Light Tanks have played a vital role in modern warfare as scouts and infantry fire support vehicles. In the 1960s, The US Army adopted the M551 Sheridan Light Tank as a scout vehicle and a tank that could be parachuted behind enemy lines. The M551 was light enough that it could be dropped from a C-130. However, the tank was not without issues, for one it’s 152mm main gun was too much for the 15-ton tank and when the MGM-51 Shillelagh guided anti-tank missile was fired, often the sensitive electronics would be put out of whack.
Most of the kinks were eventually worked out, and the M551 was appreciated by the light units that otherwise would have been without armor support. Still, the M551 left the US military wanting a better vehicle and so the development of the XM8 Armored Gun System was commenced, and the vehicle type classified as the M8. Defense cutback in the mid-1990s stripped funding for the M8 and also pulled the last battalion of M551 Sheridans from the 82nd Airborne. The decision would prove extremely short-sighted as the Global War on Terror commenced in 2001, and American Light Infantry cried out for armored vehicles and armored fire support.
Light Tanks For Everyone, Except the US Army.
Light Tanks are seeing a new lease on life in the service of many foreign nations. The Russians drop their paratroopers inside light Infantry Fighting Vehicles alongside light tanks armed with 125mm guns. The Chinese and even the British Army have adopted new light tanks for their infantry formations.
In today’s tense geopolitical climate, the possibility of light infantry forces of major nations facing off with each other in a modern conflict is real. With this reality, the need for tanks lighter than Main Battle Tanks (MBTs) has become a priority for Infantry and Airborne forces the world over. Nations are literally spending billions of dollars on the development, and production of light tanks. In fact in some nations, light tank development has superseded MBT development.
The US Army And It’s Light Tank
The US Army hates the term light tank. The reasons are politically and congressionally motivated, often budget related. So the US Army is calling their new tank a Mobile Protected Firepower vehicle, MPF for short. It’s still a light tank, but don’t tell them that. In 2016 the Army requested prototypes for a new Light Tan-, er, MPF to meet the firepower support needs of light infantry and expeditionary forces such as the 82nd Airborne.
From that initial inquiry, two contenders have emerged, General Dynamics Land Systems and BAE Systems. BAE is offering a modernized version of their old M8 AGS, while General Dynamics is hoping their Griffin based on the AJAX tank recently adopted by the British Army.
According to a recent article from Popular Mechanics,
General Dynamics Land Systems’ vehicle is the Griffin, a modified version of the British Army’s new Ajax tracked reconnaissance vehicle equipped with a version of the M1A2 Abrams tank turret. BAE will produce an updated version of the M8 Buford (see top), an air-droppable light tank the Army flirted with buying in the 1990s but ultimately cancelled. A third competitor, designed by SAIC, was not chosen to proceed in the competition. The Army will buy 504 of the new vehicles—about enough for eight battalions.
A decision is expected later this year with production starting soon.
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