Army to test and shoot weapons at new Mobile Protected Firepower prototypes

The Army plans to fire guns, rockets and cannons at prototypes of the emerging Mobile Protected Firepower vehicle to prepare the fast-tracked platform for major mechanized warfare, service officials explained.

The attacks, expected to include RPGs, crew-served weapons, small arms fire and various kinds of cannons and land-rockets, are intended to fully and accurately replicate combat as part of upcoming soldier “lethality tests” of its new MPF platform, Brig. Gen. Ross Coffman, Director, NGCV Cross-Functional Team, told reporters.

“We will take these vehicles and shoot at them to see which ones can absolutely protect our soldiers,” Coffman said. “The soldier user test will execute likely missions that an IBCT will have in full-scale combat. This includes the use of mechanized war vehicles in the close-in-fight.”

Part of these assessments, which include move-to-contact missions, assault exercises, medium range fire on static and moving targets - and mobility tests across rigorous, uneven terrain. Army developers will also look at expanding the anticipated mission requirements for the MPF, to include counter-air attacks on enemy drones and helicopters, Coffman added.

“MPF has a large cannon that would be effective against rotary wing. That would be beneficial - we are going to look at it,” Coffman said to Warrior Maven.

The prototype Mobile Protected Firepower vehicles will soon be arriving through the Army’s Rapid Prototyping deal with BAE Systems and General Dynamics Land Systems. Each vendor will deliver 12 prototype vehicles for testing and development, a key step toward a 2022 “down-select” to one vendor and the eventual construction of 504 vehicles.

The MPF is being accelerated to war, in part to meet a pressing need for mobile firepower to support rapidly advancing light infantry. Army assessments found that Infantry Brigade Combat Teams (IBCTs) lack the maneuverable firepower needed to destroy fortified enemy positions, bunkers, light armored vehicles and heavy machine gun positions.

A Congressional Research Report from October of last year reached a similar conclusion, explaining that current infantry lacks the requisite attack and mobility requirements.

“The IBCT lacks the ability to decisively close with and destroy the enemy under restricted terrains such as mountains, littorals, jungles, subterranean areas, and urban areas,” the CRS report states.

The Army’s fast-tracked plan for the MPF requires a dual-pronged acquisition approach for the service, which wants to both harness the best available weapons and technologies today - while also engineering a vehicle to be successful in war 20-years down the road. While the testing and developmental assessments are intended to be thorough, the Army plan is to prepare the platform for war on a massively expedited time frame, intended to circumvent some of the more lengthy and bureaucratic hurdles known to encumber the traditional acquisition process.

For instance, as a way to make use of readily available technologies and circumvent certain lengthy acquisition milestones, the program will not have a formal Preliminary Design Review and Critical Design Review

“One of our biggest challenges is to continue to upgrade our current platforms for anything we may go to war with today at the same time making sure we put the proper investments into our future abilities - so we are ready for the fight after next,” Maj. Gen. Brian Cummings, Program Executive Officer, Ground Combat Systems, told Warrior Maven in an interview.

Designed to maximize deployability, the vehicles are configured such that two can travel on an Air Force C-17 aircraft; however, unlike the MPFs air-droppable Russian counterpart vehicle, the US Army wants to ensure a greater level of protection for soldiers.

“We determined the vehicle would land and then assist rather than perform the initial seizure of an airfield,” Cummings.

The Russian 2S25 Strut “light-tank,” in service since 2005, is described as an amphibious tank destroyer designed to combine tank-like firepower with combat maneuverability - much like the US Army MPF. However, the Strut is only 18-tons, and the US MPF is expected to reach weights as high as 30 tons. This, Army developers explain, gives the vehicle an improved blend of protection, armored firefight ability as well as unprecedented mobility for a vehicle of its kind.

An M1A2 Abrams tank can typically be pushed to speeds just above 40mph - yet wheeled Strykers, Humvees and other combat vehicles can easily travel faster than 60mph. Therefore, engineering a vehicle which does not slow down a time-sensitive infantry assault is of paramount importance to MPF developers.

“MPF has to keep up with infantry. We did a lot of tracked and wheeled vehicle studies, and that is what led us to identify it as a tracked vehicle,” said David Dopp, Mobile Protected Firepower program manager..

Lighter, air-droppable vehicles, while able to attack through a wider range of methods, are not well-suited enough for the combat missions expected for the MPF, service developers explained.

“It must be able to withstand a certain threshold of enemy fire and also move over the terrain that we would expect light infantrymen to move into some really bad places,” Dopp said.

Stressing the importance of rapid deployability and the merits of lighter-weight, yet extremely lethal fast armored vehicles, a recent essay from West Point’s “Modern War Institute” writes that Russia’s rapid delivery armored vehicles brings advantages in certain respects.

“Russian forces enjoy a marked mobility advantage by combining expert railway operations, geographic proximity and lighter and less fuel-consuming platforms, which results in a rapid delivery of massed combat power, ready for high-intensity conflict at what amounts to a moment’s notice,” the Modern War Institute paper, titled “Light, Mobile and Many: Rethinking the Future of Armor.”

At the same time, rapid deployability and speed of maneuver are not, according to many US weapons developers, at odds with high levels of survivability. Scalable armor, long-range sensors, Active Protection Systems and precision, heavy-weight firepower are all factors aimed at reconciling what might appear to be a contradiction. Perhaps with this kind of challenge in mind, specific to the well-recognized Russian threat on the European continent, US Army Europe conducted a cross-continent rapid mobility convoy exercise several years ago. The Dragoon ride, as it was called, included fast-moving Stryker brigades, US-allied interoperability exercises in Eastern Europe and a range of combat preparations. The rationale for this, many contended, was to further deter Russia by demonstrating cross-continent mobility, combat readiness and rapid deployability.

These factors sketch the broader picture in which the MPF is intended to operate, by balancing on the seemingly precarious threshold between heavy mechanized firepower and fast-moving combat vehicles able to support advancing infantry.

The vision for MPF aligns with concepts articulated by The Modern War Institute’s essay, which argues that heavily-armed, yet faster, lighter-weight vehicles may take center-stage when it comes to modern threats and future combat strategy.

“If smaller, more dispersed platforms, with more sister platforms covering each vehicle’s flanks, is more capable of surviving the battlefield of tomorrow than the gigantic Abrams of today, again the solution is straightforward,” The Modern War Institute states in its essay.

War planners repeatedly emphasize that future war will be more disaggregated, driven by long-range sensors, unmanned systems and precision weapons with much farther reach.

“We are preparing to close with and destroy the enemy in some of the worst places on earth, where people are trying to kill them,” Coffman added.

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