Following a high surf incident at Camp Pendleton, California, which saw one amphibious combat vehicle roll over and another become disabled during training, the Marine Corps has suspended all waterborne operations for the new platform as it awaits the results of an investigation.
Marines aboard the two ACVs were able to evacuate and no injuries were reported, according to Marine officials.
Unusually high swells in the region were a result of a southern hemisphere storm that “sent historically large waves to Tahiti and Hawaii last week,” according to the Union-Tribune.
The 1 minute, 52-second mobile phone video recording from the shore shows an ACV breaking wave in white-cap sea conditions and a brief scene of what appears to be Marines jumping off the waterlogged vehicle near the shore.
Lt. Gen. David J. Furness, deputy commandant of Marine Corps Plans, Policies and Operations, directed a pause of waterborne operations for all ACVs across the Corps, a Wednesday news release stated. Land-based operations, including live fires, will continue.
“This is the right thing to do,” said Furness. “A pause on ACV waterborne operations will give us time to conduct an investigation, learn from this event, and ensure our assault amphibian community remains ready to support our nation.”
Marine officials said that an investigation into the rollover and disabled ACV will determine next steps and the length of the waterborne operations pause.
The quick actions of the Marines aboard the disabled ACV highlighted effective training efforts, Marine spokesman Capt. Ryan Bruce told Marine Corps Times.
“Preliminary accounts indicate (the Marines) performed as trained, conducting the correct responsive actions during an uncertain and chaotic situation, and were able to get to shore as safely as possible,” Bruce said.
The ship-to-shore connectors are scheduled for a first deployment with the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit out of Camp Pendleton, California, later in 2022, officials previously announced.
This pause follows a similar safety pause for the ACV on Sept. 3, 2021, for a towing mechanism issue that was identified by Marine officials. That pause was lifted by January following a modification to towing system use, officials said.
The current safety pause investigation will guide what maintainers, crews and others in the amphibious assault community need to do before restarting waterborne ops.
But, as an example, prior to the ACV crews returning to waterborne operations earlier this year, personnel had to complete the following steps:
1) All ACV crew members and embarked personnel conducting waterborne operations must possess current Marine Corps water survival qualifications.
2) All ACV crew members and embarked personnel must qualify in the submerged vehicle egress trainer with the waterborne egress capability. No waivers to qualification. O-6 commanders may authorize temporary waivers to unique travelers (recon, trap recovery, etc.) Provided they are submerged vehicle egress trainer or modular amphibious egress trainer and water survival qualification complete.
3) Ensure ACV crews meet training and readiness standards by billet to train with embarked personnel in waterborne operations.
4) All ACV crew members and embarked personnel must complete integrated training which includes at a minimum interoperability and safety training between AAV/ACV crews and embarking personnel. O-6 commanders may authorize temporary waivers to unique travelers (recon, trap recovery, etc.) Provided they are submerged vehicle egress trainer or modular amphibious egress trainer and water survival qualification complete.
5) All ACV crew members and embarked personnel must complete evacuation procedures and emergency egress procedures drills on both land and water.
6) All ACV crew members must pass a common knowledge examination developed by the Assault Amphibian School prior to resuming/conducting water operations.
7) All ACV personnel returning to the AA community from B-billets or other assignments must be tested and certified on their knowledge of operational and safety procedures in accordance with the respective training and readiness standards.
8) Ensure completion of risk management records prior to all operations.
9) In coordination with Marine Corps Safety Division, develop and implement a “mishap lessons learned program,” through the unit safety officer.
10) Ensure all ACVs are compliant with applicable criteria. ACVs that exceed the mandated thresholds will not resume water operations until they are corrected, re-inspected, and meet those thresholds.
11) Waterborne operations safety architecture requirements:
a. Employ safety boats at all times for waterborne operations.
b. Unloaded ACVs are no longer authorized to act as a safety boat.
c. One safety boat for five or fewer ACVs and two safety boats for six or more ACVs.
d. At a minimum, one unloaded ACV must be provided to each wave as a bump/recovery vehicle to receive personnel in the event of an emergency.
e. Positive communications established between safety boats, AA unit and ship.
12) All ACV crew members and embarked personnel will be equipped with and trained in the use of an ACV waterborne egress capability that includes a supplemental emergency breathing device.
13) Confirm the communication procedures used during emergencies prior to conducting waterborne operations with all participating units.
14) Conduct sea state assessment when operating without U.S. Navy amphibious shipping.
15) Ensure all operations with U.S. Navy amphibious shipping are conducted in accordance with appropriate directives. (Only applies to ship-to-shore and shore-to-ship movements.)
16) Assess water integrity prior to operations via splash team checklist.
17) Provide a waterproof copy of AA common standard operating procedure provided to every ACV.
18) Provide a waterproof copy of embarked troop brief provided to every ACV.
The Marine Corps received its first ACVs in late 2020.
The vehicle replaces the Vietnam War-era amphibious assault vehicle, or AAV. The first ACVs went to Delta Company, 3rd Assault Amphibian Battalion, in Twentynine Palms, California.
The Corps began large-scale ACV fielding in early 2021. The vehicle uses a wheeled, rather than the tracked system, which the AAV used. The ACV is also larger than its predecessor.
In July 2020, an AAV sank during predeployment training off the California coast, killing eight Marines and one Navy corpsman.
That incident prompted several top leader firings and letters of censure in early June 2022 for five officers: three Marine and two Navy. The highest-ranking censured individual was retired Marine Lt. Gen. Joseph Osterman, who was the commanding general of I Marine Expeditionary Force at Camp Pendleton, California, at the time of the fatal sinking.
Those censured officers primarily were faulted by Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro for failures of leadership in properly communicating and overseeing waterborne training for personnel and improper practices or procedures by subordinates involved in the exercise.
The Marine Corps halted AAV waterborne operations in December 2021.
The Marines long sought a replacement for the AAV over multiple decades, canceling an early option dubbed the expeditionary fighting vehicle in 2011 after spending more than $3 billion on the program, according to a 2020 Congressional Research report.
The AAV replacement re-emerged in March 2014 and the service chose BAE Systems to build the ACV in 2018.
An early evaluation of the ACV by outside experts at the Department of Operational Test and Evaluation in 2018 showed that the vehicle was successful in 15 of its 16 missions but a later report, published in 2021, did note that the ACV did not “meet its 69-hour mean time between operational mission failures threshold.”
*Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to include a response from Marine Corps officials and past protocols for returning to operations following a safety pause.
Todd South has written about crime, courts, government and the military for multiple publications since 2004 and was named a 2014 Pulitzer finalist for a co-written project on witness intimidation. Todd is a Marine veteran of the Iraq War.