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QUANTICO, Va. — BAE Systems and SAIC beat out three other manufacturers in a competition to build engineering and manufacturing development prototype vehicles for the Marine Corps' next-generation Amphibious Combat Vehicle (ACV), which will ferry troops ashore and into battle, the service announced Tuesday.

BAE's contract is for $103.8 million, while SAIC's is for $121.5 million. Each company will build 16 eight-wheeled vehicles to be tested over the next two years to replace the Marine Corps' aging Vietnam-era amphibious assault vehicle. The service will then pick a winner in 2018 to deliver 204 vehicles by 2020.

The initial contract covers building 13 vehicles due to available funding and then the Marine Corps will exercise options to build three more vehicles.

The companies competing for contracts to build prototypes included Lockheed Martin, BAE Systems, General Dynamics Land Systems, SAIC and Michigan-based Advanced Defense Vehicle Systems.

According to John Garner, Advanced Amphibious Assault program manager, some "subfactors" established in the request for proposals played out in the service's decision. Being able to operate well in water and on land were equal to requirements to carry personnel, as well as protection, he said, "so the intent was to balance the capabilities."

But he added, "We did have individual emphasis areas that would give extra credit, so to speak, all the other things being equal, and those emphasis areas were weighted toward the amphibious capabilities of the vehicle because there were some very capable ground vehicles out there, but fundamentally this vehicle has to be an amphibious vehicle."

The ACV 1.1 armored personnel carrier has been a long time coming and "will yield a balanced combination of performance protection and payload all at an affordable price," William Taylor, the Marine Corps' Land Systems program executive officer, told reporters prior to the award today.

"After a very rigorous and thorough evaluation of competitor proposals, the Marine Corps will be awarding contracts to companies who clearly offer the best value selections for the Marine Corps."

The winning companies will build the vehicles in 2016, and conduct "aggressive testing" in 2017 that will inform the Marine Corps development of requirements for its next iteration of the vehicle — ACV 1.2 — according to Col. Roger Turner, director of the Marine Corps' Capabilities Development Directorate. The Marine Corps will be able to refine what ACV 1.2 will look like and then "we will move out with the remainder of the program once we know what details of ACV 1.1 will yield," he added.

To analysts, the competition was wide open leading up to the downselect decision. Outwardly, the vehicles looked similar, and while there were differences all were expected to meet or surpass the Marine Corps' Amphibious Combat Vehicle 1.1 requirements released in April. Each vehicle would seat at least 10 Marines and their combat loads, handle 2-foot waves and cost about $7.5 million each.

ACV 1.1. has been met with criticism because it will likely be a displacement hull vehicle, meaning it bobs through the water at a low speed. Critics argue that slow-moving vehicles that must travel 100 miles to shore over the course of a few hours could be sitting ducks for enemies that can lob shore-based missiles at them in the water.

But the Marine Corps believes it's taking the right path, saying its priority is to build wheeled vehicles that are well suited to move quickly across land, where the majority of missions will take place.

There are plans to later add capability to vehicles beyond ACV 1.1. While it has not set requirements for a later tranche of vehicles, the Corps could decide to improve the ability to transport more robust weapon stations, better sensors and communications equipment, and tackle the water speed issue in those later iterations.

Earlier attempts to replace the amphibious assault vehicle (AAV) failed after immense cost and schedule overruns. Those efforts included the defunct Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle (EFV) program, in development since the 1980s, which could plane across water at a high rate of speed, but ultimately fell victim to budget cuts and program delays.

The initial tranche of vehicles will outfit six battalions with 200 ACVs by 2023 and modernize enough AAVs to equip another four battalions, giving the service the ability to put 10 battalions ashore during a forcible entry operation.

Later versions of the ACV will offer more robust capabilities, including more internal capacity and possibly even high water speed as the service once sought in the EFV.

