Ministry of Defence

User uploads secret files to prove how tank was ‘incorrectly’ modelled in game played worldwide

Sun 18 Jul 2021 10.30 BST

Classified details of the British Army’s main battle tank, Challenger 2, have been leaked online after a player in a tank battle video game disputed its accuracy.

The player, who claimed to have been a real life Challenger 2 tank commander and gunnery instructor, disputed the design of the tank in the popular combat video game “War Thunder”, arguing it needed changing. He claimed game designers had failed to “model it properly”.

To support his argument the player posted pages from the official Challenger 2 Army Equipment Support Publication – a manual and maintenance guide.

Excerpts from the documents, some of which were heavily redacted, appeared to show some documents had “UK RESTRICTED” label crossed out and a stamp of “UNCLASSIFIED” added, the website UK Defence Journal reported.

It said the MoD’s Defence Equipment and Support division had seen the documents and said they appeared “to be a genuine extract”. “It certainly has not been released under FOI (Freedom of Information) previously or considered for redacting.”

The player identified the documents as belonging to a tank in Tidworth garrison in Wiltshire, home barracks of the Royal Tank Regiment which operates Challenger 2 tanks.

War Thunder is a popular video game in which thousands of players around the world can simultaneously control aircraft, ground vehicles, and warships from the United States, Germany, Russia, Britain, China and other nations.

It was created and published by a company called Gaijin Entertainment which is listed as Cyprus-based but was originally founded in Moscow, Russia, where it still has offices.

Last year the game had a tank event featuring Russian and Chinese tanks performing tasks. The event was partnered with the Information Systems Department of the Russian Ministry of Defence.

A Challenger tank on Nato exercises in Estonia. Photograph: Finnbarr Webster/Getty Images

The game operators have removed many of the posts containing the classified material after the sensitivity of the documents became clear.

A site spokesman said: “We make it very clear we will not handle any source material unless it is publicly available and fully declassified with the rights to prove that.”

The gaming website later posted a message saying the document remained classified. It said: “We have written confirmation from MoD that this document remains classified. By continuing to disseminate it you are in violation of the Official Secrets Act as stated by the warning on the cover of the document, an offence which can carry up to a 14-year prison sentence if prosecuted.

“Every time you post this you place us (International representatives of Gaijin), especially any UK citizens, in hot water as the warning states that unauthorised retention of a protected document is an offence.”

The Challenger remains a key part of UK defence plans and the British army recently announced it is embarking on a massive £800m upgrade of the Challenger tanks as part of its restructuring plans

A Ministry of Defence spokeswoman said they did not comment on leaked documents.

She added: “We take all unauthorised disclosures of information extremely seriously. This incident will be reviewed and if appropriate, an investigation will be launched, and mitigations put in place to prevent recurrences.”

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