Defense News lists some of the Marine Corps’ desired characterstics for the now cancelled EFV’s replacement – dubbed the “Amphibious Combat Vehicle”. They are interesting and speak somewhat to the Corps’ future…
* The ability to autonomously deliver a Marine infantry squad from an amphibious ship to shore a minimum distance of 12 nautical miles, at “a speed to enable the element of surprise in the buildup ashore.” The notice acknowledges that a high rate of speed “may prove to be unaffordable.” I’m not sure what is meant by “autonomously” here except that it’s one of today’s buzzwords. Self propelled and self navigated? Likley. Unmanned, or artificial intelligence piloting (the most current use of “autonomous”) – unlikely. Exact speed in the water is not defined for the RFI. It will bear watching if the speed is nummerically defined in later documents – specifically designated speed unsupported by study, logic, and thought being the Achilles heel of modern acquisition - despite the comment linking “a high rate of speed” and “unaffordable”. The most interesting part of this snippet is the “minimum distance of 12 nautical miles”. More on that below.
* Protection characteristics must be applied to direct fire, indirect fire, and mines/IED threats. In order to address the spectrum of operating environments, this protection can be modular (i.e., applied incrementally as the situation dictates. The first part will be a given for the forseeable future…the key is the second part, the modular piece. The Marine Corps is admitting that they’ve gotten heavy, and too heavy and too big to fit all they want onto the defined square and cube of today’s (and tomorrow’s) amphibious ships. By being modular you can at least take the armor or defensive systems off, transport them or stow them seperately, and add them on when necessary – or able.
* …should enable the Marine Corps to rapidly integrate emerging technologies through the use of open architecture and reconfigure the interior to support alternative mission loads including logistics provisions (55gal drums etc.,) heavy weapons (mortar/rockets) and medical evacuations (litters). Also a current, and long desired, buzzword that will ideally pay dividends. For those not familiar with “open architecture” the easy shorthand is “no proprietary solutions”. The systems – navigation, mechanical, electrical, electronic, communications need to be able to plug and play with both military and civilian standards. But the level to which the reconfigurations are desired may become a cost driver if designers don’t build a big empty vehicle that can be internally configured to support these desires.
* Be powerful enough to engage and destroy similar vehicles, provide direct fire support to dismounted infantry and maneuver with M1A1 Abrams main battle tanks. This speaks to two things – terrestrial speed and firepower. Given the state of today’s art, neither of these should be daunting challenges.
OK..12 nautical miles from sea to shore. That’s the key differentiator here. EFV was somewhat hamstrung by two things – speed requirement and range. Navy and Marine Corps doctrine has for decades pressed to move amphibious operations over the horizon – to launch outside the range of shore based missile envelopes at 25 nautical miles. And that range drove the speed because studies show that Marines tend to be less combat effective after bouncing aroud in a closed box at sea for more than an hour. 12 nautical miles means that a 12 knot water speed vehicle can be part of the solution set – and that 20 knots will be acceptable. That alone may drive the costs down – if the Marine Corps can stay it’s own appetite for unconstrained acquisition.
Other than speed and range, the requirements for the ACV are nearly identical (including the Open Architecture requirement) to the original requirements for the Advanced Amphibious Assault Vehicle (AAAV) which was later renamed the EFV. The only real question is why did it take so long to move away from the EFV? A system which has been in development for more than 16 years , and underperforming for 10. While our personnel systems may be slow or broken - they are nowhere near as bad off as some of our acqusition programs.
The full RFI cand be found at the FBO website. Responses are due by close of business 22 April 2011.