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The U.S. Army’s new Mobile Protected Firepower (MPF) program is designed to bring a light, but powerful vehicle that can be airlifted into combat to boost the mobility and lethality of infantry brigade combat teams during high-end fights – a capability the Army has been short on for decades.
“Mobile Protected Firepower will provide protected, long-range, direct fire capabilities to the IBCT to defeat enemy prepared positions, destroy enemy armored vehicles, close with the enemy through fire and maneuver, and ensure freedom of maneuver and action in close contact with the enemy” – LTG Williamson (Mil Deputy to ASA-ALT) Testimony to Congress.
This new capability is not being designed from the ground up. The Army wants it put together with proven off-the-shelf designs from industry with the hope of avoiding problems with immature technology that have plagued programs in the past.
Army officials have laid out a number of preliminary requirements for the MPF design to ensure it is a light and nimble vehicle with the ability to accompany infantry troops where much larger main battle tanks are unable to effectively operate – narrow streets, thick jungle, mountainous terrain among them. These new vehicles must be able to carry enough armor to fend off medium caliber fire, IEDs, as well as heavier anti-armor weapons.
Most importantly, the MPF must pack enough firepower to take out anything from a concrete bunker to a heavy tank.
“When you’re in close contact with the enemy in restrictive and urban terrain you better have mobile protective firepower,” LTG H.R. McMaster, Director of Army Capabilities Integration Center (ARCIC), said. “We need to have a vehicle that can … have the adequate protection, lethality and mobility to ensure freedom of movement and action for infantry in close contact with the enemy.”
As potential vehicle manufacturers begin to take stock of their design inventory, one of the key pieces they will be looking for is a mature, proven turret and gun system that can meet the Army’s requirements.
A joint team of DRS Technologies, a long-time experienced combat vehicle system integrator, and Leonardo Defense Systems (formerly OTO Melara), the company’s internationally recognized turret and gun company, intends to offer those manufacturers a proven turret that will accommodate either a 105mm or 120mm cannon, depending on which one the Army decides to use.
Known as the HITFACT® II, this lightweight turret system is especially designed for light or medium-weight armored platforms with wheeled or tracked mobility. The DRS/Leonardo team says the design is an ideal fit for the MPF vehicle because of its flexibility, weight and firepower.
“Because of its light weight and the low recoil force of the gun, the turret provides the precision, long-range firepower of a main battle tank, without negating the tactical and strategic mobility characteristics of lighter vehicles,” said Mike O’Leary, Director of Lethality and Survivability Systems at DRS Sustainment Systems, Inc.
MG Eric Wesley, Commanding General of the Army’s Maneuver Center of Excellence said about MPF “This is a near-term requirement….and not a technological leap ahead or Third Offset,” he said. “We’re looking for current technologies, and therefore there’s no silver bullet.”
The HITFACT® II design was developed and qualified by Leonardo Defense to meet the requirements of Italy’s next-generation wheeled assault vehicle program. The system operates as a three-man, electric servo-driven turret armed with either the 105mm/52 caliber rifled or 120mm/45 caliber smoothbore cannon. Both are made from new stronger alloys and capable of firing all current and projected NATO ammunition.
A common modular gun mount enables rapid field reconfiguration between either cannon, and a hydraulic recoil/counter-recoil system and an integrated, high-efficiency muzzle brake minimize the main gun’s recoil force and prevent excessive stress on the turret structure. Additionally, bore evacuators, for quick self-cleaning of the barrel after each firing, and a thermal jacket, to avoid strains due to temperature variations, complete the barrel configuration.
With light weight such an essential part of the Army’s requirements for MPF, the DRS/Leonardo offering has a turret frame made of lightweight ballistic aluminum alloy. The light frame is designed to allow multiple and scalable armor protection options to be hung on the turret to reach the desired protection level users require, according to the team.
Flexibility is also a key design feature in the HITFACT® II system. The turret can be married to various chassis, and the open electronic architecture design allows integration of different types of electronics, sensor suites, communications, and secondary weapons tailored to customer needs.
The Army’s goal for this vehicle is to provide the infantry the ability to quickly defeat local fortifications, point defenses, and blocking positions with a lightweight and powerful platform. Without it, infantry troops will continue to depend on reinforcement from non-organic, heavier armored vehicles with limited operating capability in close combat against capable enemies.
“It’s going to be lighter, more strategically mobile, and more tactically mobile than the Abrams — with similar firepower and protection that is suitable to the formation it is supporting.”, Col. Willie Nuckols, MCOE Director of Mounted (i.e. vehicle) Requirements.
“The flexibility and modern capability of the HITFACT® II system offers the Army the firepower and protection it requires with a number of options depending on what the final design of the platform will be,” said Sally Wallace, President of C4ISR Group at DRS Technologies, Inc.. “We are proud to be able to offer this product with the experience DRS Technologies and Leonardo have in combat platforms,” Wallace said