MARINE CORPS NEWS
Marines’ New Recon Vehicle Faces Uncertainty
Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Corey A. Mathews
A new strategic blueprint from the commandant of the Marine Corps has thrown into question the future of the service’s effort to acquire a new scout vehicle.
The Advanced Reconnaissance Vehicle, or ARV, was intended to replace the service’s legacy Light Armored Vehicle-25, which is built by General Dynamics Land Systems and has been in use since the 1980s.
During an industry day in 2018, the Office of Naval Research outlined its intention to replace the platform. According to the office’s presentation, light armored reconnaissance battalions needed to have better networked command, control, communications, computers, intelligence and fire control capability; better shore-to-shore water mobility and improved force protection; and adopt counter-drone technologies.
Light armored reconnaissance battalions “require greater capacity to conduct combined arms reconnaissance and surveillance, raids and offensive actions, security and defensive operations in support of maneuver,” the service said.
In 2019, the Marine Corps put out a request for information to industry, which comprised a set of attributes for a transformational vehicle. Officials met with several vendors interested in becoming a prime contractor for the platform. Two contractors were later tapped to build prototypes.
The Marine Corps was using a ground vehicle systems other transaction agreement with the National Advanced Mobility Consortium to develop the vehicle, according to a May Marine Corps Systems Command news release.
Other transaction authority agreements, or OTAs, are intended to cut through the Pentagon’s bureaucratic red tape and facilitate rapid prototyping to help the military on-board capabilities faster.
A draft request for prototype proposals for the platform’s base variant was slated to be released in the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2020 with the final RFPP scheduled for spring 2021, the press release said.
“PM LAV will focus efforts targeted on industry RFIs and strategic small group engagements,” John Myers, program manager for Marine Corps Systems Command’s light armored vehicle portfolio, said in the release.
However, these timelines are now being questioned as the Marine Corps and Navy have gone silent on the ARV.
Over the summer, the program was transferred from Marine Corps Systems Command to the service’s Program Executive Office for Land Systems. Since then, public affairs officers have declined to answer follow-up questions about the program, with MCSC spokespersons referring questions to PEO Land Systems, and its spokesperson referring questions to the Office of Naval Research, since it is classified as a science-and-technology program, not a “program of record.”
An ONR spokesperson declined to answer questions about the program, citing “national security” reasons.
Coinciding with the sudden veil of secrecy surrounding the program, the vehicle is now being pursued at a time when the service is making sweeping changes across its force to prepare itself for amphibious operations in the Indo-Pacific region and a potential conflict with great power competitor China. Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger outlined this new blueprint in his “Force Design 2030” document released in March.
The service hopes to concentrate on improving the lethality and versatility of its infantry battalions and mitigate capability gaps such as long-range precision fires and air-defense systems, the document said.
“With the shift in our primary focus to great power competition and a renewed focus on the Indo-Pacific region, the current force has shortfalls in capabilities needed to support emerging joint, naval and Marine Corps operating concepts,” Berger said in the report.
Mark Cancian, senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank, noted that the service is not only divesting its tanks, but also scaling back on other ground platforms such as the Amphibious Combat Vehicle.
“That vision is for small, highly agile teams that will use long-range precision fires,” Cancian said. “Combat vehicles don’t fit very well into this concept. … Ground combat vehicles are most useful if you are conducting operations against the conventional ground forces of another power. The Marine Corps looks to be fighting at long range.”
Marine Corps Systems Command, ONR and the Marine Corps’ Combat Development and Integration organization have been collaborating on the development of the Advanced Reconnaissance Vehicle. The service held a capability-based assessment on the initiative and included the results in a 2019 initial capabilities document validated by the joint requirements oversight council, according to a news release.
The assessment found that the ARV is a “transformational required capability” that will need to have a battle management system, enhanced vision technologies, and target tracking and engagement capabilities. However, the service is still working to define the new vehicle’s exact requirements.
