The Army will officially field its new so-called Mobile Protected Firepower system under the designation of M10 Booker Combat Vehicle, the service announced Saturday. Named for two fallen soldiers, it is the U.S. military’s first combat vehicle named for a service member who fought in one of the country’s post-9/11 wars.
Conceived of as a more compact version of the venerable M1 Abrams main battle tank, the M10 is designed to give light infantry and airborne units increased firepower and bridge a gap in the Army’s armor fleet between the Abrams and the M1126 Stryker Infantry Carrier Vehicle. The Booker will provide protected direct fire support for light infantry units in a lighter, more easily-transportable package than the larger Abrams.
“One of the things we decided we needed to do was to upgrade our armor systems for light infantry and also for deployability, and that’s where Mobile Protected Firepower comes out,” Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Mark Milley previously told Task & Purpose. “It’s a light enough vehicle, rapidly deployable, it can project power with airborne or light infantry forces.”
The M10’s name honors two soldiers killed in combat, including one from the initial invasion of Iraq in 2003. Staff Sgt. Stevon A. Booker was a tank commander posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions during the ‘Thunder Run’ raid on Baghdad that opened the Iraq war. Pvt. Robert D. Booker was an infantryman in World War II who was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for heroism in combat in Tunisia in 1943.
The Army debuted the M10s new name Saturday amid celebrations marking the service’s 248th birthday at Fort Belvoir, Virginia. The Booker is the service’s first newly-designed combat vehicle in nearly 40 years, according to Breaking Defense.
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Combining the tried-and-true M1 Abrams turret and a chassis based on designs developed for General Dynamics’ AJAX family of light armored vehicles, the M10’s armament includes a 105 mm main gun, a coaxial 7.62 mm machine gun, and an externally-mounted .50 caliber machine gun. The vehicle weighs just 38 tons, light enough that two can be flown on an Air Force C-17 Globemaster III. The C-17 can only fly one M1 Abrams at a time.
Despite the fact that the M10 is a tracked armored vehicle that wields a big gun, the Army still refuses to characterize it as a “light tank,” a position service leaders affirmed at a media roundtable on Thursday.
“I will spare you the esoteric and borderline religious debate among the armor community,” said Doug Bush, Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics, and Technology, when questioned by Task & Purpose on the service’s past description of the system. “It is a combat vehicle, that is the proper characterization.”
“The historic use of ‘light tank’ is to perform reconnaissance functions, and this is not a reconnaissance vehicle, it’s an assault gun” like the Stryker, added Maj. Gen. Glenn Dean, Program Executive Officer for Ground Combat Systems. “Historically, it’s not actually a mission match, even though it looks like, feels like, and smells like [a tank].”
While the M10 is not the first Army vehicle named for two soldiers (see: the Stryker), it’s the first named for a soldier killed in post-9/11 conflicts.
A native of Apollo, Pennsylvania, Stevon Booker was killed on April 5, 2003, while serving as a tank commander with Company A, 1st Battalion, 64th Armor of the 3rd Infantry Division. That day, Booker was leading an armor task force along Iraq’s deadly Highway 8 toward Baghdad International Airport when his platoon was ambushed by small arms and rocket-propelled grenade fire.
Booker led his tank on counterattack, but as malfunctions piled up, Booker left the safety of the Abrams’ interior to fire at enemy positions from the top of the tank, according to the citation for Booker’s posthumous Distinguished Service Cross.
“When both his and his crew’s machine guns malfunctioned, Staff Sergeant Booker, with total disregard for his personal safety, exposed himself by lying in a prone position on top of the tank’s turret and accurately engaged the enemy forces with his personal weapon,” the citation reads. “While exposed he effectively protected his platoon’s flank and delivered accurate information to his command during a critical and vulnerable point of the battle.”
“Booker’s fearless attitude and excitement over the communications network inspired his platoon to continue the attack and assured them and leadership that they would defeat the enemy and reach their objective safely,” the citation continues, noting that Booker continuously engage the enemy along the 8-kilometer route until he was mortally wounded by enemy fire.
Booker’s family was presented with his Distinguished Service Cross in April 2019 surrounded by hundreds of 3ID soldiers and veterans.
The M10’s other namesake, Robert Booker, was born in Callaway, Nebraska, and was assigned to Company B, 133d Infantry Regiment, 34th Infantry Division at the time of his death on April 9, 1943. He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions near Fondouk, Tunisia.
While facing blistering enemy fire, Booker “carried a light machine gun and a box of ammunition over 200 yards of open ground … continu[ing] to advance despite the fact that two enemy machine guns and several mortars were using him as an individual target,” according to his Medal of Honor citation.
“Although enemy artillery also began to register on him, upon reaching his objective he immediately commenced firing. After being wounded he silenced one enemy machine gun and was beginning to fire at the other when he received a second mortal wound. With his last remaining strength, he encouraged the members of his squad and directed their fire.”
The designation of M10 Booker for the MPF vehicle is meant to honor and embody both Bookers’ respective service as tanker and infantryman, said Dean during the Thursday roundtable.
“That is the mission the M10 Booker is designed to fulfill on behalf of and in support of the infantry soldier,” Dean said. “An armored vehicle intended to support Infantry Brigade Combat Teams by suppressing and destroying fortifications, entrenchments, and gun systems, and, secondarily, providing protection against enemy armored vehicles.”
In development since 2018, the Army awarded a $1.14 billion contract to General Dynamics in June 2022 to build the first 96 MPF vehicles for the service.
The Army plans on acquiring 504 MPF vehicles. Each of the service’s Infantry Brigade Combat Teams will get 14 M10s with the first arriving sometime in fiscal year 2025. The service’s 2024 budget request includes $394 million to procure 33 MPF vehicles after nailing down funds for 23 and 29 vehicles in fiscal years 2022 and 2023, respectively.
The very first M10s could arrive as early as this November, Army leaders told reporters on Thursday.
Army leaders also said that issues with the vehicle that cropped up during operational testing in previous years have since been fixed
First, the fumes: A 2022 assessment from the Defense Department’s Director, Operational Testing & Evaluation (DOT&E) office released in January found that MPF prototypes “had high levels of toxic fumes when firing the main gun, requiring modifications to crew procedures during firing to mitigate the build-up of fumes in the turret.”
Second, overheating: Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Army officials noted that the MPF prototypes experienced “overheating” under hot performance conditions based on an airflow problem with the cooling unit at the rear of the vehicle.
Engineering fixes for both the fumes and heating appear to have resolved those issues, Army leaders stated during the Thursday media roundtable.
“Toxic fumes were a concern at the production decision, but we have been doing the engineering and testing and that is an issue that’s behind us,” Dean said, noting that design revisions made by General Dynamics have also corrected the overheating issue.
U.S. officials had also previously expressed concerns that aggressive security assistance from the United States to Ukraine “might also have an impact on 105 mm ammunition availability for MPF systems,” as a recent Congressional Research Service report put it.
The Pentagon has already forked over at least 450,000 105 mm rounds to the Ukrainian military since the start of Russia’s invasion, per the U.S. State Department.
But ramped-up production and supply chain work has relieved much of that concern, officials said.
“Ammo to Ukraine has not been a problem,” Dean said.
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