Infantry Fighting Vehicles (IFV) have become a cornerstone of mechanized warfare since the Soviet Union introduced the BMP-1 in 1966—a heavily armed troop transport that carried a lightweight cannon and machine guns for blasting infantry and light vehicles, as well as a guided missile launcher for tackling tanks at long range. This allowed an infantry squad to ride through a possibly radiation-contaminated nuclear battlefield with its own heavy fire support mounted on the vehicle.
Fifteen years later, after a development process so troubled it was chronicled in the comedy film The Pentagon Wars, the United States introduced its own IFV, the M2 Bradley. Weighing twice as much as BMP-1 due to heavier armor, the Bradley came with a Bushmaster 25-millimeter automatic cannon and a TOW wire-guided missile launcher. The Bradley served successfully in both Iraq wars but suffered losses to mines and anti-tank rockets even after the addition of conventional and reactive-explosive armor increased its weight from twenty-seven to thirty-three tons. Another problem is that the Bradley can only carry seven dismounts, while regular Army infantry squads number nine members.
The Army is currently upgrading the Bradley to a new M2A5 model with a more powerful suspension and powertrain. It was looking ahead to using that extra engine power to install a heavier turret or a larger, better-protected troop compartment in a subsequent M2A5 model. However, the M2A5 may instead be superseded by plans to replace the Bradley with a “Next Generation Combat Vehicle” (NGCV).
The Pentagon has twice failed to develop such a replacement in the last two decades, but the NGCV competition may prove more fruitful because manufacturers have already presented three full-scale concept vehicles in the 2018 AUSA defense expositions. This time, the Army wants a mix of new technologies with proven off-the-shelf hardware so it can phase in the new vehicles as soon as 2026.
Nonetheless, the Pentagon expects a lot from the NGCV: the capacity for a much bigger 50-millimeter autocannon, protection against deadly modern anti-tank missiles, and seating for more dismounts—all without weighing too much above forty to fifty tons! Above that weight class, armored vehicles become too heavy to cross many of the bridges found around the world.
Recently, the Army also renamed the Bradley replacement the “Optionally Manned Fighting Vehicle,” (OMFV) indicating a new key criterion—the design must be capable of operating remotely without an onboard crew. This is because the Army is hoping to usher in a new generation of robotic fighting vehicles to perform both routine and high-risk missions.
The lightest and most conservative design on offer is BAE System’s CV90 Mark IV, based on a twenty-three-ton Swedish IFV that has gone to serve in a dozen armies in numerous variants. CV90s saw extensive combat in Afghanistan with the Danish, Dutch, Norwegian and Swedish armies. Firepower from their 30-, 35- and 40-millimeter cannons proved deadly against Taliban insurgents, and the IFVs demonstrated resilience to IEDs and rockets—though at least three crew fatalities did occur over a decade of operations.
The Mark IV model offered by BAE can accommodate eight passengers, hi-tech computer systems, and has heavier modular armor that can be scaled between twenty-seven to forty tons. Moreover, the Mark IV features active-dampening suspension technology allowing for much smoother all-terrain performance and up to 40 percent greater off-road speed. An Israeli Iron Fist Active Protection System is also incorporated and uses non-fragmenting interceptor rounds to minimize the likelihood of collateral damage to friendly troops. The vehicle can be fitted with a variety of turrets, including various gun-and-missile combinations or even a 120-millimeter gun-equipped tank turret, and will feature a Virtual Reality-like interface to enhance the crew’s awareness of the exterior environment.
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In contrast to the CV90, Rheinmetall and Raytheon’s KF41 Lynx almost resembles a cliché science fiction tank with its angular, flat surfaces. The Lynx can accommodate a full nine-person squad and incorporates an advanced modular armor scheme allowing the vehicle to be stripped down to only 37 tons for rapid deployment—or girded up with added armor increasing weight to 55 tons for high-intensity engagements (the standard configurations weighs 48.5 tons.) Its Lance 2.0 turret, armed by default with a 35-millimeter cannon, is designed to be removed so that the hull can swap in different role configurations such as medical evacuation, command-and-control, or short-range air defense. Two modular pods on the Lance turret can incorporate a variety of payloads such as Israeli Spike-anti-tank missiles (which can be remote-controlled like a drone), Raytheon’s improved RF-guided TOW anti-tank missile launchers, or even advanced sensors and electronic warfare systems.
The Lynx also incorporates Raytheon’s Quick Kill Active Protection System, which in contrast to the cheaper, shotgun-like Israeli Trophy APS being tested on U.S. M1 tanks, uses missiles to intercept incoming projectiles from above and further away to lower the risk of harming nearby troops. The Lynx can also launch small Coyote drones, which can either gather intel on enemy positions or even serve as improvised missiles.
However, arguably the General Dynamics Griffin III has attracted the most attention. The Griffin III is distinguished by the striking hexagonal Tacticam appliqué armor tiles plastered on it like puzzle pieces, designed to disrupt the tank’s infrared and visual signature. This is an IFV version of the Griffin II being considered for the Army’s Mobile Protected Firepower air-deployable light tank competition. The concept traces its lineage to the ASCOD and Ajax family of armored vehicles in service with the Austrian, British and Spanish armies.
Alone of the competitors, the Griffin III comes out the box with a powerful 50-millimeter XM913 automatic cannon. (The other models theoretically can accommodate one but have yet to be so equipped.) Fifty-millimeter shells are many times larger and more destructive than the Bradley’s current chain gun, making the weapons more effective against enemies behind cover and heavier armored vehicles short of a tank. While the Bradley’s gun overmatches the lightly armored BMPs, the Army wants heavier shells to counter the new generation of tougher IFVs entering service such a the T-15 heavy APC and the Kurganets IFV.
The Griffin III’s unmanned turret can also elevate the gun up to 85 degrees, allowing it to blast snipers atop steep cliffs or urban high-rises. Its autoloader can rapidly switch between armor-piercing rounds and high explosives with programmable proximity fuses. The high-elevation and larger blast effect of the weapon may also make it suitable for anti-drone or helicopter duty. A remotely-operated .50 caliber machine was also fitted on the concept vehicle.
Furthermore, the Griffin sports an Iron Fist APS and can deploy tiny Shrike or Switchblade drones to serve as scouts or to kamikaze into enemy positions. The design weighs in only around forty tons—scalable up to fifty—but does have one notable shortcoming: it can only accommodate six dismounts.
All three of the concept vehicles share key features sought by the Army: Active Protection Systems that may dramatically improve survivability versus anti-tank rockets and missiles; modular armor and payload mounts for sensors and weapon systems allowing customization for various missions and threat environments; and support for heavier automatic cannons to tackle tougher opponents.
Other firms may propose designs, notably Singapore-based SAIC, which already has proposed a design for the MPF tank competition. However, as the Army seeks to balance innovation with the incorporation of proven, off-the-shelf technologies to minimize risk and development costs, some analysts believe Griffin III may be favored in the competition.
Nonetheless, the OMFV or NGCV program is only in its early phases. One way or another, it seems the Army is keen to begin phasing in by 2026 a Bradley replacement that has drones, missile-protection systems, bigger guns—and that won’t always require an onboard crew.
Sébastien Roblin holds a master’s degree in conflict resolution from Georgetown University and served as a university instructor for the Peace Corps in China. He has also worked in education, editing, and refugee resettlement in France and the United States. He currently writes on security and military history for War Is Boring.
Image: Wikimedia Commons