Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Jim Amos said he welcomes critical thought and wasn't offended by a position paper, written by two field-grade infantry officers and published by Marine Corps Times, challenging his procurement strategy. He said he found the critique incomplete, however. (Colin Kelly / Staff)
The commandant of the Marine Corps pushed back on criticism of the Marines’ amphibious combat vehicle Tuesday, calling development of the vehicle his top priority for the remainder of his tenure.
During a lecture at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C., Amos said the ACV was his “number one operational priority,” and said a lighter, less-armored version was not feasible. Survivability standards set by the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle in the mid-2000s provided a new baseline for armored protection, Amos said, and the ACV would have at least as much protection as the MRAP, if not more.
“I can spend a lot of money and I can buy a vehicle that the American people will not, ladies and gentlemen, send their sons and daughters into combat in; they will not permit that. And Congress will not,” Gen. Jim Amos said. “And shame on me if I were to try.”
For the 90 percent of its life that it would spend on land, Amos said the vehicle had to be rugged and survivable, while also meeting the Corps’ budget needs and tactical requirements.
“If we had to go into Iraq, I wouldn’t take the AAV into Iraq, I’d take the ACV into Iraq,” he said.
This month, Marine Corps Times published a critique of Amos’ procurement decisions authored by two retired field-grade infantry officers and armor experts.The central premise of the paper is that the armored ACV — a project slated to replace the Corps’ 40-year-old Amphibious Assault Vehicles — would be too heavy for sea-based assaults, since it could only “swim” short distances on its own and would rely on Navy operated ship-to-shore “connectors” to traverse most of the distance between ship and shore.
The proliferation of missile technology would force Navy ships to a standoff distance of up to 100 miles in a hostile situation, the authors note, and the Navy doesn’t have a connector now that could adequately support a mid-size amphibious landing.
That reliance on the Navy, the paper concludes, would make the Marines less unique or even irrelevant as an amphibious force. Instead, they recommended scrapping the ACV in its current development phase and focusing on modifying existing fleets of Light Armored Vehicles and procuring a heavy-lift CH-53K chopper variant to carry them to shore..
“Failure to change what the Corps is procuring risks having the Marines viewed as less employable in increasing threat environments, as a force without a long reach, unable to concentrate power ashore; thus, a force of questionable value to the nation in a severely constrained fiscal environment,” wrote retired Col. James Magee and Maj. Richard DuVall in their June 9 white paper.
Asked if the Marine Corps had considered relying more heavily on helicopters, rather than amphibious vehicles, to transport troops and armor, as suggested by Magee and Duvall, Amos said his years as commandant and assistant commandant as well as his previous time as the Corps’ head of requirements at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia, had given him wide insight into the problem. The solution, he said, is instead a naval amphibious connector that could deliver the ACV to its destination at high speeds.
The question of finding the amphibious connector that will meet the Marine Corps’ needs and highlight its unique capabilities remains open. In their position paper, the retired officers said overreliance on Navy connectors would cause the Marine Corps to lose its amphibious edge and drift toward irrelevance.
Amos said Tuesday that the Marine Corps is moving forward with existing technologies and optimistic about connector variants that haven’t been fielded yet. The recently developed Joint High Speed Vessel, capable of carrying an Army or Marine Corps company to shore at nearly 50 miles per hour, will have a ramp added so it can carry the ACV, once developed, he said. The Navy has purchased 10 JHSVs to date, Amos said, and two are already in use.
“This is not putting somebody on Mars; this is taking a ramp off the back of a JHSV and having the right angle so the vehicles can swim up to it on board and they can swim off of it. And guess what, a JHSV could hold 30 of these things,” Amos said. “And it will go very fast.”
He said he believed that DARPA or the Office of Naval Research have technologies that could add even more capabilities to existing or future connectors.
The commandant said he welcomed critical thought and wasn’t offended by the position paper challenging his strategy, but said he found the critique incomplete.
“I think we have, as an institution, probably a little bit more information than was published in the article,” he said.
Amos said the current phase of the ACV procurement program includes testing on four vehicle prototypes made by four different companies. It’s not clear yet when the next phase of the program will begin, he said.