Lightweight and even lighter
The past week has given us a lot of interesting news related to military technology. However, perhaps most of all, the specialists were intrigued by the choice of the finalists for the development of a promising light tank for the US Ground Forces. If anyone does not remember, we are talking about the ambitious Mobile Protected Firepower (MPF) program, under which the US military will have to receive more than 500 new light tanks with powerful cannon armament. Now the British BAE Systems and the American General Dynamics have received contracts from the American army in the amount of $ 375, 9 and 335 million, respectively. Each will have to build twelve experimental vehicles. The winner will be selected by the end of fiscal 2021. They want to start full-fledged serial production in 2025 fiscal year.
BAE Systems offered an experienced M8 light tank that had risen from the ashes, which they began to design back in the 80s. In turn, General Dynamics relied on a fundamentally new solution, having brought their "Griffin" to the public not so long ago. Here you just need to clarify a couple of nuances in order to avoid confusion. Now we are talking about the second generation of the tank - the first was presented several years ago and was a rather creepy-looking "box". Presumably, the new version will be significantly ennobled, purely visually. In addition, there is also a project of the Griffin III infantry fighting vehicle, which is very different from the first generation Griffin, both in appearance and in purpose. Obviously, General Dynamics decided to play modularity, which is popular today. Although, it should be said that reasonable unification is really good.
As far as can be judged from open data, the Griffin II will be a symbiosis of the modified turret of the M1A2SEPv2 Abrams tank and the ASCOD 2 chassis. The new 120-mm XM360 cannon was chosen as the weapon. The mass of the Griffin I tank is about 30 tons, but they intend to make the second version much lighter.
The development of BAE Systems is not so original, although conceptually the tanks are very similar. Recall that the old version of the M8 had a mass of 17 tons, and the main weapon was the 105 mm XM35 cannon. The V-shaped 6-cylinder two-stroke liquid-cooled turbocharged diesel engine had a power of 500 horsepower. The tank could accelerate along the highway to 72 kilometers per hour, which gave it undeniable advantages in mobility.
Presumably, the new version can also boast of such high-spirited characteristics, but now it is difficult to speak confidently about the potential of new cars. It may very well be that the desire to dramatically increase the security of the crew, characteristic of Western tank builders, will lead to an increase in the mass of combat vehicles and a deterioration in their driving performance.
It should be noted right away that we are not talking about any replacement for the Abrams. This vehicle suits the military completely as a main battle tank. Recall that several years ago, active work began on its new version, which received the symbol XM1A3. However, even if this program disappears into oblivion, it will not "bury" Abrams. The United States has already turned part of the combat Abrams into weapons of the 21st century, equipping them with Trophy active protection systems (KAZ), which, as far as can be judged from the tests, can increase the survivability of MBTs on the battlefield by several times. By the way, recently it became known that in the foreseeable future they intend to equip M2 Bradley with KAZ, but this is a separate topic for consideration.
It would seem that in such a situation, there is no point in spending additional funds on a new tank. But this is only at first glance. Of course, the M1 Abrams can be made even more nimble, but do not forget that this is a huge 60-ton "monster" that is difficult to deliver to its destination if it is thousands of kilometers from the base of the tanks. In turn, with a mass of a combat vehicle of about 20-30 tons (apparently, this is how much the new tank for the American army will weigh), it will be possible to transport a large number of such vehicles by air, which will give the American army huge advantages. Several promising tanks should easily fit aboard a Boeing C-17 Globemaster III military transport aircraft, making them an important part of the US Army's expeditionary force.
Pros and cons
So far, the winner of the competition is unknown, and it is objectively early to draw far-reaching conclusions regarding the possible choice. It is quite obvious that both cars have the indisputable advantages already mentioned above. Thus, the use of the 120-mm XM360 cannon (as on the "Griffin") will allow the combat vehicle to effectively fight all main battle tanks. And its relatively weak booking should not be an obstacle to this. That's a big plus, but that's where the good news for Mobile Protected Firepower ends. If you dig deeper, you can recall that similar tasks during the Cold War were performed by the American light tank M551 "Sheridan", but the experience of its operation and combat use showed the controversy of the concept. The tank was problematic in operation, and it was difficult to find a niche for it.
Perhaps this can explain the further throwing of the Americans in the choice of concepts for light armored vehicles. The most striking of these episodes is, of course, the Future Combat Systems (FCS) program, which began in 2003 and ended almost ingloriously in 2009. All ambitious projects proposed within it went under the knife. At the same time, according to the independent institute CSBA, at the time of the freezing of the FCS program, it cost eighteen (!) Billion dollars. Few of the implemented projects have in any way paid off FCS, even partially.
The contradictions that arise during the creation of a light tank are quite obvious, and we have already partially touched on them. MBT combines high firepower, good mobility and good protection for the crew. When creating a light tank, you will have to sacrifice at least two of these components. However, Americans are no longer afraid of such problems, having developed immunity to them. They long ago decided that they really needed a new light tank.