Modernizing the Marine Corps: Deployment of Amphibious Combat Vehicles to Okinawa

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A fleet of Marine Corps wheeled Amphibious Combat Vehicles (ACVs) has been forward deployed to the island of Okinawa, Japan, marking a significant step in modernizing the service’s assets in the Pacific theater. This development comes at a critical time as the Marines undergo a rapid restructuring to prepare for potential high-end conflicts in the future, with a particular emphasis on the Indo-Pacific region. The arrival of these vehicles is part of a broader strategy to enhance amphibious capabilities, which are essential for potential island-hopping operations in a region where maritime dominance is crucial.

The Arrival and Deployment of ACVs

The ACVs arrived at the Naha Military Port in Okinawa on June 29. The 4th Marine Regiment, III Marine Expeditionary Force based at Camp Schwab in Okinawa, is set to receive a total of 12 ACV-Ps, the baseline personnel carrier variant of the new ACV, this month. These vehicles, manufactured by BAE Systems, are replacing the aging tracked Assault Amphibious Vehicles (AAVs) that have served the Marines for decades. The new ACVs represent a long-anticipated upgrade to the Marines’ amphibious capabilities, enhancing both ship-to-shore connections and ground combat operations.

Detailed Scheme Table

FeatureSpecification
Configuration8×8 amphibious platform
Drive SystemH-Drive System
Speed (Paved Road)>65 mph / 105 km/h
Speed (Open Ocean)6+ knots
Range (Road, 55 mph)Up to 325 miles / 523 km
Range (Sea followed by land)Up to 12 NM + 250+ miles
Turning Radius44 feet curb to curb
Side Slope>30%
Gradient>60%
Gross Vehicle Weight35 tons (32 metric tons)
Payload CapacityUp to 7,280 lbs (3,302 kg)
Personnel Capacity13 + 3 crew
Length361 inches (9.2 meters)
Width124 inches (3.1 meters)
Height (hull)114 inches (2.9 meters)
Operational ConditionsSea State 3, 9-foot plunging surf
Turret SystemKONGSBERG RT-20
Fire Suppression SystemAutomatic
HullBlast-resistant
SeatsEnergy-absorbing
ProtectionMine, IED, kinetic energy, overhead
Future Growth PotentialIntegration of new technologies, various variants
The ACV-30’s combination of advanced mobility, survivability, and future growth potential ensures it is well-suited for the U.S. Marine Corps’ expeditionary mission requirements. The inclusion of the KONGSBERG RT-20 remote turret system enhances its lethality and provides ample space for troop and equipment transport, ensuring both high performance and adaptability to future threats.

Over the next few days, the vehicles will be transported from the Naha Military Port in southern Okinawa to Camp Schwab in the north, a journey of approximately 50 miles by road. This deployment is significant as it underscores the critical role these modernized vehicles will play in future potential conflicts in the Indo-Pacific region. Senior U.S. military officials have been preparing for the possibility of such conflicts, which could require rapid deployment of Marines to remote islands, a logistical challenge given the vastness of the water-dominated region. In such scenarios, amphibious operations will be vital, with relatively small groups of Marines needing to establish themselves on various islands and reposition rapidly as required.

Image : ACV-P – BAE Systems, Inc. Platforms & Services – baesystems.com

Enhancing Amphibious Capabilities

The ACVs are designed to operate effectively in the ocean and waterways, making them particularly suited for the diverse operating environments within the Indo-Pacific. The III Marine Expeditionary Force, described as a modern and ready force, sees the upgrade to amphibious combat vehicles as crucial in supporting sea denial and maritime operations. These vehicles will bolster the Marines’ ability to support deterrence efforts and respond to contingencies in the region.

Each ACV-P can transport up to 13 Marines and is one of several mission-role variants of the baseline ACV. Other variants include the ACV-C command and control type and the ACV-R recovery variant. Additionally, the Marines will receive the ACV-30, armed with a 30mm cannon, making it the largest gun on a mechanized vehicle in the service’s inventory following the divestment of Marine M1 Abrams tanks. The ACV-P itself represents a significant capability upgrade over the existing AAVs, which were first introduced in the early 1970s and have experienced several serious accidents, including a deadly sinking incident off the coast of California in recent years.

Technical and Design Improvements

The transition from tracked to wheeled vehicles has been a topic of much debate within the Marine Corps. Wheeled vehicles have traditionally had mixed performance on softer terrains, such as sandy beaches, compared to tracked vehicles. However, the ACV and AAV have similar speeds in the water, while the ACV boasts a top speed approximately 20 miles per hour faster than the AAV on improved surfaces ashore.

