After two Humvee kits, M1A2 Abrams, M113A2 and M2A2ODS Bradley Tamiya recently released model of another combat vehicle used in Operation Iraqi Freedom. This time it is a British tank: Challenger 2. As the tank is British, correct name for the military activities in which it took part in Iraq is rather Operation Telic, not OIF. Many modelers questioned the need to make another 1/35 model kit of this tank, when we had decent Op. Telic Challenger 2 kit available from Trumpeter. In this review you can read about features of Tamiya release and decide if it is worth the price. Direct comparison article about two available 1/35 scale plastic kits of Challenger 2 tank will follow later.
First modern Challenger tank, later renamed to Challenger 1, began its life as Shir 2 and was designed for Iran. After the fall of Shah of Iran however the contract was cancelled in February 1979. Initially Shir 2 tank was not seen as fit to enter service in British Army, but after failure of joint British-US MBT-80 project, it became obvious that it won't be possible to build completely new tank until the start of 1990s. This led to acceptance of limited numbers of Shir 2 tanks, now named Challenger, as a temporary solution to equip Armoured Regiments of British Army until new generation tanks are available. Challenger entered service on 12 April 1983 with The Royal Hussars, and a total of 420 were built between 1983 and 1990. It was the first British tank equipped with Chobham armor. Later variants were fitted with Thermal Observation and Gunnery Sight (TOGS), but fire control systems were mostly outdated and not up to current standards. Generally the tank was not considered a good design, but nevertheless it performed very well during Desert Storm and proved it was effective weapon in hands of well trained crews. Vickers, manufacturer of Challenger tank, continued development of new tank and first nine prototypes of Challenger 2 were built by August 1990. In June 1991 Challenger 2 was selected as the replacement for remaining Chieftain tanks in British Army. Full production started in 1993 and the Challenger 2 was formally accepted for service with the British Army on 16 May 1994. Soon decision was made to get rid of all Challenger 1 tanks, which were then sold to Jordan, and currently Challenger 2 is the only main battle tank in British Army. Although Challenger 2 is somehow similar in appearance to Challenger 1, internally it is almost completely new construction. The turret is of a new design and both it and the hull incorporate second generation Chobham armor. The main gun is a 120mm L30A1 55 caliber rifled weapon and fires all current British 120mm ammunition with the exception of the old APDS round. It also fires new depleted uranium rounds. Coaxially mounted is a 7.62mm Boeing Company chain gun which is also used on the Warrior MICV and the loader has an externally mounted 7.62mm GPMG L37A2 machine gun. The fire control system has the latest generation digital computer from Computing Devices Canada and is an improved version of what is mounted on the US M1A1 Abrams. The commander has a roof-mounted SAGEM (formerly SFIM) stabilized sight which is similar to the device mounted on the French Leclerc MBT and gives 360 degree vision without moving the head. The Thermal Observation and Gunnery Sight II (TOGS II) mounted above the gun barrel and stabilized with it, provides night vision. The thermal image, with magnification x 4 and x 11.5 is displayed in the gunner's and commander's sights and monitors. The gunner has a stabilized Gunner's Primary Sight, consisting of visual channel, 4 Hz laser rangefinder and display. The laser rangefinder has a range of 200 m to 10 km. The Challenger 2 is powered by a Perkins Engine Company 12-cylinder diesel developing 1,200 hp and is coupled with a David Brown TN54 transmission.
For war time operations standard side skirts protecting the lower hull are being replaced by additional Chobham armor sections and blocks of reactive armor (ROMOR) are attached to the front of the hull. Vehicles with such additional armor were used in Kosovo. In desert conditions additional canvas sand screens are hung under side armor. To reduce infrared signature of tank, it can be fitted with TECs (Thermal Exhaust Cowls). Vehicles participating in Operation Telic were equipped with full Chobham/ROMOR package, sand screens and TECs.
