Asked about the remainder of the AAV fleet, Boucher noted that no specific plan exists for those vehicle platforms at present, offering, “We are exploring a few new things, but that’s all we are doing at the present time.”
He reiterated, “The Marine Corps is committed to getting its operational forces the latest and greatest capabilities that they can for the AAV. And the AAV Survivability Upgrade Program, which is a much needed bridge to the ACV capability, will continue to make this vehicle a relevant asset to the Marine Corps.”
“In addition to the AAV Survivability Upgrade Program, I would also point to an increased emphasis for our modifications line in order to improve some of the AAV subsystems that are approaching obsolescence,” he continued. “That would include things like bilge pumps, electrical systems, and intercom.”
Boucher also pointed to recent improvements in system readiness levels, quantifying the combination of subsystem obsolescence modifications and increased programmatic emphasis on readiness issues. He noted that his office had expanded its close involvement with fleet operators in the identification of their needs and had then worked closely with the fleet to further enhance that readiness.
“Particularly with the focus on the Pacific, there is an increased emphasis on readiness issues, including issues like corrosion and other challenges of a global environment,” he noted.
“Another modification that will be fielded in FY 14 will be the Emergency Egress Lighting System [EELS],” Boucher added. “That safety enhancement automatically turns on lighting in the event that an AAV starts taking on water. Particularly at night, if a vehicle goes underwater, it allows the Marines to get to an exit. We are really replicating a capability that was going to be on the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle and is already mounted in Marine helicopters.”
EELS was developed and engineered for the AAV FoV in coordination with the Naval Surface Warfare Center Panama City. The system has already been installed in the first unit and is under evaluation by a Marine Expeditionary Unit prior to expanded fielding planned for early in 2014.
Returning to the planned AAV Survivability Upgrade, Boucher acknowledged that the underlying concept is far more than simply “hanging armor” on an amphibious vehicle.
“A better term for it is ‘force protection,’” he explained. “Typically, in a finite world, ‘survivability’ generally refers to the ability of a vehicle to survive. By comparison, ‘force protection’ refers to the Marines that are riding in that vehicle. However, the two things often go hand in hand, and in all likelihood we are adding armor to the vehicle.
“A better term for it is ‘force protection,’” he explained. “Typically, in a finite world, ‘survivability’ generally refers to the ability of a vehicle to survive. By comparison, ‘force protection’ refers to the Marines that are riding in that vehicle. However, the two things often go hand in hand, and in all likelihood we are adding armor to the vehicle. That will increase its weight and obviously there is a balancing act there where we can’t add so much armor that it will be incapable of amphibious operations. But the other parts of survivability that are tied to the Marines in those vehicles are things like blast mitigating seats of the types in our mine-resistant ambush-protected [MRAP] vehicles. So, as opposed to the bench seats that have been in the AAV since the vehicle originated in the early 1970s, we will be including blast mitigating seats.”
“That’s a force protection capability,” he continued. “Because a lot of times an under vehicle belly blast sends a shock wave through the floor and into the bench seats. These new seats will mitigate that.”
The redesign will take the vehicle from approximately 21 bench seat spaces to 17 blast-mitigating seats.
Summarizing the program efforts, Boucher offered, “With the projected service life extension of the AAV to 2035, PEO Land Systems and PM AAA are taking a very hard look at those capabilities that need to be refreshed in order to maintain system viability longer than previously planned. There are a number of capabilities that are approaching obsolescence. Marines know what they are because they live them every day. We are now looking at updating these critical capabilities.”
“With the AAV Survivability Upgrade RFP now released, the level of work for our team in PM AAA is on an accelerated pace,” he concluded. “That pace is required to meet our prototype and LRIP time lines as well as other critical EMD milestones so that we can get these capabilities into the hands of our operational forces.”
This article first appeared in the Marine Corps Outlook 2013-2014 Edition.