US Marines with Amphibious Vehicle Test Branch, Marine Corps Tactical Systems Support Activity, try out Amphibious Combat Vehicles along the beach during low-light surf transit testing at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California, on Dec. 16, 2019. The ACV promises increased lethality, survivability and protected mobility to Marines compared to their aging fleet of Assault Amphibious Vehicles. US Marine Corps photo by Pfc. Seth G. Merz.
In another setback for the US Marine Corps program, officials have barred Amphibious Combat Vehicles from operating in surf zones near shore.
The new rules stem from a Thursday, Oct. 13, mishap involving an ACV at Assault Amphibian School in California. Shortly before 8 p.m. local time, a “mechanical malfunction” caused an ACV to roll over in the surf off Camp Pendleton, according to a prepared Marine Corps statement emailed to Coffee or Die Magazine on Monday.
While ACVs are banned from surf areas near beaches, they’re still allowed to operate in open ocean and protected waters, such as the Del Mar Boat Basin at Camp Pendleton’s Area 21.
“We’re taking a deliberate and methodical approach to fielding this platform,” said Lt. Gen. David H. Furness, the deputy commandant for Plans, Policies, and Operations, in the statement. “This adjustment to current guidance ensures our Marines have the ability to safely train and maintain proficiency with the platform while we work to conduct additional testing.”
US Marines with Amphibious Vehicle Test Branch, Marine Corps Tactical Systems Support Activity, drive a new Amphibious Combat Vehicle along the beach during low-light surf transit testing at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California, Dec. 18, 2019. The ACV is an eight-wheeled armored personnel carrier designed to fully replace the Corps’ aging fleet of Amphibious Assault Vehicles. US Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Andrew Cortez.
The ban on transiting surf zones affects the crews of 90 ACVs fielded by the Camp Pendleton-based 3rd Assault Amphibian Battalion and the instructors and students operating the 36 carriers at the training school.
They’d just been greenlighted to return their ACVs to the ocean on Sept. 22, eight weeks after a pair of the hulking armored vehicles foundered in high surf off Camp Pendleton. But the return to sea duty came with a caveat — crews weren’t allowed to operate the vehicles when waves reached a significant breaker height of 4 feet.
It remains unclear what the surf conditions were like on Thursday, but officials said the incident remained under investigation.
Built by BAE Systems, ACVs are supposed to operate in conditions up to Sea State 3 — slightly rough waves cresting up to 4 feet high in open water — while bringing 13 troops and three crew members to shore, even through 9-foot plunging surf.
The ACVs are expected to replace the aging and increasingly dilapidated fleet of Assault Amphibious Vehicles, workhorse troop carriers that were designed during the Vietnam War.
Carl Prine is a former senior editor at Coffee or Die Magazine. He has worked at Navy Times, The San Diego Union-Tribune, and Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He served in the Marine Corps and the Pennsylvania Army National Guard. His awards include the Joseph Galloway Award for Distinguished Reporting on the military, a first prize from Investigative Reporters & Editors, and the Combat Infantryman Badge.
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