The US Army awards $1 billion contract to acquire 96 light tanks

Total procurement could rise to 504 vehicles by 2035.
Ameya Paleja
The Mobile Protected Firepower vehicle during an assessmentUS Army

The U.S. Army has awarded a $1.14 billion contract to General Dynamics Land Systems (GDLS) for acquiring 96 Mobile Protected Firepower (MPF) vehicles, a press release revealed.

The MPF aims to provide greater survivability to infantry brigades while giving them the ability to identify threats earlier and at greater distances and allowing soldiers to move at a faster pace. 

The MPF is the first major platform that is going from prototyping to production under the U.S. Army Futures Command, Defense News reported. Established in 2018 as a public-private initiative, the Army Futures Command (AFC) is tasked with the important job of modernizing the U.S. Army, which is quite a challenge considering the evolving nature of warfare. 

How the AFC picked the light tank

The AFC used a competitive prototyping approach for picking the light tank. The process began in 2018 with the shortlisting of candidates for this requirement. Over a period of four years, the U.S. Army tested and evaluated 24 prototypes of these light tanks built by GDLS and BAE Systems, the other participant in the process. 

According to Defense News report, GDLS' prototype included a new-lightweight chassis with advanced suspension and high-performance power pack. The Turret on the light tank featured the latest version of the fire control system found in Abrams battle tanks. BAE Systems fielded an upgraded version of the M8 Buford armored gun system with advancements in components and capabilities.

In line with the middle-tier acquisition legislation, both contractors were required to submit their prototypes to the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, North Carolina where soldiers were to assess the vehicles and provide feedback on tactics, techniques, and procedures for using these vehicles. 

Due to the pandemic, prototypes from BAE Systems faced delayed deliveries. However, by August 2021, the soldiers had completed their evaluation, following which the prototypes went through limited user testing, which included live-fire systems. After considering the costs involved and the readiness of production, the AFC picked GDLS as the winner of the contract. 

“MPF represents a new capability for the Army, allowing our light maneuver forces to overmatch adversaries. Through multiple Soldier touchpoints, our Soldiers have operated the prototypes and provided crucial feedback to the design team, ensuring our forces will have the asset they need on the future battlefield,” said Maj. Gen. Ross Coffman, director of the Next Generation Combat Vehicles Cross Functional Team.

What does the contract include? 

The $1.14 billion contract is for the initial low-rate production of these vehicles under which GDLS will deliver 26 vehicles and the Army will be able to procure 70 more vehicles during the contract period. 

At least eight of the 12 prototypes fielded by GDLS during the evaluation process will be retrofitted and fielded, Defense News reported. The first production vehicles are expected to be delivered within 19 months, while a battalion worth of MPFs (42 vehicles) will be delivered by the Q4 of 2025. 

The U.S. Army expects to spend $6 billion on the MPF program which includes amounts already spent on research and development and prototyping. The total lifecycle cost of the program is reportedly $17 billion which includes sustainment, military construction, and personnel. In the future, the Army has plans to procure 504 MPFs by 2035, which are expected to remain in inventory for 30 years. 

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