One Of These Big Cannon Toting Armored Vehicles May Replace the Bradley Fighting Vehicle

The Army is looking closely at European designs as it seeks to reinvigorate its capabilities to fight large-scale conflicts.

Joseph Trevithick

General Dynamics has revealed the latest iteration of its Griffin armored vehicle demonstrator, which now packs a 50mm automatic cannon, that the company hopes might turn into a contender for the U.S. Army’s Next Generation Combat Vehicle program. That over-arching project could result in one or more designs to replace multiple types of armored vehicles, including the Bradley Fighting Vehicle, and competitors are already lining up to offer their own pitches, all of which have super-sized main guns.

'Griffin III' was a star attraction at the annual Association of the U.S. Army (AUSA) meeting and exhibition in Washington, D.C. on Oct. 8, 2018. The Michigan-headquartered firm had first shown the original Griffin demonstrator at the same event two years earlier. The official request for proposals for the NGCV program is set to come out before the end of 2018 and companies will then have around six months to finalize their offer.

“Many of our NATO allies have very capable tanks,” Secretary of the Army Mark Esper had said back in January 2018. “As I think about a next-generation combat vehicle, we should look at our allies, and look at their designs, and look at how they’ve built combat vehicles and combat systems, and think about adopting some of those.”

At the core of the Griffin's design is the same chassis in the Ajax armored vehicle, which General Dynamics U.K. is selling to the United Kingdom. That vehicle, in turn, was a development of an earlier fighting vehicle design known as the Austrian Spanish Cooperation Development, or ASCOD.

Joseph Trevithick

The Griffin III demonstrator.

The nearly 40 ton Griffin III features a remotely-operated turret the U.S. Army’s own Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center (ARDEC) developed, which is armed with a 50mm cannon from Orbital ATK, now part of Northrop Grumman. This weapon is substantially larger than the 25mm M242 Bushmaster cannon on the Bradley Fighting Vehicle.

In addition, the gun comes with an auto-loading mechanism that allows the operator to select specific rounds and various ammunition types for engaging various targets, including infantry and unarmored vehicles in the open, light armored vehicles, and opponents situated inside small structures. The crew can aim the cannon up to a maximum elevation of around 85 degrees, which, combined with proximity-fuzed rounds, give it a secondary capability to engage small, low-flying unmanned aircraft and helicopters.

The Army has also developed the turret with modularity in mind, which could allow the service to install smaller guns in a portion of the fleet depending on the intended role. Not surprisingly, it can already accommodate the 30mm XM813 cannon found on the service’s up-gunned Stryker Dragoon wheeled armored vehicles.

The increasing move to weapons in the 40mm and 50mm classes is the result of trends among both the United States’ partners, especially in Europe, as well as among potential major power competitors, especially Russia. For years now, the Russians have been experimenting with multi-role, large caliber cannons in turrets that can fit on a wide array of armored vehicles. These include a 57mm type the Kremlin has explored fitting onto the BMP-3 infantry fighting vehicle, a derivative of that design focused on short-range air defense known as the Derivatsiya-PVO, the T-15 heavy infantry fighting vehicle, and other future designs.

It is possible that this trend could extend to the Stryker and other armored vehicles. ARDEC has already supported the development of the Cockerill 3030 turret, which could accept a weapon up to 40mm, for the Stryker, as well.

The unmanned nature of the Griffin’s main turret means that the vehicle may eventually only need a crew of two, maximizing internal space for other functions, as well. NGCV has an optionally-manned component, as well, so future versions of the vehicle might be able to operate without anyone inside. But with the Army most immediately focused on replacing the Bradley, General Dynamics says its initial plan is to use the room in the hull to allow the vehicle to function as an infantry fighting vehicle and carry six fully-armed troops, who would exit through a rear door.

The Griffin III demonstrator also featured a remote weapon station with a .50 caliber machine gun on top of the main turret, along with a separate sensor turret, which would likely contain electro-optical, infrared, and thermal cameras. The main turret has its own forward-looking sensor suite for target engagement. There was a multi-canister launcher for some type of small unmanned aircraft or loitering munitions, such as AeroVironment Switchblade, on top of the turret, as well.

Joseph Trevithick

A Stryker wheeled fighting vehicle with the Cockerill 3030 turret.

It was also covered in self-defense features, including the Iron Fist active protection system to knock down incoming anti-tank guided missiles and other shoulder-fired infantry anti-tank weapons, as well as smoke grenade launchers to obscure the vehicle during a firefight. Perhaps most interestingly, the Griffin III demonstrator had Tacticam appliqué armor package from Armorworks that helps reduce its infrared signature and provides a disruptive camouflage coating that breaks up the vehicle’s hard edges.

General Dynamics no doubt hopes its offer will be particularly attractive to the Army given the vehicle’s common chassis and hull with the Griffin II, which the company has submitted as a contender for the separate Mobile Protected Firepower (MPF) program. This earlier demonstrator features a turret based on that of the M1 Abrams tank armed with a 105mm gun.

The commonality in designs also raises the possibility that the Army may eventually decide to blend MPF, which is focused on developing an air-transportable light tank of sorts to support airborne and light infantry forces, into the larger NGCV program. Similarly, American defense contractor SAIC and Singapore’s ST Kinetics have offered a 105mm gun-armed derivative of the latter company’s Next Generation Armored Fighting Vehicle, or NGAFV.

That design uses a Cockerill 3105 turret, which can already accept large caliber automatic cannons, as well, making it potentially adaptable to the NGCV’s requirements. Other contenders in the upcoming NGCV competition, many of which also brought their prospective vehicles to the AUSA event, might look to adapt their vehicles to meet the needs of the MPF program, as well.

Joseph Trevithick

A model of SAIC and ST Kinetic's Mobile Protected Firepower vehicle.

The most significant of these possibility competitors is the newly announced partnership between U.S. company Raytheon and Germany’s Rheinmetall. The two will be offering a version of the latter’s Lynx KF41 armored fighting vehicle, which first emerged at the Eurosatory arms show in Paris earlier in 2018.

The Lynx has made of the same basic features as the Griffin III, but a greater weight of around 44 tons. One of its most important features is the ability to attach two modular pods to either side of the turret that could hold anti-tank guided missiles, launchers for small drones or loitering munitions, additional sensors, or other equipment. The vehicle’s Lance turret can be either manned or unmanned, but can only accommodate an automatic cannon up to 35mm at present.  

Joseph Trevithick

Rheinmetall's KF41 Lynx, which it will submit to the Army's NGCV program in partnership with Raytheon.

BAE Systems also displayed the CV90 Mk IV, which again has many features in common with the Griffin III, including the use of the Iron First active protection system. It will also have an augmented reality vision system for the crew to give them improved situational awareness even while safely situated inside with all the hatches closed, which would severely limit the view in most traditional armored vehicles. This is also among the lightest of the possible NGCV options so far at 37 tons.

This newest iteration of the Swedish-designed vehicle now features a pop-up launcher for anti-tank guided missiles on the right side of the main turret. The turret itself is modular in design and could accommodate automatic cannons between 30mm and 50mm, or even a 105mm main gun, again making it also a potential option of the MPF program.

Joseph Trevithick

BAE's CV90 Mk IV.

The Army still has a long ways to go on the NGCV program. The present plan is to evaluate a host of possible options and then pick two firms to go head to head in a final competition starting at the end of 2019.

What seems increasingly clear from the Griffin III, and the other potential contenders, is that the Army wants a vehicle with a substantial increase in firepower and is making good on Secretary Esper’s pledge to consider foreign designs to attain that goal.

Contact the author: jtrevithickpr@gmail.com