Amphibious Combat Vehicle Competition to Heat Up

By Valerie Insinna
In its efforts to replace the 30-year-old amphibious assault vehicle, the Marine Corps has traversed a long and bumpy road. After three decades, billions of dollars and multiple programs spent trying to develop a technologically-advanced, high speed amphibious combat vehicle, the service decided in 2014 to procure a non-developmental vehicle and rely on connectors to ferry its troops to shore.

The first phase of the ACV competition will intensify this year, with a final request for proposals to be released in February. After proposals are received, the Marine Corps plans to downselect to two vendors as early as this fall.

Industry officials are hopeful that the Marine Corps’ need for an AAV replacement is dire enough that the program will be able to weather the upcoming storm of sequestration.

“There’s always concern about budgets in a time of uncertainty,” said Tom Watson, Navy and Marine Corps group senior vice president for SAIC, one of the companies vying for the ACV contract. “With sequestration hanging out there, I would be loathe to tell you that I wasn’t fearful for all of our programs, but I believe that this particular program has very strong support from senior Marine Corps leadership.”

Of the competitors, three have teamed with foreign defense companies to pitch modified, off-the-shelf ACVs: Lockheed Martin’s Havoc is a version of Finnish company Patria’s 8x8 armored modular vehicle, SAIC is proposing Singapore Technologies Kinetics’ Terrex infantry carrier vehicle, and BAE Systems has partnered with Italian manufacturer Iveco to offer the Superav. General Dynamics Land Systems is proposing its light armored vehicle 6.0, company officials have said.

The ACV competition emerged from the ashes of two canceled programs. The service originally planned to purchase two different vehicles — the amphibious Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle to rapidly transport Marines to shore, and the Marine Personnel Carrier, which would provide additional land mobility.

However, the high water-speed capability desired in the EFV was not found to be technically feasible without making sacrifices to survivability and lethality, said Lt. Gen. Kenneth Glueck, deputy commandant of combat development and integration and the commanding general of Marine Corps Combat Development Command.

“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 [and] force protection that you need.”

As a result, the EFV program was canceled in 2011. The Marine Personnel Carrier program was aborted in 2013 before being resurrected as the amphibious combat vehicle competition.
“We’re going to get a vehicle, once this thing is procured, that can operate in the cross range of military operations,” said Lt. Col. James MacArthur, director of the Marine Corps’ fires and maneuver integration division capabilities development directorate. “Whether you’re talking humanitarian assistance, disaster relief operations or you’re talking major combat operations and anything in between, this is going to be one of the few vehicles ... in the ground combat tactical vehicle portfolio for the Marine Corps that can actually deploy across the range of military operations. That is a good thing. We haven’t had that for our infantry in quite some time.”

The Marine Corps wants an ACV with the land mobility of an Abrams tank, according to information released by the service. The vehicles must be survivable enough to withstand improvised explosive devices, armor-piercing direct fire up to a heavy machine gun, indirect high explosive fragmentation and landmines. They will feature an M2 heavy machine gun and remote weapons system with the potential to add a dual-mount stabilized mark 19 grenade launcher.

Each ACV is required to have space to accommodate 13 Marines, plus a gunner, driver and vehicle commander. Two vehicles would be needed to transport a reinforced rifle squad.
Part of what differentiates the ACV from the canceled Marine Personnel Carrier is its potential for further modifications down the road. Service leaders plan to buy additional upgraded vehicles, called ACV 1.2, which could incorporate more advanced weapons, communications and command-and-control equipment.

The Marine Corps wants to buy about 200 ACV 1.1 vehicles at a unit cost of up to $6 million, according to an August industry day presentation.

The first phase of vehicles could be deployed as early as 2020, with full operational capability projected for 2023.

The service was prudent to change its requirements once it saw that it couldn’t achieve a high-speed vehicle, Watson said.

“The Marine Corps, they wanted something and it just simply wasn’t available in the marketplace at a price point that they would have to pay,” he said. “So their acquisition strategy changed to, ‘What’s the best we can do in the existing marketplace? Are there platforms out there that exist today that can meet most of our requirements, and is there another way of doing it, for example ship-to-shore connectors, that can make up for the high water-speed?’”