Tamiya kit represents a vehicle in configuration as used during Operation Telic in Iraq in April 2003. The kit comes in a top opening box with usual "Tamiya-style" box art illustration of the tank on the lid. There is quite a lot of plastic inside the box. We get five quite big sprues of dark yellow plastic, separate top and bottom hull parts, sprue of clear styrene parts, flexible glueable vinyl tracks, decals, instructions and a bag containing two pieces of sheet styrene (clear and white), length of twine, bolts and nuts, poly caps and a length or copper wire. Each parts sprue is packed individually in plastic bag, with exception of sprue A with suspension parts, as there are two such identical sprues in one bag. Instructions are in the form of a 16 page booklet and assembly is described in 29 easy to follow steps with clear illustrations. Three pages show decaling diagrams for three tanks - all Royal Scots Dragoon Guards, 7th Armoured Brigade vehicles from Iraq in April 2003. All those tanks were painted overall desert sand color.
All parts in the kit are flash free and have very nice and crisp details molded on them. Ejector pin marks are kept to minimum and hidden in places were they shouldn't be visible on finished model. The only sink holes I was able to find are on the lower hull part, but as they will be hidden underneath the additional front armor structure, you can ignore them.
Sprues A (two included in the kit) and lower hull parts look interestingly familiar. Indeed quick look inside the box of old Tamiya Challenger 1 Mk3 kit reveals that those parts came from this old release. Although... not quite. While the A sprue still carries "1985" date molded on it, it was actually significantly reworked. Sprockets were completely redone and road wheels, idlers and return rollers have new details added on them. Lower hull part was modified slightly as well, but here the only change was deletion of the screw hole, which was a part of motorization set in Challenger 1 kit.
All crew hatches can be attached open or closed. Small doors on TOGS II housing, and gunner's and commander's panoramic sights are also separate parts and can be glued in open or closed position. Main gun remains movable in elevation in finished model and you even get flexible vinyl part to attach between the gun mantlet and the turret to close the gap without fixing the gun in one position. Commander's panoramic sight is held in place by poly cap, so it can be rotated freely while remaining attached to the turret.
Clear parts are provided in the kit for headlight and taillight lenses, gunner's sight, TOGS II and panoramic sight lenses, loader's periscope, driver's periscope glass, crew goggles and you also get two water bottles (labels for them are provided as decals).
Two "almost full" figures are included in the kit - they are molded from knees up. They are well molded with separate heads and arms and clear parts for goggles. Facial details are realistic and crisp.
DETAILS & ACCURACY
Four of the pictures on the right let you compare some details from old Tamiya Challenger 1 Mk3 kit and the new Challenger 2 model. Particularly interesting are two first pictures as they show reworked wheels on sprue A. I actually do not quite understand why Tamiya decided to retool old molds instead of just making new ones, as most parts from A sprues remain unused in this kit and most of those that are used, had to be redone to be accurate for Challenger 2.
As mentioned earlier lower hull part was almost unchanged from Challenger 1 kit. I've heard complaints about inaccuracy of suspension details in the kit, but honestly speaking even if it's true it doesn't really matter, as armored side skirts with canvas dirt screens pretty much hide it completely. The bottom of the lower hull is smooth, without any weld seams. It was actually incorrect for Challenger 1 tank, but for Chally 2 it is supposedly accurate. At least that's what I read on some discussion forums - I couldn't find any photo that would show the bottom of C2 tank (however I have a couple of C1 pics which clearly show weld seams pattern along the middle of hull bottom). Trumpeter made a mistake in their C2 kit, because they added those C1 style weld marks on the hull bottom. The front armor part of the lower hull lacks some details found on real tank, but it will be hidden under the ROMOR armor anyway in this model.
Reworked road wheels, sprockets, return rollers and idler wheels are better detailed than those in older Tamiya kit and are accurate for Challenger 2 tank. Suspension arms are molded separately from the hull, so with minimal effort they can be attached at angle other than standard to show suspension working on rough terrain. Bolts and nuts are used to attach idler wheels arms / track adjusters to the hull.
Glueable vinyl tracks are very nicely and accurately detailed and there is really no need to replace them with aftermarket individual link tracks.
The rear hull panel is completely new part and is crisply molded with lots of details, both molded on and added as separate parts. Fuel drums and their whole supporting structure are well detailed, as are jerrycan rack, wire reel and troop telephone parts. Taillights are particularly nice, with clear parts for lenses and very finely molded cage guards. There is a length of copper wire included in the kit to be used as cable on the wire reel.
