BAE Systems and SAIC beat out three other manufacturers in a competition to build engineering and manufacturing development prototype vehicles for the Marine Corps’ next-generation Amphibious Combat Vehicle (ACV), which will ferry troops ashore and into battle, the service announced Tuesday.
BAE’s contract is for $103.8 million, while SAIC’s is for $121.5 million. Each company will build 16 eight-wheeled vehicles to be tested over the next two years to replace the Marine Corps’ aging Vietnam-era amphibious assault vehicle. The service will then pick a winner in 2018 to deliver 204 vehicles by 2020.
The initial contract covers building 13 vehicles due to available funding and then the Marine Corps will exercise options to build three more vehicles.
The companies competing for contracts to build prototypes included Lockheed Martin, BAE Systems, General Dynamics Land Systems, SAIC and Michigan-based Advanced Defense Vehicle Systems.
According to John Garner, Advanced Amphibious Assault program manager, some “subfactors” established in the request for proposals played out in the service’s decision. Being able to operate well in water and on land were equal to requirements to carry personnel, as well as protection, he said, “so the intent was to balance the capabilities.”
But he added, “We did have individual emphasis areas that would give extra credit, so to speak, all the other things being equal, and those emphasis areas were weighted toward the amphibious capabilities of the vehicle because there were some very capable ground vehicles out there, but fundamentally this vehicle has to be an amphibious vehicle.”
The ACV 1.1 armored personnel carrier has been a long time coming and “will yield a balanced combination of performance protection and payload all at an affordable price,” William Taylor, the Marine Corps’ Land Systems program executive officer, told reporters prior to the award today.
“After a very rigorous and thorough evaluation of competitor proposals, the Marine Corps will be awarding contracts to companies who clearly offer the best value selections for the Marine Corps.”
The winning companies will build the vehicles in 2016, and conduct “aggressive testing” in 2017 that will inform the Marine Corps development of requirements for its next iteration of the vehicle — ACV 1.2 — according to Col. Roger Turner, director of the Marine Corps’ Capabilities Development Directorate. The Marine Corps will be able to refine what ACV 1.2 will look like and then “we will move out with the remainder of the program once we know what details of ACV 1.1 will yield,” he added.
To analysts, the competition was wide open leading up to the downselect decision. Outwardly, the vehicles looked similar, and while there were differences all were expected to meet or surpass the Marine Corps’ Amphibious Combat Vehicle 1.1 requirements released in April. Each vehicle would seat at least 10 Marines and their combat loads, handle 2-foot waves and cost about $7.5 million each.
ACV 1.1. has been met with criticism because it will likely be a displacement hull vehicle, meaning it bobs through the water at a low speed. Critics argue that slow-moving vehicles that must travel 100 miles to shore over the course of a few hours could be sitting ducks for enemies that can lob shore-based missiles at them in the water.
But the Marine Corps believes it’s taking the right path, saying its priority is to build wheeled vehicles that are well suited to move quickly across land, where the majority of missions will take place.
There are plans to later add capability to vehicles beyond ACV 1.1. While it has not set requirements for a later tranche of vehicles, the Corps could decide to improve the ability to transport more robust weapon stations, better sensors and communications equipment, and tackle the water speed issue in those later iterations.
Earlier attempts to replace the amphibious assault vehicle (AAV) failed after immense cost and schedule overruns. Those efforts included the defunct Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle (EFV) program, in development since the 1980s, which could plane across water at a high rate of speed, but ultimately fell victim to budget cuts and program delays.
The initial tranche of vehicles will outfit six battalions with 200 ACVs by 2023 and modernize enough AAVs to equip another four battalions, giving the service the ability to put 10 battalions ashore during a forcible entry operation.
Later versions of the ACV will offer more robust capabilities, including more internal capacity and possibly even high water speed as the service once sought in the EFV.
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