Marines Eye Funds to Support Rapid Prototyping of Breakthrough Technologies
By OTTO KREISHER, Seapower Correspondent
WASHINGTON — In a determined drive to regain the technological advantage U.S. forces have enjoyed for decades, the Marine Corps is shifting small amounts of money from existing accounts to fund rapid prototyping of potentially breakthrough system, but would like Congress to protect those efforts and provide a fund that would support future trials, the Corps’ top combat development officer said.
Although Congress provides some money for specific research and development projects, “what we really need is money in the S&T [science and technology] area” that would allow the service to experiment with new commercially available technologies so “we can get a few and test them,” Lt. Gen. Robert Walsh, the deputy commandant for Combat Development and Integration said June 6.
Testifying before the Senate Armed Services seapower subcommittee, Walsh cited the Advanced Naval Technology Exercise held in April at Camp Pendleton, Calif., in which more than 100 vendors displayed a wide array of exotic equipment for mobility and reconnaissance.
“We were able to buy a few and will put them into future experiments,” he said.
If Congress would put some money in this budget, “we could do more of that,” Walsh said. But it should be “colorless money” that is not tied to specific program, he told the subcommittee.
Talking to reporters later, Walsh said the Marines had bought a few electric-powered vehicles from the Pendleton demonstration and plan to test them in upcoming fleet exercises such as Bold Alligator.
This kind of effort to rapidly field new technologies was needed, Walsh told the panel, because during the 15 years of combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, “we risked modernization to ensure the combat readiness of deploying Marines. While our focus was elsewhere, our potential enemies modernized, reducing the technological advantages American forces once took for granted.
“In many theaters we can no longer assume superiority in any domain: sea, air, land, space or the electronic spectrum,” he said.
Pressed by subcommittee chairman Roger Wicker, R-Miss., on the Corps’ top priorities for modernizing its ground combat systems, Walsh emphasized the amphibious vehicle capabilities, particularly the Amphibious Combat Vehicle (ACV) that is urgently needed to replace much of the 40-years-old Assault Amphibious Vehicle (AAV) fleet.
John Gardner, program executive for Marine Land Systems, which includes the ACV, told the panel “this is a good day to testify” about the program because the two competing ACV contractors are delivering their test vehicles. By the end of next week, he would have 15 of one type and 12 of the other going through the developmental test program, Gardner said.
“These vehicles are well developed, and in some cases exceed expectation,” he said.
The competing contractors, BAE Systems and SAIC, each are required to provide 16 of the eight-wheeled vehicles for testing. The Marines plan to buy 204 of the initial vehicle, designated as AVC 1.1, then go to an improved version, called ACV 1.2.
The program “is on track for a down select and production decision by next June,” Gardner said.
At the same time, he said, his office is completing testing of the AAV Survivability Upgrade modification of about one-third of the existing amphibious vehicles, which will remain in service at least until 2035 to supplement the ACVs.
The other ground modernization priority programs, the officials said, were the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle, being procured with the Army to replace some of the Corps’ Humvees, and the Ground/Air Task Oriented Radar, a multimission system that will replace five legacy radars. The Marines also want to refill and improve ground combat munitions stocks, with the HIMARS long-range rocket artillery system and the Javelin and tube-launched, optically tracked, wire-guided anti-tank weapons, and are working with the Army on a more lethal version of the 5.56mm assault rifle round and possibly a larger caliber rifle, the Marine officials said.