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Marines Operate Amphibious Combat Vehicles from Ship in First-Ever Launch and Recovery Testing

Amphibious Combat Vehicles launch and recover from an amphibious ship for the first time ever, in testing at Amphibious Vehicle Test Branch in Camp Pendleton, Calif., in June 2017. SAIC’s vehicle sits at front left, in solid green; BAE Systems’ two vehicles sit at front right and center left, in camo paint; and two legacy amphibious assault vehicles sit at back, in the well deck of USS Somerset (LPD-25). US Marine Corps photo.

The Marine Corps launched and recovered Amphibious Combat Vehicles from the back of an amphibious ship for the first time, in testing last weekend with BAE Systems’ and SAIC’s competing vehicles.

The ACV program office and Marines from the Amphibious Vehicle Test Branch at Camp Pendleton, Calif., tested the vehicles at sea last weekend from amphibious transport dock USS Somerset (LPD-25), proving that both vendors have provided a more capable vehicle than was asked of them for this first phase in ACV development.

While the first increment, called ACV 1.1, must have some swim capability, launching and recovering is not mandatory. It is an objective requirement for ACV 1.1 – or a nice-to-have – and won’t become a threshold requirement, or mandatory, until ACV 1.2.

ACV 1.1 product manager Col. Kirk Mullins told USNI News on June 21 that this launch and recovery event was included in the test plan to both inform source selection at the end of testing and to inform the requirements-writing process for ACV 1.2.

“We conducted several successful launches and recoveries by both BAE and SAIC, both static and underway with the USS Somerset. Both vehicles performed exceptionally well,” he said, noting that two BAE Systems vehicles and one SAIC vehicle were used in the tests.
“They would come aboard the ship, the ship would re-ballast to the launch conditions, we’d turn the vehicles around and they would launch them right back out. And then they would cut circles out there in the ocean until the ship re-ballasted to the proper recovery conditions, and then we’d bring them back onboard and repeat.”

At the end of six or seven hours of testing, all the vehicles launched from Somerset one last time and swam ashore to the test center on their own power, Mullins said.

The vehicles operated in about sea state 1 or 1.5, Mullins said, with Somerset traveling at 3 or 3.5 knots during well deck operations. Mullins said an amphib might launch legacy Amphibious Assault Vehicles at up to 5 knots, but that 3.5 knots was an operationally relevant speed. The weather conditions were perfect, he said, which helps the Marines at the Amphibious Vehicle Test Branch conduct “crawl, walk, run” tests. The ACV program office hopes to schedule more at-sea time on an amphib in July and August, and Mullins said hopefully they could find more challenging sea and weather conditions to push the ACVs a little harder.

BAE Systems’ amphibious combat vehicle launches out the back of USS Somerset (LPD-25) in the first-ever launch and recovery test of ACVs. US Marine Corps photo.

The idea of the ACV tests being operationally relevant is important, Mullins said, because the ACVs will be expected to slide into the place of the aging AAVs and operate in the same way and in the same physical space on amphibious ships.

As for the actual launches and recoveries, “the ship operated completely in concert with the wet well manual, which is what we use to conduct AAV operations. So that was always the requirement that was levied on vendors was they had to be able to conduct wet well operations, launches and recoveries, in accordance with the wet well manual, and that was done,” the colonel said.

“Just as important was validating that these vehicles were maneuverable in the well deck, which they were,” he continued.
“Getting them turned around in a very constrained space in an acceptable amount of time, we demonstrated that. And probably most importantly was the stowage, so putting these vehicles in the main V stowage area and making sure that they will fit in that stowage area was important to us. Both vendors were able to get their vehicles into that stowage area with no issues, they fit fine. And the goodness is, from a height perspective, the LPD-17 class of ships, and this, the LPD-25 Somerset, have some of the most restrictive height conditions that we’re going to have to deal with, and we were able to fit in there just fine with no modifications to the remote weapon station or to the main part of the vehicle.”

Mullins said he was very pleased to have seen the operations and the stowage for himself, because “I was always cautiously optimistic that we could launch and recover, all the indicators were there that we could, but until you physically do it, it’s a whole different ballgame once you physically do it. So this was a really successful weekend for us, for the program.”

