WASHINGTON — Several major industry players have bid for a chance to build the U.S. Marine Corps’ next reconnaissance vehicle as the service embarks on a prototyping effort to replace its aging fleet of lightly armored vehicles.
Incumbent General Dynamics Land Systems — which is the manufacturer of the Light Armored Vehicle-25 currently in service — announced it submitted an advanced reconnaissance vehicle, or ARV, prototype proposal by the Marine Corps’ May 3 deadline.
Textron is competing with a prototype it already built and drove nearly 750 miles, dubbed “Cottonmouth.”
BAE Systems would not confirm whether it plans to participate, but several sources connected to the competition told Defense News they believe the company submitted a bid. BAE already manufactures the Marine Corps’ Amphibious Combat Vehicle.
SAIC, which received an earlier contract to develop technology for the ARV from the Office of Naval Research in 2019, confirmed to Defense News that it would not compete in this next prototyping phase.
The Marine Corps wanted proposals for the research and development of an ARV prototype vehicle as part of its pursuit to acquire its replacement of roughly 600 1980s-era Light Armored Vehicle-25s in order to enable light-armored reconnaissance battalions to function as a battlefield manager, according to a solicitation posted on the federal contracting website beta.sam.gov. The vehicles will need to operate both on land and amphibiously.
“This will require multiple and resilient means to process information and communicate,” the solicitation stated, meaning the vehicle must be equipped with a resilient and robust communication sensors suite.
“The ARV PV will be a modern combat vehicle platform, with an open system architecture, and it will be capable of fighting for information dominance,” the posting noted. “It will balance competing capability demands to sense, shoot, move, communicate and remain transportable, as part of the Naval expeditionary force.”
The vehicle should be able to accommodate future technology and capability as well as be designed with future variatns in mind, the solicitation stated.
The Marine Corps plans to make up to three awards for ARV prototypes. Vendors selected will deliver a prototype for testing and evaluation.
The Marines would then choose up to two to continue into a competitive engineering and manufacturing development phase around fiscal 2024.
The Marine Corps “may pursue” a production effort upon successful completion of the prototype project, according to the solicitation, which could be worth an estimated $1.8 billion to $6.8 billion over five years. The plan is to build roughly 500 of the vehicles.
David Philips, Textron’s senior vice president of land systems, said its prototype Cottonmouth was purpose-built to meet the ARV’s current and future evolving requirements. He added that, as far as he knows, the company is the only one in the running with a prototype that is already built.
So far, the company has invested about $6 million to develop, build and test the prototype, Philips said.
“The Marines are asking for a naval sensor node, and we see that as a next-generation scout vehicle requiring multidomain [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance] capability,” Philips said.
The service desires an open-architecture approach, he added, to integrate any payload it wants, such as an organic, tethered unmanned aircraft system with automated launch and retrieval capability. He also said the Corps wants to keep the vehicles under 18.5 tons so it serves as an agile ship-to-shore connector.
“The vehicle not only has to have outstanding land mobility; it has to swim in the ocean, it has to depart from connectors and it has to transition through the surf zone,” Philips said. The prototype, he noted, “incorporates dual, mechanically driven water jets to provide simultaneous land and water propulsion. We’ve already incorporated an amphibious cooling system and automated trim veins to ensure the requirements are met, which is a seaworthiness in up to 2-3 feet of waves, and allowing rapid transitions between land and water modes.”
Textron recently won another clean-sheet design effort to build medium Robotic Combat Vehicle prototypes for the U.S. Army, which will undergo evaluation ahead of a possible program of record. Philips claims the company already showed its ability to rapidly integrate systems onto the platform, including a government-furnished robotic kernel, a 30mm turret, smoke obscuration systems, unmanned aerial systems and other sensors.
The company partnered with Howe & Howe as well as FLIR Systems to develop its Ripsaw robot. Philips also said Textron has partnered with “some of the best in industry” for the ARV, including Elbit Systems of America, which is providing its next-generation situational awareness sensors.
In a May 3 statement, Phil Skuta, the director of business development for the Marine Corps and Navy at General Dynamics Land Systems, said, the company “has aligned with the Marine Corps’ 10-year transformation initiative, a key portion of which seeks to build a 21st-century reconnaissance capability that is highly mobile on land and in the water.”
The capability GDLS would build will be able to control robotics in the air and on the ground as well as meet the mission through onboard, networked sensors, he added.
“Our collaborative industry team is focused on early integration of transformative technologies — advanced electronic architecture, artificial intelligence, autonomy and robotics — required to deliver this capability,” Don Kotchman, vice president and general manager for U.S. operations, said in the statement. “We have ensured the growth margins and modular open architecture necessary to rapidly incorporate new technology.”
Jen Judson is the land warfare reporter for Defense News. She has covered defense in the Washington area for 10 years. She was previously a reporter at Politico and Inside Defense. She won the National Press Club's best analytical reporting award in 2014 and was named the Defense Media Awards' best young defense journalist in 2018.