One of the notable design features of the ACV is its v-shaped hull, which reduces the risk to occupants from mines and improvised explosive devices. This is a significant improvement over the flat-bottomed AAV. The ACV also features a modern communications suite and other technological advancements. The forward deployment of these vehicles to Japan follows their initial arrival in the country last month. During training exercises on June 24, ACV-Ps from the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), based at Camp Pendleton, California, took part in operations at the White Beach training area in Okinawa.

Operational Debut and Training Exercises

The operational debut of the ACVs in the Pacific occurred during Exercise Balikatan ’24, an annual bilateral exercise between the Philippines and the U.S. In this exercise, ACVs conducted a live-fire, waterborne gunnery range exercise in Oyster Bay, Philippines, on May 4. The Marines are still in the process of receiving the various ACV variants from BAE Systems, which, in cooperation with Italy’s Iveco, won the competition to build the vehicles in 2018. As of May, the Marine Corps had received a total of 184 ACV-Ps and three ACV-Cs, totaling 187 vehicles.

The Marine Corps plans to eventually have a total of 390 ACV-Ps, 33 ACV-Cs, 34 ACV-Rs, and 175 ACV-30s, for a grand total of 632 vehicles. Production of the ACV-30 is expected to begin in Fiscal Year 2025, with the first six examples anticipated for delivery in Fiscal Year 2026. BAE Systems delivered the first production-ready ACV-C in January. The ACV program has faced some technical challenges and other issues since the first operational examples of the baseline personnel carrier were delivered in 2020. A 2020 report by the Defense Department’s top weapons tester highlighted survivability issues with the design, as well as cramped internal conditions for personnel.

Addressing Technical Issues and Enhancements

In recent years, Marine Corps leadership has acknowledged problems with the ACV’s shock absorbers and concerns over possible water incursion. Despite these issues, the ACV has been recognized for its potential to greatly enhance the Marine Corps’ littoral mobility and expeditionary reach. This investment in advanced ACVs is part of a broader restructuring of Marine capabilities, shifting focus from counterinsurgency campaigns to distributed operations that would characterize high-end conflicts in regions like the Indo-Pacific.

While many of the service’s ACVs have yet to be delivered, the forward deployment of these vehicles to Japan is a significant step in preparing for future conflicts. The modernization of the Marine Corps’ amphibious capabilities is essential for maintaining readiness and ensuring the ability to respond to emerging threats in a rapidly changing global security environment.

Strategic Significance and Future Outlook

The deployment of ACVs to Okinawa is not just a tactical upgrade but also a strategic maneuver that underscores the importance of the Indo-Pacific region in the U.S. defense strategy. The increasing focus on this region is driven by the rising influence and assertiveness of China, which poses potential challenges to regional stability and security. The ability to conduct amphibious operations is crucial in this context, as it enables rapid and flexible responses to various contingencies.

The ACVs’ enhanced capabilities, including their ability to navigate both land and water effectively, make them an invaluable asset for the Marines. Their deployment to Okinawa serves as a deterrent and a demonstration of the U.S. commitment to maintaining a robust presence in the Indo-Pacific. This forward deployment also ensures that the Marine Corps can conduct joint and combined operations with regional allies, enhancing interoperability and strengthening partnerships.

Technological Advancements and Future Developments

The ACVs are part of a broader trend towards integrating advanced technologies into military operations. The v-shaped hull design, modern communications suite, and improved mobility on various terrains are just a few examples of the technological advancements incorporated into the ACV. These features enhance the survivability and effectiveness of the Marines in complex and dynamic operational environments.

Looking ahead, the Marine Corps will continue to receive and integrate new variants of the ACV, including the ACV-30 with its powerful 30mm cannon. These additions will further enhance the Corps’ firepower and operational capabilities. The ongoing production and delivery of these vehicles will ensure that the Marine Corps remains equipped with state-of-the-art technology to meet future challenges.

In conclusion, the forward deployment of Amphibious Combat Vehicles to Okinawa represents a significant milestone in the modernization of the Marine Corps. These vehicles provide critical enhancements to the Marines’ amphibious capabilities, ensuring they are prepared for potential conflicts in the Indo-Pacific region. As the Marine Corps continues to evolve and adapt to emerging threats, the ACVs will play a vital role in maintaining readiness and ensuring the ability to conduct effective amphibious operations. This deployment is a testament to the ongoing efforts to enhance the capabilities of the Marine Corps and ensure they are equipped to meet the demands of the future battlefield.


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