At the celebration of the 248th anniversary of the US Army, held at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, on June 10, 2023, an official ceremony was conducted to welcome a new 38-ton ‘light tank’ into the US Army’s arsenal under the Mobile Protected Firepower (MPF) programme. The General Dynamics-developed tank is known as the M10 Booker.
Even though the M10 is a tracked armoured vehicle with a large gun, the US Army still refuses to officially designate it as a “light tank,” according to statements made by army officials during a June 8 roundtable discussion with American media.
Recall that in June 2022, the US Army selected the proposal presented by General Dynamics Land Systems (GDLS), a subsidiary of General Dynamics, for the Mobile Protected Firepower (MPF) programme and awarded General Dynamics Land Systems a $320,325,000 contract for the production of the first low-rate initial production (LRIP) batch of 26 MPF vehicles by October 24, 2024. The contract includes an option to produce an additional 70 LRIP vehicles, bringing the total value to $1.14 billion.
Eight of the M10 Booker’s initial run of 26 vehicles will be modified from the 12-unit experimental batch used for competitive trials. The first LRIP vehicles are anticipated to be delivered in December 2023. According to the GDLS, the army intends to begin full-scale serial production of the vehicles by the end of the 2025 calendar year. The first battalion set of MPF vehicles (42 units) is expected to be delivered by the fourth quarter of the fiscal year 2025 (i.e., by July 1, 2025).
The United States Army chose a completely new design presented by GDLS for the MPF programme, which was based on the Gryphon II demonstrator, which was, in turn, based on the Gryphon I prototype demonstrator shown many years ago.
Gryphon II incorporates a modified lightweight turret installation of the M1A2 SEP v.2/v.3 Abrams tank, with a new 120mm XM360 gun, mounted on a modified tracked ASCOD 2 chassis used in the new British tracked reconnaissance vehicle Ajax (ASCOD 2 is developed and manufactured by General Dynamics’ European companies: Spanish General Dynamics European Land Systems Santa Bárbara Sistemas and Austrian General Dynamics European Land Systems – Steyr). The Gryphon II’s combat weight was 32 tonnes.
However, the final variant of the Gryphon II-based vehicle designated by the US Army for the MPF features a 105mm XM35 gun and a turret with enhanced armour protection. The production vehicles are expected to have a combat weight of 42 tonnes, up from the 38 tonnes of the final variant once all improvements and the active protection system are implemented. The fire control system for the M1A2 SEP v.3 tanks is primarily unified. The crew is comprised of four individuals.
Initiated by the US Army in 2015, the Mobile Protected Firepower (MPF) programme sought to develop a tracked combat vehicle weighing initially no more than 32 tonnes (later increased to 38 tonnes) equipped with a 105mm or 120mm gun and an active protection system. The MPF vehicles were designed to possess greater operational and tactical mobility than Abrams tanks.
In December 2018, the US Army awarded BAE Systems and General Dynamics contracts to develop tracked combat vehicles for the Mobile Protected Firepower (MPF) programme. BAE Systems was awarded a contract worth $375.9 million, while General Dynamics was given a contract worth $335 million. Each company was required to construct and deliver 12 prototype vehicles for testing during the Engineering, Manufacturing, and Development (EMD) phase. After the contract was awarded, it was anticipated that prototype delivery would begin within 14 months and conclude within 18 to 19 months.
General Dynamics presented a completely new design based on the Gryphon II demonstrator. The Gryphon II used a modified ASCOD 2 tracked chassis and a new 120mm XM360 cannon housed in a lightweight turret based on the M1A2 SEP v.2/v.3 Abrams tank. The British Ajax armoured reconnaissance vehicle also used the ASCOD 2 chassis. The final MPF variant selected by the US Army was equipped with a 105mm XM35 cannon and a reinforced turret. After additional modifications and the installation of an active protection system, the vehicle’s combat weight is anticipated to increase to 42 tonnes from 38 tonnes. The vehicle had a crew of four and shared a fire control system with the M1A2 SEP v.3 tank.
On the other hand, BAE Systems presented a redesigned variant of the M8 Armoured Gun System (AGS) Buford, initially developed by FMC (later United Defence and now BAE Systems). The M8 was designed to supersede the M556 Sheridan light tank and was intended primarily for airborne and air assault units. Only six M8 prototypes were constructed before the programme was cancelled in 1997, before full-scale production. The modernised MPF vehicle based on the M8 featured a redesigned turret with a modular armour system and Elbit Systems’ Iron Fist active protection system. The 105mm XM35 cannon with autoloader was retained, and the vehicle’s ammunition capacity was 21 rounds. In addition, the vehicle featured a new fire control system, enhanced tracks, and a modified powertrain consisting of an MTU diesel engine and an Allison 3040MX automatic gearbox.
Both contractors encountered programme delays, and the Secretary of the Army, Ryan McCarthy, was shown prototypes of both vehicles on April 23, 2020, in Detroit. Between December 2020 and January 2021, General Dynamics delivered 12 EMD prototypes to Fort Bragg for testing with the 3rd Brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division. Fort Bragg received twelve EMD prototypes from BAE Systems between January and April 2021.
The testing segment for both vehicle types at Fort Bragg concluded in early August 2021, followed by operational testing with live firing that autumn. The BAE Systems vehicle was rejected in March 2022, leaving General Dynamics as the only remaining competitor in the concluding phase of the MPF programme.
The United States Army intends to purchase 504 production vehicles by 2035. These vehicles will be assigned to Infantry Brigade Combat Teams (IBCT) in the regular army and National Guard at the platoon level (14 vehicles per platoon). However, the vehicles will be organised into distinct battalions (likely with three platoons and 42 vehicles). Currently, the formation of the first four battalions is being planned. It is estimated that the total lifecycle cost of the programme, which includes production, maintenance over the estimated 30-year service life of the vehicles, and training, will be approximately $17 billion.