Marine Corps Sprucing Up Its Light Armored Vehicles

By Harold Kennedy

While the Army steps up its search for a combat vehicle that can be deployed quickly for use in small-scale conflicts and peacekeeping missions, the Marine Corps is working to upgrade and extend the service life of just such a platform that it has employed for the past 16 years-the Light Armored Vehicle (LAV).

The LAV has become a cornerstone of the Marines' strategy of expeditionary warfare, which the Corps has employed practically since its founding in 1775, according to the vehicle's program manager, Marine Col. Thomas M. Lytle, based in Warren, Mich. "We wouldn't go anywhere without it," Lytle told National Defense.

The LAV-manufactured by General Motors Defense of London, Ontario-is a wheeled, combat vehicle with eight-wheel drive (8x8), he explained. It is capable of traveling in rugged terrain, cruising at more than 60 mph on roads and crossing rivers, streams and lakes in amphibious operations. With a combat weight of 14 tons, it can be loaded easily on to air transports, such as the C-130, C-141 and C-5, or helicopters, such as the CH-53E.

The LAV's relatively light weight makes it possible to deploy the vehicle quickly for use in rapidly developing combat situations, Lytle said. This is in sharp contrast to the 70-ton Abrams, which is the main battle tank for the Army and Marines, but is so heavy that it can't be loaded on to most air transports.

As a result, Lytle noted, it was the LAV that accompanied the first U.S. troops into harm's way in deployments such as Kosovo, Somalia and the Persian Gulf. On such missions, the LAV has performed "extremely well," he said.

Currently, Lytle explained, the Marines have 771 LAVs. They come in eight variants, including:

Worldwide Deployment
The numbers of each model vary depending upon need, Lytle said. The Marines have 407 LAV-25s stationed with units around the globe, from the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), now deployed in the Mediterranean Sea, to the Third Marine Division, based on Okinawa, in the Western Pacific Ocean.

The Marines, by way of contrast, have purchased only 17 of the new LAV-ADs, which cost $4.2 million each and are outfitted with the latest in air-defense technology, Lytle said. All are based at Camp Pendleton, Calif., where they form an LAV-AD platoon. The only one of its type in the corps, this platoon is intended to be deployed anywhere in the world that it is needed.

The program to develop the LAV began in 1980, as a joint Army-Marine Corps venture, Lytle said. But in 1983, the Army decided to drop out.

"The Army had a Cold War focus at that time," said Jim Flynn, General Motors Defense's marketing and sales manager. "They felt, with some justification, that their main mission was to fight Soviet tanks on the plains of Central Europe." Army leaders apparently felt that LAVs wouldn't help much in such a conflict, Flynn noted.

The Marines, on the other hand, were convinced that the LAV fit in well with their concept of expeditionary warfare and the need to deploy quickly. They received their first LAVs in 1984.

Since then, Lytle said, the Marine Corps has been "extremely pleased" with the vehicles. As they grow older, however, the LAVs are becoming more difficult to maintain, Lytle conceded. Nevertheless, he noted, the Corps decided two years ago not to replace them in the foreseeable future with a new class of vehicles, such as the Army is choosing with its Interim Armored Vehicle.

The reason, Lytle said, is that the Marine Corps has given priority to procuring the Advanced Amphibious Assault Vehicle (AAAV), which it wants to replace a 30-year-old platform for moving troops from ship to objectives on shore.

For the LAVs, he noted, the Corps has embarked upon a $200 million service-life extension program, or SLEP, designed to make the vehicles last through 2015, when the Marines expect to field a replacement.

During the past two years, as part of this effort, all LAV engines were remanufactured by Detroit Diesel Remanufacturing-Central's plant in Emporia, Kan.

Equipment also is being upgraded, Lytle said. For fiscal year 2000, upgrades include a thermal engine wrap and a spin-on hydraulic fluid filter for easier maintenance and handling. The M250G machine gun is getting a new pentle mount to improve reliability and lethality. The 25 mm chain gun is to be enhanced for better safety and operation, gaining a new bore gauge to measure wear of the barrel, a link stripper and a wider bolt. An upgraded thermal sight will improve visibility at night for maneuvering and precise target engagement.

With such improvements, the Marines expect to continue to use the LAV for another 15 years, Lytle said. "It's light, and it's fast, compared to most combat vehicles," he said. "It fits the way we fight."

Topics: Tactical Wheeled Vehicles, Marine Corps News, Warfare

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