Ground Combat Priority
MARINES SET TO TEST AMPHIBIOUS COMBAT VEHICLE CONTESTANTS
BY OTTO KREISHER, SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
The Marine Corps’ decades-long quest for
a new amphibious assault vehicle finally is
taking on solid form as two rival contractor
teams have begun rolling out demonstration
vehicles for a lengthy test program.
The production of the first of the 16 Amphibious
Combat Vehicle (ACV) test articles required of each
contractor marks a crucial leap ahead on what Marine
Corps leaders call their highest-priority ground combat requirement — replacing the 1970s-vintage AAV7
Assault Amphibious Vehicles.
“We need to replace our 40-year-old AAV fleet
soonest,” Gen. Glenn Walters, assistant commandant
of the Marine Corps, told the Senate Armed Services
Committee Feb. 8.
A team led by BAE Systems showed off its first
vehicle Dec. 17. It had produced half of the required
test vehicles and begun turning them over to the
Marines by late February. The Science Applications
International Corp. (SAIC) team unveiled its first vehicle Feb. 21 and planned to start delivery to the Marines
in March. The contractors must deliver all 16 vehicles
by June, although testing will have started before that.
The importance of this project was explained
by John Garner, program manager for Advanced
Amphibious Vehicles at Marine Corps Land Systems,
during the roll-out ceremony for SAIC’s first vehicle.
The current AAV fleet, “which is the mainstay of
the Marines Corps’ capability to do a surface assault
into harm’s way,” Garner said, is deployed around
“But that vehicle is 40 years old. And that vehicle
not only is not current technology, but it has a significant defect,” he added.
The critical problem, Garner said, is that the AAVs
“not only take Marines ashore, but they are the pri-
mary lift once those Marines get ashore, to provide
them mobility and move them around the battlefield,
and deliver them to wherever they need to be delivered
to close with and destroy the enemy. The problem is,
those old vehicles were designed before the IED era. In
fact, they were pulled out of Iraq in 2007 because of
the IED, the improvised explosive device, threat. It’s
sad to say, but if an IED went off underneath one of
those vehicles, you could lose 17, 19, 21 Marines, and
that happened a couple times.
“It’s an absolutely true statement that the ACV
program is the No. 1 ground combat priority for the
Marine Corps,” Garner said.
The Marines started planning to replace the AAVs
in the 1980s, after they already had demonstrated
their deficiencies in Vietnam. With the proliferation of
longer-range, precision weapons, Marine leaders determined that any amphibious operation in a contested
environment would have to start farther from the shore
than the 12 miles considered the maximum acceptable
distance for the slow-swimming AAVs to haul Marines.
To allow a greater standoff distance for the amphibious vessels, the Marines tried for a revolutionary vehicle
that could skim across seas at 25 knots. The experimental Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle proved capable
of meeting that high water speed. But soaring costs and
persistent technical difficulties convinced then-Defense
Secretary Robert Gates to cancel the program in 2011.
After additional studies, the Marines launched the
ACV program in January 2014, with a controversial
decision to buy vehicles with wheels, instead of the
tank-like tracks used by every amphibious assault
vehicle since early in World War II.
That decision was protested by some members
of Congress and Marine traditionalists. But Marine
leaders justified the choice by noting that the vehicles spent most of their time on land, where wheeled
vehicles were not only far more efficient, but allowed
greater ground clearance and the “V”-shaped hull
bottoms that provided greater protection against IEDs
than the flat-bottomed amtracks.