WASHINGTON — The U.S. Army is comfortable with the way its light tank competition is progressing and plans to award a production contract this summer, according to service acquisition and program officials.
Recent reports indicate the service may have already eliminated one of the two competitors from the Army’s Mobile Protected Firepower competition. Janes Defense first reported earlier this month that BAE Systems had been eliminated from the competition, leaving just General Dynamics Land Systems in the mix, with a few months left before the Army plans to select a winner.
The Army would not confirm the validity of the reports but the service’s program executive officer for ground combat systems, Brig. Gen. Glenn Dean, told Defense News the Army is committed to the MPF program to fill a capability gap to provide mobile, protected, direct-fire capability to infantry soldiers.
Dean said the source-selection phase of the competition is ongoing and the program is on schedule for a production decision in the third quarter of fiscal 2022 — around June. The plan is to equip the first unit with MPF by the fourth quarter of FY25.
The Army plans to initially build 26 vehicles, with an option to build 28 more and retrofit eight prototypes.
When asked about the status of the MPF program and the possible elimination of BAE Systems’ offering from the competition, Doug Bush, the Army’s acquisition chief, said he was satisfied with the MPF competition.
“You always end up with one at some point. [There are] not two people making Abrams tanks,” he told a group of reporters at the McAleese & Associates defense conference in Washington on March 9.
“We got what we needed out of the competition, which was prototypes that went through a full range of testing, limited-user testing, soldier touch points,” he added. “The benefits of competition, the Army realized them already, and once we are able to explain everything that happened, I think you’ll see that we had competition a long way into this. So I think we got there pretty well.”
Dean confirmed to Defense News that the Army recently completed an Army Requirements Oversight Council review on MPF, which “validated the requirements and Army acquisition objective for that program.”
Bush noted the MPF program has undergone several oversight council reviews, and that this time the Army assessed quantities and types of units to which the service would field MPF.
In 2021, the systems went through a soldier vehicle assessment with the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, during which soldiers were tasked with validating the MPF concept and providing feedback on how the service should develop tactics, techniques and procedures for fighting with this capability.
Later that year, in the fall, the competing light tank prototypes moved into the Army’s limited-user test, which marked the final step before the service would be able to decide on a winner. Both teams were selected in December 2018 to build and deliver 12 MPF prototypes.
The two prototypes differed significantly. GDLS offered a new, lightweight chassis with a high-performance power pack and an advanced suspension, combined with a turret featuring the latest version of the fire control system found in the Abrams main battle tank.
BAE Systems’ design is an updated M8 Buford armored gun system with new capabilities and components. The company experienced some prototype production delays due to the coronavirus pandemic, and it delivered systems for the soldier evaluation months later than GDLS.
Soldiers wrapped up that portion of the assessment in early August 2021, according to Jim Miller, BAE’s senior director of business development for combat mission systems, who spoke to Defense News in October that year.
While BAE struggled to get its prototypes to Bragg, once there, “everything went great,” Miller said. “We got really great feedback on the vehicle from the soldiers that operated it.”
Soldiers made some minor suggestions, but overall “we had positive feedback about the performance of the vehicle,” Miller added.
Bob Lennox, GDLS’ vice president of strategy and global growth, told Defense News last fall that the soldier assessment “was very valuable to us ... because we were there earlier than others, we were able to get the full benefit of that time of having the soldiers on the vehicle.”
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.