If you operate tanks, then you need a vehicle to pull them along should things go wrong. There are few machines as good at this as the British CRARRV, a 70-ton monster based on the Challenger that can pull and repair the heaviest armored fighting vehicles in service today.
It is sprawling with all the equipment and tools required to help with the recovery and repair of combat vehicles. Because of this, it is essentially a self-sufficient workshop, complete with a crane, air lines, gas axes and two winches.
With the Challenger MBT as its basis, this boy is big, loud and heavy.
Mechanised warfare poses enormous challenges for modern armies, with not only a massive effort needed to supply armored formations in the field, but also to support tanks and other armored fighting vehicles that have been damaged or become bogged down.
Since the dawn of tank combat during the First World War, the very nature of the tracked fighting vehicle has mostly prevented wheeled transportation being employed for both supply and repair/recovery, due to a lack of mobility in rough and boggy terrain compared to tanks and other tracked combat platforms.
Therefore, armored recovery vehicles (ARVs) must be designed to support combat platforms, and these must be similar in size and capability to the armored fighting vehicle they are supporting, especially when it comes to combat retrieval of main battle tanks (MBTs).
All armies around the globe with heavy tracked armored vehicles make these provisions. The repair and recovery of such vehicles in the modern British Army is performed by the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME).
In many cases, ARVs are built upon the chassis of pre-existing MBTs. This goes for the CRARRV, which is based on the Challenger 1.
The British Army were the pioneers of armored warfare, and early attempts to repair and recover the primitive tanks used in the First World War were experimental and ad hoc, with Mark IV and Mark V tanks being utilised to tow their damaged or bogged down brethren back to friendly lines.
The need for specialised recovery vehicles was quickly realised, and various platforms, both wheeled and tracked, provided this important service during the course of the Twentieth Century.
Wheeled vehicles were rapidly phased out, and tracked support vehicles grew in size, power and capability as the Army fielded increasingly heavy vehicles, such as the Centurion shortly at the end of the Second World War.
This was followed by the heavily-armored Chieftain and then the Challenger 1, which was introduced to service in 1983. This and its replacement, the Challenger 2, weigh around 70 tons.
With the Challenger 1’s substantial weight, a requirement for a more capable tracked recovery and repair vehicle was identified early on.
This requirement resulted in the Challenger Armored Repair and Recovery Vehicle, better known as the CRARRV.
It would replace the FV4204 ARRV, which was derived from the Chieftain.
Similarly, the CRARRV was based on the Challenger 1 MBT chassis. It was commissioned into service with the British Army in 1985. 74 vehicles were acquired for the Army, with a further four being supplied later to Oman, when it selected the Challenger 2 as its standard MBT.
CRARRVs in British service received several upgrades as the Army upgraded its tank fleet to the Challenger 2, but the basic design remained the same.
Upgrades mainly consisted of electronic and communication equipment, along with a development to the 7.62mm MAG-58 mounting system for use by the vehicle commander, with a remote weapon station replacing the earlier cupola-mounted machine gun. A complete drivetrain upgrade was undertaken in the early 2000s.
The CRARRV initially used the same 26 litre Perkins CV12 diesel engine as fitted in the Challenger 1, but an upgrade after 2001 introduced the CV12 5C and 6C engine and an upgraded transmission as fitted to the Challenger 2, albeit in slightly modified form. Despite lacking a turret or large caliber weapons, the CRARRV still weighs a mighty 70 tons.
In its current form this engine produces about 1,200 hp, which gives the CRARRV a range of 300 miles (500 km) and a maximum speed of 37 mph (59 kph). An upgraded Perkins CV12-9A is proposed to be fitted to the new Challenger 3, and this engine will also be retrofitted to the CRARRV in the future. This version produces 1,500 hp, and will improve mobility in both vehicles.
A Challenger 1 chassis is used for the CRARRV, with the upper hull and turret replaced by a welded superstructure. Additional armor can be fitted for combat operations.
The CRARRV contains many pieces of equipment that make it a self-sufficient recovery and repair platform. It is fitted with a hydraulically-operated dozer blade at the front, a powerful recovery winch, and a crane. Welding and cutting equipment is provided for hull repairs, and a large variety of tools and spare parts are carried for repairs to MBTs and other vehicles in the field.
The CRARRV can tow a wheeled High Mobility Trailer, on which a complete power pack for the Challenger 2 and its derivatives can be carried, or two smaller power packs for infantry fighting vehicles.
