WASHINGTON — Three variants of the Marine Corps’ amphibious combat vehicle are rolling down the production line at BAE Systems’ York, Pennsylvania, facility, and the company expects to finalize the fourth variant’s design this fall, program leaders said.
The Marine Corps began fielding the personnel variant, which will make up the vast majority of the ACV fleet, in early fiscal 2021. The ACV command and control vehicle, or ACV-C, is in production now and should reach initial operational capability in the second quarter of FY24 — likely around March, according to Col. Tim Hough, the program manager for Advanced Amphibious Assault.
Though the Marine Corps decided to move into ACV-C production in March 2022 following design reviews and testing, Defense Department testers found “ACV-C is operationally effective as a stationary command post but not operationally effective as a mobile command post. The ACV-C does not have enough secure beyond-line-of-sight (BLOS) voice and data nets to support the [command and control] mission,” according to the director of operational test and evaluation’s annual report, released in January.
“When the ACV-C is stationary, embarked staff can set up additional BLOS external antennas to support communication demands,” the report continued. “The embarked staff is limited to a single BLOS net when the ACV-C is mobile.”
Hough, during a presentation at the Modern Day Marine conference, said the service had originally taken the mission gear from the aging assault amphibious vehicle’s command and control variant and repurposed it in the ACV. Following the DOT&E testing, the service integrated in four additional beyond-line-of-sight antennas and the Network-On-The-Move system to give the vehicle greater voice- and data-sharing capability.
That integration work is taking place now, even as BAE is building the first vehicles that will go to the fleet.
Mark Brinkman, BAE Systems’ program director for the Advanced Reconnaissance Vehicle, told Defense News at the conference the ACV-C is in full-rate production at the York assembly line, with the first vehicle set for delivery to the Marine Corps before the end of the year.
The production line is also working on three ACV-30 vehicles, a variant of the vehicle that features a 30mm cannon. These are known as production-representative test vehicles and, once completed, will be used for operational testing that will help the Marine Corps confirm the design is ready to enter production.
Brinkman said the ACV-30 test vehicles will go to the Marines in early 2024 for testing shortly thereafter.
The 30mm cannon variant should hit initial operational capability by the third quarter of FY26, according to Hough, meaning at least one unit will have enough vehicles and sufficient spare parts for a deployment overseas, as well as the training to operate and maintain these vehicles without outside help.
At that point, Brinkman said, “it will be the largest direct fire weapon system in the [ground combat element], since the Marine Corps has gotten rid of their tanks.”
The recovery variant, or ACV-R, will allow for field-level maintenance and towing of other ACVs. That vehicle is in design.
Hough said the Nevada Automotive Test Center built a test demonstrator to consider ACV-R’s design given its weight and size constraints. NATC worked with BAE to create a final vehicle design, which has made it through a preliminary design review and will head to a critical design review soon.
If approved there, it would then move into the construction of production-representative test vehicles for further in-field testing, as is happening for the ACV-30.
Hough said ACV-R won’t hit initial operational capability until early FY28, so the Marines will continue to use the AAV recovery variant for field-level maintenance until then.
Hough said the Marine Corps will continue buying and fielding ACVs through FY29.
The Marine Corps kicked off fielding ACVs in FY21. Brinkman said more than 200 of the baseline ACV personnel variants have come off the production line, and Hough said 139 of those have arrived at operational units or the schoolhouse.
Megan Eckstein is the naval warfare reporter at Defense News. She has covered military news since 2009, with a focus on U.S. Navy and Marine Corps operations, acquisition programs and budgets. She has reported from four geographic fleets and is happiest when she’s filing stories from a ship. Megan is a University of Maryland alumna.