QUANTICO, Va. — The Marine Corps has scrapped, for a time, its two-decade, $4 billion search for a planing amphibious tracked vehicle in favor of an immediate upgrade to its amphibious assault vehicle (AAV).

For the first time, all the competing companies are displaying their ship-to-shore Marine rifleman carriers in the same place at the same time: Modern Day Marine in Quantico, Va.

BAE Systems, which manufactures the current amphibious assault vehicle (AAV), is up against General Dynamics [GD], Lockheed Martin [LMT], a team of Singaporean vehicle maker ST Kinetics and Science Applications International Corp. [SAIC] and Advanced Defense Vehicle Systems in competition for contracts to build the first increment of vehicles, called ACV 1.1.

The Marine Corps plans to buy about 204 ACV 1.1s at a unit cost of up to $7.5 million. Later iterations could include more advanced weapons, communications and command-and-control equipment. It should carry at least 10 Marines, be able to self-deploy from a ship from 12 nautical miles offshore, close on the beach at a speed of at least 6 knots and provide the survivability of an Abrams M1-A1 main battle tank.

The service in November plans to downselect to two vendors that will each create 16 vehicles.

All the competitors were notional entrants into the Marine Personnel Carrier program, which gave rise to the current incremental ACV acquisition strategy. BAE’s Deepak Bazaz, director of amphibious vehicles, said the company has built in the ability to expand and significantly improve the reliability and mobility of its initial ACV offering and not necessarily give up on amphibious operations.

John Swift, BAE’s ACV director, said BAE it is well on the wat to meeting the as-yet unpublished requirements for ACV 1.2, which will include a variety of specific variants and possibly a higher water speed. The company is poised to outfit a command and control variant and can readily add a turret – Italy already has mounted a 30mm unmanned turret system atop its ACVs, he said Tuesday at Modern Day Marine.

The vehicle on display at Modern Day Marine already has driven 4,000 land miles and spent 700 hours in water. During that time, it blew only two tires, Swift said.

It was built in Santa Clara, Calif., for the MPC competitions a couple years ago. No major improvements or alterations were made to the vehicle in preparation for ACV 1.1, because the MPC offering already overmatched the current program requirements, Swift said.

“As much as anything, what started this whole ball rolling is the senior leadership seeing demonstrations [of the MOC offerings] as well as some of the test results,” Bazaz said.

When Marine Corps leadership saw the capabilities of the wheeled vehicles being offered for MPC they restructured the acquisition strategy. ACV 1.1 will take advantage of non-developmental vehicles that have room for power, armor and mobility upgrades. The eventual ACV 2.0 vehicle, which is anticipated to be tracked, will come in out years, perhaps as far as the 2020s.

The Marines are looking for a vehicle that can carry at least 10 riflemen, though a squad consists of 13 troops. BAE’s offering carries an entire squad and two days of supply, the thinking being that when Marines hit the beach in combat, it is better to transport an intact squad than force Marines to search for their units under fire Bazaz said.

“Rather than splitting the squad up, which the Army doesn’t like to do, the Marine Corps doesn’t like to do, we can keep the rifle squad together so that when they come on the beach, they’re connected rather than trying to find everybody they are supposed to be with,” he said.

BAE’s vehicle – built in concert with Italian-based Iveco, the largest land vehicle manufacturer in Europe — features a 690 horsepower engine that can achieve about 6 knots through moderate seas at a combat weight of 66,000 pounds. It has the ability to improve performance by about 20 percent, or an additional 100 horsepower, he said.

The current requirements for ACV 1.1 are largely taken directly from the MPC program, with improvements for amphibious mobility, troop carrying capacity and survivability. The Marine Corps already has conducted sea-worthiness trials, terrain negotiation and blast trials on the base MPC vehicles. The four or five companies planning to vie for ACV 1.1 have therefore had an opportunity to make improvements on their initial designs.

“We were able to leverage a lot of the testing,” Bazaz said. “Having all this testing really helped boost our confidence in the offering that we have. It is truly an amphibious vehicle because it was built with amphibious operations in mind. Then we modified it to meet some of the unique requirements.”

The majority of improvements was done during the MPC program, before the vehicles were called into the big leagues, he said. The companies already were anticipating the announcement the Marine Corps made in March, that they would likely purchase a single vehicle that could immediately fulfill their needs for a ship-to-shore squad carrier and then be upgraded to meet ACV 1.2 requirements. Those include higher water speed, self-deployability and recovery and higher troop capacity.

BAE’s offering already has demonstrated the ability to launch and return to the well deck of a Navy amphibious assault ship. Tracked vehicles are better suited to exit and board ships, but the drive trains of the various vehicles is designed to allow the wheels on each side to be powered either independently or as a unit, therefore mimicking the mobility of tracks, Bazaz said.

The vehicle has eight individual wheel “stations” that can be controlled independently or linked together to mimic a tracked vehicle. Each wheel station is controlled by one of three drive shafts located on the port and starboard sides of the hull.

“What that means is this vehicle has no axles,” Swift said. “With no axles, you can shape the hull into any shape you want. Remarkably, the hull is a V-shape to optimize for blast protection.”

With the centerline blast plate, the vehicle provides 28 inches of standoff from a detonation. The independently controlled drive shafts and wheels, also improve the vehicle’s traction through soft, sandy terrain like a landing beach and would allow it to move even if several wheels are damaged, Bazaz said Tuesday.

It has the fuel capacity to launch 10 nautical miles at sea and drive another 90 miles ashore following an amphibious landing.

With five vehicles the Marine Corps has already exhaustively tested, Bazaz said the winner likely will be able to demonstrate superior amphibious capability to a Marine Corps that needs to launch far at sea from a ship and travel to shore from beyond the range of ballistic anti-ship missiles.

“Unfortunately, if you’re designing from a land vehicle, as some of our competitors are, you don’t necessarily have some of the luxuries to be able to move centers of gravity in vehicles that are already in production,” he said.

Should BAE – supplier of Marine Corps amphibious vehicles since before World War II – take the contract, production vehicles will be built at BAE’s production facility in York, Penn. A series of three vehicles that underwent blast, water and land testing under the MPC program. Iveco has built five vehicles for similar testing and is building a new vehicle that will be offered the Italian government for engineering and manufacturing development (EMD.)

“We’re very sensitive to U.S. content,” Swift said. “The vehicle will be made in the U.S. We will build the hulls. Iveco already gets many of its parts from the U.S. So we can easily get well above 95 percent U.S. content in our vehicle in production. The engine will actually be built in Nebraska.”