The main strengths of SAIC’s Terrex are its amphibious capabilities and capacity for additional modifications, Watson said. It can splash from an amphibious ship to the shore and operate in sea state 3 — slight waves of up to about 4 feet — while at a 62,000-pound gross vehicle weight, according to company information.

SAIC is working to further increase the vehicle’s speed in water and on land, as well as to improve mobility and underbelly protection, Watson said.

“The vehicle right now has enough reserve buoyancy to be able to take on additional weight,” he said. “For example, you can mount different lethality solutions on it … [and] increase power capabilities, increase electronics upgrades.”

BAE Systems, which manufactures the amphibious assault vehicle, considered several foreign amphibious vehicle makers before choosing Iveco Defence’s Superav, said John Swift, BAE’s program manager. The company realized that the Italian military also operates the AAV and, like the U.S. Marine Corps, was planning to acquire a wheeled replacement for it.

Italy “had a very detailed, very well thought out acquisition plan with amphibious capability sets baked into it that nearly mirrored what the U.S. Marine Corps was looking for,” he said. Iveco’s “engineering approach was nearly the same thing as ours was for a tracked solution, but they had indeed applied it to a wheeled solution successfully, and that by default led us to want to partner with them.”

If the service continues with its plan to buy command-and-control and turreted variants of the vehicle under the ACV 1.2 moniker, Swift said he believes BAE has a head start.
“Oddly enough, the Italian military has the requirement for those two ... variants,” he said. “In fact, the vehicle that [BAE has] been using for the past year and a half for amphibious characterization has a 30 mm turret on it.”

The 63,000-pound Superav has space for a 13 Marines plus a three-person crew. The vehicle can reach speeds of 65 miles per hour on land and 6 knots in water.

It can also be launched from amphibious ships up to 10 nautical miles from the coast, travel 200 miles on land, and then be recovered, Swift said.

The company made two modifications in order to meet requirements, he said. It revised the interior of the vehicle to fit additional personnel and changed a piece of the underbelly armor to meet more stringent blast requirements.

Lockheed’s Havoc has a maximum land speed of 65 miles per hour and a range of 560 miles, according to company information. It can swim at speeds of 5 knots up to sea state 2, in which waves range from 4 inches to over one-and-a half-feet high.

Like other vendors, the company is altering the original vehicle to better meet the Marine Corps’ mission, said Frank Bohlmann, Lockheed’s program director.

“We’re keeping [modifications] a little close to the vest,” he said, adding that the company “put a lot of focus on survivability.”

 The company in September tested the Havoc on the Butte Mountain Trail course at the Nevada Automotive Test Center.  The trail contains almost 1,000 feet of elevation change in its one-mile length.

“It simulates some pretty bad places on the Earth, and so we took our Havoc prototype up and down the mountain many, many times,” Bohlmann said. “The passengers were very impressed with this capability and its agility and its ride comfort.” He declined to comment on whether Marine Corps personnel were passengers during the testing.

General Dynamics Land Systems is also putting forward a vehicle, although a spokeswoman for the company declined to provide details about its offering.

“General Dynamics Land Systems is committed to meeting the Marine Corps ACV needs at an affordable cost by capitalizing on existing resources, mature technologies, its experienced amphibious vehicle design team, and capital tooling resources that reduce program cost and minimize risk,” she said in an emailed statement.

At NDIA’s expeditionary warfare conference in November, Marine Corps officials made clear that the service was not abandoning its high water-speed goal.
A vehicle with that capability is still a requirement, MacArthur said.

Teamed with industry and academia, the service’s acquisition and science and technology personnel plan on attacking the problem from three fronts, he said.

They will explore upgrading an ACV or other vehicle to have a temporary high-speed capability, as well as consider whether advancements in technology would allow vendors to develop a high-water speed vehicle from the ground up. Finally, they will look at new designs for ship-to-shore connectors before briefing the commandant of the Marine Corps of their findings in 2025.

Topics: Combat Vehicles, Land Forces

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