Mobile Protected Firepower: Big Guns, Slimmer Waistline

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Its no secret the US Army has faced the challenge of bringing firepower to bear anywhere around the globe within an acceptable period of time. If a regional conflict should erupt, the Army must either preposition heavy assets within protected enclosures for unforeseen periods of time or attempt to move them from one location to another, a timely, expensive and unrealistic option that could spell doom for a friendly ally.

Enter the Mobile Protected Firepower Program (MFP). According to The National Interest, “With the resurgent threat of Russia and the growing power of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Ground Forces, the U.S. Army is working on developing ways to increase the firepower resident within its infantry brigade combat teams (ICBT).

One such effort is the Mobile Protected Firepower (MPF) program, which aims to provide a company of vehicles—which the Army adamantly does not want to refer to as light tanks—to brigades from the 82nd Airborne Division or 10th Mountain Division that can provide heavy fire support to those infantry units. The new vehicle, which is scheduled to enter into full-scale engineering and manufacturing development in 2019—with fielding tentatively scheduled for around 2022—would be similar in concept to the M551 Sheridan light tank. The Sheridan used to be operated the Army’s airborne units unit until 1996, but was retired without replacement.

The Army does not want a “new” vehicle per se, rather, the service wants something that it can quickly put into production in the shortest amount of time at the lowest possible cost. “What we have said in MPF is: We’re not willing to wait for you to go through a lengthy bottom-up design process,” Maj. Gen. David Bassett, the Army’s program executive officer for Ground Combat Systems told reporters at the Association of the United States Army annual meeting on Oct. 5. “What we are willing to do is to give you some time on your own to get a design ready to compete and then we’ll evaluate that into a fairly rapid engineering, manufacturing development phase.”

The Army has not quite fully figured out what kind of resources it has available for the MPF program, but the service is focused on keeping the cost and schedule under control using the Marine Corps’ Amphibious Combat Vehicle (ACV) program as a model, Bassett said. The key is to have at least two competing designs. Ideally, the Army would benefit from having multiple contractors competing for the program. And there are already indications that the competition to secure the MPF tender will be fierce.”

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The Army is currently field testing a number of potential candidates that could fill the role of a lighter weight tank, one that could stand toe-to-toe with a number of adversarial vehicles from around the world until heavier and more capable ground systems could be brought to bear. (Images courtesy of Defense Technology Review)

Since mobility and air transportability would be key, whichever MPF system is chosen will mean the requisite use of lighter materials, including strengthened aluminum, much like the M551 “Sheridan” AR/AAV light tank employed by the US Army during the Vietnam conflict or the Bradley family of infantry fighting vehicles. Such vehicles have very thin armor so a similarly conceived vehicle designed to meet the MPF program would likely have to rely upon an active protection system to defend itself against a litany of direct-fire threats. It would also likely be rigged for low-velocity airdrop from the back of a cargo plane using a Low Altitude Parachute Extraction System (LAPES).

 
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