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Mobile Protected Firepower: Meet the U.S. Army’s New Light Tank

Mobile Protected Firepower
Mobile Protected Firepower Light Tank Winner. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

Mobile Protected Firepower: Why the Army’s New Light Tank Matters – Last month, the United States Army announced that General Dynamics Land Systems had been selected to build a light tank meant to improve mobility, protection, and direct-fire capabilities for Infantry Brigade Combat Teams. That production deal is a crucial step forward for the Army Futures Command (AFC), which has promised faster and more successful modernization programs through a competitive prototyping approach.

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 under the new $1.14 billion contract, GDLS will produce and field up to 96 new vehicles.

“While informed by our experience of building a number of innovative ground combat vehicles, the MPF was designed from the ground up as a completely new vehicle,” said Kevin Bonner, global chief technology officer (GCTO) for General Dynamics Land Systems.

“From the suspension to the propulsion and electronics, the MPF represents the U.S. Army’s next generation of combat vehicles,” Bonner added.

Award Winner

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,” said Maj. Gen. Ross Coffman, director of the Next Generation Combat Vehicles Cross Functional Team. “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.”

The total lifecycle cost of the program is reportedly $17 billion, and that will include sustainment, military construction, and personnel. The Army’s long-term goal is to procure upwards of 504 MPFs by 2035, while those vehicles are expected to remain in its inventory and in service for at least 30 years.

“The US Army’s decision to proceed with the MPF program is a testament to the transformative effect the creation of the Army Futures Command (AFC) has had on defense procurement,” said Tristan Sauer, land domain analyst at international analytics firm GlobalData.

The MPF is the first major platform to advance from prototyping to production under the AFC. Established in 2018 as a public-private initiative, AFC has been tasked with modernizing the U.S. Army. The command utilized a 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 to date on research and development and prototyping.

“The Army’s legacy of procuring new armored vehicles has been checkered at best over the last three decades, but under the AFC’s guidance MPF is now succeeding where other programs such as the Future Combat Systems (FCS) and Ground Combat Vehicles (GCV) have failed,” added Sauer.

“The capability gap left by the retirement of the M551 Sheridan light tank in 1996 has been a point of contention since the end of the First Gulf War,” Sauer continued. “Now, with the specter of high-intensity conflict with a peer-level adversary looming large over NATO amid the Russia-Ukraine conflict, the vulnerability of the US Army’s infantry brigade combat teams to hostile armored assets has become ever more pressing.”

The analyst noted that in light of this, the AFC’s ability to overcome past procurement challenges and deliver timely modernization has proven beneficial for both the military and the wider defense industry.

“The additional speed and consistency with which such programs have been completed in recent years continue to foster additional confidence and efficiency throughout the procurement process,” said Sauer. “Indeed, the MPF program has advanced from prototyping to an LRIP contract worth $1.14 billion in the span of four years, an impressive feat by armored vehicle procurement standards.”

The General Dynamics’ MPF prototype integrates a 105mm cannon alongside the Fire Control System from the company’s combat-proven M1A2 Abrams tank with its proprietary Griffin II chassis. It could enable the U.S. Army to fill a key capability gap, as well as maintain strategic overmatch by using advanced yet relatively cost-effective COTS commercial-off-the-shelf) technology.

U.S. Army Light Tank

General Dynamics Land Systems, a business unit of General Dynamics (NYSE: GD) announced today that its Mobile Protected Firepower (MPF) offering has been chosen by the U.S. Army.

“The Army expects to spend an estimated $6 billion to acquire 504 vehicles between 2022-35, a further sign of the mutual confidence borne out of the pragmatic and effective modernization efforts spearheaded by the AFC,” explained Sauer. “Following the success of MPF and other recent land domain modernization efforts – such as the Army’s Modular Handgun System, Next Generation Squad Weapon and Personal Defense Weapon programs – there may be reason for cautious optimism regarding the outcome of the long-troubled Optionally Manned Fighting Vehicle program. At a projected total procurement cost of $46 billion, it could prove to be the most financially significant military armored vehicle program of the next decade.”

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.

Written By

Expert Biography: A Senior Editor for 1945, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,000 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.