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Marines using new armored troop vehicles in open water again, five months after one flipped over in waves

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Secretary of Defense, Dr. Mark Esper, views the Amphibious Combat Vehicle (ACV) during a capabilities display with 3rd Assault Amphibian Battalion, 1st Marine Division at Camp Pendleton, California, Sept. 17, 2020. Marine Corps Systems Command currently in the process of replacing the Amphibious Assault Vehicle with the ACV across the Marine Corps. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Staff Sgt. Kyle C. Talbot)

Erika I. Ritchie

The Press-Enterprise

The Marine Corps’ new heavily armored seafaring vehicles are back training in the water off Camp Pendleton, five months after being grounded when at least one flipped in the surf and couldn’t be towed in.

The eight-wheeled Amphibious Combat Vehicle, which will replace the Marine Corps’ aging fleet of Amphibious Assault Vehicles for transporting troops on land and from ships to shore, returned to the water this week for an exercise with the Japanese Ground Self-Defense Force.

The training exercise, known as Iron Fist, kicks off Saturday, Jan. 15, with an opening ceremony and continues through early February.

Prior to the September halt on open ocean training, the new ACVs – manufactured by BAE Systems, the same company that built the AAVs – were tested first on the West Coast by Marines from Delta Company. The Marines ran them across the harsh desert landscape of its base in Twentynine Palms and off the beaches at Camp Pendleton. The vehicles were rolled out to the 3rd Amphibian Assault Battalion early last summer at the seaside base.

But during the training, at least one ACV flipped in the surf and the Marines had difficulty towing it to shore. Other situations also raised concern about the towing mechanism, said Maj. James Stenger, a Marine Corps spokesman. The vehicles were pulled from the water out of an abundance of caution.

Last week, the Marine Corps issued a statement that “following the development of a new tow rope solution designed to address previous issues with the vehicle’s towing mechanism,” the ACVs can return to open water training. During the hiatus, Marines used ACVs only at gunnery ranges and in protected water coves such as the Del Mar Basin at Camp Pendleton.

Gen. David Berger, commandant of the Marine Corps, recently grounded the older fleet of AAVs from future deployments, though Marines may still use them on land while they are phased out.

The go-ahead for use of the ACVs in water operations requires all units complete several training and safety steps born out of investigations into the sinking of an AAV during training in 2020 in which nine men died. Investigators said the deaths had been “preventable” and failures in proper training and adherence to standard operating procedures contributed.

So all of the crew members on the ACVs being used, and the Marines and sailors they will carry, must pass water survival tests, know how to get out of a broken down or sinking vehicle on land and in the water, and understand emergency communication procedures.

Exercises with their Japanese counterparts this week include getting the tank-like vehicles through the surf, recovering personnel from the water and transferring crews from one vehicle to another.

The Japanese soldiers are using AAVs they brought with them for the training. The training with the Japanese has been held annually since 2006, Japanese soldiers who trained here in 2020 are returning.

Amphibious training is critical to the Marine mission and central to the commandant’s modernization of the Marine Corps, especially as it eyes possible future conflicts in the watery Indo-Pacific where maneuvering around small island chains will be critical, officials have said.

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