The United States Army is on the hunt for what they call, "Mobile Protected Firepower" — or, to put it in layman's terms, the Army wants a light tank. For military buffs, this shouldn't come as a surprise. There's been a big gap in capabilities since the M551 Sheridan was retired in 1996.
The M551 Sheridan tank firing a Shillelagh missile. (Photo by U.S. Army)
According to a report by the Army Times, the Army is now looking to rectify that gap in capabilities. The M1A2 Abrams tank brings tons of firepower and armored protection, but it can't be dropped. You need a C-5 or C-17 to bring it to an airfield, and then it has to drive to the battlefield. Not good when you need the firepower right away.
An M1A2SEP Abrams tank from the 1st Battalion, 64th Armor Regiment "Desert Rogues," 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, drives up onto a C-17 Globemaster III from the 315th Airlift Wing, U.S. Air Force Reserve Command, as part of the 1-64th AR's Emergency Deployment Readiness Exercise. (U.S. Army Photo by Staff Sgt. Richard Wrigley 2nd ABCT, 3rd ID, Public Affairs NCO)
As part of the Mobile Protected Firepower program, the Army is looking for a vehicle that weighs no more than 32 tons. The size of the main gun, however, is still up for determination — it could be a 57mm gun, a 105mm gun like the one on the M1128 Stryker Mobile Gun System, or a 120mm gun like that on the Abrams.
Previously, the Army had been looking at the M8 Buford Armored Gun System as a replacement for the M551 in the early 1990s. The Buford has three levels of armor protection, a 105mm main gun, and has the ability to hold 30 rounds for the main gun — two thirds more than the Stryker Mobile Gun System.
The XM8 Armored Gun System. (US Army photo)
The Buford, named for a Union cavalry general in World War II, was cancelled by the Clinton Administration in 1997 to pay for other programs. In the 1980s, a light tank called the Stingray, equipped with a 105mm main gun and 32 rounds, was developed by Cadillac-Gage. The Thai Army ordered 106 in the 1980s.
It could be very interesting to see if the Army's choice in the Mobile Protected Firepower system will end up replacing the Stingray — and supplying other American allies. However, the first light tanks will not arrive until 2025, and even then, there will only be 54. Just enough, perhaps, to supply the 82nd Airborne Division with the tank battalion they once had.