WASHINGTON — BAE Systems delivered to the US Marine Corps the first of its Amphibious Combat Vehicles (ACV) 1.1 prototypes, catching up to a service-set schedule which had slipped due to a bid protest.

One of the key program objectives was to get the vehicles out to the Marines as quickly as possible, Erwin Bieber, BAE's president of platforms and services sector, said during a Tuesday ceremony at the company's York, Pennsylvania, facility where BAE has spent a little more than a year building the first eight-wheel drive ACVs. "It's amazing to think about the fact that the team is delivering three months early against the contract commitment," he said.

BAE Systems and SAIC are competing to assemble 16 prototype ACVs to be used in 18 months of rigorous testing with the Marine Corps. At the end, the service will decide between the two and move directly into production with the goal of fielding 204 vehicles by 2020. The total value of the contract with all options exercised is expected to amount to about $1.2 billion.

The Marine Corps awarded contracts worth a little more than $100 million each to both companies in November 2015 to build engineering and manufacturing development vehicles that will ferry troops ashore and into battle.

The program was delayed after contract award because one of the losing teams in the competition, General Dynamics Land Systems, protested the Marine Corps’ decision to award work to BAE and SAIC in December. The Government Accountability Office denied the protest in March.

While BAE beat SAIC to a rollout ceremony, Tom Watson, a senior vice president with SAIC's US Navy and Marine Corps customer group, told Defense News in an email sent through a spokeswoman, the program is moving according to schedule. SAIC plans to host its own rollout ceremony tentatively set for February.

Watson said SAIC's build "is going well and is currently on schedule to meet our contractual requirements for delivery in mid-2017," which will support the Marine Corps' testing schedule. He added that SAIC "was delayed due to a protest to our award, so accordingly the delivery schedule for our vehicles was shifted to the right."

John Garner, the Marine Corps' program manager for Advanced Amphibious Assault, praised both companies' progress at BAE's ceremony.

Hoping to stay on track, Garner said, the Marine Corps would take the vehicles and "starting early next year" put them through "very, very, very focused testing."

Garner told BAE Systems he had a high level of confidence the company would not only be able to meet the requirements for ACV 1.1 but "because of the company's willingness to do internal design work and to look ahead to that next group, we have a pretty high confidence this is going to fill that second niche for vehicles of this type."

But he added that only testing will reveal whether the vehicles can perform against the initial requirements and against "potentially the fully amphibious role of being able to come off the ship."

According to Bieber, BAE believes its vehicle will not only support immediate requirements, but also future requirements because the design has both "great growth capability" and "great protection capability."

Earlier this year, BAE's ACV partner, Italian company Iveco, showed off an ACV at Eurosatory in an outdoor static display that met all the specifications of the US vehicle but was not one of the prototypes the Marine Corps would get.

Some of the features BAE believes are particularly attractive for a new ACV is that it has space for 13 embarked Marines and a crew of three, which keeps the rifle squad together. The engine's strength is 690 horsepower over the old engine’s 560 horsepower and runs extremely quietly. The vehicle has a V-shaped hull to protect underbody blasts, and the seat structure is completely suspended.

SAIC’s vehicle, which is being built in Charleston, South Carolina, offers improved traction through a central tire-inflation system to automatically increase or decrease tire pressure. It also has a V-hull certified during tests at the Nevada Automotive Test Center — where all prototypes will be tested by the Marine Corps — and has blast-mitigating seats to protect occupants.

Jen Judson is an award-winning journalist covering land warfare for Defense News. She has also worked for Politico and Inside Defense. She holds a Master of Science degree in journalism from Boston University and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Kenyon College.

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