QUANTICO, Va., --- The Marine Personnel Carrier prototypes on display here at Modern Day Marine shared a striking similarity -- each one looked a lot like the Army's Stryker except for the addition of two propellers on the back.
The Marine Corps knows it has a tough sell ahead to Congress on the Marine Personnel Carrier. With defense budgets tightening, Congress and Pentagon leadership have made clear that it wants to cut out repetitive capabilities and will look to adapt current vehicles to new roles.
All of this leaves defense analysts to question if Marine officials will continue to link the hulking 8x8 wheeled personnel carrier to the Marine Corps' top acquisition priority, the Amphibious Combat Vehicle.
William Taylor, the Marine program executive officer for Land Systems, said that remains the plan when asked about the future of the program.
"The Marine Corps was very smart in linking the MPC acquisition strategy to ACV. So no decisions with respect to MPC precede the strategy and decisions of ACV," Tayor said. "They're linked and they are complimentary. I don't think I can give you a definitive answer other than wait and see. MPC's future is tied to how ACV pans out."
Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Amos has made it clear he will carefully lay out his case for the ACV to ensure it does not meet the same fate as the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle, which was canceled.
“We’re going to get one opportunity to do this right,” Amos said in August. “I want to make sure when we go to Congress with the requirement that Congress looks at it and says it makes complete sense to me and I fully support it. I feel like we are right where we need to be.”
The Marine Corps has aligned the ACV and MPC under the Amphibious Assault Vehicle program manager. The move was made after the Pentagon canceled the EFV program due to spiral costs and missed deadlines.
Marine leaders see the MPC as the second wave of vehicles to land behind the ACV in an amphibious assault. An MPC will carry eight to nine Marines inland once the squads reach the shore. Corps officials want the APC to drive up on beaches, navigate over land and cross rivers.
The Corps awarded four technology development contracts in September to Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics, BAE Systems and SAIC. Marine officials plan to run their vehicles through blast and swim tests this summer, industry representatives said.
Three of the four companies do not plan to develop vehicles from scratch for the competition. Lockheed, BAE and SAIC each plan to adapt personnel carriers used by foreign armies. General Dynamics has not yet specified what vehicle they plan to put forward for testing. BAE and Lockheed had prototypes of their MPCs displayed here at Modern Day Marine.
It's telling to hear how little the MPC is mentioned by Marine Corps leaders in public speeches. Rarely, if ever, is the ACV left out when Amos or other Marine officials talk about their acquisition priorities.
It draws parallels to the way Army leaders regularly mention the Ground Combat Vehicle, but leave out the Armored Multi-Purpose Vehicle from speeches. Defense analysts also doubt the Army will be able to deliver both the ACV and AMPV.
When asked to compare MPC to the ACV in terms of its importance to the Marine Corps, Taylor, in some ways, made the case against the MPC when Congress considers its future.
"MPC is not satisfying a ship to shore requirement. I think the term is inland waterways," Taylor said. "It's envisioned to satisfy a much more limited requirement in terms of mobility."
Congress has not proven too keen toward investing in the development of vehicles that fulfill "limited requirements."
The Marine Corps' deputy assistant commandant for Programs and Resources made the point at Modern Day Marine that the expected defense spending cuts will force leaders to deliver the "best Marine Corps the country can afford" hinting it will not get every modernization program they may want.
Taylor made the point that acquisition officials must be prepared to make trades to keep programs alive. Compromises made between the Army and Marine Corps to salvage the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle serve as an example.
Many wonder if decoupling the MPC from the ACV to improve its case to Congress is one of the trades the Marine Corps will be forced to make.