Here's a look at the winning vehicles:

BAE Systems: BAE's Deepak Bazaz, the company's director of new and amphibious vehicles, told reporters shortly after the contract award announcement today that he was "a little taken back" and that the news is "still washing over us here at BAE."

Bazaz said that BAE likely had an edge because it built its vehicle not as a land vehicle tailored to marine operations but the other way around, starting with an amphibious vehicle.

BAE's offering "was not just based on being able to get to the threshold requirements," Bazaz said. "We really were shooting to give them a long-term solution and I think that really stood out in the responses we got based on the initial conversations with the Marine Corps."

The design was developed with future Marine Corps objectives in mind with a focus on the ability to launch and recover the vehicle to a ship, future survivability considerations and having an open architecture that will allow for future vehicle missions and variants such as a recovery or a command-and-control vehicle, Bazaz said.

The company plans to build its ACV prototypes at its York, Pennsylvania, facility.

The company's vehicle was fired up at the Modern Day Marine expo in September and surprised those present by running so quietly as its hum was drowned out by the conference din. Additionally, it didn't belch black smoke upon startup.

The vehicle BAE designed for the competition is faster than Lockheed's. It can travel 11.5 miles at about 7 mph in surf and on land it can travel about 65 mph. It has approximately 21 percent in reserve buoyancy.

The company's offering was designed with Italian manufacturer Iveco, which also owns Chrysler and Ferrari. BAE has touted its H-drive system as key to the vehicle's capabilities. The system uses a string of three drive shafts on each side, which means there are no axles running from wheels on one side to the other, allowing more freedom to design the shape of the hull. BAE chose a V-shaped hull, which will protect passengers from explosions.

The vehicle is also designed to have good traction on soft terrain, and if a wheel is lost in a blast, the vehicle can keep moving.

Another safety feature of BAE's design is the external fuel tanks, keeping fuel farther away from passengers.

BAE's design isn't as clean as Lockheed's, with free space largely filled with pipes, wires and other necessities to make the vehicle systems run, but that is because the space behind the seats is reserved for Marines' gear. The vehicle can fit 13 Marines, meeting the objective requirement for carrying personnel.

SAIC: SAIC's offering addressed improved traction by using a central tire inflation system to automatically increase or decrease tire pressure. Like its competitors, it featured a V-hull already certified during tests at the Nevada Automotive Test Center in February. Blast-mitigating seats further protect occupants.

SAIC did not published its land speed and can travel at about 7 mph in water. Its excess buoyancy is 23 percent.

The vehicle's interior is narrow and clean, with Marines facing each other in a slightly reclined position with their feet resting on a footrest under the seat of the person across from them.

Here's a look at the losing vehicles:

Lockheed Martin: Lockheed's design exceeds the Marine Corps' requirements in swim speed and reserve buoyancy, with an eye toward competing for the next vehicle contract beyond the first lot of 200.

The company's offering can fit three crew and 11 Marines but could be reconfigured to fit 13 Marines if required.

The vehicle is capable of traveling 6 mph in surf and about 60 mph on land. Its reserve buoyancy to allow for future payload growth is 25 percent.

While Lockheed's design meets performance requirements, 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. However, it is offering a unique water turbine that propels the vehicle when afloat while other contenders used more conventional propeller designs.

Lockheed's vehicle also sports clean lines, with wires and sharp objects hidden behind tubing in seats. To the designer, seat comfort was paramount, even if it meant adding more weight and sacrificing space.

General Dynamics Land Systems: General Dynamics did not provide statistics on land and water speed or buoyancy, but its design features an articulated flap on the front of the vehicle that can be raised to break through rough surf and lowered so as to not obstruct the driver's visibility ashore.

Advanced Defense Vehicle Systems: Not much is known about the Advanced Defense Vehicle Systems offering. It was the only company not to show off its vehicle at September's Modern Day Marine expo at Quantico, Virginia.

Email: jjudson@defensenews.com

Twitter: @jenjudson

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