The Marine Corps may have tempered its appetite for a vehicle that could both swim to shore from a ship and fight ashore, but the designs it settled for as incremental capabilities could end up being the full package.

Vehicles from both competitors in the amphibious combat vehicle 1.1 program are delivering on time, on budget and with such impressive capabilities that John Gardner, the Marine Corps program manager for advanced amphibious assault, said the prototypes would likely cover requirements for that program and the follow-on ACV 1.2.

“We are going to have a very, very good idea this time next year how this type of the vehicle, both of the vehicles that are in the competition, are going to do both against the initial requirements and against potentially the fully amphibious role of being able to come off ships,” Garner said Dec. 1 at BAE Systems’ York, Pa., manufacturing facility.

The occasion for the remarks was the rollout of BAE’s first ACV, built in partnership with Italian vehicle manufacturer Iveco Defense. Both BAE and opposition manufacturer Science Applications International Corp. [SAIC] hold $100 million-plus contracts to build 16 vehicles each under the engineering and manufacturing development (EMD) phase of the competition.

BAE’s program manager for ACV, John Swift, was joined by Marine Corps officials and company luminaries including Chief Executive Jerry DeMuro during the ceremony. Swift praised his workforce for completing the first vehicles three months ahead of schedule and the company for continuing its seven-decades of commitment to building amphibious vehicles for the Marine Corps.

BAE Systems ACV 1.1
BAE Systems ACV 1.1

“We are proving our commitment to the U.S. Marine Corps, a legacy that BAE has had for over 70 years,” Swift said. “Every ground combat amphibious vehicle in the Marine Corps inventory has been built by BAE Systems.”

BAE is significantly ahead of SAIC in manufacturing its vehicles. The ACV rolled out Dec. 13 actually was displayed in September at the Modern Day Marine expo at Quantico, Va.

SAIC began integrating subsystems onto the hull of the first amphibious combat vehicle in October. Both companies are on the hook for 16 vehicles that will undergo 18 months of Marine Corps testing starting in January.

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

Garner was extremely complimentary of BAE’s execution of the program to date. His office has experienced a “mind meld” with BAE leadership and its workforce on the program, Garner said.

“I suspect that both companies are going to do very, very well,” he said. “We’ll have a very successful competition and a little over a year from now, the Marine Corps will be in the very enviable position of having to choose the better of two very good options. … Then we will be off to the races building them and fielding them.”

Because of its head start, BAE plans to put four ACVs through internal testing on its own dime before delivering any to the Marine Corps.The vehicle unveiled Dec. 13 will join three others at the Nevada Automotive Test Center (NATC) for internal company testing before the Marine Corps gets to shake them down during 18 months of government testing.

EMD contracts were awarded to BAE and SAIC almost exactly a year ago. BAE is delivering its vehicles three months early, time it banked by driving full-speed ahead during the 90-day protest of the EMD contract awards by General Dynamics [GD]. BAE was performing internal research and development (IRAD) and preparatory work for when production would resume.

“You think about the complexity of a vehicle like this, the challenges associated with working across time zones and across the Atlantic with our very capable Iveco partner and how we came together as a team in 12 months, it is nothing short of amazing,” said Erwin Beiber, BAE’s president and platforms and services.

“We’ve got a lot of challenges ahead of us, but based on the performance we have demonstrated so far, we have every confidence that we are going to maintain as the primary supplier of amphibious capability for our United States Marines.”

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.

The Marine Corps began considering wheeled amphibious vehicles around 2007, Garner said. Program managers and engineers quickly learned that optimizing a single vehicle for both amphibious assault and mobility on land is very difficult and expensive.

After cancellation of the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle (EFV), which failed to achieve all those performance desires, the ACV program was conceived in three parts. ACV 1.1 would capitalize immediately on non-developmental vehicles and technologies that would improve upon the AAV like basic swim capability and increased troop protection. In later years, and perhaps under better budgetary circumstances, ACV 1.2 and 2.0 will introduce progressively more and more sophisticated requirements, including high water speed and possibly tracks instead of wheels.

“That was January of 2014 and here we are three years later and we’ve gone all the way through what normally would have been a five- or six-year acquisition cycle,” Garner said. “We need vehicles to do the amphibious assault role, which is what … the AAV provided,” he said. “We also need combat power ashore, armored protected mobility for our Marines ashore.”

Initially seen as an incremental capability that would need to be ferried close to shore before swimming Marines into combat, Garner now believes one or both of the ACV 1.1 designs likely will achieve the requirements for increment 1.2 or better.

“There is a very good possibility that vehicles of this type with potentially some modifications will be capable of filling that amphibious assault role … and the armored combat mobility ashore.”