The Marine Corps has extended a program to repair and update its aging fleet of amphibious armored vehicles, which now are being used heavily in combat against Iraqi insurgents.
The current version, known as the assault amphibious vehicle, or AAV7A1, is the latest of a series of platforms that the Marines have developed since 1932 to move troops and equipment from ship to shore while under hostile enemy fire, explained Bryan Prosser, the Corps’ program manager for AAV systems, in Quantico, Va.
The AAV was fielded first in 1972. It can transport a crew of three and 21 combat-equipped Marines at cruising speeds of 6 mph through heavy seas and 20 to 30 mph across the battlefield.
The Marines’ only other armored personnel carrier is the light armored vehicle, which can carry no more than six troopers, plus a crew of three. The AAV was designed to be amphibious, but in recent years, it has been pressed into service far from the sea, moving troops under fire in the towns and cities of Iraq. More than 550 of them have participated in combat operations there and received generally high marks. “The AAV7A1 has performed well in that environment,” Prosser told National Defense.
Capt. Ron Jones, who served with the 1st Battalion, 7th Marines during the 2003 invasion, agreed. “We marched from Kuwait to Baghdad with the AA77A1, and it was superb,” said Jones, now an AAV systems project officer at Quantico. “It handled the desert sand and heat just fine.”
Only lightly armored, nearly all of the vehicles have been outfitted with laminated steel plates to provide increased protection against small arms fire and artillery fragments.
Prosser, however, conceded one major flaw: The plates are attached to the platform’s sides and top. But the undercarriage is not covered and therefore particularly vulnerable to mines and roadside bombs.
In August 2005, for example, 14 Marines died near the Syrian border when a roadside bomb hit their AAV.
The Marines are working on a successor that is designed to be faster, tougher and more deadly, but it has encountered reduced funding and production delays, according to its program manager, Col. Michael M. Brogan. In February, Brogan was nominated for promotion to brigadier general.
Initially known as the Advanced Amphibious Assault Vehicle, or AAAV, the new platform has been renamed the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle, or EFV. “The name was perceived to be too narrowly focused on one mission, amphibious assault,” Brogan explained. “In the 1970s, when the AAV was introduced, its mission was considered to be 80 percent water and 20 percent land. Now it’s the reverse, 80 percent land and 20 percent water.”
The EFV, cruising at 20 mph at sea and 45 mph on land, is significantly faster than the AAV, Brogan said. It is powered by a 6,000-pound, 12-cylinder, MT883 Ka523 diesel engine made by Germany’s MTU Friedrichschafen.
That same engine is used in Germany’s Leopard, the United Kingdom’s Challenger, France’s LeClerc and Israel’s Merkava tanks, he said. It can generate up to 2,700 horsepower to propel two 23-inch diameter water jets at sea and 850 horsepower to do the same for the vehicle’s 21-inch tracks on land.
The EFV also has a greater range, Brogan said, citing these examples: The EFV can launch from 25 miles at sea, while the AAV can do so from only two miles out. And once it reaches land, the EFV can go 345 miles without refueling, compared to 200 for the AAV.
In addition, Brogan said, the EFV also is deadlier than the current vehicle. It is armed with a fully stabilized MK44 Mod 1 30 mm automatic cannon and can shoot on the move. For even more accuracy, it has a laser range finder and second-generation forward-looking infrared system, giving it a 90 percent probability of a hit at 1,500 meters, according to Brogan.
The AAV, by contrast, has an MK 19 MOD3 40 mm grenade launcher, but it cannot shoot on the move, the launcher is not stabilized and the platform has no range finder or infrared sensor. As a result, accuracy is diminished, said Joseph C. Teets, deputy program manager. “It’s basically spray and pray.”
The EFV comes in two variants, a command-and-control version and a personnel carrier, which accommodates a crew of three and 17 combat-equipped Marines. It is protected by a ceramic-composite bolt-on armor that can stop 155 mm artillery shrapnel and 14.5 mm armor-piercing rounds, Brogan said. Because the armor is bolted on, it can be changed when a better version comes along, he said.
Currently, the EFV cannot accept a heavier armor, because it would interfere with the vehicle’s ability to navigate at sea, Brogan said. “Archimedes (the ancient Greek mathematician who discovered the principle of buoyancy) can’t take a joke.”
The EFV’s seats, however, can withstand mine blasts, Brogan noted, and the vehicle is insulated against chemical, biological and nuclear contamination.
