Why the AUSA is bursting at the seams with 'light tanks'

The convention floor of the Association of the United States Army's Annual Meeting is crowded with armored vehicles that, in bygone years, would've been described as light or medium tanks. That's because the Army wants to buy tanks for infantry, something bigger and stronger than the infantry fighting vehicles currently available.

If you're unfortunate enough to be following the Twitter stream coming out of the Association of the United States Army's annual meeting, you could be forgiven for thinking that it's a summit for armored warfare. There are at least four new vehicles sporting heavy armor and tracks on the floor, all of them falling in the range of what used to be called a "light" or "medium tank."


A Norwegian CV90 infantry fighting vehicle created by the Swedish BAE Systems company.

So, why does the convention floor at the meeting of top soldiers look like the world's most awesome car dealership?

Because the Army has been shopping for a new weapon that's not quite a tank, and manufacturers all think their design could draw the Army's eyes (and wallet).

The Army program, dubbed "Mobile Protected Firepower," is looking for an armored vehicle that could fold into infantry brigade combat teams, giving them an armored advantage against other forces. They're not looking for a heavy vehicle that can take on tanks, but a lighter one that will be top dog in places where tanks can't go.

The Griffin III technology demonstrator sits on the floor at the Association of the United States Army Annual Meeting.

(General Dynamics Land Systems)

So, something a little heavier and more robust that a Stryker or Bradley, but still light enough to cross most bridges and navigate narrow streets. This would make it useful in recent battlefields like the mountains of Afghanistan, where the heavy M1 Abrams couldn't often go, as well as predicted future battlefields, like megacities and jungles.

It's the infantryman's tank.

So, what are the industry offerings available at the AUSA meeting?

One officially debuted on October 8 at the meeting: the Griffin III from General Dynamics Land Systems. This large vehicle packs a 50mm cannon, much larger than most armored vehicles and twice diameter of the 25mm gun of the Bradley. According to a tweet from the manufacturer, the gun can elevate to 85 degrees, nearly vertical. That would allow it to hit windows and ledges in cities even from tight streets.

Meanwhile, the Swedish BAE Systems has highlighted a new addition to their CV90 family of vehicles. These armored beasts tip the scales at 25-30 tonnes, can have manned or unmanned turrets, and are configurable for a variety of missions, including anti-tank or air defense. Best of all for potential infantrymen, the vehicles are supposed to be highly survivable even against larger threats, capable of firing first and of shooting down incoming munitions in combat.

Possibly the most surprising of these not-quite-tanks to debut is SAIC's, which boasts a chassis from Singapore, a turret from Belgium, and optics from Canada. SAIC is historically a services company, repairing and upgrading components of larger vehicles, but they're hoping to win a contract to make a fleet of vehicles from the ground up. They were passed over for the Marine Corps' new amphibious vehicle earlier this year, but the Army would be a bigger contract anyway.

A Lynx KF41 infantry fighting vehicle fires a 30mm tracer round at a range in Germany.

(Rheinmetall Defence)

The Rheinmetall Armaments Group is a German company offering the Lynx. Lynx variants are in service in a number of countries, and Rheinmetall is hoping that the U.S. will opt for the 44-tonne KF-41, which debuted in June and is visiting AUSA. It has active protection systems and a 35mm cannon as well as two "mission pods" that can be equipped with missiles or other weapons.

The Germans sought out an American partner, Raytheon, to ensure that the overall weapon will work well once it's Americanized, a process that will definitely involve U.S. computers and software, but might even see the entire platform re-worked for American warfighters and manufactured in the U.S.

It's looking like the infantry might get a tank — that, or the armored corps might get an armored vehicle specially selected to help them protect the infantry.