BAE Systems and SAIC are set to deliver 16 vehicles each to the Marine Corps under their engineering and manufacturing development contract, to allow concurrent testing in multiple locations. BAE has delivered 15 and is set to deliver the last one soon, and SAIC will deliver its 12th this week, with two more coming in July and the last two in August.

SAIC’ amphibious combat vehicle launches out the back of USS Somerset (LPD-25) in the first-ever launch and recovery test of ACVs. US Marine Corps photo.

The developmental test the two companies’ vehicles are competing in focus on the threshold, or minimum, requirements laid out in the contract. They then test factors that would also be relevant to source selection, and where possible, “then in those key areas where we think they are critical to, in this case the 1.2 requirements document, we want to make sure that we get out there and get physical test data as well,” Mullins explained.

The Amphibious Vehicle Test Branch has a whole summer of test events lined up for the ACVs, including maneuvering through the surf and one ACV towing another ACV, in the event that one experienced some sort of engine failure or was otherwise disabled.

Testing is also taking place at other locations around the country. The Aberdeen Test Center in Maryland is conducting land mobility and automotive testing now and will begin live fire testing in July. The Engineer, Research and Development Center in Mississippi will begin soft soil mobility testing in July. And automotive and mobility testing is also taking place at the Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona.

“Everything is tracking to plan. I couldn’t be happier right now with the overall test schedule, all the test agencies are really supporting us very very well,” Mullins said.

Though the test data is just starting to come back and still must be verified and validated against the program requirements, Mullins said the vehicles are so far looking much more capable than was required of them in the ACV 1.1 contract.

Beyond just making the ACV 1.2 requirements-writing process easier by having a sophisticated 1.1 vehicle to start with, “ideally we always wanted 1.1 to perform at a level to where the linkage to 1.2 was a very very narrow link. And I think tests like this (launch and recovery event) benefit us in that pursuit,” Mullins said.

ACV 1.2 will feature the self-deploying capability already demonstrated in last week’s testing, along with additional seats for passengers and mission-specific mission-specific variants such as command and control or a recovery vehicle.

  • DaSaint

    Good progress. Will be interesting to see which one is selected.

  • Blain Shinno

    The Marines are testing an amphibious bus. I don’t see how this is suppose to be a great accomplishment. Its new – so maybe it will be more reliable than the AA-7. A little better in the area of road mobility, off road not as good. Survivability is a marginal improvement especially if you consider the AAV-7s SU upgrade. Firepower is a wash.

    In almost every other area of warfare there has been great improvement in the capability of weapon systems – compare the F-35 to fourth gen fighters, for example. I really think it is going to take a lot more than ACV 1.1 to preserve the ability to the USMC to conduct an opposed amphibious assault. And it is just my guess that ACV 1.2 will not do it either.

    • E1 Kabong

      Says the chair-borne commando….

      Let’s hear your (non)expert opinion on MBT’s.

      • Blain Shinno

        It’s alway good to get the personal attacks out of the way before delving into substance. Maybe that’s what doomed the EFV?

        Since you ask. The M-1A2 is a great MBT. Too bad the Marines don’t have it. Instead they are putting their money into a floating bus.

        • E1 Kabong

          The truth hurts, doesn’t it?

          So:

          MBT’s = good

          ACV’s = bad

          Too bad you don’t see your hypocrisy.

          • Aj jordan

            I think the point he’s trying to make is that we’re putting an amtrac into service that brings absolutely nothing new to the table , in terms of Speed, and onboard armament, meanwhile the Chinese ZBD-2000 , is faster has better armament, and is tracked…….. We’re settling for a mediocre vehicle, when we should be trying to get a vehicle that equals the Chinese ZBD 2000, maybe if you’d stop personally attacking the guy , you would’ve saw the overall point……which is. The Marines need to stop playing Airforce and do what they were created to do….. Be America’s go to amphibious assault force….. Because as of right now the Chinese have better Amtracs then the marine corps that pioneered modern amphibious doctrine, and that’s a damn embarrassment…..

          • E1 Kabong

            “…meanwhile the Chinese ZBD-2000 , is faster has better armament, and is tracked…….”?

            Lets see that data.

            The new ACV’s are, well, new.

            The old AAV-7’s are worn out.

