The United States Marine Corps has given two defense contractors more than $100 million apiece and a challenge: build us the baddest beach-storming truck that can swim as well as it drives, and can withstand some fire at the same time.

Attacking from the sea is one of the core tasks of the Marines, hence the name of the service. Right now, the AAV-7 is central to accomplishing that. Shaped like a crappy Pinewood Derby car with treads and colloquially called “Amtrack,” it motors at up to 10 knots in the water and 45 miles per hour on land with a range of about 300 miles.

The AAV-7 has had many tweaks and variants since it was brought into service but it’s still sitting on old bones; the first ones were enlisted in the early 1970’s. While still considered a solid seafaring personnel transporter, the AAV-7’s relative vulnerability on land has had the military considering a replacement for some time.

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Now the Marines’ ideal amphibious attack truck would be able to swim to shore from a ship, and continue to ingress through enemy territory on land with the mobility of a wheeled vehicle and the protection of an MRAP. Basically, a faster armored truck that can float.

This “new Amphibious Combat Vehicle” (ACV) project has been on the military’s To Do List for some time now, but the Marines made a major step toward actually making it happen in November when they narrowed a field of five candidates down to two: a variant of the eight-wheeled armored IVECO SuperAV by BAE Systems and a visually similar looking rolling death wedge called the Terrex to be prepared by SAIC.

Breaking Defense writes that BAE and SAIC have been given $103.7 million and $121.5 million respectively to each produce 16 prototypes of their swimming war machines in the first quarter of 2017. “Formal operational evaluation (OPEVAL)” will commence shortly after, and when the Marines pick a winner that company will build “up to 204 test vehicles at an average procurement unit cost (APUC) of no more than $6.5 million each.”

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Of course, all of this presumes that the test program actually goes anywhere. Those with slightly longer memories probably remember the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle, which was supposed to be the AAV-7’s original replacement, and which was supposed to be in service by 2015. But since it’s now December 2015, and we’re not writing about the EFV at all, you’d be right to assume that that original program was cancelled – but not before it set the U.S. government back $3 billion. The main problem was that it was would’ve cost even more money, without any guarantee of additional survivability over the AAV-7.

So now, the new rigs are supposed to be up and running by 2021, after which the Marines are planning to buy another 490 vehicles in a final form. Troop carrier, assault, and heavy-duty recovery versions are supposedly all in the pipeline.

The layman might find it difficult to tell the BAE and SAIC vehicles apart, but we’ll try to break down the differences:

BAE is a massive defense contractor that claims to have designed and built “more than 30,000 multi-purpose, protected, and armored military vehicles in service today.”

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Their plan for an ACV is based on the Italian-made IVECO SuperAV. Built out of a monocoque steel hull, it’s got eight-wheel drive powered by a 700-horsepower six-cylinder engine. A crew of three operate it, with room for 13 combat-ready Marines in the passenger area.

Water speed is said to be 6 knots over a a range of 10 nautical miles, with a top speed on land of 65 MPH and a range of almost 300 miles.

SAIC does work in cybersecurity, consulting, and obviously war vehicle preparation. They say more than 40,000 vehicles have been prepared at their facility in South Carolina.

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The Terrex has been built in Singapore and has been in service for about a decade. It features independent suspension, skid steering, a 600 horsepower CAT engine and a hydraulically-driven propeller system that can move it through the water at 7 knots. It’s supposed to be able to roll through six-foot surf without being in much danger of capsizing.

Terrex is crewed by three, and in a passenger-carrying configuration, can transport 11 Marines into battle, though they’ll be very comfortable with each other as you can see in the brochure.

We won’t find out which company and vehicle the U.S. Marine Corps decided to run with for more than a year, and even then, they’ll reserve the right to change their minds after the second draft is built.

Images via U.S. Marine Corps, BAE Systems, SAIC


Contact the author at andrew@jalopnik.com.