The Royal Marines could get a new fleet of amphibious all-terrain support vehicles if the Ministry of Defence pushes ahead with a program to replace the BAE-built BV206 machines currently used by Britain's elite commando force.
The procurement plan for the new vehicle is in its formative stages but information released by the MoD's Defence Equipment & Support (DE&S) arm shows the Marines are considering buying some 233 machines at an expected cost of around £230 million (US $360.3 million).
The British are looking to field troop-carrying, mortar, ambulance, command, repair and logistic flatbed variants of the vehicle.
The aging BV206s currently undertake training, logistic support and other roles but the Marines have for a number of years used the vehicle's better-protected and larger big brother, the BvS10 Viking, for front-line operations.
An MoD spokesman said the Future ATV (F/ATV) would likely be tasked to replicate the BV206's current role.
"F/ATV is planned to be an armored support vehicle. Its role will likely be to deliver troops and equipment to the front line as the BV206 has done in the past. Viking moves troops and equipment around the battle space in a hostile environment," said the spokesman.
He said the F/ATV and Viking would have the same variants, but continue to have different roles.
Notification of the potential contract emerged earlier this month.
The announcement in the defense contracts bulletin said the BV206 support vehicles were obsolete and the fleet is being managed to its extended out-of-service date of 2021 to align with the planned service entry date for the replacement.
It's the second time the MoD has sought to replace the 293-strong BV206 fleet.
In June 2008, the MoD announced it was considering buying up to 212 armored all-terrain vehicles for use in a supporting role to the Viking. That requirement was withdrawn a month later.
The Swedish-built all-terrain vehicles consist of two linked, tracked units and are highly regarded for their mobility, including an amphibious capability that allows them to cross lakes and rivers or be deployed directly from ships.
A spokesman for DE&S said it is too early to discuss the sort of capabilities the Royal Marines are looking for in any BV206 replacement.
"The key user requirements are still to be formally agreed and are not yet ready for public release," he said.
Some details of the requirement could start to emerge at a stakeholder day planned to take place on the sidelines of the DSEi defense exhibition, which opens in London Sept 15.
The MoD spokesman did say though that the British would likely opt to retain a two-unit configuration for its future all-terrain vehicle.
"The most likely solution is a two-car variant. The new capability needs to interface with in-service equipment such as the landing platform dock and landing craft utility Mk10," he said.
That requirement appears to make it a rerun of the 2008 competition, which saw BAE compete with ST Kinetics of Singapore to meet an urgent operational requirement for an all-terrain vehicle for the British Army fighting in Afghanistan.
Viking had originally been deployed by the British but the threat from Taliban roadside bombs eventually outgrew the vehicle's ability to cope with the increasing weight of armor required for protection.
A heavily modified version of ST Kinetics' larger and more powerful Bronco machine, known as the Warthog, unexpectedly beat BAE to a £150 million deal to supply the Army with 100 vehicles starting 2010.
With the end of the Afghanistan campaign the Warthogs have been taken into the Army's core equipment program while the Marines spent £40 million on a regeneration package on 99 Vikings giving improved weapons fit for some machines, better braking and suspension, a V-shaped underbody and other updates.
As things currently stand, Viking and Warthog both have out-of-service dates of 2024.
Now it seems BAE and ST Kinetics will again find themselves head-to-head for the BV206 successor program
"We will definitely be interested in responding to the requirements for a future all-terrain vehicle replacement program," said a spokesman for ST Kinetics.
"Should the opportunity to respond to an all-terrain vehicle replacement program present itself, we are confident that we will offer a competitive candidate with superior mobility, survivability and payload capability," he said.
A BAE spokesman responded, "BAE Systems has had a long and fruitful partnership with the Royal Marines, first with the BV206 and then with the BvS10 Viking which was specifically designed for them. We welcome the opportunity to continue our relationship through this new requirement and will offer a cost-effective proposal with the benefit of considerable commonality with the existing fleet."
It's possible a glimpse of what the companies are proposing could be available at the show, said industry executives.
If the program goes ahead a contractor is expected to be selected around April 2018 with service entry planned for September 2021 and full operating capability in 2024.