US Army Narrows Search For Light Tank to Two Companies

BAE Systems' entrant in the U.S. Army's Mobile Protected Firepower competition.

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BAE Systems' entrant in the U.S. Army's Mobile Protected Firepower competition.

General Dynamics and BAE Systems will each build 12 prototypes of an up-to-40-ton armored vehicle.

The U.S. Army will evaluate light tanks built by General Dynamics and BAE Systems as it moves ahead with plans to field some 500 of the armored vehicles.

While the Army is not yet buying large quantities of these tanks, the Mobile Protected Firepower project is another sign of how the Pentagon preparing for wars against peer competitors — like Russia and China — after nearly two decades of counterinsurgency in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“Currently, the Mobile Protected Firepower capabilities do not exist in our light formations,” Brig. Gen. Ross Coffman, director of the Next Generation Combat Vehicles Cross Functional Team, said Monday shortly after the contract announcement. “The requirements associated with this will enable U.S. forces to disrupt, breach, and break through those security zones and defensive belts to allow our infantrymen and women to close with and destroy the enemy on the objective.”

The Army did not say just how heavy the vehicles would be. But one of the requirements is to fit two of them aboard a C-17 Globemaster III airlifter, which has a capacity of about 80 tons. By contrast, the C-17 can carry just one 73-ton Abrams M1A2, the latest version of the Army’s main battle tank. And while the M1A2 mounts a 120mm gun, the new tank’s cannon will fire a projectile between 105mm and 120mm in diameter, Coffman said.

General Dynamics and BAE received deals to each build 12 prototypes for the Army. The contracts could be worth up to $376 million over the coming years, and the first prototypes from each company are expected to arrive 14 months from now, Army officials said. The Army is using special buying authorities, allowing the service to move quicker than a traditional acquisition program.

“The vehicles don’t exist, but the technologies, the pieces, the systems, the sub-systems, they do exist,” said David Dopp, the light-tank project manager. “It’s about integration.”

Soldiers will test the vehicles during the Army’s trials. The tanks will also be fired upon to determine how they stand up to enemy weapons.

The Army plans to choose a winner in fiscal 2022 and have battle-ready tanks by 2025. In all, the service is planning to buy 504 of these light-tanks.

The Army is eying the tanks for battles in fortified cities and muddy terrain.

“There’s no precision munition to remove bunkers from the battlefield, to shoot into buildings in dense urban terrain to allow infantryman to close with the enemy,” Coffman said. “This is a huge need and it’s a huge advancement towards the way we want to fight our future wars.”

“It has to be able to move over the terrain that we would expect light infantrymen can manver alongside,” he said. “It doesn’t have to go over every terrain that a soldier goes after, but it has to have the mobility to keep up and lead our soldiers in some really bad places.”

Army officials would not say why they chose the General Dynamics and BAE bids over a light-tank pitched by SAIC and Singapore-based ST Engineering.

“We can’t talk about the different proposals that we got,” Maj. Gen. Brian Cummings, program executive officer, Ground Combat Systems, said at Monday’s briefing.

A BAE statement said its tank “is the result of more than 30 years of research and development for an optimized, rapidly deployable, light-combat vehicle designed specifically to support light infantry.”

SAIC — which earlier this year lost a competition to BAE for new Marine Corps Amphibious Combat Vehicles — expressed disappointment that its proposal was not selected.

“We believe that our vehicle, developed with our teammates ST Engineering, CMI Defence, and Plasan, is an innovative solution at best value to meet current and future requirements,” Lauren Presti, an SAIC spokeswoman, said in an email. “We are extremely proud of our MPF’s performance and look forward to continuing our support for Army readiness and modernization in other areas.”

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