The instructions are clear and concise with the assembly and placement of the components. Looking at reference images I cannot see any wires or cables running down the “table” legs to the turret top. All of the wiring may be internal and therefore reducing additional work for the modeller for once! Two new antenna mounts for the Bowman communications equipment are also included for the turret top.
The attachment of other main turret parts is simply done by referring to both the Cromwell and Trumpeter instructions. Cromwell does include clarification that the triangles on all add-on turret armour modules must be removed. The triangles are indicators that the armour is for training only.
To top off the turret, literally, is the RCWS. The 13 parts provided for the RCWS are very well cast and impressive to see. A complete sub-assembly instruction is provided for the assembly of the RCWS and the instructions appear to give the impression the RCWS can be posed at elevation and depression angles between 60 degrees elevation and 12 degrees depression. The one thing that modellers will have to dig up for the RCWS is the variety of power cables that attach to the back of the sighting module and over to the left side of the weapon mount. This is really an eye catcher on the Challenger 2 TES and adds that extra element of visible firepower not commonly seen on modern tanks until the last few years.
The conversion is a very nice piece of workmanship the entire way around. It is critical with any conversion that the conversion parts fit well with the base kit parts and this conversion appears to do just that. While the timing of the Challenger withdrawal from Iraq in 2009 does not permit further reference images of this version to assist modelers, the conversion has captured the unique look of this tank for all those who want to build it. Can this conversion use some improvements? Yes, but they are relatively minor with the correct reference material. The one stumbling block for the purists out there using this conversion with the Trumpeter kit will be the tracks. The tracks used on the real tanks used a different style of end connector and so far they have not been produced.
The Trumpeter kit itself is a very good base kit for the conversion and I would suggest that using aftermarket photo etched set such as the Voyager detail set and slat armour set for the Trumpeter kit will do even more to enhance the final build. One must remember this is a conversion and not a full kit. It combines an existing kit with new highly detailed parts to create a new version of a vehicle. As a result this may require some additional work by the modeller to ensure parts fit and all details are added. If you are ready for this type of challenge then this conversion is for you. The Cromwell Challenger 2 TES 2009 conversion is highly recommended for those who have experience working with resin and want a very cool looking battle proven Challenger 2 version to call their own.