III Marine Expeditionary Force announced Wednesday that it had resumed waterborne operations for Assault Amphibious Vehicles (AAVs) for the first time following a deadly accident in July 2020 that claimed the lives of eight Marines and one sailor.
“We completed a rigorous review to ensure we can operate our AAVs safely, protect our Marines and Sailors, and complete our mission responsibly,” Lt. Gen. H. Stacy Clardy, commanding general of III MEF, said. “We will continue to mitigate risk while employing a ready and capable force to deter aggression and respond to crisis in the region in support of our nation’s interests and our allies and partners.”
According to III MEF, Marines and sailors of Company B, 3rd Assault Amphibian Battalion, undertook a rigorous waterborne-operations training package on Tuesday in Okinawa, Japan. The training found the unit and vehicles compliant with all the updated policies and procedures following the 2020 accident.
III MEF signaled the return of this “important capability” to its Marines while also emphasizing that the safety of Marines and sailors is a primary concern.
“Ensuring the safety of our Marines and Sailors is a very serious priority, and leaders are making sure everything possible is done to ensure safe and effective operations,” the III MEF statement read.
Following the July 2020 incident, the Marine Corps launched a series of investigations into its AAV fleet regarding the overall safety and condition of the vehicles across the branch. Over the course of the investigations, the Marine Corps found that numerous safety issues plagued the vehicles. The findings spurred Marine officials to suspend AAV operations within the III MEF.
The AAV involved in the fatal sinking in July 2020 had “two specific areas of watertight integrity” and should not have been on the water that day, Lt. Gen. Karsten Heckl said.
Additionally, a report on the results of the second investigation stated that many of the vehicles in operation on the day of the fatal accident had been in “horrible” condition. Furthermore, “the [Third Assault Amphibian] Battalion did not properly train or equip this AAV Platoon for a very difficult MEU training cycle and deployment.”
The investigation found that nearly all the vehicles were previously inoperable, having spent almost a year in an “administrative deadline lot.”
Upon inspection after the sinking, the Marine Corps reported defective bilge pumps, cracked or worn seals on major areas such as ramps, defective latches and seals on hatches, and inoperative lighting systems in the passenger compartments of the vehicles.
Since their introduction in the 1970s, AAVs have been workhorses for the Marine Corps for amphibious and ground operations. Each vehicle is designed to carry up to 21 Marines and a three-person crew in the water and over land.
The Marine Corps has been looking for a replacement for the AAV since 2003, and it has been a long time coming. In late 2020, the Marine Corps awarded BAE Systems a contract to phase out the legacy vehicles and replace them with the new Amphibious Combat Vehicles, or ACVs. BAE is slated to produce 72 ACVs for the Marine Corps for $366 million, according to the US Naval Institute.