San Diego Union-Tribune

May 16, 2001

Marines seem to have winner in new ground combat vehicle


WASHINGTON -- The Marine Corps' tilt-rotor Osprey may be grounded amid controversy and technical problems, but the Corps' future amphibious vehicle is off to a flying start.

The Advanced Amphibious Assault Vehicle is a tank-like armored box on tracks with a turret and a wedge-shaped nose. It moves across land like a family SUV. And it skims across water so fast the Marines joke about water skiing behind it.

But unlike the $40 billion Osprey program, which is on hold and
threatened with termination, the $5 billion AAAV is moving forward quickly, drawing praise from the General Accounting Office.

In a report last year, the GAO, an investigative arm of Congress,
singled out the amphibious vehicle as the only Pentagon program successfully using the "best business practices" it recommends.

The GAO said the AAAV is "ahead of the original development schedule" and with a unit cost "lower than (the) original product estimate" -- setting it apart from virtually every other Pentagon program, especially the Osprey.

And unlike the Osprey, which the GAO has criticized for not being
tested adequately, the amphibious vehicle will have had more than four years of intensive testing before it goes into limited production in 2004.

In operational tests, the AAAV hit top speeds of 34 mph -- four times
faster than any of the tracked amphibious vehicles the Marines have had in the nearly 60 years they have used "alligators" to storm a hostile beach.

Combined with sea-skimming hovercraft -- which are in service -- and
the Osprey, the new vehicles are planned to give the Navy-Marine team
revolutionary new capability for amphibious operations. The Marines
hope to buy 1,013 AAAVs.

The Marines' current amphibious vehicles, the AAV7, date back to 1972. But heavier armor and weapons have stressed the suspension system and the engines.

On land, the current gator has trouble keeping up with the Marines'
other vehicles. And its 8 mph water speed forces the Navy to move its
amphibious ships well within range of coastal defenses to land a force.

Closed up for water operations, the AAV7's troop compartment becomes overheated and filled with diesel fumes. The ride over land is so rough and hot the Marine infantrymen call it "shake and bake."

The new vehicle not only is built to provide a smoother ride, it has
shock-absorbing seats for the 17 infantrymen and three crewmen. And to protect against chemical or biological agents, the vehicles are