THE Army is thrashing out emergency plans to recover British tanks if they are damaged in Ukraine — to stop their top secret armour and technology falling into Russian hands.
The fearsome Challenger 2s are protected by world-beating Chobham armour made from a secret blend of ceramics, steel and shock-absorbing compounds.
Britain led the world by pledging 14 Challenger 2s to Ukraine — but defence sources say it would be a nightmare if one was captured by Vladimir Putin’s invaders.
His military scientists would then be free to study the armour and how to defeat it.
A source explained: “The British armour is the best in the world.
“In the history of Challenger 2s only one has been destroyed in battle and that was by friendly fire in Iraq.
“The Russians will be desperate to try and kill and capture a Challenger 2, partly for their propaganda but also to get their hands on its secrets.”
The latest Chobham armour – codenamed Dorchester — has never been breached by enemy fire, Army sources insisted.
Top brass are working with Ukraine’s high command to ensure UK tanks can be dragged back to safety if one is knocked out of action.
A defence source said: “If a tank is destroyed or disabled the first option is always to try and self-recover. You tow it with another tank or use a specialist armoured repair and recovery vehicle — which looks like a tank with a crane.
“But the worst case scenario is that a tank is destroyed when the lines are collapsing and friendly forces are in retreat.
“Step one is the training and working with mission planners to try and ensure the Challengers are not used in scenarios where they think that collapse a realistic possibility.
“Step two is making sure, at the tactical level, the Ukrainians are trained to recover a tank under fire. They certainly don’t lack the courage.”
Other extreme options under consideration include having private military contractors on standby to recover stricken tanks.
On paper the UK boasts 227 Challenger 2 tanks but only about 60 are battle-ready.
About 30 are in Estonia, with 14 bound for Ukraine.
The Challenger 2 holds the record the longest confirmed kill of an enemy tank at 2.5miles in Iraq — thanks to its super accurate 120mm main gun.
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace pledged to rethink plans to cut the fleet as a result of the war in Ukraine.
Under the last round of Ministry of Defence cuts the number was due to shrink to 149 upgraded Challenger 3s.
Germany has also pledged tanks and US President Joe Biden has offered to supply Ukraine with 31 Abrams tanks — but they are expected to take a year to arrive as they are due to be specially made.
A Ministry of Defence spokesman said last night: “We conduct a rigorous assessment of the risks associated with providing weapons for the defence of Ukraine.
“The tanks we are providing to Ukraine will be drawn from the Army’s high readiness fleet to ensure they reach Ukrainian Armed Forces as quickly as possible. The platforms are already being prepared and will be ready to move in the coming months.”