Science Applications International Corp. [SAIC] is joining the effort to build the Army a light tank for infantry brigades.

SAIC on Oct. 5 threw its hat in the ring as a contender for the Mobile Protected Firepower (MPF) program. It has teamed with Singapore-based vehicle manufacturer ST Kinetics, mirroring the industry combo that is in competition to build the Marine Corps’ Amphibious Assault Vehicle (ACV) 1.1.

A light armored vehicle prototype fires an integrated 30mm cannon during a live fire demonstration July 15 at Fort Benning, Ga. Photo: Army.
A light armored vehicle prototype fires an integrated 30mm cannon during a live fire demonstration July 15 at Fort Benning, Ga. Photo: Army.

For MPF, the companies have also joined with CMI Defense – which will supply the turret – to develop and integrate “a protected, long range, cyber resilient, precision direct fire capability for early/forcible entry operations,” according to the request for proposals (RFP) issued Sept. 29.

“IBCTs require this capability to be employed in austere and unpredictable locations allowing them to avoid the enemy”s strengths and rapidly transition to offensive operations and exploit the initiative,” the RFP states. IBCT refers to Infantry Brigade Combat Teams, the basic deployable maneuver unit.

“As a systems integrator, SAIC can deliver an alternative option to the Army that brings together best-of-breed, non-developmental components to field a new combat vehicle quickly that meets critical requirements,” said Jim Scanlon, SAIC senior vice president and general manager of the Defense Systems Customer Group, in a statement. “Rapid delivery of this MPF solution is essential to the Army and our solution is extremely well-positioned to meet these requirements and deliver a modernized vehicle to soldiers.”

Based on ST Kinetics’ Next Generation Armored Fighting Vehicle (NGAFV) chassis and CMI’s Cockerill Series 3105 turret currently in production, SAIC will compete for an engineering and manufacturing development (EMD) contract to build MPF prototypes.

The Army needs a relatively light, highly mobile armored vehicle with hefty firepower for its IBCTs but does not have the time or resources to wait for industry to design and build one on a traditional acquisition timeline, said Maj. Gen. David Bassett, program executive officer for Ground Combat Systems.

The maximum vehicle weight is 32 tons, at which extreme it would not be air-droppable. It also must have at least a 50mm cannon, but the requirement range was intentionally wide so it would draw a variety of potential designs. MPF almost certainly will be armed with either a 105mm or 120mm main gun.

General Dynamics [GD] last year attached a lightweight M1 Abrams turret to an Ajax personnel carrier chassis as a proof-of-concept non-operational prototype. BAE Systems has toyed with offering the M8 Armored Gun System light tank. Italy’s Leonardo and its U.S.-based  DRS Technologies division have teamed to offer a turret that will accommodate both a 105 mm cannon and a 120 mm cannon, depending on which one the Army decides to use. The HITFACT II 105/120 mm Lightweight Turret system is especially designed for light or medium-weight tank platforms with wheels or tracked mobility. 

Raytheon [RTN] also has expressed interest in entering the program as a prime contractor performing as a systems integrator for a vehicle manufacturers and components and weapons companies. 

The Army is eager to fast track the program by requiring designs that are either non-developmental or require very little modification to field. The service requested $9.6 million in fiscal 2018 to get the program started. The funding profile included in that budget shows the Army plans to spend $36 million through fiscal 2018 and another $90 milllion in fiscal 2019.

The program will require $521 million from then through fiscal 2022, according to Army budget documents. Production should begin in 2022.

SAIC’s entry into the MPF competition marks another entry in the market for combat vehicle modernization. It and ST Kinetics are partnered in the ACV 1.1 for the Marine Corps. The team is up against BAE Systems for that contract. SAIC also is producing survivability upgrades for the Marines’ legacy amphibious assault vehicles.

Bassett previously likened the MPF acquisition strategy to the tack the Marine Corps is on for acquiring ACV 1.1. Both BAE and SAIC built 16 EMD vehicles that are being tested in tandem in several locations. The Marine Corps plans to compile extensive testing data and then enter production with a single vendor, having paid for minimal development work.

“They laid out a program where, really, they didn’t pay industry to design very much and asked them to deliver within a fairly short period of time,” Bassett said previously. “We’re trying to model that same kind of strategy.”

SAIC also recently joined the Detroit Automotive Technologies Consortium (DATC) and the U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center (TARDEC) to assist in the development of the next-generation combat vehicle – experimental prototype (NGCV-EP).

“ST Kinetics is indeed honored to team up with SAIC again to participate in another major defense program in the U.S. Our NGAFV is an advanced system that is fully digitalized, highly mobile and developed to support networked knowledge-based warfighting,” said Dr. Lee Shiang Long, president of ST Kinetics. “A fleet of seven prototypes had been developed and robustly tested over several years. As the NGAFV will be in production soon, this platform brings minimal technical risk and a robust supply chain to the MPF program.”