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By Kris Osborn - President & Editor-In-Chief, Warrior Maven

As the Army’s new Mobile Protected Firepower “Light Tank” blasts onto the scene into Low Rate Initial Production, Army weapons developers are further preparing for new kinds of ultra high-speed, expeditionary, fast-attack tactics which are already informing new, emerging concepts of Combined Arms Maneuver.

Light Tank

A faster, lighter, yet highly lethal armored “Light Tank” able to air deploy and keep pace with fast-moving dismounted infantry is precisely the kind of vehicle which will be needed in future wars, conflicts expected to be much faster, more dispersed and heavily reliant upon AI-enabled information flow. A window of opportunity with which to find, target and “close” with an enemy will continue to become much shorter, a circumstance requiring the need for an armored vehicle to bring fast and closer-in armored fire support to attacking forces.

“The rapid pace that the MPF will bring to our light formations will change the pace and expand the battlefield for those commanders giving them time and space to make decisions, much faster,” Maj. Gen. Ross Coffman, Director, Next Generation Combat Vehicle Cross Functional Team, Army Futures Command, told Warrior at a press event.

High speed, AI-enabled armored vehicles will increasingly be needed to keep pace with the kind of breakthrough information flow now being achieved by the Army. 

Project Convergence, for example, has shown that the Army can now do what it has long envisioned, and that is share real-time, organized, combat-relevant sensitive combat and war information across the force much faster and more efficiently than ever before. 

The breakthroughs are paradigm changing, and inspiring new concepts of operation for Army futurists refining notions of Combined Arms Maneuver, because sensor to shooter time has now been massively “truncated” .. from minutes to seconds. Unmanned systems, helicopters and even armored ground vehicles can gather incoming sensor information, bounce it off an AI-enabled computer and perform near instant data analysis and organization to identify the optimal weapon or “effector” with which to attack an enemy. It is called warfare at the speed of relevance, and it is a concept which has been driving weapons development toward new platforms such as its Mobile Protected Firepower vehicle.

General Dynamics Land Systems Mobile Protected Fire Power entry features some similarities to the M1 Abrams tank such as the same fire control system and turret.

General Dynamics Land Systems Mobile Protected Fire Power entry features some similarities to the M1 Abrams tank such as the same fire control system and turret.

In a late June announcement, the Army announced it was awarding a Mobile Protected Firepower production contract to General Dynamics Land Systems, maker of the Abrams tank. Developers say that while fire-control, armor and some electronics expertise from the upgraded Abrams were used or drawn from to engineer the MPF, the vehicle is entirely new, built with new innovative technologies and designed for higher-speed, yet protected warfare missions.

The Army Acquisition Executive credited Army weapons experts, combat requirements developers and collaboration with lawmakers as all responsible for the rapid, successful emergence of the new combat vehicle.

“The acquisition and requirements community worked together to move this system into production in 4 years. We did acquisition quickly due to flexible legislation to allow prototype delivery,” Mr. Douglas Bush, Assistant Secretary of the Army, Acquisition Logistics & Technology, told reporters following the announcement.

The MPF developmental timeline represents the kind of accelerated acquisition emphasis put into effect recently by Bush and other senior Army weapons developers, an approach which uses digital engineering, software upgrades, rapid prototyping and soldier-developer collaborative work to refine requirements in relation to the kinds of tactics, strategies and operational approaches needed for a new paradigm for Combined Arms Maneuver. Part of this includes a deliberate blend between armor protection, mobility, speed and breakthrough levels of AI-enabled computing and Command and Control.

Maj. Gen. Ross Coffman, Director of the Next Generation Combat Vehicles Cross Functional Team, told Warrior during a press event that indeed the program has achieved success by virtue of a collective pursuit of what could be called “tiered” or “expanding” requirements likely to unfold in coming years due to soldier feedback. He explained that while additional systems and capabilities such as laser weapons, manned-unmanned teaming, active protection systems and even possibly low altitude counter-air defense weapons are all clearly within the realm of the possible, the initial focus from Army developers was to begin with clear, achievable requirements with “built in” rVoom for growth.

