High Water-Speed Still a Priority for Marine Corps' Amphibious Assault Vehicle
By Valerie Insinna
NORFOLK, Va. — The Marine Corps spent $3.5 billion and 25 years developing an amphibious assault vehicle that can skim on top of the water at high speeds. Even though four of its attempts floundered, the service has not given up on creating a vehicle with that capability, officials said Nov. 17.
The service’s amphibious combat vehicle — the latest follow on to the AAV — drops the high water-speed requirement, but the Marine Corps will pursue other efforts aimed at developing the technology, said Lt. Col. James MacArthur, director of the Marine Corps’ fires and maneuver integration division capabilities development directorate.
“We’re going to get after this high water-speed piece because it is still a real requirement for the Marine Corps,” he said during NDIA’s annual expeditionary warfare conference.
An amphibious combat vehicle with high water-speed capability is currently technically feasible, but only after trading the survivability and lethality that Marines require to operate on land, said Lt.
Gen. Kenneth Glueck, deputy commandant of combat development and integration and the commanding general of Marine Corps Combat Development Command.
“You can do that. You can actually get a vehicle about that size to get on top of the plane and do 25 knots, but at a price, and that was not only just in dollars, it was capability of the vehicle,” he said.
“To be able to get up on the water, you have to be light, and to be light, it means you're not going to have the armor requirements, force protection that you need.”
The Office of Naval Research, industry and the Navy’s requirements, acquisitions and operations personnel will explore three possibilities of high water-speed and report their findings by 2025, MacArthur said.
One effort will involve upgrading an ACV or another existing vehicle to have temporary high water-speed capabilities, he said. Another possibility — the“gold standard” — is a clean sheet design that is capable of high water speeds without having to make trade offs in its protection, lethality and mobility. If neither of these vehicles is within the realm of possibility, a last effort involves further development of ship-to-shore connectors to ferry the vehicles ashore.
Some have called previous attempts at developing a high water-speed capable vehicle a failure, but it was only after that experience that the service could go forward with confidence in pursuing the ACV, MacArthur said.
Critics called it “a waste of time, money, etcetera,” he said. “I don’t really look at it as a failure. I honestly think we learned a lot of things. We learned what we can and what we can’t do. We had to go through this painful period. We had to spend this money.”
Meanwhile, the competition for ACV is ongoing. The service is looking for a modified commercial, off-the-shelf wheeled vehicle with the ability to withstand improvised explosive devices, landmines and armor-piercing direct fire, according to a video shown at the conference. It will be equipped with an M2 heavy machine gun and a remote weapons system with the potential to add a dual-mount stabilized mark 19 grenade launcher.
The ACV will carry a gunner, driver, vehicle commander and up to 13 combat-loaded troops. Two vehicles will be needed to transport a reinforced rifle squad.
"Recent demonstrations have shown the potential for 12 nautical mile ship-to-shore capability with an eight nautical mile per hour water speed,” the video said. “However, this will need to be tested."
The Marine Corps put out a draft request for proposals this month, and a revised draft will likely be issued in December, MacArthur said. A final RFP is slated for February or March 2015. Two vendors will be selected to compete for the program, and the Marine Corps plans to down select to a single competitor as early as fiscal year 2016.
ACV 1.1 could reach initial operational capability as early as 2020. The lethality and survivability of the ACV 1.1 will be improved in later iterations, said MacArthur.
To bridge the gap between ACV and the current amphibious assault vehicle, the Marine Corps plans on modernizing 392 of its1,058-vehicle fleet, he said.