A Light Armored Vehicle provides cover for its infantry scouts during a live-fire event in Korea on March 27. (Lance Cpl. Eric D. Arndt / Marine Corps)
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Blast-resistant seats, improved suspension and tougher, lighter armor are among a list of upgrades planned for the Corps' light-armored vehicle fleet in coming years, the top officer overseeing LAVs said.
Col. Michael Micucci, head of the Corps' LAV program, said the upgrades are planned as part of an overhaul of the entire LAV fleet, which has been in service since the 1980s. Other upgrades are planned for specific variants of the LAV, with the vehicle recovery version expected to receive a new crane, winch and generator and the anti-tank LAV receiving a new weapons system.
"We're in a situation now where we need to replace the system," Micucci said of the anti-tank vehicle. "All of the [light-armored reconnaissance] battalion commanders all four of them, in unison said we need to replace this vehicle. That doesn't happen very often, and if four different commanders agree, we need to improve this vehicle."
Micucci's comments came April 28 at the second Tactical Vehicles Summit, a gathering of defense contractors and military acquisitions officials in McLean, Va. The upgrades will follow other changes made to the LAV in recent years, including the installation of blast shields, an automatic fire suppression system and an electric turret drive.
Changes coming soon
A major focus in the next round of upgrades will be the LAV-25, which carries six combat-ready Marines and two crewmen and is the most common LAV, comprising 400 of the Corps' 870-plus fleet.
Unlike other variants, the LAV-25's fuel cell is along the back wall, increasing the possibility of a "catastrophic event" for Marine scouts, who man a seat on top of the cell, Micucci said.
"They sit on the fuel cell," he said. "It's not a good recipe. We're looking to mitigate the effects of a blast to the fuel cell or to relocate the fuel cell, and I think where we're heading towards is to relocate it to an inside wall of the vehicle."
Other variants of the LAV already have the fuel cell along an inside wall, but the LAV-25 will need a partial redesign of its cabin to do the same, Micucci said. Officials requested information from defense manufacturers for the project, but have not narrowed down the options. The project is scheduled for completion next year.
The Corps also wants to replace bench seating with blast-resistant, shock-absorption seats, and develop a new underbelly armor kit that is lighter than the version initially fielded in 2005 to protect Marines against blasts from improvised explosive devices.
"We believe the blast seats and the underbody armor had to be a [combined] approach," Micucci said in an interview. "We can't place shock-absorption seats in the back with the way it's configured. We had to move the fuel cell because the seats won't fit."
Among upgrades to specific variants, the Corps is planning:
A replacement for the aging M901A1 weapons system on all 117 anti-tank LAVs. The system, which fires TOW-2 missiles, has been discarded by the Army, but remains in use on LAVs despite excessive corrosion, decreasing readiness rates, limited visibility for vehicle commanders and other problems, Micucci said. Funding is included in the budget for 2010, he said, but the cost was unavailable.
New cranes, winches and generators on 50 vehicle recovery LAVs. They will be tested and integrated this year.
Development of a new command-and-control variant. The vehicle is built by Lockheed Martin and is expected to go to final operational testing and evaluation this summer, Micucci said.
Marine officials also wanted to upgrade its mortar variant, replacing the 81mm in use since the 1980s with the 120mm mortar the Corps rolled out this year as part of the new Expeditionary Fire Support System, a two-vehicle system that fits inside the MV-22 Osprey and tows the mortar on a trailer. Due to funding constraints, however, the program is expected to be cut.
"It's OK," Micucci said. "The 81mm is pretty good. The 120mm would have given us a little bit more range, but we will survive with the 81mm mortar."
The Corps is also planning a series of yet-to-be-funded changes, including a "comprehensive weight reduction study" and an effort to give LAVs a more robust suspension system that could prove helpful in rocky Afghanistan.
The Corps requested the money for the two projects as part of the proposed fiscal 2010 supplemental budget, Micucci said. If the programs don't make the cut there, the Corps will build them into its budget for 2012.
Long term, the Corps also is in the early stage of reviewing what to do with the entire LAV family, which has an estimated service life that extends through 2025. Micucci said the Corps is planning to ask for money in the 2012 budget to review what LAR battalions could look like at that time.
"I think it's something we want to think about," Micucci said. "We're in the very, very early stages of even considering a replacement of the vehicle because the commandant could say, ‘I want LAVs to stay until 2035.'"
The LAV fleet:
The Corps has more than 870 light-armored vehicles, with seven variants. A look at the options:
LAV-25: The most common LAV in the fleet with 400 vehicles, it carries six combat-ready Marines and two crewmen. There are about 56 in each of the Corps' four light-armored reconnaissance battalions.
LAV-AT: The anti-tank variant of the LAV is equipped with a M901A1 weapons system that fires TOW-2 missiles. There are about 16 per LAR battalion.
LAV-L: The logistics variant of the LAV carries ammunition, rations and supplies needed on the battlefield. There are about 12 per LAR battalion.
LAV-M: The mortar variant is equipped with an 81mm mortar. There are about eight per LAR battalion.
LAV-R: The recovery variant has a crane, winch and generator. There are about four per LAR battalion.
LAV-C2: The command-and-control variant has a raised roof, leaving room for communications stations. There are about four per LAR battalion.
LAV-MEWSS: The Mobile Electronic Warfare Support System LAV carries a driver, a commander and five electronic warfare specialists. It is capable of intercepting radio communications and performing electronic warfare missions.