Marines extend program to keep aging vehicles in service.

Author:Kennedy, Harold

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...

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