BAE Systems Plc is optimistic the U.S. Marine Corps will eventually resume funding for a new wheeled personnel carrier, an executive said.
The question is, when?
To keep folks talking about the program, the company transported a prototype of its 8X8 amphibious wheeled vehicle to the Modern Day Marine expo a few weeks ago in Quantico, Va. Based on the SuperAV made by Italy's Iveco Defence Vehicles, the 26-ton green machine was hard to miss.
"We supersized the vehicle, as if we took it to the drive-thru at McDonald's and gave it a few Big Macs," John Swift, director of the Marine Personnel Carrier program for the U.S. subsidiary of London-based BAE, said in an interview. "Size matters. The greater the mass, the more buoyancy you have. The greater the mass, the more survivable it can be."
The service has an operational need for about 570 of the so-called Marine Personnel Carriers, or MPCs. Due to budget cuts, though, it was forced to delay the effort and transfer funding to more important programs, including the Amphibious Combat Vehicle, or ACV.
"We're now being told that the funding for next year will be vacated and will be reassigned to ACV," Swift said. "MPC will go into hiatus for one to six years."
BAE was one of four companies that received contracts from the service to begin developing and testing prototypes. The others were General Dynamics Corp., based in Falls Church, Va.; Lockheed Martin Corp., based in Bethesda, Md.; and SAIC Inc., based in McLean, Va.
Because the Marine Corps mandated that any designs be based on existing platforms, each of the companies partnered with an international company. BAE teamed with Turin, Italy-based Iveco, which is part of CNH Global N.V., based in Amsterdam, Netherlands.
Iveco's SuperAV was almost entirely compatible with the Marine Corps' program requirements, but needed to be modified to carry bigger troops and withstand stronger blasts, Swift said. BAE's version of the vehicle costs about $3.5 million, he said.
The redesigned machine can carry a dozen Marines, including three crew members and nine passengers, each standing 6-foot-3-inches tall and weighing about 220 pounds, plus their gear, Swift said. It features a V-shaped hull to deflect bomb blasts and can travel up to 10 nautical miles from a dock landing ship to shore and back, he said.
The vehicle on display had already completed water and shore demonstrations at Camp Pendleton, Calif., Swift said. Two others had successfully undergone blast testing at the Nevada Automotive Test Center, he said.
Whether or when Marine Corps may move forward with the program remains unclear, Swift said. When asked whether some level of funding will be likely restored to keep the program alive, he said, "I am hopeful but not confident."