US Army’s New Mobile Protected Firepower Vehicle: A Tank or Not?

Recently, the United States Army has entered into a contract for the acquisition of 100 novel tanks. Intriguingly, the entities encompassed within this agreement are no longer referred to as tanks or light tanks. The Army has bestowed upon this fresh equipment a novel appellation: ‘Mobile Protected Firepower Vehicles,’ abbreviated as MPF. The official nomenclature for this military apparatus is M-10, and it has been christened the Booker Mobile Protected Fire Truck, paying homage to the fallen Staff Sergeant Robert D. Booker, who was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor during World War II.

Amongst the conventional army equipment of yore, the tank held an exalted status as the sovereign of land warfare, commanding unparalleled reverence within the army. Amongst the ranks of armored forces, tank units were regarded as the paramount assault forces, earning widespread acclaim from their counterparts. Consequently, the term ‘tank’ assumed an honorary designation. The decision of the United States Army to abruptly relinquish the longstanding usage of the term ‘tank’ and supplant it with the rather ungainly MPF raises questions concerning the underlying tactical considerations.

To unravel this enigma, it becomes imperative to grasp the nature of the MPF equipment. From a statistical perspective, the MPF is a tracked armored vehicle manufactured by General Dynamics. Its rotating turret is equipped with a 105 mm caliber main gun, a coaxial 7.62 mm machine gun, and an external machine gun. Weighing approximately 38 tons, the MPF’s weight is considerably lighter than the M1 Abrams main battle tank, which surpasses 70 tons. Due to its relatively modest weight, a C-17 strategic transport aircraft can accommodate two MPFs without necessitating disassembly during loading. Consequently, the strategic mobility of the MPF far exceeds that of the M1 main battle tank.

In essence, the MPF assumes the guise of a tracked armored vehicle, resembling and operating akin to a tank, yet refraining from being officially designated as one.

The M-10’s combat weight and appearance evoke memories of the M551A1 Sheridan, the last light tank employed by the United States Army. This tank was developed and furnished to the US military during the Vietnam War. Weighing 18 tons, it featured a 152 mm caliber low-pressure gun—the largest caliber tank gun ever to be employed by the US Army. Not only could it discharge artillery shells, but it could also launch artillery-fired missiles akin to Russian main battle tanks. During its time, it was venerated as an immensely formidable cutting-edge weapon.

However, the Sheridan light tank exhibited subpar performance subsequent to its deployment, and concerns regarding the reliability of its advanced cannon were heightened. Consequently, it was phased out in the 1990s. The US Army initially intended to replace the Sheridan tank with the M-8 light tank, but this proposition was categorically rejected by Congress in 1998. Henceforth, the US Army discontinued the employment of light tanks until the advent of the M-10.

Although many perceive the M-10 as the modern-day successor to the Sheridan tank, its tactical role may not be identical. The Sheridan tank was primarily designed to cater to the deployment requirements of lightly armored units such as the US Airborne Forces and Marine Corps. Consequently, its tactical positioning revolved around being a rapidly deployable light tank, with its primary combat objective being the identification and neutralization of enemy tanks. For instance, the large-caliber artillery and gun-launched anti-tank missiles specifically developed for the Sheridan adhered to the doctrine of preemptive engagement. Due to the relatively thin armor of light tanks, engaging enemy tanks head-on was an exercise in futility. Their only recourse was to strike first from a distance. The light ground combat units employing these tanks could not be equipped with 70-ton main battle tanks, as their strategic mobility necessitated alternative solutions.

In fact, the discontinuation of the light tank project in 1998 stemmed from the realization that the lightweight aluminum alloy armor, with a combat weight of over ten tons, failed to offer superior protection compared to the M2 Bradley infantry fighting vehicle. Furthermore, its mobility paled in comparison to wheeled armored vehicles such as the subsequent Stryker series embraced by the Army. The MGS artillery vehicle within the Stryker series provided comparable protection and firepower to the M-8 light tank, while offering superior strategic mobility and cost-effectiveness. This rendered the light tank obsolete, resulting in a lack of interest from the United States for two decades.

However, the Stryker series armored vehicles exhibited vulnerabilities in terms of insufficient protection during the Iraqi conflict. Even lightweight anti-tank rockets like the RPG-7, wielded by militia organizations, could effortlessly breach the frontal armor of the Stryker. In the Russia-Ukraine conflict, Russia suffered losses of over 1,000 tanks. While the deficient design of Russian tanks played a significant role, the recent counteroffensive by the Ukrainian army revealed that even Western tanks renowned for their superiorprotection, such as the Leopard 2, were susceptible to anti-tank guided missiles and other advanced weaponry.

These developments prompted the United States Army to reassess its armored vehicle capabilities and explore options for a more protected and mobile platform. The MPF, or M-10, emerged as a potential solution. Its enhanced protection, compared to lighter armored vehicles like the Stryker, makes it better suited for combat scenarios where it may encounter more potent threats. The 105 mm main gun provides firepower capable of engaging enemy tanks and fortified positions, while the secondary machine guns offer additional defensive capabilities against infantry and light vehicles.

The decision to label the M-10 as a Mobile Protected Firepower Vehicle, rather than a tank, likely stems from a combination of factors. First, it may be a deliberate attempt to shift away from the historical perception and limitations associated with light tanks like the Sheridan. By emphasizing its role as a highly mobile and protected firepower platform, the Army aims to highlight its capabilities beyond merely engaging enemy tanks. This rebranding could also be a strategic move to align with evolving doctrines and operational concepts that prioritize combined arms operations and the integration of different specialized vehicles.

Additionally, the term “Mobile Protected Firepower Vehicle” could reflect the Army’s emphasis on the vehicle’s mobility and protection, which are key attributes in modern warfare. The MPF’s lighter weight allows for easier transport and deployment, enabling rapid response and maneuverability on the battlefield. Its enhanced protection compared to previous light tanks ensures greater survivability in the face of enemy threats. Emphasizing these aspects through the naming of the vehicle helps convey its intended role and capabilities.

Ultimately, the decision to designate the M-10 as the Mobile Protected Firepower Vehicle represents a shift in the Army’s approach to armored warfare. It combines the strengths of a tank-like platform with enhanced protection and mobility to adapt to the changing battlefield dynamics and address emerging threats.

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