Marines shopping for new armored vehicle

Midweight carrier will be based on existing design and offer greater protection and mobility.

The Marine Corps is shopping for a new line of 600 wheeled, medium-weight armored personnel carriers for its new Triad of Tactical Mobility initiative unveiled in December.

Under the triad concept, the new Mobile Personnel Carrier would be positioned between the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle, a replacement for the Humvee line produced with the Army, and the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle, a heavy-lift, tracked carrier.

The MPC will be a modification of an existing wheeled design and will complement the other two vehicles by improving mobility and protection, especially in urban environments. As the medium-weight vehicle, it will be designed to carry nine fully equipped Marines. The light leg of the triad, the JLTV, will carry four to six personnel while the EFV will hold up to 20.

For its mobile personnel carrier, the Marines prefer to buy an off-the-shelf vehicle that can be modified instead of designing an entirely new vehicle, said David Branham, a spokesman with the Marine Corps Land Systems Office in Quantico, Va.

The service is reviewing a number of different domestic and foreign-built eight-wheeled vehicle designs, including General Dynamics' LAV-III-H, the Swiss-built Mowag Piranha and the KMW Boxer from Germany. Existing designs will be evaluated for how well they can support modifications. The Marines also are in discussion with the Army about possibly developing the MPC jointly.

Armor will be key to the MPC, Branham said, and the power plant will have to support add-on armor and the extensive onboard computer and weapons systems. "The heart of the platform will be the chassis and the ability of a platform to support the added weight that would be needed for composite armoring," he noted.

The Marines are looking for a vehicle design that provides considerable ground clearance to make it resistant to mine blasts, Branham said. And it must be able to ford deep streams and fit inside the Air Force's C-17 cargo lifter.

The MPC line would include a command-and-control variant, a recovery model and a personnel carrier variant. Hybrid electric engines will be considered. A capabilities development document on the new vehicle is in the works, and the Marine Corps Requirements Oversight Council will meet on Feb. 4 to discuss projected costs and design features. A request for proposal from manufacturers is expected in early 2008.

The Marines have ordered 2,300 mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles for service in Iraq. Commandant Gen. James T. Conway recently trimmed the original order for the heavily armored vehicles. The service needs smaller, lighter vehicles that can be carried on ships to remain an expeditionary force, Conway said, and future vehicles must have better off-road capability than the cumbersome MRAP.

The JLTV is expected to be more lightly armored than the MRAP. Branham said the Marines and the Army will release the acquisition plan and desired capabilities for the JLTV program within the next two weeks.

The heavy leg of the Marines' new mobility triad, the troubled Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle program, has suffered from cost overruns and delays and is undergoing a significant redesign to make it more resistant to the roadside bombs that have proved so deadly in Iraq. The General Dynamics-built amphibious vehicle is projected to cost $17 million a copy, nearly three times the original projected cost.