The Marine Corps’ next-generation amphibious assault vehicle
is under close scrutiny as a result of program delays and budget
overruns. But supporters of the vehicle claim that the delays are
justified, because additional testing is needed. The cost increases
are moderate, supporters said, and nowhere close to meeting the
15 percent threshold set by the Nunn-McCurdy legislation.
The AAAV—or advanced amphibious assault vehicle—was
conceived in the late 1980s as a high-mobility platform that would
move forces rapidly from a ship to the surface 25 miles from the
shoreline, so they could rapidly advance into the objective area.
Unlike the current amphibious platform, the AAV, the new vehicle
will swim at about 25 knots and will keep up with the Abrams tank
Marine Col. Clayton Nans, program manager for the AAAV, said that
the plan is to evaluate nine prototypes until 2006, when the Corps
is scheduled to begin funding the production of up to 1,013 vehicles
through 2017. Operational test and evaluation is slated for 2007.
The prime contractor is General Dynamics Land Systems, with subcontractors
MTU, Allison, Honeywell, Ball and CDC.
Nans said that the 37-ton AAAV has the latest technologies available
today for ground-combat vehicles. “It is not just the largest
jet-ski,” he said in an interview during the 2002 Combat Vehicles
Conference, sponsored by the National Defense Industrial Association.
The program had to be restructured to add another year of testing,
he said. The funding was “re-baselined,” to adjust to
the schedule change. Nans dismissed speculation that the AAAV program
is in danger of being cancelled because it’s in violation
of the Nunn-McCurdy legislation. The law mandates that the Defense
Department notify Congress when a program experiences a 15 percent
cost overrun. If a program is 25 percent over budget, then the Pentagon
has to certify to Congress that the program is essential to national
security, that there is no other alternative, that the costs are
under control and that the management is in place to keep a lid
During a roundtable with reporters in late March, Edward C. “Pete”
Aldridge, Jr., the undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology
and logistics, suggested that the AAAV is among a dozen major programs
“which have a potential Nunn-McCurdy breach.”
According to Nans, “That is ridiculous. We are not even close.”
He said that, at most, the program costs have increased by about
The program has been restructured, he explained, because the vehicle
could not go into initial, low-rate production with only three months
of testing of the second-generation prototypes. “Many improvements
were necessary, so we wanted another year,” Nans said. “During
the next phase of testing, we may encounter problems and need to
readjust certain things.”
The AAAV so far has 1,913 hours of testing in the water and 3,765
miles on land. Design changes have been made to the size and the
interior of the vehicle, said Nans.
Last July, the Marine Corps awarded a $712 million contract to
General Dynamics Corp. to continue the development of the vehicle.
The entire program is said to be worth $8.5 billion, so far.
Each AAAV is expected to cost $7 million, in inflation-adjusted
dollars, said Nans. However, critics say that the price could go
up to about $10 million and the Corps may have to cut back the program
from 1,013 to 750 vehicles. The AAAV will replace the current AAV-7A1
assault vehicle introduced in 1972 and last upgraded a decade ago.
The AAAV will have composite armor, mine-blast protection and a
nuclear, biological and chemical defense system.
The Marine Corps’ deputy commandant for operations and policy,
Lt. Gen. Emil Bédard, said the AAAV was meant to execute
the doctrine that calls for “ship-to-objective maneuver.”
The Marines, Bédard told reporters, do not want to relive
the amphibious landings of World War II. “It is about getting
to the objective as rapidly as we possibly can.”
Nans observed that amphibious assault is a misnomer. “It
is not designed just from ship to shore,” he explained. “It
is the introduction of combat forces into an environment where they
didn’t exist before.”
“Whether it is assault or withdrawal, there are so many missions
to use amphibious vehicles,” he said. “You have to have
the ability to beat down the door. We’d like to have the capability
of forcible entry.”
For land-based operations, the AAAV has a retractable hydro-pneumatic
suspension system. The vehicle drives off the ship on tracks and
when it enters the water, the driver hits a button which transitions
the vehicle to the high-water speed mode, Nans explained.
