QUANTICO, Va. – The US Marine Corps long have relied on the Amphibious Assault Vehicle (AAV) to get from ship to shore and then carry and protect them as they operate inland. But the venerable AAV-7, in service since the 1970s, proved vulnerable to improvised explosive devices (IED) and other weapons when operating in Iraq and elsewhere, and the aging fleet of 1,058 AAVs is slated to be replaced by the new Amphibious Combat Vehicle (ACV). The ACV, however, won’t be in service until the early 2020s.
To bridge the gap, the Corps is upgrading 392 AAV7A1s with an extensive survivability upgrade (SU) intended to keep the vehicles effective in an IED environment. Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) — which has also been selected to develop and build the ACV — is working under a potential $194 million firm fixed-price contract to upgrade the existing legacy AAVs to the SU standard. On Tuesday, the company and Marine officials showed off the first of ten test and development vehicles incorporating the upgrades, which was delivered on March 4.
“We don’t go anywhere now where IEDs are not a threat,” John Garner, program manager for Advanced Amphibious Assault, said, citing the need for the upgrades.
“We think the future environment will be even more deadly and lethal than what we have now,” noted Col. Roger Turner, director of the Marine Corps’ Capabilities Development Directorate. “We want to make sure this vehicle is absolutely viable.”
Upgrading more than a third of the AAV fleet, Turner added, “will allow us to conduct forcible entry operations — 392 forms the core of our ability to do that.”
With flat-sided buoyant ceramic armor panels, it’s easy to spot the SU vehicle from the existing AAVs and their familiar angled enhanced applique armor. Underneath, aluminum armor two-and-a-quarter-inches thick has been fitted to the vehicle’s underbelly — “providing equivalent-MRAP level protection,” according to Maj. Paul Rivera, the project team leader for the upgrade — and a new bonded spall liner protects Marines in the troop compartment.
Rivera showed off the SU vehicle’s 18 new shock-mitigation seats, replacing benches in older AAVs. The seats are fitted with foot stands elevated off the floor so that if an IED goes off below the vehicle, the blast won’t fracture ankles and legs.
The SU includes a rebuilt VT 903 engine that boosts horsepower from 525 to 675, along with a new transmission. The SUs are expected to go faster than the current AAV’s 42 miles per hour — how fast, Rivera said, will be determined in tests. The revamped troop compartment is also able to store more provisions — three days of supply for the three-person crew and embarked Marines, compared with one day on existing vehicles.
While the upgrade comes at a unit cost of $1.65 million per vehicle, there are no changes to the AAV’s weapons or sensor kit. SAIC will carry out the SU upgrades in Charleston, South Carolina.
All 10 SU test vehicles are expected to be delivered by the end of May, officials said, and the Corps will carry out a 10- to 12-month test program. Low-rate initial production will follow if the tests are successful, with the SU vehicles reaching an initial operating capability in 2019.