FEBRUARY 9, 2015, Marine Corps Base Quantico – Within the next two months, the Marine Corps is expected to release a Request for Proposal to industry, marking a major milestone on the path to fielding the first phase of the ACV program.
According to Kevin McConnell, deputy director, Fire and Maneuver Integration Division, Headquarters Marine Corps, Combat Development and Integration, “The Marine Corps plans to select two vendors during the fall of 2016 to build prototypes for a 30-month competitive Engineering and Manufacturing Development phase leading to the eventual selection of a single vendor to build enough vehicles to outfit two companies in the Corps’ assault amphibian battalions.”
The first ACV, 392 upgraded AAVs and the LCAC Replacement (ship-to-shore connector) are all scheduled to hit the operating forces in 2020.
It has taken several years to get here. Since the late 1970s, there have been numerous attempts to develop a high-water, speed-capable replacement for the AAV. However, technical complexity and overall affordability have caused each effort to be cancelled. Still, according to the recently released 36th Commandant’s Planning Guidance, the Marine Corps “will continue to prioritize the fielding of a self-deploying, high-speed amphibious combat vehicle that will meet our requirements for the future even as we implement the first phase of the current Amphibious Combat Vehicle Program.”
The approach to ACV is different. The ACV will leverage advancements in technology by the worldwide armored personnel carrier industry to more rapidly deliver a needed capability without the risks associated with designing a new vehicle from scratch.
“At this point, we don’t intend to spend Marine Corps money or time developing new technology for the ACV. There is existing technology already out there,” McConnell said. “We intend to capitalize on those existing technologies and expect industry to deliver a robust and affordable capability that best meets our specific needs.”
A noticeable change will be the use of wheels instead of tracks as seen on the AAV.
“Currently, within this vehicle’s weight class, almost no one in the world is using tracks,” McConnell said. “Wheeled vehicles have proven more reliable and their capability in relation to tracks has improved significantly.”
Commercial industry has experienced a large demand for heavy-wheeled vehicles over the last 20 to 30 years, so manufacturers have focused on evolving those technologies, while tracked technology has been more focused on heavy vehicles such as the M1A1 tank. One example of the improvements is “in-line” drive technology that enables all four wheels on each side to pull together in much the same way that a tracked vehicle does but with a higher ground clearance and central tire inflation system.
Another notable difference between the new and old amphibious vehicles is their size. The ACV will carry 10 to 13 combat-loaded Marines compared to the upgraded AAV’s 17-man capacity. However, the smaller footprint aids in unit dispersion which will ultimately provide commanders with greater tactical flexibility and contributes to force protection and survivability, said McConnell.
Some things remain the same. The Marine Corps’ amphibious vehicle objective remains the unchanged: “To maintain our ability to project combat forces from ships to inland objectives,” McConnell said.
Expeditionary Force 21, the Marine Corps’ 10-year capstone concept, states that Operational Maneuver From the Sea and Ship-To-Objective Maneuver remain valid. It further explains, in order to operationalize these concepts in the future, the Marine Corps needs “ground combat and tactical vehicles that value land and water mobility performance and drive a subordinate but effective balance of lethality and protection.”
According to McConnell, given anti-access and area denial, known as A2AD, threats and future operating environments, it will require a family of systems in which the ACV will play a critical role. Within the littorals, the ACV will provide commanders a capability that can operate from naval platforms while being light enough to facilitate rapid deployment and heavy enough to conduct sustained expeditionary operations across the full range of military operations.
Arriving at the objective is not enough. The ACV will be equipped with a stabilized M2 Heavy Machine Gun in a Remote Weapons System, with the potential to accommodate a dual mount, stabilized Mark 19 and M2 RWS before being introduced to the operating forces. These weapon systems protect the vehicle gunners while allowing them to engage the enemy with accurate fires, McConnell said.
“As we begin to integrate, the ACV will provide us with a complementary system to our current ground combat and tactical vehicles that will give us flexibility to accomplish the mission,” said Brig. Gen. Austin E. Renforth, commanding general, Training Command, Training and Education Command, Marine Corps Combat Development Command.
“The ACV gives us the firepower and maneuverability we need to get to and assault through the objective with tank-like mobility and MRAP-like protection,” said Renforth. “The ACV is a round downrange, the decision has been made and we’re done debating. Now, it’s time to embrace the capability.”