NEWS
Kris Osborn

This 'light tank' is specially designed to support infantry

General Dynamics Land Systems has unveiled a new heavily armed, yet lighter-weight expeditionary armored vehicle as part of an effort to build a future Army war platform, a new combat vehicle being engineered to support maneuvering infantry — and ultimately change land war.

Called the Griffin III, the General Dynamics Land Systems offering is a 40-ton armored vehicle with both deep-strike technology and counter-drone sensors, Michael Peck, GDLS Director of Enterprise Business Development, told Warrior.

"This is a deployable tracked vehicle with the armor protection required by the Army," Peck said in an interview.


While referred to by some as a "light tank," Army officials specify that plans for the new platform seek to engineer a mobile combat platform able to deploy quickly.

The new vehicle represents an Army push toward more expeditionary warfare and rapid deployability; it is no surprise that two Griffin IIIs are being built to fit on an Air Force C-17 aircraft.

"In the future it will be important to get off-road. Mobility can help with lethality and protection because you can hit the adversary before they can disrupt your ability to move," Rickey Smith, Deputy Chief of Staff, G-9, TRADOC, told Warrior Maven in an interview in early 2018.

Smith's emphasis upon how lighter-weight armored vehicles can address terrain challenges, and off-road mobility aligns with findings from analytical historical research performed years ago by the Dupuy Institute.

The research study, called "The Historical Combat Effectiveness of Lighter-Weight Armored Forces," examined combat scenarios from Vietnam, The Korean War, the Persian Gulf War, and even WWII.

U.S. Soldiers load the .50-caliber machine gun of an M1A2 SEPv2 Abrams main battle tank during a combined arms live-fire exercise in Grafenwoehr, Germany, Nov. 19, 2015.

(U.S. Army photo by Markus Rauchenberger)

Commissioned by the US Army Center for Army Analysis, the study concluded that heavily armed, yet lighter-weight, more maneuverable armored combat platforms could provide a substantial advantage to combat infantry in many scenarios.

"Vehicle weight is sometimes a limiting factor in less developed areas. In all cases where this was a problem, there was not a corresponding armor threat. As such, in almost all cases, the missions and tasks of a tank can be fulfilled with other light armor," the study writes.

Drawing upon this conceptual premise, it also stands to reason that a medium-armored vehicle, with heavy firepower, might be able to support greater mobility for advancing infantry while simultaneously engaging in major combat, mechanized force-on-force kinds of engagements where there is armored resistance.

Current Abrams tanks, while armed with 120mm cannons and fortified by heavy armor, are challenged to support infantry in some scenarios due to weight and mobility constraints.

As Smith explained, bridges, or other terrain-oriented impediments preclude the ability of heavy tanks to support maneuvering IBCTs.

Smith also explained that Infantry Brigade Combat Teams (IBCTs), expected to operate in a more expansive battlespace, will require deployable, fast-moving close-to-contact direct fire support.

Also, while likely not able to match the speed of a wheeled Stryker vehicle, a "tracked" vehicle can better enable "off-road" combat, as Smith explained.

Also, rapid deployability is of particular significance in areas such as Europe, where Russian forces, for instance, might be in closer proximity to US or NATO forces.

Tactically speaking, given that IBCTs are likely to face drones armed with precision weapons, armored vehicle columns advancing with long-range targeting technology and artillery, infantry on-the-move needs to have firepower and sensors sufficient to outmatch an advanced enemy. General Dynamics plans to model construction of eight new prototypes, is one of several industry offerings for the Army to consider.

Soldiers inspect an M1A2 Abrams tank.

(Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Michael Battles)

While many details of the GDLS Griffin III have yet to be revealed, Peck did say the vehicle is engineered to accommodate built-in Active Protection Systems — sensors, fire control radar and interceptors used to detect, track and destroy incoming enemy fire, Peck said.

GDLS is pursuing a two-fold strategy with its Griffin III; the firm plans to work with the Army to adjust as needed and refine aspects of the platform, while also jumping in front of the Army's current plan to build prototypes in the next few years.

The Army's new lightweight armored vehicles are expected to change land war by outmatching Russian equivalents and bringing a new dimension to advancing infantry as it maneuvers toward enemy attack.

Long-range precision fire, coordinated air-ground assault, mechanized force-on-force armored vehicle attacks, and drone threats are all changing so quickly that maneuvering US Army infantry now needs improved firepower to advance on major adversaries in war, Army leaders explain.

All of these factors are indicative of how concepts of Combined Arms Maneuver are evolving to account for how different land war is expected to be moving forward. This reality underscores the reason infantry needs tank-like firepower to cross bridges, travel off-road and keep pace with advancing forces.

For the Army, the effort involves what could be described as a dual-pronged acquisition strategy in that it seeks to leverage currently-available or fast-emerging technology while engineering the vehicle with an architecture such that it can integrate new weapons and systems as they emerge over time.

An estimation of technologies likely to figure prominently in the Army's future vehicle developmental process leads towards the use of lightweight armor composites, Active Protection Systems and a new generation of higher-resolution targeting sensors. Smith explained how this initiative is already gaining considerable traction.

This includes the rapid incorporation of greater computer automation and AI, designed to enable one sensor to perform the functions of many sensors in real-time. For instance, it's by no means beyond the imagination to envision high-resolution forward-looking infrared (FLIR) sensors, electromagnetic weapons, and EO-IR cameras operating through a single sensor.

"The science is how do I fuse them together? How do I take multiple optical, infrared, and electromagnetic sensors and use them all at once in real-time " Smith said. "If you are out in the desert in an operational setting, infrared alone may be constrained by heat, so you need all types of sensors together, and machines can help us sift through information."

In fact, the Army's Communications Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center (CERDEC) is already building prototype sensors with this in mind. In particular, this early work is part of a longer-range effort to inform the Army's emerging Next-Generation Combat Vehicle (NGCV). The NGCV, expected to become an entire fleet of armored vehicles, is now being explored as something to emerge in the late 2020s or early 2030s.

One of the key technical challenges when it comes to engineering a mobile, yet lethal, weapon is to build a cannon both powerful and lightweight enough to meet speed, lethality and deployability requirements.

U.S. Army's Combat Vehicle Modernization Strategy specifically cites the need to bring large-caliber cannon technology to lightweight vehicles. Among other things, the strategy cites a lightweight 120mm gun called the XM360 — built for the now-cancelled Future Combat Systems Mounted Combat System. While the weapon is now being thought of as something for NGCV or a future tank variant — which seeks to maximize lightweight, mobile firepower.

Special new technology was needed for the XM360 in order to allow a lighter-weight cannon and muzzle to accommodate the blast from a powerful 120mm tank round.

Elements of the XM360 include a combined thermal and environmental shroud, blast deflector, a composite-built overwrapped gun, tube-modular gun-mount, independent recoil brakes, gas-charged recuperators, and a multi-slug slide block breech with an electric actuator, Army MCS developmental documents describe.

This article originally appeared on Warrior Maven. Follow @warriormaven1 on Twitter.