Marine Vehicle Upgrades Reflect Combat Demands
by Roxana Tiron
Immediate needs for equipment repairs and upgrades—rather than long-term
plans for ransformation—are the dominant forces in Marine Corps vehicle programs
today, officials said. The focus is on fixing war-torn equipment and accelerating
programs that had been funded in recent years.
The success of Army transformation is important to the Marine Corps, because
“we are always going to go places with the Army,” Catto said at
the National Defense Industrial Association’s combat vehicles conference,
in Fort Knox, Ky.
Tactics, techniques and procedures come first, while technology comes in second,
he emphasized. The Marine Corps believes in technology “where it makes
sense and where it is affordable.” Most of the technology-focused efforts
underway today are in command-and-control and logistics, he said.
As far as vehicles are concerned, the Light Armored Vehicle is going to stay
in the force until 2015, the Abrams M1A1 tank is staying until 2020, while the
Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle is going to start replacing the Amphibious Assault
Vehicle—which now is undergoing some upgrades—in 2008.
Meanwhile, the Marine Corps plans to continue to work with the Army’s
FCS program office, to see whether any useful technologies can be shared.
“We are paying attention to the technology,” said Catto. “We
are trying to make sure that we do not spend duplicative dollars for R&D
[research and development] efforts that maybe have use across both services.”
For instance, the first version of the FCS armored vehicle could be “our
LAV replacement,” he said. Future upgrades could be “our tank replacement.”
It would not make sense for the Marines to be “full partners” in
FCS, because “we are not going the way the Army is going,” Catto
The main area where the two services must collaborate is a global command-and-control
architecture. “The architecture is what we have to fix,” he said.
Communication also is key. The Marine Corps views the Joint Tactical Radio
System as a replacement program for its current radios. But the Marines will
not adhere to the “cluster” approach to JTRS radios, where each
cluster is developed for different platforms, such as trucks, aircraft or dismounted
infantry. Instead, the plan is to develop a universal interface communications
module that would “negate having to have a cluster,” Catto said.
That would ensure that the same radio would be used whether it is infantry,
Humvees or an armored vehicle. “With the interface module, you won’t
need to have clusters. ... We are trying to save money that way, as opposed
to three or four clusters.”
The Naval Research Laboratory is developing the module for the Marine Corps.
Light Armored Vehicle Communications, command-and-control systems caused many
headaches for the operators of Marine Light Armored Vehicles during Operation
Iraqi Freedom, said Lt. Col. John Manza, the assistant program manager.
“We threw a bunch of crap on the vehicle, especially the command-and-control
variant and the commander LAV 25,” said Manza. The LAV 25 is the newer
model of the LAV. The older vehicles were built in the early 1980s.
The Marine Corps “slapped” different radios, the blue force tracking
system and satellite communications on the vehicles, “without a lot of
thought about the interference that it caused to antennas and the draw it caused
to the batteries,” he told the NDIA conference.
The command-and-control variant had to run 24 hours a day, because it did not
have the battery power to shut down for more than two minutes, making it doubtful
that the vehicle was going to start up again, according to Manza.
The program office is working on upgrades for the command-and-control variant.
“Our C2 variant was pretty damn good in 1985 and now is severely outdated.
... It has virtually no digital capability,” he said. “It has a
SINCGARS radio and that is pretty much it. What we are looking for is a modern
system that is going to allow us to have the intelligence guy, the operations
guy, the fire support guy, sharing information among different screens without
actually having to move.”
The goal is to have satellite communications on the move and the ability to
interoperate with various types of radios, he said.
“Long-range communications are very weak right now in the LAV,”
Manza said. “Frequently, we operate forward, and we can’t talk back
Ideally, the LAV 25 units should be able to talk to the higher echelons of
command directly, without having to go through the command-and-control variant,
Another item awaiting funding is a new turret for the anti-tank version of
the LAV. With the LAV-AT, “problems are numerous,” said Manza. The
maintenance is a “nightmare,” and the vehicle “is tactically
a horrendous weapon for a crew going into combat against tanks.” The LAV
cannot be driven around the battlefield with its turret in an erect position.
It has to be maneuvered in a stalled position, explained Manza.
“If you are driving an LAV-AT and you ID an enemy tank, you are to stop
the vehicle, and you have to erect this thing in 45 seconds,” he said.
That is too much time to give away to the enemy, he added.
To correct that problem, the Marine Corps is looking at a new turret that is
capable of firing the current TOW missile, said Manza.
That missile is going to be upgraded to a radio-guided TOW, but it is still
going to have the same time of flight limitations as the current one. The program
office also wants to improve thermal sights, to facilitate rapid engagement.
The improved turret and the TOW are not necessarily the only solutions, Manza
told National Defense. His office is running an analysis of alternatives looking
at various anti-tank missiles to be fired off various turrets.
