One of the Army’s most hotly anticipated new combat vehicles certainly looks like a tank. It is covered with protective armor, runs on tracks, and features a powerful 105mm main gun. But when is a tank not a tank? When it’s an M-10 Booker combat vehicle.
Army brass rolled the new model out last week in conjunction with the service’s 248th birthday. It was named in honor of two soldiers who died in combat: Private Robert Booker, an infantryman killed during World War II, and Staff Sgt. Stevon Booker, a tanker, who was killed in April 2003 during the invasion of Iraq.
Formerly known as the “Mobile Protected Firepower” system, the Booker is the Army’s first new major combat vehicle in two decades. It makes its debut in the midst of a raging debate among generals and strategists over the traditional tank’s future on a battlefield some say will be dominated by satellite-guided drones and long-range precision artillery.
Some say the tank is on the fast track to obsolescence, while others argue the ground-focused, trench fighting between Ukraine and Russia over the past 16 months suggests the death of the tank has been highly exaggerated.
Tank or not, Army brass seem all in on their new armored option.
“The M-10 Booker is an armored vehicle that is intended to support our Infantry Brigade Combat Teams by suppressing and destroying fortifications, gun systems and trenches, and then, secondarily, providing protection against enemy armored vehicles,” Maj. General Glenn Dean, program executive officer for Army ground combat systems, recently told reporters at the Pentagon.
If that sounds like the kind of mission for a main battle tank such as the legendary M-1 Abrams, Army officials say think again.
“I will spare you the esoteric and border-line religious debate among the armor community about what that [tank] means,” Army acquisition chief Doug Bush said. “It is a ‘combat vehicle.’ I think that is the proper characterization.”
Light profile, heavy responsibility
At about 42 tons, the Booker is much lighter than the newest version of an M-1 Abrams, a tank by anyone’s definition which can weigh more than 70 tons. But, Army officials said that doesn’t make it a “light” tank either.
“In the United States Army, the historical use of ‘light’ tanks has been to perform reconnaissance functions. This is not a reconnaissance vehicle,” General Dean said.
The Army said the M-10 Booker development program evolved to address an “operational shortfall” in infantry units. It was intended to neutralize enemy foxholes and bunkers and take out heavy machine guns.
The M-10 Brooker is “absolutely needed today,” retired Army Maj. General Patrick J. Donahoe, a former commander of the Army’s Maneuver Center of Excellence at Fort Moore (formerly Fort Benning), Georgia, told The Washington Times.
Many of the Army’s infantry combat teams have no assigned fighting vehicles other than Humvees. The M-10 Bookers, along with fielding future infantry squad vehicles, will allow the infantry companies to move with organic vehicles, General Donahoe said.
“The M-10 would be used, much as the original tanks in the First World War were, to defeat the machine guns that tie down infantry, destroy fixed positions, and to destroy light armor in order to restore mobility to the infantry,” he said.
The Army selected General Dynamics Land Systems (GLDS) concept for the Booker over the design submitted by BAE Systems. The initial production award is for $1.14 billion. The M-10 Booker will be crewed by four soldiers — a commander, a gunner, a loader and a driver.
The first production vehicles should roll off the assembly lines in November. The Army contracted for 26 M-10 Bookers initially, but that figure is expected to grow dramatically. The service plans to stand up its first battalion in late 2024 or early 2025 for initial operational testing, officials said.
Smaller than an M-1 Abrams in both weight and size, the M-10 Booker can be airlifted to the front lines, with two Bookers designed to fit inside an Air Force C-17 transport jet. They intend to add M-10 battalions to their light infantry brigade combat teams, including airborne units.
General Dean said GLDS was able to solve some of the bugs in the M-10 Booker, including a concern that high levels of toxic fumes filled the turret after the crew fired the main gun.
“I can confidently say that is an issue that is behind us,” General Dean said, who declined to disclose what the fix was.
The M-10 Booker won’t replace existing tanks like the M-1, so the Army is now in the process of establishing guidelines and training manuals to use them, both in peace and war and provide maintenance support. That includes determining the number of trucks required to fuel an M-10 battalion and how a disabled Booker can be pulled off a battlefield.
Tanks for the memories
Infantry divisions in World War II were routinely assigned an M-4 Sherman tank battalion to provide close-in support when battling German positions in Europe.
“It wasn’t about ‘tank on tank’ fighting, it was ‘tank on pillbox’ and ‘tank on machine gun,’” General Donahoe said. Infantry teams have the same problem today.”
General Donahoe’s former command, the Maneuver Center of Excellence, was created after the 2005 Army Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC) decided to consolidate a number of Army training schools. The decision resulted in the merger of the U.S. Army Infantry Center and the U.S. Army Armor Center, then based at Fort Knox, Kentucky. Both centers fell under his command.
So what is the M-10 Booker, then? Maj. Gen. Dean acknowledged to reporters last week that the Booker “sort of looks like, smells like, [and] feels like” a tank,” and the decision on how to classify the vehicle was made by higher-ups.
But to laymen — and not a few of those in uniform — the M-10 Booker presents an unmistakable profile.
“It’s a tank. Just look at it,” Gen. Donahoe said.
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