With the cancellation of its amphibious Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle program, the Marine Corps has released several requests for information (RFIs) looking for industry solutions to its future amphibious needs. Instead of buying EFVs, the Marines have issued RFIs to upgrade its existing AAV7A1 amphibious assault vehicles (AAVs); while creating a new amphibious combat vehicle (ACV); and a new Marine Personnel Carrier that would work alongside the AAV on land. The Corps has instructed industry that it is only looking for “mature” solutions that require little development. In the near-term, the Marines are looking for an upgrade of their entire AAV fleet—1,057 vehicles—in a 4-6 year timeframe, but BAE Systems’ Ann Hoholick, VP of New Vehicles and Amphibious Systems (maker of the AAV) says the company “could probably do that [upgrade] sooner” if the Corps were interested. While BAE is pitching the upgrade to the AAV, it also plans to bid on the follow-on to the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle—the Amphibious Combat Vehicle—but Hoholick said that the company is in the early stages of putting together its package.
Wait a second… You mean to tell me that the Marines might be able to upgrade their amphibious vehicle capability without spending untold billions on an unrealistic requirement for water speed?
The prime cause of the death of the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle was cost. And it cost a lot because the vehicle was required to go fast in the water. Why? Because the Navy and the Marine Corps came up with a requirement that the vehicle be able to transit 25 nautical miles from ship to shore. Fair enough. That’s a long trip. But the part that made it really expensive was the requirement that the trip had to be made in one hour. Obviously, that meant a sustained speed of 25 knots in the water. Making an armored vehicle that can swim is tough enough. Making it go fast meant that a lot of other stuff had to be done as well, such as an innovative (read very expensive) powerplant had to be used, and the tracks had to be retractable and other hydraulic wonders had to be used. Add in the requirement that it be a useful fighting vehicle ashore, with a 30mm cannon in a stabilized turret, advanced thermal sights, and a very robust communications suite, and pretty soon, you saw per vehicle costs skyrocketing to a level that the Marines couldn’t withstand. With cost pressures rising, the inevitable death spiral of a smaller number of vehicles in the planned purchase, which raises the per vehicle cost, which exerts pressure for a smaller buy, which raises the per vehicle cost….
Where did this one hour transit time requirement come from? Of course, planners want to minimize the transit time for a host of reasons, but it surely seems that the one factor that has really driven the cost of the EFV to impossible levels was picked pretty arbitrarily. Why not a 90 or 120 minute transit time? Why not 30 minutes?
I’m all for the Marines maintaining a robust capability to conduct forced entry. I think it is critical for our country. Just look at events in Libya today- we may not need to land there, but it sure would be nice to have that option. But we cannot maintain that capability by designing vehicles that cost more than aircraft.
I’m going to be keeping an eye on the ACV and MPC development. It will be interesting to see what shape they take. MPC development looks to be mostly an off the shelf vehicle very similar to the Army’s Stryker- that is, an 8-wheeled light armored vehicle. The Marines have used their LAV-25 vehicles to good effect for almost 3 decades now. They (nor the MPC) can’t make amphibious assaults, but are very useful once ashore, having been landed by either LCACs or LCUs.
As for the ACV, the Chines took a less ambitious approach, settling for about 12 knots of speed, and came up with what is arguably the most capable amphibious assault vehicle in the world today, the ZBD-2000.