Marine Corps’ Next High-Speed Ship-To-Shore Connector Could Be Unmanned

ANNAPOLIS, Md. – When Marines next storm a beach in wartime, they likely will be preceded by robots of all sorts, including autonomous or semi-autonomous high-speed amphibious vehicles, according to a senior Marine Corps official.

Robotics and autonomy may even be the answer to the Marine Corps’ lengthy but fruitless search for an amphibious vehicle that can zip from ship to shore fast enough to evade enemy guided munitions, said Bill Williford, executive director of Marine Corps Systems Command.

Finding a replacement for older amphibious dock transport ships such as the USS Harpers Ferry (LSD-49), above, is among the issues the Marine Corps, Navy and industry are working through right now regarding the amphibious ship fleet. Photo courtesy U.S. Marine Corps.

Finding a replacement for older amphibious dock transport ships such as the USS Harpers Ferry (LSD-49), above, is among the issues the Marine Corps, Navy and industry are working through right now regarding the amphibious ship fleet. Photo courtesy U.S. Marine Corps.

“In an amphibious assault today, it may be better to utilize an unmanned capability as the initial assault and then follow that with manned capabilities,” Williford said Oct. 26 at the National Defense Industrial Association’s annual Expeditionary Warfare Conference in Annapolis, Md. “There are a lot of technologies and issues we’re looking at – and concepts – to make that a reality.”

A tracked amphibious vehicle with a water speed of better than 7 knots – ideally much faster than 7 knots – has been the object of the Marine Corps’ desire for years. But the requirement proved fatal for the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle (EFV), which was canceled in 2011 when the service realized achieving its capacity and speed objectives would be prohibitively expensive if possible at all.

Lt. Gen. Brian Beaudreault, deputy commandant for Plans, Policies and Operations, articulated the need for a fast ship-to-shore connector at the same event just hours before Williford took the stage.

“We must find a high water-speed vehicle on the surface,” Beaudreault said. “We must do that with the AAV. They’re old. We’ve got to replace them. In the meantime, we need work done. We have to find a solution on getting Marines ashore from over the horizon at something greater than seven knots.”

The AAV is the Marines' Assault Amphibious Vehicle. 

After the cancellation of EFV, the Marine Corps eventually settled on an 80-percent solution in the ACV 1.1 program, which is in competitive prototyping. That effort will deliver an 8x8 armored personnel carrier with limited swim capability to replace a portion of the aging AAV fleet. Subsequent variants AAV 1.2 and 2.0 should introduce capability upgrades like higher water speed and a tracked configuration.

“Right now we are focused on ACV and that capability,” Williford said. “Some of the technologies that we have for the future have that high-water speed capability, but it may not be a manned system. So we are looking at all technologies out there on the unmanned side.”

BAE Systems and Science Applications International Corp. [SAIC] are in a competition to supply the Marines with the Amphibious Combat Vehicle, or ACV.





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