“We are looking at being able to fire the current TOW, the Javelin or
a mix of the two,” he said. “And we are also looking at a ground-to-ground
One other proposal is to scrap the LAV-AT version and launch missiles from
the LAV-25, he said. However, no hardware can be selected until the Marine Corps
is certain that it will receive funds for the program in the 2006 budget. “Right
now, we are fighting for funding,” he said. A decision is expected this
The service prefers to buy existing missiles, such as the TOW, because it does
not have enough resources to develop a new weapon, Manza said.
Modeling will help to determine which missile is more effective. Factors that
need to be balanced are range, the “fire and forget” element, lethality
Once a decision is made, the turret itself is easy to build, because the technology
already exists, Manza said. The Canadians have a turret on their LAVs that the
Marine Corps could adopt, or the Army’s light armored Stryker vehicle
could provide a solution, he said.
The LAV mortar version, for its part, is not “a great system to support
a LAV company,” said Manza. The current 81 mm mortar lacks range and punch,
he said in his presentation.
The Marines want increased range—of at least 10 km—improved accuracy
and flexibility in the type of rounds it can fire, Manza said. “There
are 120 mm rounds that we may want to use,” he added.
A mortar vehicle upgrade program would become part of the Expeditionary Fire
Support System, a deployable platform the Marines are seeking to develop. “It’s
kind of a dual-track program. I am not sure what will come out,” Manza
The LAV also falls short on firepower, he said. The current 25 mm gun does
not have satisfactory penetration and range against armored reconnaissance platforms.
To improve the lethality, the goal is to increase the range and stabilize the
main gun. The vehicle should be capable of mounting medium and heavy machine
The program office is looking at replacing the main gun, he said. At the high
end, the answer would be “to take the turret from the Expeditionary Fighting
Vehicle and stick it on our LAV. That would give us the 30mm gun, the fire support
system. It is very much doable from an engineering standpoint, but it is very
Another option would be to improve the stabilization of the 25 mm gun on the
current turret, as well as the turret traverse, and adapt it to be able to shoot
depleted uranium rounds.
The service has funds in the budget for a service life extension program for
the LAV. SLEP encompasses reduction in thermal signature on the vehicle, upgrades
for safety, maintenance, electrical systems, as well as corrosion control initiatives.
The SLEP will be completed in November 2006.
While the LAV certainly displays several shortcomings, the “good story
out of OIF is that there were zero combat losses,” said Manza. The success,
he said, was attributed to the skills and experience of the operators. “That
thing has been around for 20 years. We have maintenance guys who were lance
corporals and now are officers, and they know what needs to be replaced, and
[they have] worked out a lot of the problems.” They know the strengths
and limitations of the platform, he said.
The effective use of tanks in urban environments comes down to tactics techniques
and procedures for integrating with the infantry teams those tanks have to support.
Half of the Marine Corps’ Abrams tanks were in theater for OIF and each
drove approximately 1,200 miles, said Lt. Col. Skip Gaskill, the program manager
for tank systems.
The system currently is undergoing several upgrades. The M1A1 Firepower Enhancement
Program (FEP) system and components will improve the thermal imaging sensors,
to engage and defeat an enemy at extended ranges.
The M1A1 FEP system consists of a 2nd Generation FLIR and north finding module.
The thermal receiver unit, the north finding module and the biocular image control
will be plugged into the gunner’s primary sight.
A biocular image control unit will provide imagery to the gunner’s monocular
sight, allowing the gunner to observe the scene without placing his eye in an
eyepiece. This reduces fatigue.
The gunman “can kick back and look at the picture,” said Gaskill.
“From now on, we are going to be able to lase through a target and we
will immediately get back the report on that target. Utilizing the communications
we will be able to issue the first call for fire.”
One of the main reasons for the upgrade is precise identification of enemy
targets. Prior to the war, the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force requested an infantry
“grunt” phone in the back of the tank so that Marines could talk
to the tank crew over the platform’s intercom, said Gaskill. This phone
is an old handset tied into the vehicle’s intercom system.
“A three-star general at 1 MEF remembered the M-60 [which used to have
these phones] and went out, and bought enough kits to put on the tanks,”
Gaskill recalled. It was a “phenomenal success.” The Marine Corps
is now looking at trying to put the phone on all its tanks, he said. “We had a debate over whether it should be wireless ... more than probably
not,” he said.
The Marine Corps also is pursuing funding to outfit at least one tank per company
with bulldozer blades. The situation in Iraq has brought up the need to clear
debris off the road, push cars out of the way or dig tank-fighting positions.
With the M-60, “it used to be one in every company.” The Marine
Corps would like to see one in every platoon, but the funding may not be available
The program office is examining a forward observer/forward air controller suite
for the loader’s position. “We still trap the FA/FAC radios from
the outside of the tank. It does not make a lot of sense, but we have had nowhere
else to put them,” said Gaskill. “We are finally getting a lot smarter.”
