Marines Favor Wheeled Ship-to-Shore Vehicles
Not only does the Marine Corps plan to buy a wheeled vehicle to replace its aging ship-to-shore personnel carriers, but senior leaders are now convinced that wheels are superior to the tracked vehicle that the Corps unsuccessfully spent $3 billion over a quarter of a century to develop.
Replacing the amphibious assault vehicle, or AAV, has been one of Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. James Amos’ highest priorities during his tenure. He announced earlier this year that plans to develop a purpose-built vehicle had been scrapped in favor of buying off-the-shelf ship-to-shore connectors.
After 26 years of searching for a tracked vehicle to replace the AAV, the Marine Corps also shifted focus to wheeled vehicles.
Purchasing commercially available wheeled vehicles will save money and will provide an improved capability over available tracked vehicles, Lt. Gen. Kenneth Glueck, deputy commandant for combat development and integration, told reporters during a June 26 breakfast meeting in Washington, D.C.
Several existing wheeled personnel carriers were tested at the Nevada Automotive Test Center. “The capability that came out of these vehicles was far superior to a tracked vehicle,” said Glueck.
More than 1,000 amphibious assault vehicles, or AAVs, that Marines ride out of the well decks of amphibious ships, onto shore and into combat, are 50 or more years old and need to be replaced.
Marine Corps leaders wanted a vehicle that could ride fast through the water while planing like a speedboat, then sufficiently protect Marines once ashore.
The latest failed development attempt, called the expeditionary fighting vehicle, achieved the desired speeds through water, but sacrificed troop protection and weapons.
It was canceled and revived as the amphibious assault vehicle, which has lagged and is being revised as a phased acquisition. Engineers from the military, industry and academia studied the issue and found that the Marine Corps’ desired vehicle was technically feasible, Glueck said. But shoehorning the requirements for both high water speed and survivability into a single vehicle would come at an unaffordable price, he said.
“The price was not just dollars, it was in terms of capability,” Glueck said. “To be able to get the high water speed, you have to keep it under a certain weight.
The large engine that pushed the vehicle to such high speeds also ate up space and capacity for Marines, armor and weapons. “When you start looking at force protection … weight means something,” Glueck said. “To have armor protection for the forces against IEDs and other types of weapons that are out there, you need to have weight to give you that armor protection.”
Program managers were forced, therefore to cut back on the ACV’s armor, armaments, troop capacity, and suspension and wheel strength, he said.
“What you ended up with a vehicle that, yeah, I can get up on a plane. Yeah, it can do maybe 23 to 25 knots, but once it gets ashore, it’s not optimized for 90 percent of the missions that Marines need it for,” he said.
At an estimated $12 million to $14 million per copy, the cost of the Marines’ ideal vehicle was no trivial matter, he said. The actual cost of procuring the vehicle would have almost certainly exceeded those estimates, he added.
The Marine Corps has since settled on buying a wheeled vehicle from those currently available on the international market. Choosing from commercially available wheeled vehicles for the first phase of the ACV program will shave about $5 million to $6 million off the cost of each unit over the life of the program, Glueck said.
The Marine Corps will buy 204 personnel-carrier variant ACVs in the first phase of procurement.
In later iterations where additional capabilities like command-and-control or logistics variants are purchased, the savings will be less, he added.
The second phase will include mission-role variants and weapons variants, of which the Marine Corps plans to buy 490. Those variants may reintroduce tracks or could remain wheeled, Mullen said. That phase will likely take place around 2025.
All the vehicles in the fleet will share the same frame and drive trains, among other components, which will ultimately bring down sustainment costs, he said.
BAE Systems, General Dynamics Land Systems, SAIC and Lockheed Martin have offered ACVs that have undergone preliminary testing by the Marine Corps.
Glueck had advice for vehicle manufacturers looking to score Marine Corps contracts in a future that will see the service return to scalable, expeditionary deployments and sea-basing worldwide. “If I was a contractor and looking at what I needed to develop, it's going to be light, mobile capabilities that we can field rapidly in the near term that will give us increased combat capability,” he said.