Incumbents won the day on Tuesday when the Marine Corps chose BAE Systems and Science Applications International Corp. [SAIC] to build prototypes for its new amphibious combat vehicle (ACV).

BAE is the manufacturer of the 1970s-era  amphibious assault vehicle (AAV) the new 8-wheeled ACV will replace. SAIC is on contract to modify and upgrade a portion of the current AAV fleet until the new vehicle comes on line in sufficient numbers.

TERREX 2 completes swim test in Charleston, South Carolina. During the past decade, SAIC has upgraded more than 40,000 vehicles for the DoD in its 360,000 sq. ft. production facility in Charleston.
TERREX 2 completes swim test in Charleston, South Carolina. During the past decade, SAIC has upgraded more than 40,000 vehicles for the DoD in its 360,000 sq. ft. production facility in Charleston.

“We have been the OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) for the Marine Corps amphibious fleet for almost 70-some years now, so we really understand the environment and the needs of our customers,” said Deepak Bazaz, BAE’s program director for amphibious vehicles. “We are really  happy to have the opportunity to continue the partnership with them moving forward.”

SAIC issued a short statement following Tuesday’s contract award, saying the company “is honored to have been selected by the U.S. Marine Corps to move into the engineering and manufacturing development phase of the ACV 1.1 program. We are excited to begin work and assist the U.S. Marine Corps with their mission-critical needs.”

In awarding the two contracts, totaling $225 million for 13 ACVs from each company with options for three more apiece, the Marine Corps passed on offerings from Lockheed Martin [LMT], General Dynamics [GD] and private company Advanced Defense Vehicle Systems (ADVS).

General Dynamics still has work resetting Stryker combat vehicles with blast-resistant hulls and technology upgrades following their rough use in Iraq and Afghanistan. It also is on contract for the M1 Abrams main battle tank and Special Operation Command’s (SOCOM) ground mobility vehicle (GMV) 1.1.

The award is the latest in a series of losses for Lockheed Martin, which was passed over for both the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV) and GMV 1.1. Lockheed Martin parted ways with its original ACV partner, FInnish firm Patria, deciding again to go it alone with a clean-sheet design.

The company spent significant internal research and development resources on designing purpose-built vehicles for both programs, including the purchase and equipping of manufacturing facilities. The company is currently awaiting the outcome of a protest of the JLTV award to Oshkosh [OSK]. Just weeks before the ACV award, Lockheed Martin learned it and partner Boeing [BA] lost out on the contract to build the Air Force’s new long-range strategic bomber (LRS-B).

Washington, D.C.-based government contracting consulting firm Capital Alpha Partners said late Tuesday that Lockheed Martin “has not done well lately in major platform program pursuits, though this depends on the outcome of protests for JLTV and LRS-B.

“If respective Army and Air Force decisions on these programs are upheld, it may be worth pursuing why that’s been the case and how this may impact management’s long-term growth strategy,” the firm said in  report following the contract award.

For now, BAE and SAIC are focusing on ramping up their respective production lines to build the first 16 vehicles that will undergo engineering and manufacturing development (EMD). Production for both will begin almost immediately, as the technologies that go into both designs are thoroughly mature.

Because the Marine Corps accepted only production-ready vehicles, the program was able to enter the acquisition process at milestone B rather than milestone A.

BAE Systems ACV.
BAE Systems ACV.

“Bottom line, I believe this team has put together a winning acquisition strategy; one that is focused on stable requirements, mature technologies, competition and affordability,” William Taylor, Marine Corps Program Executive Officer, Land Systems, said. “Now it is time to open up the next chapter in the process. Now we shift our focus to receiving the EMD prototype vehicles and putting them through a rigorous test and evaluation regimen.”

Those prototypes should start rolling in around this time next year. A single vendor will be chosen in early 2018 to build a total 204 ACV 1.1s for a total program value of $1.5 billion, according to Capital Alpha, which also said the potential exists for exporting the vehicle.

