When it comes to bridging rivers, all the technology of modern warfare is still limited by the hard limits imposed by the laws of physics – the structure must be able to support the vehicle that is on it. To try to address this problem, the Army invested in a lighter tank than the current behemoth of the battlefield, the M1 Abrams main battle tank. This new vehicle, still known by its descriptive moniker Mobile Protected Firepower, was promoted at the Association of the United States Army conference held in Washington, D.C., Oct. 10-12.

The Mobile Protected Firepower (MPF) vehicle weighs 38 tons, which is heavy by any standard, but light compared to the 70-ton weight of an Abrams tank. That means it can go places the Abrams can’t, expanding how and where the military can effectively wage vehicular warfare. The MPF will also feature fire control and situational awareness sensors that can allow enemy location data to be shared between vehicles in formation.

“Bridge ratings being what they are, you know immediately if that bridge can support the weight of a mobile fire protection vehicle or not,” says Tim Reese, director of U.S. business development for General Dynamics, the company that makes both Abrams and MPF alike. “It’s the same with the Abrams tank, which requires a much stronger bridge to cross than the MPF.”

The MPF is designed to accompany Infantry Brigade Combat Teams, which are mainly intended for traveling on foot. These formations, which consist of between 3,900 and 4,100 personnel, include some vehicles, but are distinct from armored and Stryker brigade combat teams, which use rugged heavy and medium armored vehicles to transport soldiers and weapons around the battlefield.

“It is designed to assist dismounted units when they find themselves in a place where they cannot maneuver and complete their mission due to a threat that is greater than the weapons systems they carry on their backs,” says Reese. “Because [the MPF’s] mobility, he can quickly move around the battlefield and can be very quickly on call [assist] this infantry element.

“You don’t have to wait for higher coordination for an air vehicle. You don’t have to try to coordinate helicopters or anything like that,” he adds.

While armored and striker brigades are bristling with heavy weaponry, infantry brigades are limited to equipment that fits on the backs of soldiers and what can be mounted on vehicles that adhere to infantry over rough terrain, such as urban rubble or soft ground. Soldiers on the ground are commonly referred to as “dismounted”.

“If they get to any kind [enemy] a fortified bunker situation or light and lightly armored vehicles, that’s something that would prevent going down at the moment, but [those are threats] that the defensive large-caliber direct fire power of the MPF vehicle can easily defeat,” said Kevin Vernagus, General Dynamics MPF program director.

Infantry brigade combat groups, unlike heavier brigades, can be deployed from aircraft, allowing the formation to go into action after disembarking from transport aircraft and helicopters.

“It has to be able to roll and be able to fight when it’s rolling,” says Vernagus. “We had to make sure he was doing everything he was supposed to be doing coming off that plane.”

This meant keeping the weight within what a C-17 cargo transport aircraft can deliver. It’s not a trade-off made lightly: A combat vehicle’s armor is vital to survivability, so to lighten the load without compromising protection, General Dynamics says it looked to other parts of the design where it could incorporate durable but more -light components.

“Talking about armored protection is obviously something we can’t really do,” Reese said, “but the more common thing is the wheels. They are the same size as [on] a Bradley vehicle, but they weigh a lot less because they’re made of high-strength aluminum.”

If the Army decides the MPF needs more and heavier armor in the future, the vehicle’s frame is designed to accommodate it.

“We have additional armor on the side and a belly plate underneath that will allow us in the future as threats evolve or new materials become available, you can just take one set of armor off and put on a new or thicker material or thinner armor if is necessary,” says Vernagus. This system also includes hooks for additional protection, such as active protection systems that explode on approaching anti-tank missiles, softening their impact.

To ensure that new tank crews can adapt to the MPFs as they are delivered, the tank has the same one-in-hull, three-in-turret crew configuration as the Abrams, although the turret itself is located further back. That’s because, unlike the Abrams or Patton tanks that preceded it, the MPF’s engine and transmission are front-mounted. The internal look, feel and controls of the MPF were designed to closely match those of the Abrams.

The design beat a rival model from BAE in trials before the Army selected General Dynamics to make the MPF in June. Designers adapted to feedback from soldiers during testing.

“The side skirts that cover the track in the first phase of the program, we had bolt-on ones,” says Vernagus. “And so every time the soldiers had to do track maintenance or adjust something, they had to take these bolts off in this big heavy armor. What we’ve done now for this next phase of the program is to put in hinges so these skirts actually open to the side and they can get right to what they need without having to take off heavy armor.

Deliveries of the MPF production series, which does not yet have a proper, non-acronym-based name, are scheduled to begin by the end of fiscal year 2023.

The Army’s new light tank can venture where its beefier cousins can’t

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