In addition, the EFV has a much more sophisticated command-and-control capability than the current vehicle, he said. “The AAV7A1 is not much different from the vehicle used in World War II. It just has radios. In Iraq, they’ve strapped on blue-force tracking, but it’s not built into the system.”
The EFV’s command variant provides a senior officer and seven staff members with the ability to communicate with senior, adjacent and subordinate maneuver units, as well as with supporting organizations and the amphibious task force. It includes 11 radios, seven computer workstations with displays and keyboards and six servers, with three operating systems—Windows, Unix and Solaris.
“The EFV is the only platform in the Marine Corps that has all three on each server,” Brogan said.
The EFV may be advanced technologically, but it has been plagued by delays and, now, money problems. Development began in 1996, when General Dynamics Land Systems won a $200 million contract to design, build and test up to three prototype vehicles. Delivery of more than 1,000 production vehicles was scheduled to begin in 2005.
The work was performed in a 62,000 square-foot converted computer store in Woodbridge, Va., near the Marine Corps Systems Command at Quantico. In a first for the Defense Department, the Marines’ EFV program office shared workspace in the facility with its prime contractor, General Dynamics. This reduced government-contractor design-decision processes from one to three months to a matter of days, Brogan said.
In 2001, General Dynamics won another contract, this one for $712 million, to design, build and test nine additional prototypes—a second generation—and refurbish the original three. Full-rate production was moved back to 2006.
The second generation of EFVs incorporated 2,600 engineering changes, compared to the original prototypes, Brogan said. The Marine Corps has tested the prototypes, including a 10th version built for live-fire assessments, at Camp Lejeune, N.C., as well as Camp Pendleton and Twentynine Palms, both in California.
“We tested it side-by-side with the AAV,” Brogan said. “We shot at targets, firing on the move at night and through obscuration.”
Thus far, the EFV has performed well, he said. The operational assessment phase was scheduled to begin in January, with gunnery exercises at Camp Lejeune, followed by amphibious operations at Camp Pendleton, and land-mobility and force-on-force evaluations, at Twentynine Palms.
EFV officials plan to decide in November whether to begin low-rate production, Brogan said.
The EFV is the Marine Corps’ biggest ground combat modernization program, Brogan said. “We’re larger than the next 10 programs combined.” The total cost, spread over three decades, was estimated in 2005 at $8 billion.
In March of that year, however, the EFV program “took a significant budget hit,” Brogan said. The Defense Department—faced with a $30 billion budget shortfall—trimmed EFV funding by $1.5 billion over the next several years.
To accommodate the reduction, the quantity of funded vehicles was cut from 461 to 208. Maximum annual production was cut back from 170 to 120, and full-rate production was moved back to 2010.
The Corps still plans eventually to buy 1,013 EFVs. It simply will take longer and cost more, Brogan said. EFV production is scheduled to take place at the Lima Army Tank Plant in Ohio. The plant, which is government-owned and operated by General Dynamics, manufactures the M1A1 Abrams tank.
To keep the aging fleet of AAVs running until the EFVs can replace them, the Marine Corps has extended its seven-year-old AAV upgrade program. Under this program, the AAV’s suspension system is replaced with one derived from the Army’s Bradley Fighting Vehicle. In place of the current 400-horsepower engine, the AAV gets a 525-horsepower Cummins V903, also installed in the Bradley. The HS-400 transmission is rebuilt and modified to include a new torque converter, upgrading it to the HS-525 configuration. The remainder of the vehicle is rebuilt according to original specifications.
United Defense, now BAE Systems, won the initial contract to upgrade 680 AAVs at an estimated cost of $309 million. The work—at a rate of 170 per year—was done at the Corps’ logistics bases in Albany, Ga., and Barstow, Calif.
The upgrade program was scheduled to end in 2004, but after the invasion of Iraq, the Marine Requirements Oversight Council recommended that the production line at Albany remain open. In November 2003, United Defense received a contract worth $19 million, followed by another one for $12.8 million in June 2005, to continue the work.
By February 2007, when the program now is scheduled to end, a total of 1,057 AAVs will have been rebuilt, Prosser said.
Six years after they complete the upgrade program, the AAVs will undergo more maintenance at Albany and Barstow.
In Iraq, for example, many suspensions took a beating and need to be rebuilt. That may take a while, since parts are in short supply.
Nevertheless, Prosser said, the goal remains to keep the AAV running until the EFV is ready. “We’re confident it can last that long,” he said.