“Because a lot of the initial prototyping, these solutions exist,” said Manny Pacheco, a spokesman for PEO Land Systems. “What they’ve done is taken them and modified them to meet our needs, whether it’s the carrying capacity, the survivability, increased armor, things of that sort. It’s not as complex as it would be if you had to develop it from the ground up.”

The Marine Corps built its own technology demonstrator around 2007 to show industry what it wanted in an ACV. In 2011, it held a drive-off to test the swim capability, carrying capacity and survivability of vehicles from four vendors, all of which went on to compete for ACV 1.1. Those trials, which were for a vehicle called the Marine Personnel Carrier (MPC), proved that existing vehicle could approach, if not achieve, the Marine Corps’ requirements for the more-capable ACV and resulted in the search for a modified, non-developmental vehicle, said Manny Pacheco, spokesman for Marine Corps PEO Land Systems.

“We were pleasantly surprised by the swim capability of some of the vehicles,” Pacheco said. “There was a lot more potential than we had anticipated. Most of them did extremely well on survivability.”

Data from those tests were provided to the manufacturers, which they were then able to fold into their revamped designs for the formal competition. It made the difference between offering a vehicle with capabilities calculated on the back of an envelope and pitching a thoroughly field tested ACV to the Marine Corps, Bazaz said.  

“The folks who actually participated in the MPC program, I believe, benefitted because they actually had relevant test data that they could apply to this particular vehicle and this particular offering,” he said.

The Marine Corps requirements were expressed both in threshold capability and objective capacity. The vehicles were required to carry at least 10 Marines with two days’ supply, for instance, but the Marine Corps said it would prefer as many as 13.

There are no published requirements for ACV 1.2 yet. The ACV 1.1 vehicles, their capabilities and how Marines use them will in turn inform the requirements generation for the second iteration. Keeping the Marine Corps’ desire for expanded capabilities, all of the competing vehicles were designed with open systems architectures so they could accept hardware and software upgrades as technology matures. The service also has called for specific variants–command-and-control, mobile weapon station, recovery vehicle–in later iterations. BAE, for example, already has a superstructure that can support the addition of a crane or remote weapon station, Bazaz said.

Competing manufacturers were aware of the Marine Corps’ desired objective capabilities and were allowed to meet or exceed those metrics at their discretion. Both the SAIC and BAE vehicles can carry more than 10 Marines and are capable of launching and recovering from a ship, both of which are growth targets for later iterations of the vehicle. Both also claim to be better protected than the service’s threshold survivability requirements.

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 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.

 “Our design was not focused on meeting the threshold requirements,” Bazaz said. “We really were shooting to give them a longterm solution…I think that is really going to bear fruit as we move into the program execution. A lot of the vehicles are land vehicles that can be tailored to Marine operations, but we really took it the other way around and started with an amphibious vehicle and then ensured it could meet the U.S. Marine Corps requirements specific to the ACV program.”

SAIC settled on the Terrex vehicle developed by Singaporean company ST Kinetics, which was designed from scratch to perform as an armored personnel carrier capable of fording rivers and operating in shallow littorals.

The team offered the original version of Terrex during the MPC trials and has since made significant improvements to the vase vehicle, resulting in the Terrex 2 that it offered for ACV. The ACV version is slightly larger, has a V-shaped hull for blast deflection and improved mobility on land and afloat. The Marine Corps has not published requirements for the second iteration of the ACV, which should introduce variants with a gun turret and a command-and-control vehicle. SAIC’s Terrex already can mount a 30mm gun on a remote turret, Watsons said.

A feature that differentiates the SAIC vehicle from its main competitors is its sophisticated command-and-control suite. The vehicle bristles with cameras that form a distributed aperture system piping in real-time, full-color, full-motion video to the crew, vehicle commander, gunner and troops in the aft compartment. The driver has multiple screen that provide a 360-degree view of the vehicle’s surroundings.