The hydro-pneumatic suspension system draws the tracks up into
the hull area and chine flaps—large aluminum plates—underneath
the hull, between the tracks, cover that opening to seal the tracks.
“We also have a bow flap that increases the planing area,”
There are two variants of the AAAV: the personnel carrier and the
command-and-control vehicle that will serve as a tactical command
post. The AAAV can carry a crew of three (the driver, the gunner
and the infantry commander) and 17-18 passengers in the back. Nans
quipped that the future drivers of the AAAV will be entrusted with
a $7 million amphibian, while only a couple of years before, “their
own parents would not give them the keys to their car.”
For operations on land, it has a two-man turret. The Corps had
considered having a remote turret and keeping the crew inside the
hull, but that idea did not work out, because the Marines were getting
sick. “It was embarrassing,” he joked.
“We were looking at a one man turret, but they were getting
too lonely in there and were too busy talking on the radio instead
of shooting targets.”
“We went to a two-man turret and it has a 27 percent in technological
capability over the one-man turret,” he explained.
The command version has a cupola in place of the turret, so the
roof of the hull area has to be raised. It has seven workstations.
The command vehicle coordinates the fire support activities, said
Nans. Seventy-eight vehicles out of the 1,013 are going to be command
The weapons on the vehicle include a 30 mm high-velocity cannon
and a coaxial gun (7.62 mm). “We’ve been looking very
closely at 30 mm ammunition, non-developmental, that has about a
one millisecond delay in the fuse,” Nans said. Most 30 mm
high-explosive rounds available today are not effective for urban
combat, he said, because they are designed to generate fragmentation,
rather than for precision strike. The gun has a laser range finder
and a second generation forward-looking infrared.
Both variants of the AAAV will have VHF radios, UHF, satellite
communications and a command-and-control computer, said Nans. “We’re
going to have more command and control capability in one of our
personnel carriers than in our current battalion command and control
All throughout the development of the AAAV, the Marine Corps has
employed user juries made up of Marines. “About a third of
my staff are Marines from the fleet,” said Nans. “Marines
help pick stuff out. If they want a cup-holder in there you’d
better get it in there. If they don’t like the seat, they
are going to tell you. You might as well get them what they want,
it will save you misery later on.”
The vehicle has embedded training capabilities and electronic interactive
Among the critics of the AAAV is Carlton Meyer, a retired Marine
Corps officer. He claims that the retractable track system will
be expensive to build and maintain. “It requires large metal
flaps to cover the tracks, which are useless ashore and become unneeded
deadweight,” he wrote. “Suspension systems for armored
vehicles suffer tremendous strains over the years.”
According to Meyer, the AAAV cannot achieve high speeds in rough
seas and when it “skims” the water at high speeds, “it
generates a huge wake visible for many miles, even at night.”
Another critic, a retired Marine who requested anonymity, said
that the AAAV may not be survivable enough. The armor protects against
14.5 mm rounds and the vehicle has mine-blast proof seats. But the
officer cautioned that this level of protection may not be realistic
for a vehicle that must move in the water at high speed. “It
might be achievable to protect against 14.5 mm armor piercing bullets
with the frontal armor,” he wrote, “but realistic live-fire
tests would be needed to confirm the level of side-armor protection.
Whatever protection levels are actually achieved, the bulky and
high-sided AAAV will be easy to shoot at and will provide little
or no protection against any rocket-propelled grenade (RPG), antitank
missile, or tank that might be used against it.”
For weight-reduction reasons, the armor is made of aluminum, which
is flammable and produces toxic fumes, said Meyer. “This is
particularly deadly in a waterborne amtrack, since it cannot drop
its rear ramp in the water to allow quick evacuation,” he
said. The composite armor and the interior spall liner will not
prevent the AAAV from igniting when hit by shaped explosive charges,
which burn through armor like the simple Russian RPG, he said.