            Maybe if you stop to think and do some research instead of trolling, you’d realize that.

    • Gary Himert

      AAV has a flat bottom, the replacement vehicle will be some modicum of a V-hull for blast mitigation. No amount of applique armor would ever address that issue alone.

  • airider

    It’s great to see a Marine program leaning forward and getting more than the expectation. This only happens with good leadership, management and communications on both sides of the contract. Kept it up!!!

  • Ed L

    See the Photos of them leaving the well deck. Brings back memory when I worked in and LPD welldeck launching LVT’s I would wrap a rag around the dogging wrench to keep from chipping the paint on the LVT’s When launching underway or even from anchor they would button up and it was hard to see the launching lights from inside and LVT. I found that hard to believe. I think they just want to be able to run over squid if the opportunity happen.

  • PolicyWonk

    Good to see that the ACV testing is going well – clearly – the incremental approach is far less risky.

  • publius_maximus_III

    Very promising effort from both bidders. Wear ’em out, guys.

    “The more you sweat in peace, the less you bleed in war.” — Sun Tzu

  • Marjus Plaku

    It would be nice to have a propulsion breakthrough that can move amphibious assault vehicle through the water at speed and distance (15+ knots and 50+ miles is my threshold). The current crawl to the beach from a ship within slingshot range is a non starter in the 21st century IMO. Unless you’re going to carpet bomb the beachhead for a week in advance and support the landing with air cover nonstop. At that point, it loses some of its point. Like quickness and surprise and minimal support etc…

    Or another idea would be to make them fully submersible until they hit the sand.

    • Owl

      Cold War MBTs could snorkel…

      No, just…no…lol

      Apparently, people are just focused on the ‘tank’ when the USN is actually doing a 2 part solution. They are already looking for a ‘connector’ that you load these vehicles on for the speed run to shore, then dumps these on the beach. The ‘amphibious’ness of these ACVs is a ‘just in case’ if the connector takes a hit.

    • E1 Kabong

      Never heard of a hovercraft, I see.

      When was the last time an assault had to face direct fire without air support?

      Fully submersible?

      Yeah, sure….Who needs situational awareness before arriving into a combat zone…

  • Owl

    Just to clarify, the ZBDs are evolutions of the old light amphibious/airborne tanks of the Warsaw Pact. They’re light, agile and handy for a commander to use, but they have a very big flaw. They’re very fragile. It’s not really a new paradigm just an evolution of an old doctrine.

    As for these new ACVs, they bring a very big amount of new capabilities to the table.

    1-While speed and firepower are nearly the same, the range before breakdown is hugely improved. In tracked vehicles, running for a long time causes the track to loosen and you get the phenomenon known as a ‘thrown track’. The ACV on the other hand, simply cannot throw a track and when was the last time you ever heard of a car wheel just flying off because you drove for a long while?

    2-Armor. The protection on these new ACVs are 2 steps up from the Amtrac AND the EFV. The Amtrac was designed to be proofed up to 7.62S, 12.7mm and 14.5mm have a chance of punching through. These new ACVs are resistant up to 25-30mm, to confidently kill them off fast, you’ll need to use a 76mm at least. Compared to the ZBD, the BTR and the BRDMs, these can be handled by 0.5cal firing SLAP. In fact, 0.5cal SLAP were specifically designed for these targets. They won’t work on the ACV, the new armor is simply too thick. Not to mention the V-hull mine protection, which is already a massive step up from the Amtrac.

    3-Future upgrades. The AAV is a light vehicle with an aluminum frame, the weight increase is simply tapped out if they don’t want the frame to buckle. On the other hand, these ACVs are still new and from their reports, have an ~25% more ‘reserve buoyancy’ so you can still stack a lot of stuff on them as upgrades especially since their frame is stronger steel. IIRC, the Australian entry for the LAND 400 TERREX was 35 tons. Bear in mind some Soviet MBTs are 40 tons, the ACV is very, very close to coming up to the weight of an MBT.

    In short, they show 2 different approaches to the amphibious landing doctrine. One focuses on speed at the expense of protection, the other focuses on protection at the expense of speed. Neither is really ‘superior’, they’re just ‘different’.

