WASHINGTON — The Army’s future tank may not be a tank, Brig. Gen. Ross Coffman, who is in charge of combat vehicle modernization, told Defense News in an interview at the Association of the U.S. Army’s annual show.
While the M1 Abrams tank still has life in it yet, the Army is starting to begin the thinking and planning process for a future tank, “which is really exciting because it might not be a tank,” Coffman said. “It is decisive lethality and what that decisive lethality is will be determined by academia, our science and technology community within the Army and industry.”
The Army will choose a path in 2023 on how it plans to replace the Abrams and some of the ideas cropping up in discussions have been “everything from a ray gun to a Star Wars-like four-legged creature that shoots lasers,” Coffman said, “but the reality is that everything is on the table.
“We have to get away from these paradigms that we created that decisive lethality must come from a tank,” Coffman said. “It may be a tank in the end and that would be great, but we need choices for our soldiers, so we can really move into a position of lethal advantage over the enemy.”
Coffman is spearheading that effort along with some more near-term plans to replace the Bradley Fighting Vehicle with an Optionally Manned Fighting Vehicle and bring online the Army’s Armored Multi-Purpose Vehicle (AMPV) and a light tank called the Mobile Protected Firepower (MPF) system.
The one-star is in charge of the Next-Generation Combat Vehicle Cross-Functional Team housed under the Army Futures Command tasked to modernize the force.
While the Bradley has a need for relatively immediate replacement because of its power limitations that simply prevent it from being able to accomodate effective upgrades, the Abrams is going through an upgrade program now.
The Army began accepting the M1A2 System Enhancement Package Version 3 — or M1A2 SEP V3 — from General Dynamics Land Systems a year ago.
The service expects to begin fielding the version in fiscal year 2020.
The main intent of the upgrade is to buy back size, weight, and power lost during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as the Army focused on protective measures for the tank. The upgrade also includes a modernized architecture.
The modernized architecture allows for the inclusion of an ethernet connection that enhances processing within the tank to accommodate an updated fire control system that will allow users to engage targets more quickly.
The Army is also installing an ammunition data link that will allow the tank itself to talk to the new smart rounds it is fielding in order to optimize the effect of those rounds.
The variant rolling off the production line essentially primes the pump for the integration of future technology and improved lethality because of the new architecture and restoration of power to the vehicle.
The next round of upgrades — the M1A2 SEP V4 — will fall in on the tail end of the M1A2 SEP V3 production that is focused on increasing lethality of the system. The Army just awarded GDLS a contract over a year ago to develop the M1A2 SEP V4.
The service will make a production decision in fiscal year 2023 and hopes to field to the first brigade in 2025.
The keystone technology is the incorporation of the third generation Forward-Looking Infrared (FLIR) camera.
Jen Judson is the land warfare reporter for Defense News. She has covered defense in the Washington area for 10 years. She was previously a reporter at Politico and Inside Defense. She won the National Press Club's best analytical reporting award in 2014 and was named the Defense Media Awards' best young defense journalist in 2018.