U.S. Central Command Area of Responsibility -- One of the many things that make the Marine Corps special is its amphibious capability. The only amphibious vehicular asset that is Marine Corps owned and operated is the Amphibious Assault Vehicle P7A1 Reliability, Availability and Maintainability/Rebuild to Standard (AAV P7A1 RAM/RS) The 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) is not without this valuable amphibious asset.
Gunnery Sgt. Christopher J. "Jake" Jacobs from Anoka, Minn., 1st section leader, AAV Platoon attached to Company E., Battalion Landing Team 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marines, 24th MEU (SOC) spoke of the AAV P7A1 RAM/RS and its variants.
"The AAV P7A1 RAM/RS, you've got four variants," said Jacobs. "The P7, which we have, is the personnel carrier. You've got the C7, which is the command vehicle, which is a battalion asset. The battalion commander and his staff would ride on the C7," Jacobs continued. "There's the R7, which is the recovery vehicle. It's got a winch, crane, and third echelon maintenance tools. The winch is to pull out vehicles that are stuck and the crane is to pull out engines with. It's pretty much a rolling toolbox. In (Central Command's Area of Responsibility) they used it to pull out a stuck (Medium Tactical Vehicle Replacement) and a couple of stuck AAVs," Jacobs added. "The fourth variant is a P7. Equipped with a MK-154 kit, it's an asset used to breach mine fields, said Jacobs.
Jacobs took some time to answer a couple of the most commonly asked questions about AAVs. "When people look at an AAV their initial question is, 'Does that thing float,' their second question is, 'how often do they sink,' The answer to those questions are, yes it does float, the main cause for them to sink is human error and not the vehicle itself," said Jacobs.
Jacobs made mention of some less commonly asked for AAV facts as well. "The vehicle its self, the P7, weighs 28 tons. On land it can do 45- plus miles- per- hour. In the water it can do 8 to 10 knots," said Jacobs. "It can carry up to 21 combat loaded Marines. We can operate in mountainous terrain, we can operate in the tropics, in the arctic and desert, as the Marines Hymn says, 'every clime and place,'" said Jacobs.
Jacobs then went on to speak about the weaponry that the AAV is equipped with and some of the weapon systems capabilities. "The P7 is armed with the Upgun Weapons Station," said Jacobs.
The Upgun Weapons Station is comprised of two weapons. Jacobs went on to elaborate on the system and the weaponry that it's comprised of.
"The Upgun Weapons Station is equipped with a MK-19, which is a 40mm automatic grenade launcher. The MK-19 is awesome because I can reach out and touch someone at 2,000 meters, and the beauty is I don't even have to hit them, if I get within five meters they can cancel Christmas, if I get within 15 meters they're going to have a bad day. I can penetrate up to 2 inches of armor at 2,000 meters," said Jacobs. "The other weapon the P7 has is the M2 .50 caliber machine gun... I can go back and forth between the .50 cal and the MK-19 at the flip of a switch... We can fire on land or in water. We can fire on the move but not as accurately," said Jacobs.
Operating the AAV requires a small crew of three Marines. "The crew consists of a driver, rear crewman, and a crew chief," said Jacobs.
Jacobs went on to talk about the job of the crew chief. "The crew chief is a corporal's billet, most times it's held by a lance corporal. He is responsible for the upkeep of the vehicle, training his crew, and the safety of his embarked troops," said Jacobs. "In tanks you have tank commanders. In (Light Armored Vehicles) you have vehicle commanders. The crew chief is the vehicle commander for AAVs," Jacobs added.
Expanding beyond the arena of what an AAV is, and what it can do, Jacobs addressed the composition of an AAV platoon, what an AAV platoon is capable of, as well as what an AAV company is capable of when it comes to moving Marines ashore. "In an AAV platoon there's thirteen P7s and one C7," said Jacobs. "One platoon of AAVs carries a company of infantry, a company of AAVs carries a battalion of infantry," Jacobs added.
The mission of an AAV platoon. Is to take the infantry from a ship to a beach, to support the infantry in their mission while on the beach, and to carry them inland if required.
Jacobs gave a basic run down of exactly how this mission is accomplished. "When we splash off of the ship you have naval gunfire suppressing the beach as well as air support," said Jacobs. "Our goal is to hit the beach at the precise time that the Naval Gunfire lifts, so that way the enemy is still suppressed and we can deploy our infantry to go and fight," Jacobs continued. "The AAVs normally land first and we'll provide security for follow on waves brought in by (Landing Craft Air Cushioned) or (Landing Craft Utility)," said Jacobs. "Once the Naval gunfire lifts, the air support, if available, is on call through the company fire support team. "Once we drop off the infantry we stay with the infantry on the beach," said Jacobs. "If there's an inland objective, like an air field, or depending on what the mission is like, for example, during Special Operations Capable Exercise (SOCEX) we landed at Onslow beach and secured Davis Airfield which is nearly 30 miles inland," Jacobs added. "We have enough fuel to go inland 300 miles before we need to take on fuel," said Jacobs.
Being a passenger inside of an AAV is not exactly everyone's cup of tea. Cpl. Christian J. Robertson from Lawrenceville, Ga., fire team leader, 1st Platoon., Company E., BLT 2/2, made a brief statement concerning the experience.
"It's like you're in a coffin and you never know what's going on. When the ramps come down the initial reaction is 'thank God I am getting off this thing'," said Robertson.
Jacobs spoke of conditions inside the AAV as well. "The heat inside isn't as bad as it used to be, for the infantry riding in the troop compartment," said Jacobs. "The hatches are all closed, it's dark, it's hot. You've got the sound of the engine, which is between 80 to 100 decibels. You have to yell to talk to the guy sitting next to you, plus you have the diesel fumes, coupled with the rolling waves, makes the perfect conditions for infantry to get seasick, and then once they hit the beach and the ramps come down they get their first glimpse of the blinding sunlight...There is a vent fan to get the embarked Marines some air but it's not real effective," Jacobs added.
Jacobs then went into what the future looks like for AAVs. "Here in the near future the AAV P7 is supposed to be replaced with the AAAV, Advanced Amphibious Assault Vehicle," Jacobs said. "The AAAV is supposed to do 30- plus knots in the water, 60 to 70 miles- per- hour on land and has the MK- 44 30mm cannon," Jacobs added. "It still has a crew of three and carries the same amount of infantry," said Jacobs.
Jacobs cited some of the reasons as to why the change is due. "The average life span for a combat vehicle is 15 years," Jacobs said. "The first AAV rolled off the assembly line in the early 70's, it's nearly doubled its life span," added Jacobs. "The AAAV is truly the light at the end of the tunnel. We have an AAV on this ship that went into service in 1978 and they've just done modifications on it through the years," said Jacobs.
Until the AAAV arrives the AAV is still "top dog" and the only amphibious vehicle asset in the Marine Corps arsenal. "The AAV P7A1 is what makes the Marine Corps the Marine Corps," said Jacobs. "The Army has tanks and artillery, the Air Force has its planes, but only the Marine Corps has the AAV, the true amphibious warriors," Jacobs concluded.