The US Army announces the imminent start of the next phase of the Mobile Protected Firepower (MPF) program. Currently, the program participants are completing the necessary work and the construction of the ordered equipment. Then, on the basis of the military unit, comparative tests of two samples will begin. The main results of such a check are planned to be received by the middle of next year.
On the eve of tests
According to the latest reports, tests of two versions of the MPF will take place at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. They will start in January next year and will last until June. 24 armored vehicles will operate on various routes, show their fire characteristics and demonstrate ease of use. In addition, the equipment will be tested by shelling using various weapons.
Now preparatory work is being carried out at the base responsible for conducting the tests. Specialists are preparing routes for sea trials and firing lines for checking weapons. By early next year, Fort Bragg will be able to accept all vehicles involved in testing.
All previously announced plans are reportedly still in force. Starting in June 2021, the Pentagon will study the results of military tests. The winner of the MPF program will be selected in 2022, at which time a serial production contract will appear. The first tanks will go to the troops in 2025.
Competitors at work
For contracts of the military department, two promising tanks from General Dynamics Land Systems (GDLS) and BAE Systems will compete. Currently, development organizations are busy building experimental equipment for future tests. In accordance with the contracts of December 2018, they must deliver 12 prototype tanks.
One-type machine on assembly
This year, GDLS and BAE Systems have highlighted their current successes in the context of MPF on numerous occasions. New messages of this kind appeared in early October. GDLS reports that three tanks have been handed over to the Pentagon so far, and two of them are already being tested. At the Aberdeen Proving Ground, sea trials of one of them are being carried out, and the shooting will begin soon. The second was sent to the Yuma test site, where it serves as a training aid for future crews.
Five more tanks have been built and are being prepared for delivery to the customer. After the necessary checks, they will be handed over to the army to participate in the following events. Acceptance certificates are expected to be signed by the end of this year.
BAE Systems, as in the recent past, does not disclose the exact details of the production of its MPFs. However, it is known that by now she has managed to build several experimental armored vehicles. Apparently, in terms of the pace of work, BAE Systems is not inferior to a competitor, and by early next year the Pentagon will receive all the ordered tanks.
Earlier, representatives of development companies talked about some time shift. Due to the pandemic and anti-epidemic measures, the pace of work at the GDLS and BAE Systems factories has dropped significantly. As a result, the dates for the transfer of experimental equipment were shifted by several months – and with them all other activities. However, the customer does not consider this to be a serious problem and a threat to future rearmament.
The purpose of future tests is to directly compare two pieces of equipment during operation in an army unit. The military will determine which of the vehicles shows the best level of protection and higher firepower. They will also appreciate the convenience of combat work, maintenance and operation in general.
Experienced tank from GDLS
The MPF program has specific objectives, which have led to a number of inherent requirements. The proposed machines will have to show how much they meet the customer’s wishes. First of all, tanks require a special combination of strategic and tactical mobility, protection and firepower.
The dimensions and weight of MPF tanks are limited by the capabilities of military transport aircraft. One such vehicle should be carried by the C-130 transporter, and the heavy C-17 should take three units on board. Despite this, armored vehicles must have a high level of protection and powerful weapons. In the course of future tests, it will be determined whether the developers managed to meet the specified limits without sacrificing combat qualities.
The promising MPF tank will have to actively interact with the infantry, other armored vehicles, aviation and artillery. To do this, he must have communication equipment that ensures inclusion in the current and future contours of command and control. In the course of a future comparison, the Pentagon will determine which of the proposed tanks is better suited for interaction.
After the tests
Less than six months have been allocated to conduct military tests of two types of equipment. Then they will spend at least six months analyzing the collected data and choosing a winner. In 2022, an order for serial production of equipment is expected. The plans for this stage are already known and have not yet been corrected.
At the moment, it is planned to purchase about 55-60 MPF tanks. The first order will stipulate the assembly of 26 machines. Then a contract for another 28 tanks may appear. In addition, they can order the repair and modernization of 8 experimental vehicles with further transfer to combat units. The equipment for these orders will enter the troops from 2025. Probably, its production will take no more than a few years.
Obviously, the production of MPF will not be limited to 55-60 armored vehicles. This technique is intended to strengthen the infantry formations and will have to take over some of the tasks of the main tanks. Thus, the US Army requires hundreds of such armored vehicles, and re-equipping parts can take a lot of time.
Challengers to win
The results of the MPF competition are still difficult to predict. Within the framework of the program, two armored vehicles have been developed with a number of common features and characteristics. At the same time, there are certain differences that can affect the overall capabilities and, as a result, the choice of the customer. There is no clear program leader.
GDLS offers a light tank on the chassis of an Ajax infantry fighting vehicle, equipped with a full-fledged fighting compartment with a 105 or 120 mm cannon. An advanced fire control system based on modern components is used. The standard armor of the hull and turret can be supplemented with overhead elements, which together provide protection against small-caliber shells and other threats.
BAE Systems developed its own version of the MPF based on the M8 light tank, created in the mid-nineties and not accepted into service. The original design was finalized and equipped with new units and devices, taking into account the modern wishes of the customer. A tank of this type will be able to find targets at any time of the day and attack them using a 105-mm cannon.
Both projects were created according to the same tactical and technical requirements. In addition, there is a unification for some components and assemblies. As a result, the declared technical and combat characteristics of the two light tanks are on the same level, and therefore there is no clear favorite in the program yet.
Ongoing preliminary tests involving several prototypes are needed to refine the designs and correct existing shortcomings. Future trials at Fort Bragg have a different purpose. The Pentagon is going to receive new tanks in sufficient quantities and study them in real-life conditions, incl. using at landfills.
Comparative tests are expected to more accurately establish the differences between the two machines and determine their suitability for actual use. These processes will bring the final of the program closer and determine the future shape of the US ground forces. However, in the coming weeks and months, the main task will be to complete the assembly of the necessary prototype tanks and prepare the training grounds.