WASHINGTON — Two companies are competing to build the Army’s new light tank for Infantry Brigade Combat Teams and, in order to win, their prototypes will be judged by the users themselves.

Those tests will be part of an extensive evaluation beginning roughly a year from now, Maj. Gen. Brian Cummings, Army program executive officer for ground combat systems, told Defense News.

BAE Systems and General Dynamics Land Systems were chosen in December 2018 to build 12 prototypes each of the Army’s future Mobile Protected Firepower vehicle identified in the Army’s ground combat vehicle strategy, released in 2015, as much needed capability the service lacked.

GDLS will build a vehicle that takes the United Kingdom’s AJAX chassis and combines it with an Abrams turret.

BAE Systems will bring an M8 Buford Armored Gun System with new capabilities and components.

The MPF is going to be critical for the infantry, according to Brig. Gen. Ross Coffman, who is in charge of combat vehicle modernization.

“Looking in every war movie ever watched, the infantry has been pinned down and they have a machine gun nest or another enemy vehicle that’s preventing them to get their objective,” Coffman said. “It takes an Audie Murphy-like character to go up and sneak around and take it out from the rear.”

MPF is going to take care of those impediments to forward progression, he said, and is a “vital piece of equipment for our Army. Right now we are doing that with Humvees and Javelin.”

The soldier vehicle assessment will take place at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and Fort Stewart, Georgia, and will include live-fire tests and operating in IBCT formations, Cummings said.

The assessment will not just cover how the vehicles perform operationally, but how they hold up when assessed against warfighting doctrine, organization, training, maintenance in the field, logistics and sustainment.

“This will be different, even though we’ve done it in history,” Cummings said. A team will look at doctrine in terms of having a light tank in the formation as well as having mechanics, fuel and the ability to recover vehicles as part of the operational assessment.

“It’s important we learn that early on,” in the prototyping process rather than after choosing a winning vehicle, Cummings noted.

The Army is now reviewing design maturity of the vehicles and is making sure that everything stays on track to meet the soldier vehicle assessment requirements. These prototypes have to be ready for prime time when they get into an operational environment toward the end of next year, according to Cummings.

Cummings also has two groups working with each vendor that are firewalled from one another. Those groups will be working with vendors through the SVA and to eventual down-select to one vehicle around the second or third quarter of fiscal year 2022 to go into production.

The prototypes are expected in the third quarter of fiscal 2021. The first units will get MPF by FY25. The Army plans build 26 vehicles initially with an option to build 28 more and retrofit eight prototypes.

Jen Judson is an award-winning journalist covering land warfare for Defense News. She has also worked for Politico and Inside Defense. She holds a Master of Science degree in journalism from Boston University and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Kenyon College.

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