Marines see autumn start to amphibious vehicle competition

WASHINGTON Thu Aug 23, 2012 10:25pm EDT

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Marine Corps is conducting a final review of its requirements for a new amphibious vehicle that will bring troops from ship to shore, and hopes to kick off a fresh competition in coming months, the top U.S. Marine told reporters on Thursday.

"My expectation is that it will happen this fall," Marine Corps Commandant General James Amos told reporters, underscoring his determination to avoid setting unaffordable or unrealistic requirements for the new vehicle and avoid issues that plagued the now-cancel led Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle program.

Amos said the Pentagon completed an analysis of alternatives for the new "amphibious combat vehicle" program, or ACV, in June, although details have not been released.

The new program could generate billions of dollars in future orders for big weapons makers, but mounting budget pressures could make it tough to launch any new acquisition programs in the short term.

Amos said Marine Corps officials were finalizing their requirements for a new vehicle to replace the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle, which was being developed by General Dynamics Corp until it was cancel led by then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates in January 2011.

"This is not a Cadillac Escalade we're trying to build here," Amos said. "We want to make sure that we're not trying to build something that ends up with capabilities that we either don't need or can't afford."

Amos said Navy Secretary Ray Mabus and top Pentagon officials still needed to sign off on the revamped program, but an initial request for proposals would likely be issued this autumn, allowing weapons makers to respond with their suggestions for the "art of the possible."

Amos said it was critical for the Marines to get the requirements for the vehicle right this time to ensure Congress supported the new acquisition program.

The Marines had initially planned to buy over 1,100 Expeditionary Fighting Vehicles, but later halved its order to 573 vehicles, only to see the program cancel led outright.

Amos did not spell out exactly how many of the new amphibious vehicles the service planned to buy, but said the service still had a requirement to transport 12 battalions of Marines to shore by sea or by plane.

"We're going to get one opportunity to do this right," he said. "So I want to make sure when we go to Congress with the requirement that Congress looks at it and says, okay."

After the new ACV enters into production, the Marines also plan to start work on a cheaper new personnel carrier that would be used to transport troops on the ground. Amos said the service would also maintain some undefined number of existing vehicles and keep them running to save money.

He underscored the importance of a Humvee replacement program, and said the Marines could expand their plans to buy 5,000 of the new trucks in later years.

(Reporting by Andrea Shalal-Esa; editing by Todd Eastham)

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