The Marines took the spare storage box at the loader’s position, and
added a couple of slots where radios could slide in, said Gaskill. “We
built 15 prototypes they did not get installed in time to fight the war.”
Tactics and Techniques
Machine guns were the primary weapons used in urban areas, said Gaskill. “I
am not surprised there. We have always talked about it, and we proved it [in
Iraq].” It made more sense to use the machine gun, because the main gun
is too much firepower, said Gaskill. “We also learned what we could and
couldn’t destroy with machine guns,” he said. The tank has a .50
caliber gun in the commander’s cupola and a 7.62 machine gun, coaxially
Because the commander’s cupola traversing rate is slow and the machine
gun could only depress to a certain point, the tank crew had to use their M-16s
when the enemy was too close for them to use the tank’s weapons.
The MPAT (Multi-Purpose Anti Tank) main gun was used against bunkers and to
“put holes in the walls.” While the M-60 had five types of rounds,
the M1A1 only had one. The Marine Corps would like to see an expanded family
of munitions to encompass, anti-personnel and anti-material rounds, said Gaskill.
“The primary purpose of tanks in the Marine Corps is to support the infantry,
so we do have a different philosophy on how we operate our vehicles, which has
led to conclude that we need to expand our family of munitions,” said
Gaskill. “I know that the Army is already working on a canister round,
and they talked to us about an improved MPAT round. ... In order for us to support
the infantry, we are going to need more than the two rounds that we have and
more than the machine gun.”
In terms of survivability, the frontal armor on the vehicle is effective, said
Gaskill. Dozens of RPGs hit the tanks, but did not penetrate, he said. The grill
doors at the rear of the tank, however, are susceptible to RPG and medium caliber
rounds, he said. The tank would be in trouble if a round hits the engine through
the grill door.
Engine fires altogether are a problem that the Marine Corps did not realize
“how bad it could be,” said Gaskill. Rounds can either hit the engine
directly, or the fuel bladders, which in turn would leak into the turbine engine,
causing a “big problem.” The service lost a couple of tanks due
to engine fire, said Gaskill.
Those tanks that were disabled were difficult to destroy, proving how survivable
they are. “If you are going to leave the vehicle behind, you have to destroy
the instrumentation,” Gaskill said. “We found out just how survivable
this tank is not only when we put in a few rounds of the main gun. We also had
to call in air, because the damn thing can survive. We just could not blow it
Future Fighting Vehicles
The M1A1 Abrams tank is going to reach the end of its service life in 2020,
at which point the Marine Corps is planning to replace it with the MEFFV, or
Marine Expeditionary Family of Fighting Vehicles. This is where cooperation
with the Army FCS will come into play.
Gaskill cautioned that the FCS is a family of systems, while the MEFFV is the
replacement for the Abrams tank and the LAV. It is not a change in the way of
fight, but it is merely a vehicle replacement, he said.
At one point, the Army-Marine development team will be called a JPP—joint
program presence. "We are not ready for a JPO [joint program office] yet.”
According to Gaskill, Marine Corps Gen. Peter Pace, the vice chairman of the
Joint Chiefs of Staff, has pushed for a joint program office.
MEFFV will capitalize on horizontal technology insertion of advanced technology,
said Gaskill. “It is going to be a mix of both. Some things are going
to be spiral development, and some things are going to be incremental. The difference
between spiral and incremental is that [with spiral development] you do not
know what the end-state is going to be. [With] incremental you do,” he
said. In some things we already know what the end-state is going to be, others
we don’t so it’s going to be a mix.”
Gaskill’s office is working with the FCS program office on concepts and
designs. The Marines have to identify common requirements as well as service
unique needs. “We will see if we can use the same platform, modify it
or a have a completely new platform,” said Gaskill.
Amphibious Assault Vehicle
The AAV program office still is facing the challenge of maintaining a legacy
system built in the 1970s. “Because there is a replacement vehicle coming
we are limited greatly in what we can do to adjust it [the AAV],” said
Brian Prosser, AAV program manager. The AAV7A1 is going to be replaced by the
Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle in 2008.
More than 600 of the 1,057 AAVs in service were committed to OIF. Two of them
were destroyed, and eight were damaged, said Prosser. The vehicles averaged
200 hours and 1,000 miles, basically two years of operational use during the
According to Prosser, the RAM/RS (Reliability, Availability, Maintainability/Rebuild
to Standard) version was faster, more mobile and more reliable than the vehicles
without the RAM/RS. By the end of this year, 680 vehicles will have been converted
to the RAM/RS version.
The Marine Corps decided to scale down the number of non-RAM/RS AAVs in the
operating forces until an additional batch of modified vehicles is complete.
