General Dynamics Land Systems began assembling the Army’s Mobile Protected Firepower system in November, after being selected in June to build the light tank. The first new combat vehicle to join the force in nearly four decades, the MPF system is meant to improve mobility, protection and direct-fire capabilities on the battlefield, originally reported by Army Times sister publication Defense News. The system includes a new chassis – or base frame – design. The turret is new, said Kevin Vernagus, the GDLS director for the MPF system, while working to maintain an interior and controls like an Abrams tank.
The service expects to spend about $6 billion over the course of MPF’s procurement process. Estimates suggest that the total life-cycle cost of the program will total around $17 billion. The first production of MPF will be delivered to the service in late 2023, with an initial delivery of vehicles. However, the contract stipulates that the Army is allowed to purchase up to 70 more over the course of early production for a total of more than $1.1 billion.
Beating out competitor BAE Systems, GDLS delivered 12 prototypes to be evaluated by soldiers in the 82nd Airborne Division. Despite positive marks compared to its competitors, GDLS is coordinating with the Army to fix some issues with overheating experienced at Yuma Proving Ground, Arizona. Army leaders plan on buying 504 vehicles meant to be in the service’s inventory for at least 30 years. Most of the procurement should be finished by 2035.
Comment: This armored vehicle is to function as an infantry support vehicle rather than a light tank. The 105mm gun is not meant to take on main battle tanks (MBT), although it could probably do well against many of them. Its armor protection is certainly no match for the guns of enemy MBTs or the more advanced ATGMs on today’s battlefields. But it will be a welcome sight to the infantrymen of airborne and light infantry battalions. But don’t mount ERA (explosive reactive armor) or an active protective system like Trophy on these new armored vehicles. The accompanying infantry will not appreciate it. These mobile protective firepower systems do have telephones on the rear of the vehicles so infantry can talk directly with the vehicle crew during combat. That’s not something new, but I’m glad to see it’s included on this vehicle.
The 82nd Airborne had a tank battalion for as long as I can remember. I went through Jump School in 1973. I wondered why three armor lieutenants were in the class. They told me about their M-551 Sheridans. I was intrigued by this air droppable tank. The only Sheridans I ever saw were the three in the ground cavalry troop of the 3/4 Cavalry Squadron of the 25th ID. They were always used to aggress against us during exercises in the Kahuku Mountain training areas, certainly not ideal tank country. I was close enough to one to have the whip antenna of a PRC-77 I was carrying run over on a greasy, muddy jungle track.
The Sheridans fired the Shillelagh ATGM as an anti-tank round as well as 152mm conventional HE rounds. I saw them at the range firing those conventional rounds one day. One Sheridan fired a round and then sat there deader than Kelsey’s nuts. A second Sheridan fired a round and the turret began spinning uncontrollably. That was the end of that day’s range firing. Needless to say, the Sheridan’s electrical systems had a lot of problems.
The Sheridans were used in Viet Nam where the aluminum hull armor’s vulnerability to RPG fire was quickly discovered. They weren’t any better than the M113 APCs in that respect. Although it was always referred to as an “Armored Reconnaissance/Airborne Assault Vehicle” rather than as a light tank, it clearly didn’t do the concept of light tanks any favor. Still, Sheridans were employed in combat during the 1989 operation in Panama and again during Operation Desert Shield. The old Sheridan, warts and all, worked fairly well in both those conflicts, especially in Panama where “tank fright” among the Panamanian troops was a real thing.
Both the Army and the Marine Corps fiddled with the light tank/mobile gun concept for years looking for a suitable replacement for the Sheridan. It looks like this new MPF system (good lord this thing needs a new name badly) will fit the bill. The grunts and tread heads who worked with the initial batch of prototypes were very pleased with it.