Magazine article National Defense

Marines Testing Prototypes of New Amphibious Vehicle

Magazine article National Defense

Marines Testing Prototypes of New Amphibious Vehicle

Article excerpt

The U.S. Marine Corps has finished construction of three prototypes of its new Advanced Amphibious Assault Vehicle (AAAV) and currently is putting them through a series of rigorous rests, officials told a recent industry conference.

The AAAV is one of three vehicles--along with the Marines' V-22 Osprey tiltrotor aircraft and the Navy's air-cushioned landing craft (LCAC)--that the Corps is counting on to enhance its ability to sweep in from the sea, assault an enemy shoreline and overwhelm entrenched hostile forces.

The three vehicles will mean a big change from the Marines' traditional means of amphibious assault. They have been conducting such attacks since shortly after their founding in 1775, when they splashed ashore in the Bahamas, seizing the town of Nassau.

Generations of Marines climbed down cargo nets, from the decks of ships into wave-tossed landing crafts. The landing crafts then made their way as close to shore as possible before disgorging their passengers, often in deep water under fierce enemy fire, as in the movie, "Saving Private Ryan." During the Vietnam conflict, helicopters began to be used to ferry troops into combat. The new vehicles will change tactics even further:

* The V-22 is designed to lift and descend like a helicopter and fly like a traditional airplane to ferry troops, combat vehicles and supplies from ships to sites deep behind heavily defended shores.

* The LCAC speeds Marines, vehicles and equipment through the waves, well beyond the beach and into cover, where troops can find protection more easily from enemy fire.

* The AAAV, the latest in a long line of amphibious, armored personnel carriers, is intended to transport 18 Marines--a reinforced rifle squad--and a crew of three from ship to shore, then drive at highway speeds as much as 400 miles inland.

The V-22, which has been troubled by a string of crashes, is undergoing tests by the Marine Corps. The LCAC, in use since the mid-1980s, is nearing the end of its 20-year life cycle, and the Navy is working to update it.

The AAAV is newest of the three, noted Marine Col. Clayton F. Nans, head of the firepower division of the AAAV program. The Marines can't wait to get it deployed, he told the 2000 Combat Vehicles Conference, sponsored by the National Defense Industrial Association at Fort Knox, Ky. "It's like, 'Come on, Baby,'" he said.

The AAAV is being built to replace the Corps' 20-year-old Assault Amphibian Vehicle (AAV7A1), which is slower, lighter armed and less protected than the new model, Marine officials said. The AAAV is the most recent in a series of amphibious tractors--or amtracs--that began in the 1930s, as the Marines prepared for their island-hopping campaigns against the Japanese in World War II.

The AAAV is being developed jointly by the Marines and General Dynamics Land Systems, based in Sterling Heights, Mich. General Dynamics in 1996 won a $200 million competition to design, build and rest three prototype AAAVs by fiscal year 2001. Delivery of more than 1,000 production models is scheduled to begin in 2005, and continue through 2012. With the potential for additional overseas sales, said General Dynamics officials, the value of the AAAV program could exceed $5 billion.

The AAAV is "our highest-priority ground modernization program," Marine Commandant Gen. James L. Jones told a congressional budget hearing earlier this year.

The vehicle, Jones said, "will provide extraordinary mobility, high water and land speed, increased firepower and improved protection to assaulting Marines, thereby enhancing our already forcible entry capability and extending the flexibility of our forces."

The Marines are focused on getting the AAAV ready for action by 2005.

"The first AAAV crewman is now 12 years old, riding a Blue Bird school bus this morning to middle school," said Nans. "We hope to have this vehicle ready for him when he graduates from high school [in 2005]. …

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