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Infantry soldiers to test light tank next year

Photo: In this photo from 1986, M551 Sheridan light tanks cross the desert during an Opposing Forces exercise at the National Training Center, California. The M551 left regular service in 1996. A new lightweight armoured combat vehicle, the Mobile Protected Firepower vehicle, will be tested by 82nd Airborne Division Soldiers. Photo: John Snyder

 

US Infantry soldiers are closer to getting their hands on a ‘light tank’ that will boost the firepower of their formations without slowing them down.

In this photo from 1986, M551 Sheridan light tanks cross the desert during an Opposing Forces exercise at the National Training Center, California. The M551 left regular service in 1996. A new lightweight armoured combat vehicle, the Mobile Protected Firepower vehicle, will be tested by 82nd Airborne Division Soldiers. Photo: John Snyder

The Mobile Protected Firepower vehicle, part of the Next-Generation Combat Vehicles suite, is currently in competition after two vendors were chosen to each build 12 prototypes for under $376 million.

Those prototypes will be put through a series of lethality, survivability and mobility tests and a light infantry unit at the 82nd Airborne Division will also conduct an assessment later next year to gain soldier input.

“It will be the first time anybody really puts their hands on it,” said David Dopp, the vehicle’s project manager.

The army expects to receive about 500 MPFs, which it will start fielding in 2025. Each infantry brigade combat team will get their own 14-vehicle company for armour support.

The ‘light tank’ will be a tracked vehicle with likely a 105 mm cannon and 7.62 mm coaxial machine gun for firepower. They will help infantry soldiers blast through obstacles, take out machine-gun nests and defend against other armoured vehicles.

“Infantry would go out on foot or in a Humvee, but then if they ran into some fortification, a bunker or other vehicles, everything kind of stopped,” Dopp said.

At least two would need to fit on a C-17 cargo aircraft, and each vehicle would weigh less than 40 tons, much lighter than an M1 Abrams tank that can weigh 60 tons or more.

“It has better mobility for the infantry than [an Abrams] tank,” Dopp said. “It goes where the infantry goes.”

The MPF could be a game-changer for infantry units and fill a lethality gap they have had since 1996, when the M551 Sheridan light tank was officially retired without a replacement.

“We haven’t put a ‘tank’ in a light infantry unit for a long time,” said Maj. Gen. Brian Cummings.

Today, an infantry brigade combat team has little to protect itself from an adversary with light armoured vehicles, particularly Russia.

While the MPF will have some of the latest available technology, autonomous features as well as additional sensors and other improvements could be implemented in the future.

“When we get it out there, we’ll start looking to put on those more advanced technologies,” Dopp said. “It was all about getting it out there in a hurry.”

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