    If that still does not convince you, look at it this way, if the ZBD bumped up with an ACV, it has a 30mm cannon. Which is not guaranteed to punch through the ACV armor. On the other hand, a 0.5cal WILL punch through ZBD armor since they went thin skinned for speed.

    And for more comparisons, look up the Sentinel II, a Terrex upgrade entered in the Australian LAND 400 competition. It lost, sure, but it does show what you can upgrade the ACV to. Active defence system, 25mm cannon, twin anti-tank missiles etc.

    The ZBD is a finished product. The ACV can still improve.

    ….And just another nitpick, the Marines do have a contingent of M1s for post landing duties, so the Marines do have MBTs…. you can look it up.

    • Aj jordan

      Thanks for your long and lengthy response , explaining the differences in ideology, between the PLAMC, and the USMC. I wanted to believe in the ACV initially, but upon seeing it’s radical design departure from past tracked amphibious designs like the EFV, I indeed hastily designated it a flop. I thought the ZBD-2000 had it all like the cancelled EFV, speed, and good protection. But anyway thanks, and this leaves me in a better mood about the ACV…..

      • Owl

        Actually, even the EFV is very fragile, they just don’t tell it to too many people.

        IIRC it used an aluminum ‘space frame’ for the frame of the vehicle. If you’re not familiar with it, a ‘space frame’ is a bare bones hollow framework. Then the armor. The EFV’s armor is not steel but a weave of kevlar, fibreglass and ceramic. The mix is only bulletproof, not cannon proof (up to 14.5mm IIRC).

        As for ‘tracked>wheeled’, that’s an oft repeated dogma from the 60s but technology and operational procedure have changed a lot, most all-terrain vehicles are wheeled. Not to mention you see a mud pool, not even a tracked driver should drive straight in, both wheeled and tracked vehicles should avoid mud, so a criteria like ‘works better in mud’ isn’t that critical considering the question that follows should be ‘Which idiot drove his vehicle into a swamp??!!’ lol.

        Personally, I see a ‘best fit’ solution as the ACV loaded onto a heavily modified LCU, our LCUs are doctrinal holdovers from WW2 where they focused on carry weight and endurance over speed. Other countries do it a bit differently. Singapore, where the Terrex entry came from, designed their LCUs for speed instead. They don’t carry as much and can’t travel for days, but they go at 18-25 knots. Load an ACV on one and won’t you get the ‘EFV’ objectives all mostly met? Split the problem into 2 parts and it becomes easily solved.

        Now all we need to do is design a new LCU that focuses on speed instead of capacity…. which will probably be in service 2117 and cost as much as an F-35… we seem to have problems designing the most basic of stuff these days, cost and time overruns.

        Just to put some of these monsters in perspective, these things are twice the size of the Stryker and 50-100% heavier. If one of these ran into a Stryker, it’s definitely going to shove the side in.

      • E1 Kabong

        LMAO!!!

        So, 21 hours ago:

        “…when the relatively new ZBD-2000, is better performing in almost every regard…”

        13 hours ago:

        “I wanted to believe in the ACV initially, but upon seeing it’s radical design departure from past tracked amphibious designs like the EFV, I indeed hastily designated it a flop. I thought the ZBD-2000 had it all like the cancelled EFV, speed, and good protection.”

        I won’t wait up for your apology.

    • Aj jordan

      And I already know about the USMCs m1a1’s, that are flown ashore on lcacs. Only real issue I have there is that they should probably upgrade them to the A2…….

      • E1 Kabong

        “And I already know about the USMCs m1a1’s…”?

        Too bad you don’t know how to write the designations, properly.

        “Only real issue I have there is that they should probably upgrade them to the A2…….”?

        Why?

        What do you know about modern armoured warfare?

  • E1 Kabong

    “…and that means Jack…”?

    LMAO!!!

    Sure, assaulting a beach from the ocean in 30+ year old vehicles isn’t a problem in your mind?

    Ask an adult to explain the problem to you, child.

    “…when the relatively new ZBD-2000, is better performing in almost every regard…”?

    AGAIN, cite your sources.

    Let’s see that test report from a credible source.

    Shake.
    Your.
    Head.

