CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. – Yards away from a faded green landing vehicle-tracked (LVT) that participated in the island hopping campaign against Japan, Marines are beginning tests on two vehicles competing for that World War II machines’ amphibious role in the next war.

Camp Pendleton is home to the Marine Corp’s Amphibious Vehicle Test Branch (AVTB), which developed the LVT in the 1940’s, their follow-on LVT2 and its variants used in Vietnam and the current assault amphibious vehicles (AAVs). It now is home to the test camps of BAE Systems and Sciences Applications International Corp. [SAIC], which are competing to build the amphibious combat vehicle (ACV) 1.1.

Carefully out of view of one another, the companies are setting up shop to receive several vehicles apiece at Pendleton, where their amphibious capabilities will be tested in a protected harbor and then in the open Pacific Ocean by company representatives and then Marines.

SAIC's ACV 1.1 has hybrid all-wheel steering for tight well-deck maneuvers and seats three crew members and up to 11 embarked Marines.
SAIC’s ACV 1.1 has hybrid all-wheel steering for tight well-deck maneuvers and seats three crew members and up to 11 embarked Marines.

As sea states and vehicle availability allow, test teams will carefully measure the performance of each vehicle independently except when a certain test point – like driving through the surf – dictate that the vehicles enact them simultaneously, Col. Wendell Leimbach, deputy program manager of the advanced amphibious assault program office, explained during a recent visit to AVTB.

None of the AVTB Marines or company test teams were authorized to speak on the record and media were not allowed to take photos of the vehicles or test sites. Company executives present gave some background information on their production and testing activities, however.

The companies are working toward delivering 16 vehicles apiece before a June deadline. Not all of the vehicles are destined for California. Others will ship to Yuma, Ariz., Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., and in Louisiana where communications, overland, soft soil and blast testing will be performed. AVTB and the other test sites compile raw data on each design and then provide that to the Advanced Amphibious Assault program office to inform an acquisition decision.

Based on production numbers alone, BAE has pulled ahead of SAIC. When Defense Daily visited in late April, two of BAE’s vehicles were on site and in testing. SAIC had one prototype at its fenced Pendleton test camp.

At the time that vehicle was SAIC’s lone delivery, though it should now have another on the way, said Tony Herlihy, SAIC’s program manager for ACV. Herlihy was bullish about the company’s progress, noting the first vehicle’s jubilant rollout ceremony in Charleston, S.C. in April. He would not comment on production rates or delivery schedule.

Both companies’ vehicles go through a vehicle acceptance review (VAR) before the Marine Corps takes ownership. VAR is a government-mandated tire kicking before it accepts a test article, making sure that each meets prescribed engineering and manufacturing development specifications and correcting any discrepancies before the vehicles are shipped to Marine Corps test sites.

“It is a deliberate process so the contractor knows what they are delivering and the government knows what it is accepting,” Leimbach said.

SAIC Test Director Pete Cushing said the company eventually would have 10 of its 16 vehicles at Pendleton, some having been tested elsewhere. Cushing said another of SAIC’s vehicles, based on the Singaporean Terrex 2, is on the production line at its Charleston, S.C., manufacturing facility.

BAE Systems ACV 1.1
BAE Systems ACV 1.1

A quarter-mile north, on the opposite side of AVTB headquarters, BAE Systems personnel were setting up their camp, which held two vehicles – based on an existing design by Italian firm Iveco Defense – when Defense Daily visited.

BAE had in late April built 12 other ACVs, ACV Program Manager John Swift said. It had delivered eight as of April 26 and was scheduled to hand over two more to the Marine Corps by May 5. Three vehicles were on the line and the 14th was being painted.

ACV 1.1 is designed to partially replace the assault amphibious vehicle (AAV) fleet that the Marine Corps has relied on for decades to ferry them from ship to shore and then inland through battle. ACV 1.2 and 2.0 will introduce progressively more and more sophisticated requirements, including high water speed and possibly tracks instead of wheels.

The Marine Corps will move into the production phase of ACV 1.1 in 2018 with a single vendor. Initial operational capability is expected by the end of 2020 with all 204 ACV 1.1 vehicles fielded by the summer of 2023.