U.S. Army officials released new details this week about what the service wants its future Mobile Protected Firepower vehicle to provide infantry brigade combat teams.
The MPF concept emerged a few years ago when maneuver leaders started calling for a lightweight, armored platform armed with a large enough cannon to destroy hardened targets for light infantry forces.
Parachute infantry battalions can be used to seize airfields as an entry point for heavier follow-on forces. Airborne forces, however, lack the staying power of Stryker and mechanized infantry.
The 82nd Airborne Division was equipped with the M551 Sheridan Armored Reconnaissance Airborne Assault Vehicle until the mid-1990s. Developed during the Vietnam War, the Sheridan resembled a light tank and featured a 152mm main gun capable of firing standard ammunition or the MGM-51 Shillelagh antitank missile.
The Sheridan was used in the Invasion of Panama in 1989 and Operation Desert Shield/Storm in 1991, but it was considered ineffective since its lightweight, aluminum armor was thin enough to be pierced by heavy machine-gun rounds, and the vehicle was particularly vulnerable to mines.
Army officials have laid out a broad set of requirements for the MPF such as a max weight of 32 tons.
“This is going to go into all the IBCTs so … it has got to be able to go where the infantryman goes; that’s one of the reasons why the Army is interested in smaller vehicle not quite the size of an Abrams tank because a lot of these austere environments you can expect bridges that can’t support heavier armor you can expect narrow streets,” said Army Col. Jim Schirmer, who runs Project Manager Armored Fighting Vehicles.
The Army is also looking for a tracked vehicle capable of driving over rubble and burnt out cars, Schirmer said.
“On the lethality side … the Army doesn’t want to develop a new suite of ammunition, so the plan is to keep the weapon to something that is already in the Army inventory,” Schirmer said, adding that the possibilities could range between 50mm and 120mm.
There is a Navy 57mm program some of the senior leaders are interested in, but it may be too large for this type of vehicle, Schirmer said.
Maj. Gen. David Bassett, who runs Program Executive Office Ground Combat Systems, pointed out that “MPF is going to be unique in an IBCT environment, so I think we are just now getting to the start of doing analysis of what it is going to mean to the IBCT such as force structure and fueler … and all the other things it is going to take to support track vehicles by an IBCT formation.”
GD Land Systems, the maker of the M1 Abrams tank, took an Abrams turret and reduced the weight from 22 tons to eight tons, Peck said.
Company officials went to Army Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center, or ARDEC, and borrowed the 120mm gun designed originally for the Army’s now defunct Future Combat Systems, Peck said. The FCS gun weighs about half as much as the two-ton 120mm Abrams gun, he said.
Army officials said they are encouraged by GD's tech demonstrator.
“We want to get the good ideas of all our industrial based partners as well as our partners in the organic S&T community on how to best do this,” Bassett said.
“We wanted to ensure that we left our requirements at this stage broad enough so we understood the full breadth of what might be possible, so we are not saying we want a light tank. … This is about a certain amount of effects, a certain amount of protection and a certain amount of mobility.”
The Army hopes to go into low-rate initial production on the MPF platform in 2019 and to have first unit equipped in 2023.
“So what that means is industry has a couple of years to get ready for that competition,” Bassett said. “We are asking them to make that investment and in exchange for that we have to be very confident about what our requirements are.”