The Marine Corps is planning its Increment 1 and 2 Amphibious Combat Vehicles around a design used in foreign militaries and built by several manufacturers, some of which have open production lines, Commandant of the Marine Gen. James Amos told Defense Daily after a Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee hearing Wednesday.

“What I hope is we can get Increment 1, some number–200, 300, we’re still sorting that out–but we can get that under contract as soon as we can, and those would be [commercial off-the-shelf] vehicles,” the four-star general said. “It’s going to come from a manufacturer that more than likely is already making these things, so we don’t have to reinvent something, we don’t have to go through the developmental testing and costs. So that’s Increment 1. Makes sense, get it sooner, let the Marines figure out what they need to do to change it. And then Increment 2 would be, in my mind, a spiral development…This would be like the second flight of the first increment.”

Amos said Increment 2 would be a “jazzed up version” of the original based on feedback from Marines in the field, and developmental costs would be kept low.

Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. James Amos, right, testifies to the House Armed Services Committee in a March 12 hearing. Photo: Dana Rene/Defense Daily
Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. James Amos, right, testifies to the House Armed Services Committee in a March 12 hearing. Photo: Dana Rene/Defense Daily

Asked if he could name the platform he is looking at or its manufacturers, Amos smiled and said “absolutely not.” But he did say it would be a wheeled vehicle rather than a tracked vehicle, which comes with a host of benefits that makes it “immensely superior” on land–greater safety, greater protection, simpler maintenance and better maneuverability, to name a few.

“If we had stayed the direction we were going, with a tracked, high-speed vehicle, it would have had significantly less protection as you come across the beach, and that’s not what we need to be having today,” Amos said.

On Tuesday, Amos said at a House Appropriations defense subcommittee that the vehicles would cost $3 million to $4.5 million each instead of $12 million to $14 million for the high-speed tracked vehicle that had been considered previously. He told lawmakers the Marine Corps could build the high-speed craft–which planes across the top of the water like a speedboat rather than sitting in the water like other boats–but the cost would be high and the service would have to make too many other compromises on its capabilities ashore, where the vehicle would operate “99 percent of the time.”

ACV program office spokesman Manny Pacheco told Defense Daily that the 8-wheeled vehicle the service is considering came to the Marines’ attention during technology demonstrations for the Marine Personnel Carrier last year. He expects the Marine Corps to buy 200 Increment 1 vehicles and 470 Increment 2 vehicles, with the intent “to include some different variants yet to be determined,” though he noted the plans are still evolving.

At the same time, Pacheco said the program office will explore high-waterspeed technologies for an independent amphibious vehicle and/or a connector. And it will focus its near-term efforts on survivability and sustainment upgrades to the legacy Assault Amphibious Vehicle.

Amos also discussed the Marine Corps’ congressionally requested Unfunded Priorities List with reporters after the hearing. He said the Marine Corps’ list totaled $2.5 billion, with $1 billion dedicated to Joint Strike Fighters to replace the six to eight AV-8B Harriers destroyed during a September 2012 attack on Camp Bastion in Afghanistan. Six were completely destroyed, Amos said, and two more were shipped back to the United States for further inspection but likely won’t fly again.

The list also includes $400 million in military construction, which dropped 65 percent in the president’s budget request for fiscal year 2015, he said. Previous requests averaged about $2 billion, and the FY ’15 request is less than a quarter of that.

There is also money in the request to speed up the Service Life Extension Program for the 72 Landing Craft-Air Cushions (LCACs) in the fleet, as well as to supplement the Spain-based Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force (MAGTF) Crisis Response unit for operations in Africa with additional MAGTFs in U.S. Central Command and U.S. Southern Command.

After Tuesday’s hearing with House appropriators, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert would not elaborate on the Navy’s Unfunded Priorities List other than to say it was with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, who would send all the services’ lists together to Congress. Greenert said during the hearing that the list included funding for 22 additional EA-18G Growlers because the Navy is the only service that provides airborne electronic attack and he views the Growler production line closing as a big risk.