Marines say new ACV is future of amphibious warfare despite 4 surf flips off Camp Pendleton in one year
(Tribune News Service) – The Marine Corps’ new armored amphibious fighting vehicles, intended to become the primary mode of transportation in the future for transporting troops and equipment from ship to shore, will not be available for their first deployment. scheduled for this fall and are now being restricted to in-water training at Camp Pendleton due to safety concerns.
Four of the new ACVs have flipped over in the surf in the past year alone – in all cases the Marines have been able to get out and swim to shore. Three of the 36-ton vehicles were damaged beyond repair.
The ACVs, which use eight wheels and have a shape designed to better survive a bomb blast, replace the Navy’s aging fleet of 800 tracked amphibious assault vehicles, which have been in service for decades and now require many hours of maintenance to remain operational. ACVs were designed to have similar swimming capability to AAVs and equal or better mobility than the M1 Abrams tank, another endangered vehicle.
But Navy officials are slowing the deployment of the new ACVs after the vehicle struggles in the surf zone. Since the first reversed ACV in September 2021, leaders have restricted the water conditions in which Marines can train and even temporarily suspended on-water training to allow time for further exams.
Still, Navy officials say ACV is the future of amphibious warfare.
And the Marine Corps’ response imposing restrictions on training with ACVs shows lessons have been learned, officials said, after a fatal 2020 training accident involving an AAV – nine men died when the vehicle crashed. sank to the ocean floor while swimming from San Clemente Island to a waiting ship. Investigators said the crash could have been avoided, and a lack of adherence to protocols and a rush to prepare for deployment contributed. The Marine Corps has implemented new, stricter rules and procedures to guide training.
The Marines have called for delays in ACV training to ensure “the assault amphibian community can review best practices and procedures to remain capable, safe and ready.”
To prepare for upcoming deployments, Marines and their vehicles typically undergo extensive training, especially in the last six months. Training is done in a cycle of crawl, walk and then run, with each stage becoming more intensive and progressively more complex – packs are ranked after each training event. ACV platoons began training in March off Camp Pendleton, conducting beach landings from USS Anchorage.
After an open water break was initiated in July when two ACVs overturned in high surf off Camp Pendleton, the Marines could only train with the vehicles in protected waters near the base. Then, late last month, those restrictions were lifted and vehicles returned to the ocean, but only if surf conditions were moderate, including waves of 4 feet or less. Then, on October 13, another VCA overturned in reported surf conditions at 2ft to 3ft.
On October 14, Navy officials again restricted vehicles to surf area practice. Marines can still train in the ocean, but only by entering and exiting a protected pool. It took the Marines four days to pull the failed ACV out of the water.
“We are taking a deliberate and methodical approach to fielding this platform,” said Lt. Gen. David Furness, deputy commander for plans, policy and operations. “This adjustment to current guidelines ensures our Marines have the ability to train safely and maintain proficiency while we work to conduct additional testing.”
CAVs were first evaluated on the West Coast
The ACVs were put through their paces on land at Twentynine Palms, then in 2019 moved to Camp Pendleton for evaluation at the training grounds and in the water. Marines who tested them later reported finding the vehicles superior to outgoing AAVs.
The vehicle can carry 13 infantry Marines plus three crew members. It travels at 6 knots in water and up to 14 miles out to sea.
ACV is seen as the “future” of Marine operations, especially now that Navy Commander Gen. David Berger sees the service returning to its amphibious roots and working more closely with the Navy. He envisions the potential for island-hopping campaigns and other amphibious operations in the Indo-Pacific, a region that military leaders expect to be particularly contested in the coming years.
Prior to purchasing ACVs from BAE Systems, the Marines tested another vehicle known as the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle, built by General Dynamics. But after spending $3 billion in development, the program was cut in 2011 during testing.
In September, there were 126 vehicles at Camp Pendleton; 90 are with the 3rd Amphibious Assault Battalion stationed at Camp Pendleton and 36 are used by the Marines at the base school which trains the amphibious troops.
AAV Community ACV Concern
But some Navy veterans familiar with the vehicle and its operations have expressed concern about the ACV’s reliability, especially in the surf zone.
Among them is retired Lt. Col. Kent Ralston, a former AAV battalion commander who was also director of testing for the Expeditionary Combat Vehicle – a vehicle he says was actually “incredible” in the water. .
When the ACV program was announced, Ralston and others in the AAV community weren’t so sure that his design was the best replacement for AAVs.
The AAV runs on tracks, which help anchor the vehicle in the water. ACV replaces these treads with wheels.
“When it rolls over, they want to come to the surface like eight gigantic balloons,” Ralston said. “We are lucky that these four vehicles overturned on their side. If they had rolled over, the Marines couldn’t have gotten out. Maybe they could have found an air pocket until someone could get them back, but one of the vehicles sat there for days.
As the ACV program continued to ramp up over the past few years, Ralston went so far as to write letters to two commanders at the time, raising his concerns.
“I was convinced it was a bad idea and was going to get some guys killed,” he said. “I could see the disaster it would be.”
“I’m very skeptical about making a wheeled vehicle as stable as a tracked vehicle,” he said.
ACV management, Ralston said, could also be a factor in the surf zone. He said from what he’s heard from the Marines who led the two, ACV leadership takes more to learn.
“AAV uses the steering wheel like a car; in the ACV you don’t use a steering wheel, you use manual shifters and a gear selector,” he said. “It comes down to what is most natural, but the new method can be learned. The main problem is that the steering motors are unresponsive and there is a pause before they start spinning.
“It’s like coming to an intersection,” he said, “and not being able to turn left until the next intersection.”
Ralston said he’s concerned that with all of the vehicle’s limitations, including its current training restrictions, it won’t meet real-world applications and meet the needs of Marines in the field.
“When they put it in a real environment, it can’t do that because it doesn’t fit the needs of the real world,” he said. “There may be an engineer who can fix it, but I don’t think there’s anything they can do to get it into the surf zone. I think the tires are an inherent design flaw that cannot be overcome in surf zones.
“When you’re in an extreme situation,” he added, “you can’t wait for the sea state to come within your parameters.”
Marines remain confident in ACVs
Marine Corps officials say they are confident that the ACV is the best vehicle for their future operations and that it is deadlier, better designed for troops to survive attacks and is reliable.
Navy officials worked with manufacturer BAE on the design of the vehicle to meet their needs, as well as production and testing. Testing included making sure the VCA could ride a 6-foot wave, Navy officials said.
Now, in light of recent rollover incidents, the Marines will test the ACVs in waves to see what other factors beyond wave height might impact vehicle performance, officials said. And, according to officials, contrary to what Ralson has heard, Marines who have driven both vehicles report that the ACV is more responsive in water.
“Our current guidance allows us to train our Marines, giving them the opportunity to gain this experience safely while allowing us to test ACV under certain conditions,” said Marine Corps spokesman Capt. Ryan Bruce. . “We will take the data from these tests and ultimately integrate it into our tactics and procedures that will allow us to take full advantage of real-world ACV capabilities.”
Marines will continue to test ACVs in controlled water conditions to determine challenges and how best to overcome them, he said. Vehicles have no restrictions on their use for land training.
And, in the meantime, there are Navy planes and gear that can handle some of the work the ACVs would have done on the upcoming deployment, 1st Marine Expeditionary Force officials said.
“The Marine Corps is a learning organization,” Bruce added. “Every time we go on training or operations, we gather data and insights and use those lessons learned to refine our tactics and procedures. This is how we ensure that we remain ready to respond to crises around the world.
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