A new light tank is coming soon: The U.S. military continued to improve its M1 Abrams main battle tank, but it won’t be the only tank in its arsenal from early 2024. Earlier this summer, the service announced that General Dynamics Land Systems, or GDLS, had been awarded a $1.14 billion contract to produce and put into service up to 96 new vehicles, as a member of Mobile Protected Firepower Programor MPF.
“While influenced by our experience building a number of innovative ground combat vehicles, the MPF was designed from the ground up as an all-new vehicle,” said Kevin Bonner, Global Chief Technology Officer for General Dynamics Land Systems. “From suspension to propulsion and electronics, the MPF represents the next generation of combat vehicles for the U.S. military.”
The lightly armored land platform will fill a lack of capability in infantry brigades for an airborne tracked vehicle capable of providing fire capability on the move, Army-Technology reported last month.
Production is already underway.
“The MPF program launched the Low Throughput Initial Production (LRIP) phase…in June 2022,” U.S. Army spokeswoman Ellen Lovett told Army Technology, adding that LRIP deliveries were to take place. during the first quarter of fiscal year 2024.
Once the MPF crews establish logistical and strategic practices, the platform will then attach to the U.S. Army Infantry Brigade Combat Teams, where they will train together to establish a new role on the battlefield.
“MPF is a new capability for IBCTs. It provides IBCTs with a mobile, protected direct-fire capability to apply lethal, sustained long-range fire to armored vehicles, reinforced enemy fortifications and dismounted personnel,” Lovett said.
The MPF is intended for provide infantry brigades with greater survivability, while providing the ability to identify threat systems earlier and at greater distances. At the same time, it would not restrict movement in off-road terrain. The MPF will allow American fighters to move at a faster rate, protecting the assault force.
“MPF represents a new capability for the Army, allowing our light maneuver forces to outmaneuver adversaries. Through multiple soldier touchpoints, our soldiers operated the prototypes and provided crucial feedback to the design team, ensuring our forces will have the assets they need on the future battlefield,” said said Major General Ross Coffman, director of the Next Generation Combat Vehicles Cross-Functional Team.
The MPF is the U.S. Army’s first redesigned vehicle fielded in over forty years. Current plans call for the first unit to be equipped by the end of fiscal year 2025. AGDLS will initially deliver 26 vehicles, although the contract may be increased, with the Army acquiring another 70 during low initial production. rate for a total of $1.14 billion. . Additionally, it is the first major platform to go from prototyping to production under the US Army Futures Command, Defense News reported for the first time in June.
Created in 2018 as a public-private initiative, Army Futures Command was tasked with modernizing the US military.
The Command used its competitive prototyping approach to select the light tank design. The process actually started in 2018, and over a four-year period, the US military tested and evaluated 24 prototypes. The U.S. military previously announced that it could spend more than $6 billion on the MPF program, including what has already been spent on research & development and prototyping.
The light tank MPF program in the spotlight
The light tank prize was awarded at the end of June.
“The MPF program did exactly what the Army asked for, which was to complete a competitive, accelerated rapid prototyping effort with soldier touchpoints,” explained Doug Bush, Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics, and Technology, and Chief of Army Acquisition. “MPF is a benchmark program because the acquisition and requirement communities have worked together to complete the [middle-tier acquisition rapid-prototyping] phase and bring this system into production in just under four years.
The total program life cycle cost is would have 17 billion dollars, which includes sustainment, military construction and personnel. The Army’s long-term goal is to procure more than 504 MPFs by 2035, and these vehicles should remain in its inventory for at least 30 years. However, given that this is the first armored vehicle to enter service in over four decades, it’s likely that these light tanks could be ready to roll for much longer.
“The U.S. Army’s decision to continue the MPF program is a testament to the transformative effect the creation of Army Futures Command has had on defense procurement,” said Tristan Sauer, land domain analyst at the international analysis company GlobalData, by e-mail.
“The Army’s legacy of procuring new armored vehicles has been shaken at best over the past three decades, but under AFC’s leadership, MPF is now succeeding where other programs such as the future combat systems and ground combat vehicles have failed,” Sauer added. “The capability gap left by the retirement of the M551 Sheridan light tank in 1996 has been a contentious issue since the end of the first Gulf War. Now, with the specter of a high-intensity conflict with an even-tier adversary looming over NATO amid the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, the vulnerability of US Army Infantry Brigade Combat Teams to hostile armored means has become increasingly urgent.
The light tank program also shows that Army Futures Command’s ability to overcome past procurement challenges and provide timely modernization has proven beneficial to both the Army and the defense industry at large.
“The additional speed and consistency with which these programs have been completed in recent years continues to drive increased confidence and efficiency throughout the procurement process,” Sauer suggested. “Indeed, the MPF program has grown from prototyping to a $1.14 billion LRIP contract in four years, an impressive feat by armored vehicle procurement standards.”
A light tank remains a tank
The MPF prototype emphasizes that it will pack a punch. It integrates a 105mm gun alongside the combat-proven M1A2 Abrams tank fire control system from the GDLS with its proprietary Griffin II chassis. This could allow the Army to fill a key capability gap, as well as maintain strategic superiority using advanced but relatively cost-effective off-the-shelf commercial technology.
“The Army plans to spend approximately $6 billion to acquire 504 vehicles between 2022 and 2035, a further sign of the mutual trust born of pragmatic and efficient modernization efforts led by the AFC,” Sauer said.
“Following the success of the MPF and other recent land domain modernization efforts (such as the Army’s Modular Handgun System, Next Generation Squad Weapons and Defensive Weapons programs personnel), there may be reason to be optimistic about the outcome of the long troubled Combat Vehicle Program,” he continued. “With an expected total procurement cost of $46 billion dollars, it could turn out to be the most financially significant military armored vehicle program of the next decade.”
Biography of the expert: Editor for 1945, Peter Suciu is a writer from Michigan who contributed to over four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites with over 3,000 articles published over a twenty-year career in journalism. He writes regularly on military hardware, the history of firearms, cybersecurity and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing author for Forbes. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.