The crew consists of a commander, driver and a third member, all from the REMEs. All members of the crew are either Recovery Mechanics or Vehicle Mechanics, both of which are specialised employment streams within the REMEs. A further two seats are fitted for carrying the crews of vehicles being recovered.
Unlike the Challengers the CRARRV is protected by steel, not composite armor. This makes it incapable of standing up against dedicated anti-tank weapons without add-on armor.
The vehicle crane has a capacity of only 7 tons, much less than the 35 ton capacity of the US M88A2’s boom. As such, CRARRV’s crane is used mainly for the removal and replacement of Challenger power packs, and other minor lifting tasks.
Thanks to an auxiliary generator, CRARRV is technically capable of replacing its own powerpack in a pinch.
The powerful main winch has a straight line towing capacity of 52 tons, and with the judicious use of pulley blocks this can be increased up to 104 tons, easily enough to pull knocked out or bogged down MBTs, as well as righting overturned machines.
A further smaller auxiliary winch is provided for deploying the main winch and load handling operations, such as moving items too heavy for the CRARRV crane.
The CRARRV has a tow capacity of 68 tons, utilising either rigid or strop hitches by which troubled tanks can be towed to a field workshop or similar repair facility.
The dozer blade is used for a variety of tasks, from the preparation of vehicle firing positions to the covering of ditches and other obstacles which prevent the progress of other vehicles. The dozer blade is also utilised in heavy winching operations, where it is lowered and dug into the ground at the front of the vehicle as an earth anchor.
The first operational employment of the CRARRV was during Operation Granby, the British Army’s contribution to the Coalition forces during the First Gulf War in 1991.
With 221 Challenger 1s employed by three armored regiments during the campaign, a number of CRARRVs were supporting these regiments, in the arrangement of one CRARRV per squadron of 18 MBTs at full strength. Other support vehicles, both wheeled and tracked, made up the REME Light Aid Detachment attached to the Headquarters Troop of each squadron.
At the start of the conflict there were fears about the reliability of the Challenger 1 in desert conditions, but eventually these came to naught.
Work was performed on the MBTs by REME teams and civilian contractors before the fighting commenced, which greatly increased the dependability of the fighting vehicles.
CRARRVs accompanied the armored regiments when the 1st Armored Division (UK) was employed as the spearhead of the US VII Corps in its drive deep into Iraq and then Kuwait.
While the fighting was intense (Challenger 1s destroyed more than three hundred Iraqi tanks, as well as numerous other armored fighting vehicles and trucks) no British tanks were lost to enemy action.
CRARRVs did attend to infrequent breakdowns of some Challenger tanks during the First Gulf War, as well as occasionally recovering the odd vehicle that had become bogged down or immobilised in the desert terrain.
CRARRVs then accompanied Challenger 1s on their deployment to Bosnia and Herzegovina during the long drawn-out dissolution of Yugoslavia in the 1990s. They were also present during Operation Joint Guardian, the NATO-led intervention in Kosovo.
With the introduction of the Challenger 2 in the late 1990s, upgraded CRARRVs accompanied these MBTs on various exercises and peace keeping missions. They were present during the invasion of Iraq in 2003, when approximately 120 MBTs spearheaded the British advance into Basra.
Over the months that followed, the savage intensity of the urban fighting saw several Challenger 2s struck and immobilised by insurgent RPG fire, but in all cases the crew were able to survive. In one case a Challenger 2 became stuck, and was reportedly hit 70 times by rocket-propelled grenades and other anti-tank weapons.
CRARRVs recovered all these vehicles when safe to do so, and the only complete loss of a Challenger 2 was the result of an unfortunate friendly-fire incident.
The CRARRV is acknowledged as one of the most powerful and effective armored support vehicles in the world today, and constant upgrades have kept the basic platform relevant and up to the latest modern standards since its original introduction into the British Army in 1985.
With its heavy armor, high mobility and generous equipment outlay, it enables the REMEs to perform their assigned duties of battlefield repair and recovery on a wide variety of armored vehicles in the British inventory.
It can do all this in relative safety even during the intense crucible of heavy armored manoeuvre warfare.
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With the driveline and electronic upgrades for the Challenger 3 program also intended for the CRARRV, and with no replacement program currently planned (or indeed, needed) for the immediate future, we can confidently expect these rugged and battle-worthy platforms to provide support to armored regiments in both war and peace for some considerable time to come.