Light tanks MPF delayed due to pandemic

Experienced tank from GDLS, April 2020

In the near future, the US Army plans to begin comparative tests of two promising “light tanks” developed under the Mobile Protected Firepower (MPF) program. However, these activities have to be postponed to a later date. Due to the ongoing pandemic, two companies participating in the program were unable to build the required equipment in the required quantities on time.

Order and its execution

The MPF program started in 2015, and by the end of 2018 the final composition of its participants was determined. At the same time, orders appeared for the construction of experimental equipment for comparative tests. General Dynamics Land Systems was supposed to build 12 tanks with a total value of $ 355 million, and BAE Systems received a similar order worth $ 376 million.

Under the terms of two contracts, the delivery of finished equipment was supposed to start in March 2020 and end no later than the end of August. At first, the work went well and on schedule. So, in April of this year, cars of new models were shown to the Minister of the Army. It was reported that they would soon be handed over to the customer.

However, the program participants soon faced serious difficulties. The outbreak of the pandemic hit production in various areas and the MPF program became one of its “victims”. Due to problems in the production cooperation line, both contractors were unable to complete and deliver all the ordered tanks on time.

Deadlines are disrupted

According to Janes, by the end of August, GDLS and BAE Systems managed to build and transfer to the army only a small part of the experienced armored vehicles. What success BAE Systems can boast of is not specified. At the same time, there are enough details about the GDLS project.

On August 26, GDLS delivered the first two experimental tanks to the customer. Acceptance of the third was expected over the next few days. The company reports that several more armored vehicles are in various stages of production. In the absence of serious problems of one kind or another, they will be completed in the near future and submitted for testing.

The MPF program management admitted that plans to receive 24 tanks by the end of August were thwarted. Given the current problems and challenges, the Pentagon expects prototype production to be completed only in FY2021. It starts in October, which gives contractors some time, but the last tanks may arrive even later.

Plans and reality

Last year, the US Army revealed some details of future tests. Two dozen light tanks, received by the end of August 2020, were planned to be transferred to one of the units of the 82nd Airborne Division in early autumn. The paratroopers had to learn and master the new technique, as well as try it out in various tests and exercises.

Comparative and military tests were given more than a year. In FY2022 the program management had to study the test results and select the most successful sample. Then the signing of a contract for full-scale serial production was expected. The army needs 504 tanks of a new type to re-equip “light” units from the ground and airborne forces.

Full MPF military service is due to begin in FY2025. – in the fall of calendar year 2024 or later. The complete re-equipment is planned to be carried out in several years and completed by the beginning of the thirties.

Light tanks MPF delayed due to pandemic

The first prototype of the M8 AGS from BAE Systems

As it became known the other day, the production of prototypes did not meet the approved plans. Accordingly, the entire schedule of follow-up activities will have to be shifted to the right by several months. An updated schedule for the MPF program may appear shortly.

In connection with recent events, the beginning of trial operation and comparison is shifted from autumn to winter. Anti-epidemic measures may hinder the planned work, and the selection of the winner will move to a later date, until the end of FY2022. In the future, the winner of the program will have the opportunity to optimize some processes and save time, so that the project again comes into line with the original schedule. Then the army could actually get new light tanks in FY2025.

Not just a pandemic

It should be noted that the pandemic and related production problems are not the only threats to the MPF program. There are several other factors that can negatively affect the course of the program or even lead to its closure.

First of all, the difficulties are associated with the specific requirements of the customer. The army needs a tank with a combat weight of no more than 25-30 tons with high mobility, with protection from small-caliber shells, carrying a large-caliber gun, and also equipped with modern control systems and communication and control facilities. Both proposed tanks make extensive use of new components that have not yet passed the necessary testing. This combination of special requirements and novelty leads to known risks that can manifest themselves at any stage of work.

At the moment, the MPF program turns out to be quite expensive. In accordance with the contracts of 2018, one experimental tank, taking into account the cost of development work, costs at least $ 29.6 million. Probably, serial products will be cheaper, but their real cost – like the price of the entire series – is still unknown.

Tank from BAE Systems for testing, April 2020

In the context of the prospects for MPF, previous attempts to create a light tank are often remembered. In 1996, the US Army retired the obsolete M551 Sheridan. For the vacant niche, a promising M8 was created, but it was soon abandoned too. Then there were new proposals and projects – again unsuccessful. In connection with such past events, a forecast is made about the possible failure of the current MPF program.

Technical optimism

However, the companies participating in the program remain optimistic and continue to work. The first samples of armored vehicles have already been handed over to the customer, and soon the following vehicles will be sent for testing. BAE Systems and GDLS, despite all the difficulties and limitations, are ready to fight for a large contract for 504 tanks.

BAE Systems is currently building light tanks with the working designation M8 Armored Gun System – a modern version of the M8 project, modified with the use of new technologies and components. This tank has combined armor against small-caliber projectiles and can carry additional protection. The main weapon is a 105-mm rifled cannon for a unitary shot, controlled by a modern all-weather and all-day fire control system. Due to its limited dimensions and weight of no more than 30 tons, the tank can be transported by air.

General Dynamics offers a variant of the previously presented Griffin III armored vehicle. In terms of the main design features and tactical and technical characteristics, this sample is similar to the M8 AGS. Various original solutions are also offered, such as unusual overhead protection and camouflage modules. Air transportability is provided. It is possible to strengthen the armament by installing a new type of 120-mm smoothbore cannon.

In general, the two “light tanks” for the MPF program are similar and, apparently, are of equal interest to the customer. To determine a more successful sample that better meets the tactical and technical requirements, a full range of tests and checks is required, incl. on the basis of military units.

For obvious reasons, the production of experimental equipment was delayed, and the start of the comparison was postponed for several months. This may affect some of the subsequent stages of the program, but then there is an opportunity to catch up on lost time and complete previously set tasks. There are still chances of meeting the original schedule, but there are various risks that can affect the course of the program or lead to its cancellation.

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