U.S. Army Solicits Proposals For Mobile Protected Firepower (MPF) Light Tank

The U.S. Army’s late and apparently lamented M551 Sheridan light tank. [U.S. Department of the Army/Wikipedia]

The U.S. Army recently announced that it will begin soliciting Requests for Proposal (RFP) in November to produce a new lightweight armored vehicle for its Mobile Protected Firepower (MPF) program. MPF is intended to field a company of vehicles for each Army Infantry Brigade Combat Team to provide them with “a long-range direct-fire capability for forcible entry and breaching operations.”

The Army also plans to field the new vehicle quickly. It is dispensing with the usual two-to-three year technology development phase, and will ask for delivery of the first sample vehicles by April 2018, one month after the RFP phase is scheduled to end. This will invariably favor proposals using existing off-the-shelf vehicle designs and “mature technology.”

The Army apparently will also accept RFPs with turret-mounted 105mm main guns, at least initially. According to previous MFP parameters, acceptable designs will eventually need to be able to accommodate 120mm guns.

I have observed in the past that the MPF is the result of the Army’s concerns that its light infantry may be deprived of direct fire support on anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) battlefields. Track-mounted, large caliber direct fire guns dedicated to infantry support are something of a doctrinal throwback to the assault guns of World War II, however.

There was a noted tendency during World War II to use anything on the battlefield that resembled a tank as a main battle tank, with unhappy results for the not-main battle tanks. As a consequence, assault guns, tank destroyers, and light tanks became evolutionary dead-ends in the development of post-World War II armored doctrine (the late M551 Sheridan, retired without replacement in 1996, notwithstanding). [For more on the historical background, see The Dupuy Institute, “The Historical Effectiveness of Lighter-Weight Armored Forces,” August 2001.]

The Army has been reluctant to refer to MPF as a light tank, but as David Dopp, the MPF Program Manager admitted, “I don’t want to say it’s a light tank, but it’s kind of like a light tank.” He went on to say that “It’s not going toe to toe with a tank…It’s for the infantry. It goes where the infantry goes — it breaks through bunkers, it works through targets that the infantry can’t get through.”

Major General David Bassett, program executive officer for the Army’s Ground Combat Systems concurred. It will be a tracked vehicle with substantial armor protection, Bassett said, “but certainly not what you’d see on a main battle tank.”

It will be interesting to see what the RFPs have to offer.

Previous TDI commentaries on the MPF Program:



Share this:
Shawn Woodford
Shawn Woodford

Shawn Robert Woodford, Ph.D., is a military historian with nearly two decades of research, writing, and analytical experience on operations, strategy, and national security policy. His work has focused on special operations, unconventional and paramilitary warfare, counterinsurgency, counterterrorism, naval history, quantitative historical analysis, nineteenth and twentieth century military history, and the history of nuclear weapon development. He has a strong research interest in the relationship between politics and strategy in warfare and the epistemology of wargaming and combat modeling.

All views expressed here are his and do not reflect those of any other private or public organization or entity.

Articles: 302


  1. I was not of the impression that the (fully enclosed) assault guns of the Germans or the Soviets were considered failures. Particularly in the case of the Stug III and the Hetzer which greatly extended the lifespan of 2 tank chassis.

    To my mind the Bradly-type APC seems to be pretty close to a light tank. If you took off the turret , stuck a short barrel howitzer in the hull with a ATR (for emergencies) on the roof, you wouldn’t have a worthless vehicle.

    • WWII-era assault guns and light tanks were not failures, per se. They fulfilled clear needs in the wartime doctrines of the various combatants. However, based on wartime experience, post-war armies calculated that it was less cost-effective to build vehicle fleets optimized for these specific roles than to assign those missions to MBTs, field artillery, airpower, or in terms of light tanks, to cheaper, wheeled vehicles. Especially in light of the fact that assault guns, light tanks, and tank destroyers did not perform particularly effectively when pressed into service as MBTs during WWII. Its simply more cost-effective to use MBTs in those roles than vice-versa.

      I suspect the reason the U.S. doesn’t use Bradleys for MPF is that it isn’t possible to mount a heavy gun on one. The MPF requirement is for something mounting at least a 105mm cannon (with 120mm preferred) but light enough to load two vehicles into a C-17, yet still be heavy enough to be reasonably survivable on a modern battlefield. If IBCTs didn’t have to be air-mobile, the U.S. Army could simply add an organic M1 tank company to each to fulfill most of the the MPF requirements. Hence, the semantic word games about whether the MPF is a “light” tank or not.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *