MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, Va. — Marines recently got their first side-by-side look at the top competitors for the Corps’ next-generation amphibious vehicle that which will ferry them ashore and drive them into battle by the end of 2020.

Four of the five competitors showed off their Attendees got up close and personal with the eight-wheeled prototypes, one of which will replace the Vietnam-era amphibious assault vehicle, at the Modern Day Marine Expo here aboard Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia, in late September. from Sept. 22-24.

In all, four of five competitors attended and including Lockheed Martin, which publicly unveiled their version of the ACV. The companies included Lockheed Martin, which  alongside BAE Systems, General Dynamics Land Systems, and SAIC. The fifth competitor, Advanced Defense Vehicle Systems, was not present.

Of the five, Marine leaders plan to select two manufacturers in November to produce 16 vehicles each, said according to Bill Taylor, the Marine Corps’ program executive officer for land systems. Those vehicles will be used for follow-on testing before the Corps taps just one in 2018 to ultimately deliver about 202 vehicles two years later.

"We just received final proposals," Taylor said during a panel presentation to industry at the expo. "Prototype build will consume just about all of FY16[fiscal year 2016], and testing will consume just about all of FY17."

Exactly who will win the contract is uncertain. James Haskin, a senior fellow at the Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security, said the competition is wide open. Outwardly, the prototypes look similar. There are differences, of course, but they are clearly all vehicles built to meet or surpass the Marine Corps' Amphibious Combat Vehicle 1.1 requirements.

Demos on display  

As Marines at the expo circled the vehicles and crawled inside to get even getting acquainted with the seats where they could eventually spend hours heading ashore swimming to shore, it became clear that vehicle manufacturers are jostling for primacy with differences in layout, comfort and capability. That could aeffecting everything from troop capacity to speed, maneuverability and safety on land and in the water.

Lockheed officials said that company's prototype  pitched its their vehicle, saying it exceeds requirements for the ACV 1.1, with an eye towards competing for the next vehicle ACV 1.2 contract. Several other competitors are similarly working to exceed ACV 1.1 requirements. Exactly what the ACV 1.2 requirements will be remains to be seen, but it will likely need to be able to require increases in capability including mission specific variants that can transport more robust weapons stations, include better sensors and new communications equipment.

"We’ve taken a look at what Marines will need five years from now, 10 ten years from now," said Scott Greene, Lockheed’s vice president of ground vehicles. "The vehicle is going to have to be capable of taking more weight on. This architecture is designed for growth. That is a derived requirement we gave ourselves that will meet not just 1.1, but some of the requirements for 1.2. said Scott Greene, Lockheed’s vice president of Ground Vehicles.

"It exceeds the swim speed that is required and reserve buoyancy that is required," he added. "As far as payload, it is configured right now where you can have three crew and 11 Marines, but we can reconfigure to have up to 13 Marines in the vehicle if required."

Like Lockheed, each competitor's version factors in reserve buoyancy to allow for future growth in payloads. While Lockheed's has 25 percent, SAIC's has 23 percent and BAE Systems' has 21 percent.

Detailed statistics for General Dynamics and Advanced Defense Vehicle Systems were not available as of press time.

Lockheed's vehicle meets performance requirements in water, but it will likely show its strengths on land as the Marine Corps prepares to trade a tracked vehicle for a wheeled one. Tracked vehicles provide better traction over the worst obstacles and terrain, but wheeled vehicles are faster and more resilient to damage.

"The majority of the missions the Marine Corps is going to do with this vehicle are on land, so there is a balance there that you have to take under consideration," Greene said.

Beyond offering increased capabilities, the vehicles displayed here at Modern Day Marine were also all designed to be quieter and cleaner than old AAVs. They feature air conditioning and ventilation to address complaints about exhaust in legacy vehicles.

BAE even fired , another top competitor for the down select, showcased their vehicle to a gaggle of reporters, going so far as to fire up its the vehicle inside an expo tent and it didn’t belch black smoke on startup. Its hum was quiet enough that it was drowned out by the din of conference attendees.

Designed in conjunction with Italian manufacturer Iveco, which also owns Chrysler and Ferrari, BAE touts their H-drive system as key to the vehicle's capabilities. The system uses a string of three drive shafts on each side of the vehicle, which means there are no axles running from wheels on one side to the other.

"This vehicle has no axles, so wWith no axles, you can shape the hull into any shape you want, and remarkably the hull is a V-shape to optimize for blast protection," said John Swift the company’s ACV manager.

BAE's design is V-shaped, he added, and is optimized to protect its passengers from explosions.

The system also gives the vehicle better traction on soft terrain where tracked vehicles like the ACV’s predecessor have excelled.

"In soft soil, like a beach, it can maximize the drive to each wheel," Swift said. "And in the event of a blast, you lose a wheel station, it keeps pulling itself along." he said.

For improved traction, SAIC's vehicle — which can transport three crew and 11 Marines — uses a central tire inflation system to automatically increase or decrease tire pressure. Like competitors, it also features a V-hull design that has already been certified during testsing at the Nevada Automotive Test Center in February. Blast mitigating seats further protect occupants. 

Several of the companies' prototypes can also The ability to lose a wheel and keep crawling is shared by several of the prototypes. All of the vehicles also feature powerful engines to cut through rugged terrain. 

In surf, BAE’s vehicle can travel 11.5 miles at about 7 mph. On land it can travel about 65 mph. Lockheed’s vehicle is slightly a little slower, traveling just under 6 mph in surf and about iles per hour and just over 60 mph on land. SAIC hasn’t published its their land speed, but like BAE does about 7 mph in the water. Statistics for GD and Advanced Defense Vehicle Systems were unavailable.

Comfortable enough to 'get out and fight'

The inside of Lockheed's vehicle Patrick Shepherd, the ACV program manager for Lockheed, showcased the interior of the vehicle which sports clean lines with wires and sharp objects hidden behind tubing behind the seats. Developers were thinking of Marines on the move when it came to the internal design.  By running wiring and tubing behind the seats, the vehicle lacks the mangle of pipes, wires and metal corners Marines are used to inside many aircraft and cramped ground vehicles.

"I have a lot of scars running down my back from when I was in the aArmy, so I’ll tell you we are not going to put a bunch of stuff on this roof," he said Patrick Shepherd, Lockhee's ACV program manager.

That is just one way the vehicles interior is designed with the individual Marine in mind he said. Seat comfort was paramount, he added, even if it meant more weight and less space.

"Marines spend so much time in the vehicles that we wanted to make it so when you get to the objective — whether on water or land — that it is comfortable enough that you can get out and fight," Shepherd said. "When I was in Iraq you could barely stand up when you made it to the objective because ... the way the seats were, you would lose feeling in your leg." he said.

BAE's vehicle would seem familiar to Marines. There is sufficient room to enter and exit the vehicle and sit comfortably, but free space is largely filled with pipes, wires and other necessities to make the vehicles systems run. That is in part because space behind the seats is reserved for each Marine's gear.

SAIC's vehicle features a narrow, but clean interior. In their vehicle, Marines sitting in the vehicle would face each other in a slightly reclined position with their feet resting on a footrest under the seat the person across from them.

While some vehicles have floor space that is off-limits to Marines in order to better protect them against blasts, Lockheed's floor is raised. It might seem strange, since Marines' legs won't hang at a 90-degree angle, but it's by design, Shepherd said. Unlike other vehicles, however, there floor is raised meaning Marines legs don’t hang at close to a 90-degree angle as they would in a traditional seat. It may seem odd, but that is by design. While other vehicles require feet to be placed in specific areas for safety, especially during a blast, Shepherd said it isn’t a concern in Lockheed’s vehicle.

"There is a bump in the floor, but w Wherever you put your feet is safe," he said. "...There is nowhere in this vehicle now that you can put your feet where they aren’t safe. Your packs can go on the floor, your weapons can go on the floor. We don’t want to have to train you where to put your feet."

he said.

The ACV program was launched following the 2011 cancelation of the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle program which sought to provide the Corps with a high-water-speed vehicle that could skim across the surface of the ocean. The programs $15 billion price tag eventually killed the effort, however, and the ACV was born as a way to still get Marines ashore.

Like the AAV, the ACV uses a displacement hull design meaning it swims through the water, rather than moving across the top. The conventional design will be cheaper to produce, but much slower, which has lead to criticisms of the program including from retired Marine officers and armor experts.

The ACV 1.1 program has faced its share of criticism including from former Marine officers who say the vehicle it too heavy and slow in the water.

Foreign threats, including shore based hyper-sonic missile defenses mean Navy ships now have to remain 60 to 100 miles out at sea to have time to employ counter measures in the event of an attack. That means Marines in an ACV 1.1 could spend hours 12 or more hours swimming to shore if launched from a Navy ship meaning it needs a ship-to-shore connector – something else the service is working hard to develop as it updates its current fleet of Landing Craft Air Cushions.

For that reason, Marine leaders have said their strategy will be to "land where the enemy is not" using quick vehicles like the Joint High Speed Vessel to put ACVs close to their target before swimming ashore. Not to mention, the ACV 1.1 is a stop gap measure with ACV 1.2 and beyond possibly incorporating a high-water-speed capability like the now defunct EFV.

ACV 1.1 has also faced criticism for using wheels rather than tracks which don't always provide as much traction. But leaders and manufacturers say that what some have called a weakness is actually a strength.

Wheels allow for more speed on land where the vast majority of each missions will take place. What's more, if a track is destroyed on an AAV, for example, the vehicle is stuck. But major competitors for the ACV employ designs that could allow their vehicles to limp away from an attack even after losing several wheels.

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