Following a record-short three months of operational testing, the Marine Corps is tabulating the performance of two Amphibious Combat Vehicles (ACV) and plans to choose one for its next swimming troop transport sometime in June.
Testing non-developmental vehicles outfitted with mature technologies against consistently stable requirements allowed the Marine Corps to proceed on an “aggressive but manageable” schedule, ACV 1.1 product manager Col. Kirk Mullins told Defense Daily in an interview.
“We accomplished the same thing a traditional program would accomplish but on a shorter timeline,” he said. “That was largely a result of having mature vehicles and technologies. That was the enabler.”
A recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report acknowledged the program is set to meet development cost goals with no anticipated delays for remaining acquisition milestones. ACV 1.1 development is on track to come in at $750 million, significantly less than the $810.5 million baseline set at the program’s outfit, GAO found.
All that is left is for the Marine Corps to choose between the vehicles pitched by Science Applications International Corp. [SAIC] and BAE Systems. Both companies built and delivered six ACV prototypes for extensive engineering and manufacturing development (EMD) testing by contractor and Marine personnel over the past few months.
Despite SAIC lagging in prototype deliveries, the Amphibious Vehicle Test Branch was able to get both companies’ vehicles through the necessary test points in time. Each companies’ ACVs accrued more than 4,000 land miles and 3,000 operational hours during testing.
Operational assessments of both vehicles were completed in March and the testers are finalizing their reports, which will be used to select one vendor to enter low-rate initial production. That milestone C decision is scheduled for mid-June.
Both vendors also undertook internal manufacturer assessments of the vehicles before delivery to the Marine Corps, which ensured the EMD vehicles were operational and met the Marine Corps requirements, Mullins said. The service maintained a careful firewall between the companies during testing, but was absolutely transparent with each through the process, Mullins said.
“One of the strengths of this program is we have had very good relationship with our industry partners from the start,” he said. “There was complete transparency.”
Because both vehicles and their constituent technologies were so mature entering testing, no significant engineering changes are expected when production begins, regardless of the vendor that is chosen, he said.
ACV 1.1 is a wheeled armored amphibious vehicle with a swim capability of at least 3 nautical miles from shore. ACV 1.2 will have a threshold requirement of 12 miles from ship-to-shore and introduce other performance and protection upgrades. The 1.2 iteration will come in both communications and recovery variants, Mullins said. Many of the requirements for 1.2 have already been validated while testing the ACV 1.1 proposals, another testament to the maturity of both vehicles, he said.
ACV 2.0 should be a true ship-to-shore connector with both high water speed and greater at-sea range. The Marine Corps also is expected to make at least some variants optionally manned.
There are no formal requirements for other upgrades, but Marine Corps combat developers are studying a lethality upgrade up to a 30 mm cannon and an active protection system missile shield add-on kit in future iterations, Mullins said.
For the second year in a row, the GAO voiced concerns that the program is moving at such a remarkable speed that entering production is a risky proposition. The low-rate initial production contract scheduled for award in June will include additional options for follow-on production.
“Making the decision to proceed with the second round of low-rate production and for the start of full-rate production before meeting called-for levels of manufacturing readiness criteria increases the risk that ACV 1.1 will witness delays and increased costs,” GAO concluded in its April report.
Mullins dismissed GAO’s concerns, saying any risk inherent in moving so quickly is both manageable and mitigated by the same technological maturity that allowed the speed in the first place.
“I feel very confident that we know where our risks are,” he said. “When we downselect, we will be ready to address those risks with our industry partner. I don’t think there is as much risk as there is being touted. … One of the strengths of this program is we have had very stable requirements from the start.”