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SAIC, BAE Systems win contracts to build Marine Corps’ Amphibious Combat Vehicle

The Amphibious Combat Vehicle offering from BAE Systems. (David Schacher Photography LLC)
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The Marine Corps prides themselves on being a “first-to-fight” expeditionary force that moves quickly from ship to shore, often under heavy fire. But the amphibious vehicles used for much of those deployments are decades old, and the previous attempt to field a new fleet was cancelled after the service spent $3 billion on the program with little to show for it.

On Tuesday, the Corps announced a significant step in replacing the fleet, awarding contracts to BAE Systems and SAIC as the finalists to build the Marine Corps’ Amphibious Combat Vehicle. The companies beat three others, including Lockheed Martin and General Dynamics, two of the nation’s biggest defense firms.

The contracts are to initially build 13 prototypes, and eventually three more, that would then undergo “a very rigorous and thorough evaluation,” said William Taylor, the program executive officer. After the Marines test them at sites all over the country — to see how they move through the water, on land, and how well they survive blasts — the services expects to choose a single winner to build 204 vehicles in 2018. SAIC’s contract is worth $121.5 million; BAE’s is $103.8 million.

Officials plan to study how those vehicles perform, and then acquire a second version that would enter operation in 2023.

Sensitive to past program failures, the Marines said they are being deliberate this time — making sure they test the vehicles thoroughly before heading into production.

“The net result is that we made a selection of very capable vehicles at what we consider to be an affordable price for the Marine Corps,” said John Garner, another program official. “We think we’re in a very good place.”

That wasn’t the case with the last attempt to replace the aging fleet of what are called Amphibious Assault Vehicles, which came into service in the 1970s.

In 2011, the Marine Corps canceled the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle program after it had spent $3 billion in development funds. In addition to “poor reliability” and “excessive cost growth,” the Congressional Research Service said that some also questioned whether the kind of storm-the-beaches assault equipment was needed in modern warfare.

Amphibious assault, moving from a ship to water to land quickly and without bases, or even a dock, is part of what makes the Marines Corps the Marine Corps. It has a special culture and practices a specific brand of combat that makes it distinct from the other services.

The Amphibious Combat Vehicle symbolizes “who they are,” said John Pike, a defense analyst with globalsecurity.org.

Although it may have been a while since the Marines conducted a large scale attack from the sea, “they are still pretty good at it, and it might come in handy” Pike said. Not only in combat, but in humanitarian situations, or having to evacuate people.

Without that capability, he said people would ask: “Why do we have two armies?”

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