The U.S. Army Has a New Light Tank: The concept of a light tank dates back to the interwar era when various nations saw a potential need for an armored vehicle – sometimes described as a “tankette” – that could be used to exploit breakthroughs in enemy lines that were created by slower but heavier tanks. These lightly armed but fast-moving tanks could disrupt communications and supply lines, and quickly flee from a fight if necessary.
The United States Army has been exploring how light tanks could be used in the 21st century via its “Mobile Protected Firepower” (MPF) program, and this week it was announced that General Dynamics Land Systems (GDLS) has been awarded a $1.14 billion contract to produce and field up to 96 new vehicles.
The award was made just days after the Army closed out the MPF middle-tier acquisition rapid-prototyping phase and transitioned to a major capability acquisition program with a favorable Milestone C decision – the incremental step in the Department of Defense’s (DoD’s) acquisition process that moves into the production and deployment phase.
“The MPF program did exactly what the Army asked, which was to complete a competitive and accelerated rapid prototyping effort with Soldier touchpoints,” explained Doug Bush, Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology, and the Army’s acquisition executive. “MPF is a benchmark program, as the acquisition and requirement communities worked together to complete the [middle-tier acquisition rapid-prototyping] phase and move this system into production in just under four years.”
The MPF is meant to provide infantry brigades greater survivability while providing the ability to identify threat systems earlier and at greater distances, yet would not restrict movement in off-road terrain. MPF will further allow U.S warfighters to move at a faster pace, protecting the assaulting force.
“MPF represents a new capability for the Army, allowing our light maneuver forces to overmatch adversaries. Through multiple Soldier touchpoints, our Soldiers have operated the prototypes and provided crucial feedback to the design team, ensuring our forces will have the asset they need on the future battlefield,” Maj. Gen. Ross Coffman, director of the Next Generation Combat Vehicles Cross Functional Team.
First New Design in Four Decades
The MPF will be the U.S. Army’s first new design vehicle fielded in more than forty years, with the first unit being equipped by late fiscal year 2025 (FY25). GDLS will deliver 26 vehicles initially, though the contract could be increased with the army acquiring 70 more over the course of low-rate initial production for a total of $1.14 billion.
The MPF is the first major platform to advance from prototyping to production under the U.S. Army Futures Command (AFC), Defense News first reported. Established in 2018 as a public-private initiative, AFC has been tasked with modernizing the U.S. Army.
The command utilized its competitive prototyping approach to select the light tank design. The process actually began in 2018, and over a period of four years, the U.S. Army tested and evaluated twenty-four prototypes. The U.S. Army has announced that it could spend upwards of $6 billion on the MPF program, including what has already been spent on research and development and prototyping.
The total lifecycle cost of the program is reportedly $17 billion, which includes sustainment, military construction, and personnel. The Army’s long-term goal is to procure upwards of 504 MPFs by 2035, and those vehicles are expected to remain in its inventory for at least 30 years. However, given that this is the first armored vehicle to enter service in more than four decades, it is likely these light tanks could be ready to roll for longer.
What the Experts Are Saying
“In the new era of highly lethal, maneuver warfare, the Mobile Protected Firepower (MPF) platform is an important asset for Infantry Brigade Combat Teams that may be confronted by peer competitors deploying massed armored combat vehicles,” noted Dr. Daniel Goure, a Vice President at the Lexington Institute. “MPF also will support the infantry as it confronts adversaries operating from prepared positions and complex urban terrain.”
Now a Senior Editor for 1945, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes.
Note: This piece was updated to include expert analysis by Daniel Goure.