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Video Above: What comes after the Abrams? Assistant Secretary of Army Acquisition, Logistics and Technology Talks Future of Tanks

It may look like a “light tank” with a cannon, turret and similar looking armor configuration…people may call it the “light tank” as it is thought of as an expeditionary, deployable lighter weight armored vehicle to support advancing infantry in combat.

Mobile Protected Firepower Vehicle 

While more than 30-tons lighter than an Abrams tank, the Army’s new Mobile Protected Firepower vehicle does visually “resemble” what could be called a “Light Tank.”

However, the US Army does not like to call its new Mobile Protected Firepower vehicle a “light tank,” for a number of key reasons as it is built to meet an entirely different set of requirements.

An Abrams is a massive combat platform capable to supporting advancing armored units, breaking through an enemy perimeter to close with an enemy and unleash devastating firepower in mechanized warfare. It is a combat tested and highly cherished platform which continues to be upgraded for future decades. One senior Army weapons developer talked about the lasting importance of having heavy armor available to the Army for war, saying “We may keep the Abrams forever.”

MPF_Enviro

The new MPF, recently awarded to General Dynamics Land Systems in a production contract, not only fires a smaller 105mm cannon, is more than 30-tons lighter than an Abrams tank, much much faster than an Abrams and, perhaps most of all, air deployable aboard a C-17. Not only that, its basic concept of operation is also entirely different than an Abrams; the purpose of the MPF is to give advancing infantry armored fire support as they advance quickly in dismounted formations across bridges, enter urban areas and pass through uneven terrain while attacking an enemy. This kind of lighter weight, faster and more deployable armored support introduces tactical possibilities not previously available to ground war commanders, as Abrams tanks are much slower, less mobile and harder to deploy.

Senior Army Acquisition Executive Douglas Bush said the Army is preparing to launch is first MPF unit equipped by 2025 as the first low-rate-initial production vehicles are slated to arrive in 19-months.

“When they arrive, we will confirm performance reliability testing, full up system live fire and operational testing and confirm if we are ready to move the vehicle to a First Unit Equipped in 2025,” Maj. Gen. Ross Coffman, Director, Next Generation Combat Vehicles Cross Functional Team, Army Futures Command, told reporters following the contract announcement.

Interestingly, the vendor now building the new vehicle completely agrees with the Army that the vehicle is certainly NOT a “light tank.” General Dynamics Land Systems, maker of the Abrams tank, is certainly in a position to know how its new MPF might differ from its heavier counterpart.

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“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,” Kevin Bonner, Global Chief Technology Officer for General Dynamics Land Systems, told Warrior in a statement “From the suspension to the propulsion and electronics, the MPF represents the U.S. Army’s next generation of combat vehicles.”

Some of the specific technical elements of the MPF, and the innovations woven into the design by GDLS, certainly support this notion that indeed the MPF is an entirely different vehicle tasked with an entirely different operational purpose.

While explaining some of the technical elements of the GDLS vehicle, Tim Reese, Director of Business Development, General Dynamics Land Systems, made remarks which fully align with the Army and Bonner.

Reese explained that the suspension of the vehicle, the high horsepower weight to horsepower ratio and front-mounted diesel engine make the MPF architecture quite different from a standard tank. Not only that, while an Abrams can only fire a 120mm cannon, the MPF is built with a modular turret such that it can switch out to a heavier cannon than a 105mm if needed to meet certain mission requirements. The MPF is also built with a newly designed “slip ring” for added networking, data management and information exchange between the hull and the turret.

The entire operational concept for why the MPF is needed is due in large measure to a need to fill a “gap” or “combat need” the Abrams is unable to fill. An Abrams cannot pass through narrow passageways alongside dismounted infantry, cross certain bridges or drop from an airplane. While the classic heavy tank has likely etched its role in future warfare for decades to come, there are many crucial tactical missions which the Abrams simply cannot perform. …thus …the Army requirement for MPF.

An MPF is of particular relevance for future warfare, which is expected to be much faster pace, dispersed and driven by high-speed information flow and operational quickness. This is why the MPF, while certainly drawing from successful elements of previous armored vehicle construction,” is entirely new and by no means a “Light Tank.”

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 defense editor for the National Interest and President of Warrior Maven - the Center for Military Modernization. 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