U.S. Marines aim to move ahead with new combat vehicle

WASHINGTON, April 2 Wed Apr 2, 2014 9:39pm EDT

WASHINGTON, April 2 (Reuters) - The U.S. Marine Corps aims to kick off a competition for a new wheeled amphibious combat vehicle in coming months, with a formal request for proposals likely to follow in fiscal year 2015, a Marine Corps spokesman said Wednesday.

Manny Pacheco, spokesman for the Marine Corps office in charge of land systems said the goal was to buy around 200 wheeled vehicles priced at $3 million to $6 million each under the first phase of the Amphibious Combat Vehicle (ACV) program.

Additional orders for specialized vehicles to be used for communications and other missions would follow, he said.

A Marine Corps briefing on the program said a total of about 500 to 800 vehicles could be purchased over time. The overall value of the program will depend on the number of vehicles, but the Marines' fiscal 2015 budget request included $977 million in funding for research and development through fiscal 2019.

The program will be modest replacement for the tracked Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle that was being developed for the Marines by General Dynamics Corp before its cancellation in 2011 after big cost increases and technical issues.

The Marine Corps' plans are being closely watched by major weapons makers including General Dynamics, Lockheed Martin Corp and Britain's BAE Systems Plc and others keen for a share of one of the new weapons programs.

BAE said it had a variety of vehicles to offer the Marine Corps. "We look forward to the service's release of their requirements for immediate and future needs," said spokeswoman Kristin Gossel.

Lockheed and GD said they were also awaiting details of the Marine Corps' plans.

Lieutenant General Glenn Walters, deputy Marine Corps commandant for programs and resources, told a hearing of the air and land forces subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday the ACV program was the Marine Corps' top ground modernization priority.

The first phase will build on the earlier personnel carrier program, in which four companies demonstrated wheeled vehicles with the ability to operate in shallow water.

The plans also call for upgrades to keep a limited number of the current 40-year-old Amphibious Assault Vehicles (AAV) running through 2035, Pacheco said. He said the Marine Corps would work with Congress to shift funding with the service's budget request to fund the program.

The service also plans to continue research efforts on a vehicle that would operate in deeper waters, bringing Marines from ship to shore, Walters told the subcommittee. (Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)