    • Owl

      Settle down E1, no point continually shooting that dead horse, not to mention you’re not much on details either. You could have told him about the greater protection and the future upgrade potential and the weight cap instead of talking down to him you know?

      • E1 Kabong

        Smarten up Owl.

        Answer the question, and quit squirming.

  • E1 Kabong

    No, you did not.

    “…when the relatively new ZBD-2000, is better performing in almost every regard…”?

    AGAIN, cite your sources.

    Let’s see that test report from a credible source.

    Try LESS trolling and more intelligent thought, boy.

  • E1 Kabong

    Sadly, you are…

    Pretty pathetic when you have to edit your previous comments to cover up your lack of knowledge.

    Childish and amateurish.

    I won’t be waiting for your IQ to rise above negative values, keyboard commando.

  • Scott Ferguson

    You’re still wrong.

    And still a chairborne commando.

    The closest you’ve come to the military is walking by the recruit office, clearly.

    • Owl

      Ho, ho, ho, someone changed his name but not his stripes. Police got you for stolen valor?

      Hard to say ‘You’re wrong’ when it’s damn obvious I’m not ‘Aj jordan’.

      If you can’t even get that, then I think your IQ is so low it’s not possible to talk to you since you’re too stupid to comprehend even basic concepts like talking to the right person.

    • Owl

      It’s f-cking stupid that I’ve to cut and paste my entire previous post just to get some idiot to see he got the wrong person:

      Owl Aj jordan • 6 days ago
      Just to clarify, the ZBDs are evolutions of the old light

      amphibious/airborne tanks of the Warsaw Pact. They’re light, agile and
      handy for a commander to use, but they have a very big flaw. They’re
      very fragile. It’s not really a new paradigm just an evolution of an old
      doctrine.

      As for these new ACVs, they bring a very big amount of new capabilities to the table.

      1-While speed and firepower are nearly the same, the range before breakdown is hugely improved. In tracked vehicles, running for a long time causes the
      track to loosen and you get the phenomenon known as a ‘thrown track’.
      The ACV on the other hand, simply cannot throw a track and when was the
      last time you ever heard of a car wheel just flying off because you
      drove for a long while?

      2-Armor. The protection on these new ACVs are 2 steps up from the Amtrac AND the EFV. The Amtrac was designed to be proofed up to 7.62S, 12.7mm and 14.5mm have a chance of punching through. These new ACVs are resistant up to 25-30mm, to confidently killthem off fast, you’ll need to use a 76mm at least. Compared to the ZBD,the BTR and the BRDMs, these can be handled by 0.5cal firing SLAP. In fact, 0.5cal SLAP were specifically designed for these targets. They won’t work on the ACV, the new armor is simply too thick. Not to mentionthe V-hull mine protection, which is already a massive step up from the Amtrac.

      3-Future upgrades. The AAV is a light vehicle with an
      aluminum frame, the weight increase is simply tapped out if they don’t
      want the frame to buckle. On the other hand, these ACVs are still new
      and from their reports, have an ~25% more ‘reserve buoyancy’ so you can
      still stack a lot of stuff on them as upgrades especially since their
      frame is stronger steel. IIRC, the Australian entry for the LAND 400
      TERREX was 35 tons. Bear in mind some Soviet MBTs are 40 tons, the ACV
      is very, very close to coming up to the weight of an MBT.

      In
      short, they show 2 different approaches to the amphibious landing
      doctrine. One focuses on speed at the expense of protection, the other
      focuses on protection at the expense of speed. Neither is really
      ‘superior’, they’re just ‘different’.

      If that still does not
      convince you, look at it this way, if the ZBD bumped up with an ACV, it
      has a 30mm cannon. Which is not guaranteed to punch through the ACV
      armor. On the other hand, a 0.5cal WILL punch through ZBD armor since
      they went thin skinned for speed.

      And for more comparisons, look
      up the Sentinel II, a Terrex upgrade entered in the Australian LAND 400
      competition. It lost, sure, but it does show what you can upgrade the
      ACV to. Active defence system, 25mm cannon, twin anti-tank missiles etc.

      The ZBD is a finished product. The ACV can still improve.

      ….And
      just another nitpick, the Marines do have a contingent of M1s for post
      landing duties, so the Marines do have MBTs…. you can look it up.