The Marine Corps’ ongoing offensive and defensive live-fire exercises with its emerging Amphibious Combat Vehicle (ACV) are intended to refine the new vehicle’s weapons systems and survivability — while aligning the modern vehicle with the service’s evolving amphibious warfare strategy.
The combat exercises include firing live weapons at targets from the vehicle, while also testing the Amphibious Combat Vehicle’s ability to withstand enemy fire. To assess survivability, Corps live-fire plans will attack the ACV with enemy weapons until the attacks achieve "total destruction," to prepare the vehicle for long-range, high-intensity amphibious land-attack missions.
The Corps is preparing to deploy its new BAE-built Amphibious Combat Vehicles by 2021. The new amphibious attack ship-to-shore combat vehicle is intended to massively expand mission length, attack potential and sensor networking for amphibious assaults well beyond what the current AAV — Amphibious Assault Vehicle — can accomplish.
The new vehicle, currently under a Navy Low-Rate Initial Production deal with BAE Systems to deliver 30 vehicles, is engineered to swim from ship to shore bringing advanced weapons, new sensors and “deeper, stronger,” land attack possibilities. As part of this strategic and tactical emphasis, the new ACV is built with new survivability technology such as a precision weapons station, V-shaped hull and “swim” capability enabling it to operate within the “littorals and beyond,”Corps officials say.
“The ACV provides a mobile capability that mechanizes the force to maintain tempo with the remainder of the Marine Air-Ground Task Force, specifically the M1A1 tank,” Col. Kirk Mullins, ACV 1.1 Product Manager, Advanced Amphibious Assault, Program Executive Officer Land Systems, said in a Marine Corps statement earlier this year.
A new suite of amphibious vehicle weapons and sensors were demonstrated recently at a live-fire event in Arizona, called the Bushmaster Users Conference. At the conference, the ACV fired off a Northrop-built Bushmaster Chain gun armed with a 40mm cannon to further refine gun-turret integration for the vehicle.
“We are looking at a test demonstrator to analyze turret integration and observe how the turret superstructure is reinforced in the base design,” John Swift, Director of Amphibious Warfare, told Warrior Maven in an interview. During the live-fire event, the vehicle fired a Bushmaster 40mm Chain Gun at a range of enemy targets. “The targets were dismounted infantry.”
The new vehicle configuration is aligned with an emerging Navy-Marine Corps amphibious assault strategy which, among other things, sees a possible need for “dispersed,”extended penetration into land defenses after an initial beachhead is taken. To in part enable this, the new vehicle is also faster; it uses ocean water to cool the engine so as to enable it to carry up to 200 gallons of fuel — enough for a 365-mile mission. While the new ACV can travel roughly 13 miles through water, at about six knots, from ship to shore, it can hit speeds of 60mph on land for hundreds of miles inland. If amphibious incursions occur in narrow, more spread-apart scenarios, landing forces will potentially need to engage in more land-fighting without large numbers of forces nearby. They will likely rely more upon air support, long-range fires and "networked" intelligence from other ISR nodes, command and control ships or elements of the force — to find and exploit landing areas most advantageous to the attacking force. Deeper amphibious vehicle land attack is intended to leverage more fully integrated coordination with ship-based fire support; this integration will help the new ACV achieve its goal of achieving deeper, more lethal and survivable land attack operations.
Interestingly, this emphasis upon sea-land coordination, fundamental to the Corps’ modern strategic shift, was foreshadowed in a 1996 essay called “Naval Surface Fires and the Land Battle,” from FA Journal — written by Kelly Blosser from the Warfare Analysis Department of the Naval Surface Warfare Center, Dahlgren, Va.
“Weapon systems are being developed to provide surface combatants a greatly expanded capability to place ordnance rapidly and precisely on and around the expanded battlefield of the future,” the essay states.
Engineering methods used for the new ACV parallel this strategic emphasis. Unlike existing tracked AAVs, the new ACVs are 8X8 wheeled vehicles not only engineered for greater speed, but also designed for improved maneuverability and survivability on land. By removing the need for torsion bars, a wheeled-vehicle such as the ACV can build a v-shaped hull for additional protection, speed and combat durability, BAE Systems developers say.
Maj. Gen. David Coffman, Director of Naval Expeditionary Warfare, said in January at the Surface Naval Association Symposium that the service has been refining amphibious attack strategy to leverage 5th-Generation air support. This emphasis is, by design, intended to launch more dispersed, disaggregated, yet “networked” assaults at times connecting the ACV with smaller unmanned vessels to perform reconnaissance, countermine and attack missions.
For instance, F-35s bring a new generation of air-ground sensor connectivity not possible at the time of Blosser essay. At the time of his essay, Blosser cites some sensor, networking and communications challenges which are no longer limiting factors due to substantial technical advances since the essay was written. At the time of the essay, VHF and SINCGARS radios had trouble reaching over the visual horizon, Blosser writes. Not only are modern radios, computer and satellite connections more evolved in recent decades, but the ACV now has the power to incorporate jammers for a complex radio suite.
The new vehicle weighs 30-tons and has a digitized driver’s instrument panel. The existing new ACVs are armed with .50-Cal Machine Guns, and engineered with an unmanned turret that can integrate a 30mm or 40mm cannon, should the Corps request that. It also makes use of a stronger 700hp engine, compared to the AAVs 400hp engine.
The emerging ACVs will launch from big-deck amphibs, called LHAs, and Amphibious Transport Docks, called LPDs. With one of the upcoming LHA America-class amphibs bringing back the well-deck, the Corps plans to emphasize ship-to-shore water-launched combat vehicles in coming years. At the same time, Navy leaders emphasize that the first two America-class amphibs, LHA 6&7, are built with an aviation emphasis to, among other things, capitalize upon the F-35B and other key air-launched elements of amphibious attack.
BAE’s new ACV is also built to align with the Corps’ strategic and conceptual shift toward an increased “sea-basing” focus. Smaller multi-mission vessels, according to this emerging strategy, will be fortified by larger amphibs operating as sovereign entities at safer distances. Coffman said these ships would operate as “seaports, hospitals, logistics warehouses and sea-bases for maneuver forces.”
Kris Osborn is a Senior Fellow at The Lexington Institute
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