WASHINGTON — The U.S. Army is preparing a soldier vehicle assessment of two different light tank prototypes for infantry brigade combat teams that will start in January 2021 at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
The assessment will run through June 2021, according to the service.
BAE Systems and General Dynamics Land Systems were chosen in December 2018 to each build 12 prototypes of the Army’s future mobile protected firepower, or MPF, vehicle identified in the service’s ground combat vehicle strategy published in 2015. The service had found the capability one the service lacks.
GDLS is building a vehicle that takes the United Kingdom’s AJAX chassis and combines it with an M1 Abrams tank turret.
BAE Systems' design is an updated M8 Buford armored gun system with new capabilities and components.
“I just had my deep dive today on the SVA [soldier vehicle assessment] with the 82nd [Airborne],” Maj. Gen. Brian Cummings, the Army’s program executive officer for ground combat systems, told Defense News in a recent interview.
Work is ongoing to prepare ranges and roads for the arrival of the prototypes, he said.
The MPF is going to be critical for the infantry because it provides infantry brigade combat teams with an organic capability to take care of impediments to forward progression such as gunfire from a machine gun nest or another enemy vehicle.
The Army is expected to choose a winner in 2022. The first units will get MPF in fiscal 2025. The Army plans to initially build 26 vehicles, with an option to build 28 more and retrofit eight prototypes.
GDLS told Defense News in an interview ahead of the Association of the U.S. Army’s annual conference that it has delivered three vehicles to the Army. One is at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, going through characterization and mobility testing and preparing for firing. Another is at Yuma Proving Grounds, Arizona, undergoing desert testing and preparing for soldier training.
Five more prototypes are in “some form of checkout, getting ready for their final inspection report to deliver to the government,” a GDLS spokesperson said, and the company is on track to deliver all of the vehicles this year.
BAE is looking forward to the assessment because the two prototypes are so different from one another, said Jim Miller, the company’s senior business development director for combat vehicles.
The BAE’s offering is smaller — fitting in between the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle and a Stryker in terms of size — while GDLS' vehicle is bigger, as it’s based on the M1 Abrams chassis.
The BAE’s MPF prototype can be transported via a C-130 aircraft. Three can fit on a C-17 aircraft. And even though it is small, it has the survivability of BAE’s Armored Multipurpose Vehicle, Miller said.
The Army is requiring the vehicle be C-17 transportable.
Soldier assessments for other recent competitions have weighed heavily into decisions, Miller added. “I think the soldier vehicle assessment is going to be really important,” he said. “Did we get this right? Now which one is closer to the mark?”
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.