Because the EFV has delayed its initial operational capability from 2006 to
2008, the AAV program has to plan for more RAM/RS modifications, said Prosser.
In the 2004-2007 timeframe, the service is planning to outfit 327 vehicles.
However, the number depends on available funding. The delay in the EFV program
means the AAV will serve until 2017, said Prosser.
The program office is expecting additional funding for an Enhanced Appliqué
Armor Kit (EAAK). The Marines learned during the war that the communications
suite is obsolete, “but they found a way to work around that,” Prosser
said. “We have to stick around longer, which means that we have to do
more changes to the program,” said Prosser.
Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle
The EFV, formerly known as the Advanced Amphibious Assault Vehicle, currently
is half way through the system development and demonstration phase, according
to the program manager, Col. Clayton Nans.
The program built three prototypes for testing, and implemented more than 2,800
engineering changes, which lead to a “massive redesign of the hull,”
The name change EFV is meant to reflect a changing employment concept, which
is broader than just amphibious operations.
It was conceived in the late 1980s as a high-mobility platform that would move
forces rapidly from a ship to the surface 25 miles from the shoreline. Unlike
the AAV, the new vehicle will swim at about 25 knots and will keep up with the
Abrams tank ashore.
“The engineering challenge is having the attributes of a combat vehicle
which are kind of at odds with the attributes of a jet-ski,” said Nans.
The vehicle comes in two variants—the personnel carrier and the command-and-control
The prime contractor is General Dynamics Land Systems, with subcontractors
MTU, Allison, Honeywell, Ball and CDC.
In 2002, the AAAV program was under close scrutiny as a result of delays and
budget overruns. But Nans claimed that the delays were justified, because more
testing was needed and the cost overruns did not exceed 8 percent. The program
is worth nearly $8.5 billion. The delays have pushed back the initial operating
capability from 2006 to 2008.
Now, during the SDD phase, the program is undergoing extensive testing and
is getting ready for production, said Nans. The redesigned prototypes are being
tested operationally. The prototypes, however, still are in construction—nine
personnel carriers and one command-and-control vehicle.
During this phase, the program also will develop training systems and manuals.
“We integrate manufacturing and engineering early, and I think we are
going to be better off that way,” said Nans. Low-rate production is slated
for late 2005, said Nans. Full-rate production should commence in fiscal year
2009 and go on until 2018.
The EFV can carry a crew of three (the driver, the gunner and the infantry
commander) and 17-18 passengers in the back. The command-
and-control version has a crew of three. For operations on land, the EFV personnel
carrier has a two-man turret, while the command-and-control version has a cupola
instead of a turret, so the roof of the hull area has to be raised.
The command-and-control EFV has seven staff workstations. It has the same mobility
and the same armor protection as the personnel carrier—14.5mm at 300 meters,
integral spall protection and mine blast protected seats—as well as a
7.62 mm and an M240 machine gun. The command vehicle coordinates the fire support
activities, said Nans.
“With our C4I architecture, we have a variety of radio systems that pass
data and talk directly with our fire support,” said Nans. “They
talk to our rotary wing and fixed wing assets with both UHF and VHF radios.
We have UHF and SATCOM to talk out to the ships and out to fire support capabilities,
and with other services. We have navigation systems, we are hooked up with [the
Army data radio] EPLRS.” Migration to the JTRS is planned for the future.
One of the key goals is to be able to integrate the command-and-control software
to be able to access the Advanced Field Artillery Tactical Data System (AFATDS),
“so we do not have to have a separate AFATDS computer and you can gain
access through any software that you want,” said Nans.
Seventy-eight vehicles out of the 1,013 are going to be command-and-control
The personnel carrier has more communications capability “than our current
command-and-control vehicle,” said Nans. “We have SATCOM capability,
multi-battery, computers; we will have a fully integrated C4I system all the
way to situational awareness, and we will have EPLRS [Enhanced Position Location
For lethality, the EFV uses the Army’s fire control system for the main
battle tank, which “we married with the Mk 44 30 mm automatic gun—we
call it 30-40,” said Nans. “All the Mk 44 is, it is the old 25 mm
gun on steroids.” The Mk 44 fires either 30 mm GAU-8 or Super 40 mm ammunition.
The conversion to 40 mm is simple, said Nans. It requires change of barrel and
feed sprockets, he said.
The EFV has a 7.62 mm coaxial gun, laser range finder and a second generation
FLIR. The turret is fully stabilized.
“It has got tremendous night fighting capability,” said Nans. It
also has nuclear biological and chemical protection.
The vehicle can swim at 30 knots in calm seas. The 2,700 hp engine is located
Each EFV is expected to cost $7 million, in inflation-adjusted dollars, said
Nans, but critics claim the price could go up to $10 million.
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