Two prototype light tanks for the US Army

First tank GDLS MPF, April 2020

The US Army continues to work on the project of a promising light tank Mobile Protected Firepower (MPF). By now, prototypes of such equipment have been transferred to military trials, during which future users will have to evaluate them. However, the competition has not yet become fully such. One of the participants has not yet provided the army with the required armored vehicles.

Experienced difficulties

In December 2018, the Pentagon issued contracts to the participating companies for the development and construction of equipment for subsequent tests. In accordance with these documents, General Dynamics Land Systems (GDLS) received funding in the amount of $ 335 million, and BAE Systems will provide $ 376 million.

Under the terms of the contracts, the two firms must build and transfer 12 light tanks of their own design to the army, as well as empty armored hulls and towers for additional tests. The order was given 18 months to complete – until the end of summer 2020 with the start of deliveries in the spring. The well-known events of the past year hit design and construction work, which caused both MPF participants to miss the deadline.

In April last year, two companies demonstrated the first tanks of an experimental batch to the leadership of the ground forces. At that time, the equipment was at the assembly stage or was undergoing the first factory tests. Despite a certain optimism, the work was generally delayed – which then led to the failure of the established deadlines.

Only at the very end of last year, GDLS was able to transfer the last of the 12 contracted tanks to the customer. In addition, it is reported that two hulls and towers have been delivered. Armored vehicles from BAE Systems were not ready for delivery by that time. Until the end of 2020, the Pentagon has not received a single such machine.

At the end of January, the army revealed the current state of affairs. By that time, 12 tanks and 4 hulls had been received. Thus, GDLS fully fulfilled its obligations, while BAE Systems has just begun deliveries, and not from full-fledged tanks, but from simpler products.

Over the past two months, the situation has not changed dramatically. General Dynamics MPF tanks have been submitted for testing, while their competitors from BAE Systems are still at the production stage. At the same time, the Pentagon is showing some optimism: all ordered vehicles are expected to be received by the end of 2021. However, such terms mean a delay of several months or more from the original schedule.

Tests without comparisons

In accordance with the plans of the MPF program, 4 tanks of each model must pass military tests or Soldier Vehicle Assessment (SVA). These events are held at Fort Bragg with the involvement of one of the units of the 82nd Airborne Division. Comprehensive testing under military operation conditions will continue until June.

The trials reportedly began successfully on January 4 and have already yielded some results. So far, however, only General Dynamics vehicles are involved. It is not yet known how soon rival tanks from BAE Systems will join them. In addition, it is still not clear what the testimonials of the test paratroopers will be, and which of the two samples they will like best.

The tests at Fort Bragg have been going on for two months, but their details have not yet been disclosed. Pentagon officials say the personnel welcomed the experienced GDLS technique with enthusiasm and showed great interest in mastering it. The reaction to the BAE Systems light tank will likely be the same when it gets to testing.

Time shift

In the past year, the MPF program faced unexpected problems that led to delays in work. One of the presented projects managed to keep within a reasonable time frame, while the other noticeably got out of them. Current construction problems could negatively affect the prospects of the BAE Systems project or even the entire program as a whole.

Project appearance of the MPF tank from BAE Systems

According to previously approved plans, SVA tests should take place in the first half of 2021, after which several months will be allotted to analyze their results. By the end of FY2021 it is necessary to choose a winner, and this project will be further developed. At the end of FY2022. the first order for the pre-production of new tanks will appear.

Without experienced tanks from BAE Systems, the Pentagon cannot conduct full comparative tests, as well as consider the totality of the characteristics of the presented samples. The choice of technology for further production, based on the availability of prototypes at the moment, does not make sense. Therefore, the army will have to wait for the delivery of previously ordered products and make a full comparison.

If BAE Systems presents the required four tanks right now, SVA testing will continue until at least the end of the summer. The analysis of their results will have to be carried out in the fall, and then a decision will be made on the further course of the program. It is possible that the current shift in testing will require a revision of the timing of the debriefing.

Tank from BAE Systems under construction, April 2020

Thus, the consequence of last year’s problems in production is the displacement of work on the MPF, at least for several months. It is not known whether the Pentagon will require contractors to return by the approved deadline. At the current stages of the project, this is not critical, although it may affect future work.

Problems of the future

In 2022, the Pentagon is going to sign a contract for the production of 26 pre-production tanks with an option for 28 units. The deliveries of equipment to combat units will begin by the middle of the decade. In 2025, the first company on the new MPFs will reach operational readiness. In the same year, a full-scale series will be launched, followed by a full rearmament of army and national guard units. It is planned to purchase 504 tanks.

It is clear that current processes will have an impact on future work under the MPF program. The later delivery of experimental tanks leads to a shift in the choice of the winner, which, in turn, should affect the timing of the completion of development work and preparation of the series. If new problems arise at this stage, the program will face further transfers and revisions.

Thus, serious risks have emerged and remain that could affect the overall duration of the program and the timing of its completion. At the same time, one should not forget about the possibility of increasing the cost for one reason or another, which will become another obstacle to the implementation of the approved plans.

Demands versus difficulties

The MPF program has gone through some of the milestones. The design and factory tests of two types of armored vehicles have been successfully completed. Now one of the tanks is being tested in the army and is waiting for a competitor to be compared with. Despite all the difficulties and problems, work continues and allows the Pentagon to look to the future with optimism.

Apparently, the Pentagon’s optimism is justified. The current comparative tests at the base of the military unit will be completed without serious delays in time, and the winner of the program will be selected based on their results. Then, within a few years, they will set up production and start rearmament. However, the exact timing and cost of the program are still in question. Judging by the latest events, the MPF tank will go into service – but later than originally planned.

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