Fleet Marines are set to get a more reliable, faster and better protected amphibious fighting vehicle starting in late 2020 as the Corps begins replacing its decades-old amphibious assault vehicle.
On Tuesday, the service announced that U.K.-based BAE Systems was awarded a $198 million contract option to begin low-rate initial production of 30 vehicles, dubbed Amphibious Combat Vehicle 1.1, after it beat out SAIC’s prototype in competitive trials.
The Corps could end up purchasing as many as 204 vehicles over the next few years to outfit some of its 10 amphibious assault companies — the first phase of an incremental approach to replacing the AAV, which entered service in 1972.
The contract’s total value, if all options are executed, could amount to $1.2 billion, BAE Systems said in a statement Tuesday.
The first vehicles are expected to be delivered by the fall of 2019 and the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force’s 3rd Assault Amphibian Battalion out of Camp Pendleton, Calif., is expected to be the first to get them the following year.
The ACV 1.1 offers better armor and land maneuver capabilities than the AAV, but it won’t fully replace its 46-year-old predecessor. About 400 of the older vehicles, which officials have called “nearly obsolete,” are being upgraded to protect against threats such as roadside bombs and keep them in service until 2035.
“The ACV provides a mobile capability that mechanizes the force to maintain tempo with the remainder of the (Marine Air-Ground Task Force), specifically the M1A1 tank,” Col. Kirk Mullins, ACV 1.1 product manager, said in a Marine Corps news release. “It isn’t maintenance intensive … and it also provides greater protection against threats we encounter on the battlefield.”
The Corps plans to build in additional capabilities in further iterations, eventually fielding a version capable of traveling at twice the old AAV’s water speed so it can launch from warships beyond view of the shore and land on the beach without the aid of landing craft.
The next phase, ACV 1.2, is expected to improve on the ACV 1.1’s amphibious capabilities, but Marine officials have said BAE’s vehicle is already close to that target.
Developed in partnership with Italy’s Iveco Defense Vehicles and based on the Italian company’s SuperAV tactical vehicle, the eight-wheel-drive ACV 1.1 seats three crew and 13 embarked Marines. That’s far fewer than the 21 embarked Marines the AAV seats.
The new vehicle’s 700-horsepower engine boasts more power than the AAV’s. A V-shaped hull and energy-absorbing seats are designed to protect troops from blasts, and it can reach speeds of 65 mph on paved roads and 7 mph at sea, according to a company fact sheet.
It will have a “precision weapons station for enhanced lethality,” the Marines said. A Government Accountability Office report in April 2015 said the Marines’ requirements called for similar weapons as the AAV’s .50-caliber machine gun and 40 mm grenade launcher, but remotely operated and stabilized.
SAIC’s Terrex 2 also has a remotely operated weapons station, a V-shaped hull and blast-mitigating seat design, though it seats two fewer Marines.
Both BAE and SAIC beat out three other vendors and in late 2015 were awarded more than $100 million each to produce 16 prototypes for the Marines to evaluate before selecting a single manufacturer.
The prototypes were put through their paces in land mobility, reliability, survivability, gunnery and water operations tests, including launch and recovery from amphibious transport ships. The BAE vehicle was chosen as the “best value.”
Participating Marines rated the vehicle favorably, Mullins said. Those who had experience with the AAV were looking forward to one day operating its replacement, he said.
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