The “ARV must possess transformational capabilities to enable [light armored reconnaissance] battalions to gain contact with and collect on peer-threat forces,” the release stated. “It must accomplish this goal without becoming decisively engaged, while also successfully waging the counter-reconnaissance fight.”
According to Berger’s Force Design 2030 report, the service intends to redesign its infantry battalions and increase the number of light armored reconnaissance vehicle companies to 12, which would be three more than the current total. The service has already taken steps to reduce its ground combat vehicles by shutting down tank units such as the Marines’ 1st Tank Battalion in Twentynine Palms, California, and the 4th Tank Battalion at Camp Pendleton, California.
However, Berger said in his 2030 vision document that first the service needs to invest more time into studying the effectiveness of advanced reconnaissance vehicles prior to investing “billions” of procurement dollars into its acquisition.
“While I have repeatedly stated that all-domain reconnaissance and counter-reconnaissance will be a critical element of any future contingency, I remain unconvinced that additional wheeled, manned armored ground reconnaissance units are the best and only answer — especially in the Indo-Pacific region,” Berger said in the Force 2030 report.
“We need to see more evidence during Phase III to support this conclusion.”
Cancian said Berger’s comments are indicative of the commandant’s skepticism toward adopting the new vehicle. The service is still continuing to conduct experiments and wargames, but has yet to make a definite decision about moving forward with many acquisition programs, including the advanced reconnaissance vehicle, Cancian noted.
“The concept is for small enclaves on Pacific islands that will launch precision strikes against a Chinese adversary, particularly its naval forces,” Cancian said. “If that’s your concept, you don’t need ground combat vehicles.”
Should the Marine Corps continue to move forward with the program, one key capability to include would be manned-unmanned teaming, Cancian said. In recent years, all of the services have been looking for ways to incorporate this type of teaming into its systems to integrate more autonomous capabilities. For instance, the Army envisions pairing its new Optionally Manned Fighting Vehicle with an unmanned platform.
“I don’t think that unmanned [vehicles] are at the point where they would replace a manned reconnaissance vehicle, but teaming is clearly going to be an aspect of future reconnaissance,” Cancian noted.
Rob Cross, deputy program executive officer for land systems, said at the National Defense Industrial Association’s Tactical Wheeled Vehicles conference in early March that the LAV-25 replacement could be a “family of systems” and it might have a mix of manned and unmanned vehicles. He spoke prior to the decision to transfer the vehicle’s development to his office.
Cancian said he has reservations about the service’s vision for its vehicles, noting that the Force 2030 document is heavily focused on island warfare in the Western Pacific.
However, adopting a new reconnaissance vehicle would help ensure that the service is able to conduct operations in a variety of environments, he said. The Marine Corps should remain versatile in its warfighting abilities, he added.
“A reconnaissance vehicle would be extremely useful if you have a conflict in Korea, if you have a conflict in the Middle East, if you had a conflict in Europe,” he said. “My personal belief is the Marine Corps should hedge more against an uncertain future instead of building its forces and its concepts exclusively for a single kind of conflict.”
Meanwhile, complications caused by the COVID-19 pandemic delayed the service’s advanced reconnaissance vehicle industry day — originally scheduled for April, according to a notice from the General Services Administration. The Marine Corps plans on rescheduling the event after the service makes a decision on how it wants to carry out the initiative, the notice stated.
“Given the uncertain impacts of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, and as a way of providing the Marine Corps more decision space while planners execute Phase III of Commandant Marine Corps’ Force Development, the PM will focus efforts on targeted industry requests for information and strategic small group engagements,” the GSA notice stated.
Meanwhile, two companies are already working on developing prototypes for the service. In 2018, the Office of Naval Research awarded multiple contracts to companies to conduct full-system concept studies. In 2019, Science Applications International Corp. and General Dynamics Land Systems received contracts to build prototypes.
The vehicles were scheduled for government evaluation at the end of this year.
Both contractors — along with ONR — declined requests for comments on the status of the prototype program.
— Additional reporting by Stew Magnuson
Topics: Marine Corps News