The U.S. Army is Testing What Could Be Their Next Light Tank
February 10, 2021 Topic: Security Region: Americas Blog Brand: The Buzz Tags: U.S. ArmyTanksLight TankMobile Protected Firepower PlatformMpf

The U.S. Army is Testing What Could Be Their Next Light Tank

Two contenders are in the running to become the Army’s Mobile Protected Firepower platform.

The Army recently started its light tank prototype assessment, according to Jane’s. Part of the vehicle assessment phase will rely on solider input, and tanker crews will be able to put the MPF prototypes through their paces themselves, as well as contribute feedback in order to improve platform characteristics.

The Army is specific in what it wants the Mobile Protected Firepower vehicle to accomplish, specifying that the MPF must be able to “neutralize enemy prepared positions and bunkers and defeat heavy machine guns and armored vehicle threats during offensive operations or when conducting defensive operations against attacking enemies.”

Though the Army’s light tank project would be a radical departure from steadily increasing main battle tank weight, it would not be the first time Army leadership opted for a smaller, more mobile armored platform. In the mid-1960s and early 1970s, the United States developed the M551 Sheridan light tank, a dedicated armored reconnaissance/airborne assault vehicle.

Though the Sheridan was indeed a light-weight and nimble armored platform, thin aluminum armor did not offer tank crews the necessary protection to resist rocket propelled grenades, anti-tank mines, and other anti-armor weapons. Furthermore, the Sheridan’s unique 152mm main gun used a novel type of caseless ammunition that was less than reliable. Coupled with an extremely slow partially automatic loading mechanism, the M551 Sheridan was not a satisfactory light tank platform.

But, given the out of control M1 Abrams curb weight, the Army has deemed it necessary to give light tanks another chance. Now, two companies have submitted prototypes to the Army: BAE Systems, and General Dynamics Land Systems division.

BAE Systems has the advantage of drawing upon and updating their M8 Armored Gun System, a mid-1990s project that attempted to serve as an air-mobile light tank for American airborne troops. BAE’s bid appears to carry over some features of the M8 project, including a 105mm main gun, possibly with an autoloader, and with more modern armor features that the company claims offers equal protection as their “highly survivable” Armored Multi-Purpose Vehicle.

On the other hand, General Dynamics benefits from extensive tank design and manufacture experience, as the company builds the venerable M1 Abrams main battle tank. Their bid is based on GD’s AJAX armored fighting vehicle and features a modified version of the Abrams turret. This could indicate a desire to retain the Abrams’ larger 120mm main gun, despite housing it on the smaller MPF platform. Lastly, GD claims that their light tank would benefit from a high-performance diesel engine that would afford a high power to weight ratio.

Jane’s notes that both General Dynamics and BAE Systems are to deliver twelve prototypes for Soldier Vehicle Assessment. And although SVA has already begun, testing has only begun on GD’s twelve prototypes, as BAE’s have not yet been delivered. Regardless, more information on the Soldier Vehicle Assessment—and Mobile Protected Firepower’s progress—should be forthcoming later this year.

Caleb Larson is a defense writer with the National Interest. He holds a Master of Public Policy and covers U.S. and Russian security, European defense issues, and German politics and culture.

Image: Reuters.