Unlike bottom hull part, the upper hull is completely new part. It has crisp and accurate details molded on top and sides. Grab handles on engine access panels are molded solid and a few small tie-downs and other minor details are missing. And there is no non-slip coating, which is very visible on real Challenger 2 tanks, particularly those on which the sand paint started to wear off showing dark camouflage colors underneath. There are no sponson bottom plates supplied in the kit, so there is just empty space over tracks after assembly. With Chobham armor skirts attached however it won't be seen, with noticeable exception for the rear of the hull above drive sprockets, as this area is not protected by side skirts and is clearly visible. I suggest adding some styrene sheet insert at least in this area if not under whole sponsons.
Side skirts with Chobham armor blocks have all the bolts and weld marks details accurately molded on and canvas skirts are particularly realistically sculpted. All handles / lifting rails on upper edge of armor blocks are present. Front hull ROMOR modules are also crisply and accurately detailed.
For towing cables there is a length of twine provided, as old plastic parts present on sprues A are marked as not used. Replacing twine with some brass cable (like those available from Karaya) is recommended.
Main turret structure is composed of five parts with side and rear walls molded separately for good details definition on them. Unlike Trumpeter, Tamiya chosen to mold rear turret stowage boxes integrally with main turret parts, avoiding fit problem that plagued Chinese kit in these area. Details on turret parts are top-notch, although non-slip coating was omitted. As mentioned earlier you get clear parts for some of periscopes and lenses, but for glass in commander's periscopes you need to cut a sheet of clear styrene provided in the kit, using the template given in instructions. Hatches have nice details both on the outside and inside, without any ejector pin marks usually found on those parts in other kits. GMPG machine gun is very nicely detailed and its mount is designed in such a way that the gun remains moveable in elevation after assembly. Commander's panoramic sight is composed of eight parts - or nine if you cut the door part in half to open it - with bolt details accurately molded on all sides. It is mounted to the turret using a poly cap, so it rotates easily while still being securely attached to the turret. Various antenna mounts, grab handles, CIP panes and other details are provided. A piece of white styrene sheet is provided for flat CIP panels for the turret front, with templates to cut them included in instructions.
Gun is attached to the turret using two poly caps, and thanks to the use of flexible vinyl part for top mantlet cover, it remains movable in elevation after assembly. Mantlet with TOGS II mounted on it, is composed on nine parts, including clear part for internal lenses. Main gun barrel is made of four parts with separate muzzle, two long barrel halves and small round insert for the front of fume extractor with details molded on, which would be impossible to mold on main barrel parts. Muzzle reference sensor cover lacks some details on top of it, as it is just flat there.
This new Tamiya Challenger 2 is a truly great kit! Once again a Japanese company proves that when they create a completely new kit (less some lower hull and suspension parts in this case), it is almost a masterpiece of injection molding. After Tamiya released some less then perfect OIF kits in recent months, using their old (or even ancient in case of M113) kits with just a few new parts added, many people were afraid that Challenger 2 kit may be another similar release based on their earlier Chally 1 model. Luckily it is not the case as those few old parts used don't change the fact that it is new, truly 21st century product. Some wonderful details are present, molding is clean and crisp and I'm sure fit of parts will also be perfect, but of course to confirm this I'll need to build the model first. I just can't wait to start it!
By the way, did you notice that there is no sprue C included in this kit? And there is one part on the clear sprue and one on E sprue, which are not used and look like convoy or training hit marker light. Sprue D on the other hand contains mostly extra armor and TEC parts. I feel non-desert version of Challenger 2 kit coming from Tamiya soon, don't you?... Just remove sprue D and replace it with sprue C with regular side skirts or KFOR style Chobham armor. At the end of instructions is a table with part numbers of all sprues in the kit. And sprue C is listed there with its own part number!
Tamiya also released a small photoetched detail set for their Challenger 2 model. It is set number 35277 and you can read small review of it here
Review kit was purchased and received from Japan at light speed thanks to excellent service of RAINBOW TEN online store
Another review of this kit, written by Terry Ashley, is available at Perth Military Modeling Site