Marine Commandant Gen. Joseph Dunford's new planning guidance places renewed emphasis on the need for a high-speed amphibious troop transport that can swim ashore without the assistance of a Navy connector.
Language in the document, published Jan. 23, is placating some of the service's harshest procurement critics who say that the Marine Corps will lose its amphibious assault capability without a self-deployable, high-speed vehicle that can hydroplane ashore from over the horizon.
"My belief is that the [Amphibious Combat Vehicle] 1.1… is recognized as not being the self-deploying, high speed amphibious combat vehicle capable of ship to shore amphibious assault that the Corps needs," said retired Col. James G. Magee of the planning guidance's tenor.
He and retired Maj. Richard G. DuVall, two armored vehicle experts who served as career infantry officers, were outspoken critics of the service's amphibious procurement strategy under retired Commandant Gen. Jim Amos. But they see Gen. Dunford as prepared to pursue with more vigor the procurement of a vehicle better suited fitted to the amphibious assault mission — even as he pushes ahead with ACV 1.1 and a partnership with the Navy to overhaul current ship-to-shore connectors while researching new options nes to ferry the ACV.
The ACV 1.1, now in development, has a displacement hull and is heavily armored. That means even if it can self-deploy, it would take more than 12 hours to swim ashore due to the because of 100-mile-plus standoff distances now necessary to keep Navy ships safe from new missile technology.
Missiles are now cheaper, smaller and faster, so meaning non-state actors near coastlines in littoral areas could mount them on civilian vehicles, drive towards an invading naval force, and strike a Navy ship before it hasd time to scramble defenses.
The commandant's planning guidance makes it clear ACV 1.1 won't be shelved. But it clearly isn't enough.
"We will continue to prioritize the fielding of a self-deploying, high speed amphibious combat vehicle, that will meet out requirements for the future even as we implement the first phase of the current Amphibious Combat Vehicle Program," Dunford wrote 's guidance reads.
That sentence, which stands out in bold-face type in the planning guidance document, is at the center of Magee's new-found optimism, he said. Last summer, he and DuVall authored a white paper titled "Are the Marines Procuring Their Way to Irrelevance as a Sea-Based Threat?" that said, service leaders appeared intent on "procuring weapons systems more suitable to a land army."
A spokesman with Combat Development and Integration Command pointed out that an incremental approach towards "high water speed" was part of the service's existing plan. The Marine Corps service will procure ACV 1.1, while modernizing existing amphibious assault vehicles and exploring future alternatives, said Maj. Anton Semelroth, the CD&I spokesman.
By December, the service is likely to award two manufacturers a contract to build the first 16 prototypes.
The intention is to procure 200 modified off-the-shelf vehicles as ACV 1.1, and put them in service by 2023. The Corps will then work to make later ACV versions faster with a decision on procuring a vehicle with "high water speed" by the mid-2020s when that option may be cheaper with advances in technology.