Army Studying Whether M1 Tank Replacement Should Be Driver-Optional

An Abrams tank crew await their iteration during a proficiency qualification table during the 1-9 Cavalry gunnery. (U.S. Army/Sgt. Patrick Eakin)
An Abrams tank crew await their iteration during a proficiency qualification table during the 1-9 Cavalry gunnery. (U.S. Army/Sgt. Patrick Eakin)

As the Army moves ahead with its effort to replace the Bradley fighting vehicle, it will be another three years before senior leaders decide what to do with the service's Cold War-era M1 Abrams tank.

In October, Army program officials of the Next Generation Combat Vehicle are scheduled to see the first bid samples of the Optional Manned Fighting Vehicle from the defense industry, Brig. Gen. Richard Coffman, director of the NGCV Cross-Functional Team, told an audience Wednesday at the 3rd Annual Defense News Conference.

The Next Generation Combat Vehicle is a major Army modernization priority aimed at fielding futuristic vehicles such as the Optionally Manned Fighting Vehicle beginning in the mid-2020s.

The new vehicle will be designed to maneuver a nine-soldier squad through dense urban terrain as well as wooded areas and defeat a near-peer foe such as Russia in close combat, according to the request for proposal the Army released in late March.

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The bid samples will be representative of the design, but the proposals "will describe what Increment 1 will look like for our soldiers," Coffman said.

"We are really looking forward to seeing what industry delivers," he added.

But there are many questions that still need to be answered before the Army knows what the replacement for the M1 tank will look like.

Army senior leaders are waiting for the results of two service studies on the optionally manned tank before they decide in 2023 "what direction we want to go for decisive lethality and survivability on the battlefield," Coffman said.

"The acquisition strategy has not even been sketched on a blank piece of paper," he said. "We are doing the studies to determine what is available and how can we get it in the hands of soldiers and when."

Program officials are exploring technology advances aimed at maintaining protection while keeping the vehicle's weight down, Coffman said.

"Material science moves slow. Trying to get a lighter, cheaper metal is a very tall order, but there are some advances in metallurgy that are pretty promising," Coffman told Military.com after his speech.

There are also advances in munitions that could mean that the future tank's main gun may be far different from the M1's 120mm cannon.

"Will that be a 120mm -- or make it up -- will that be a 175mm?" Coffman said. "I don't know, but everything is on the table and we owe our Army an assessment on what is possible.

"At the end of the day, if we are to engage in ground combat, it will be America's sons and daughters equipped so that they can hold terrain and defeat our potential adversaries," he said.

-- Matthew Cox can be reached at matthew.cox@military.com.

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