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Video Above: Top Army Weapons Buyer discusses Project Convergence, Hypersonic Weapons, Abrams Tank and more

“The Army in the past has had trouble continuing to expand requirements and then it eats up more time and money. We want the MPF to remove impediments on the battlefield in a protected program. This is a rapid program because we did not overstep on requirements and we set a schedule that was achievable,” Coffman said.

Continued modernization of the light tank as technologies such as improved algorithms for autonomy, networking and AI-enabled computing are all factored in as part of the original design by virtue of Army and GDLS effort to engineer a “open” or “common” architecture involving aligned and interoperable technical standards. The goal was to architect an extremely capable vehicle built from its inception with an ability to accommodate new technologies as they emerge. Perhaps the MPF will launch drones, fire lasers, control robotic vehicles, share data with ships and fighter jets and even be armed with some kind of drone-helicopter counterattack defense weapon.

“Our design reflects the purpose of the vehicle, which will provide the infantry brigade with large caliber very precise mobile fire power. How the Army uses it is going to be different, as it is designed to support infantry brigades. It is a capability the infantry brigades have lacked for some time,” Tim Reese, Director of Business Development, General Dynamics Land Systems, told Warrior in an interview.

All of these variables have been woven into an accelerated acquisition and development process intended to reduce bureaucracy, streamline modernization and build reliable, highly functional yet perpetually upgradable new vehicles. The service will start with 96 vehicles as a starting point from which to expand.

“We are on our cost schedule and performance targets. The award will be a contract covering 96 vehicles. Initial lot will be 26 vehicles. When they arrive we will confirm performance reliability testing and full up system live fire testing and operational testing. We will confirm with the Army if they are ready to move this to a First Unit Equipped in 2025,” Brig. Gen. Glen Dean, Program Executive Officer, Ground Combat Systems.

Reese explained that GDLS has engineered the vehicle for a high horsepower to weight ratio enabled by an advanced suspension system, and that the diesel engine was mounted in the front of the tank, as opposed to the Abrams which has its engine in the rear. Interestingly, while the GDLS vehicle is engineered with a 105mm cannon, there is also an ability to switch out and use a heavier cannon as needed should the threat circumstances require heavier firepower.

“We built in some growth margin so if later on the Army wants to add something, such as operate an unmanned ground vehicle, we can accommodate that. We tried to make the vehicle architecture as open and expandable as possible. We built a lot of design margin into our vehicle from computing power to electrical power,” Reese said.

For example, early “modularity” during the initial engineering phases of the vehicle enable it to now operate with an ability to “swap” canons or add more firepower as may be necessary for certain missions.

“We have designed the turret to accommodate more than one large caliber cannon,” Reese said.

Given the increasing need for on-board electrical power, the GDLS MPF is built with a newly designed “slip ring” to accommodate additional data capacity between the hull and the turret.

“The turret spins around into a hull, not a fixed point where wires are. The slip ring is a mechanical device that allows you to transfer data and operate under all conditions,” Reese said.

Kris Osborn is the President of Warrior Maven - Center for Military Modernization and the Defense Editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.

Kris Osborn, Warrior Maven President

Kris Osborn, Warrior Maven President - Center for Military Modernization

Warrior Maven and the Center for Military Modernization support the US Military and the need for continued US Modernization. However, Warrior Maven and the Center for Military Modernization do not speak for the US military or any US government entity. The Center is an independent entity intended to be a useful and value added publication for thought leadership and important discussion about modernization. Warrior Maven discusses and explores technologies, strategies and concepts of operation related to modernization and the need for deterrence and continued US military readiness, training and preparation for future conflict in a fast-changing threat environment. Warrior Maven does receive some support from private industry but all thoughts are those of the authors.