The first cohort has graduated from a course that recertifies Marines on operating the amphibious combat vehicle in the surf in keeping with the safety standards specific to that platform.
The Marine Corps established a transition training unit in February after early findings from investigations into high-profile mishaps recommended that operators get better trained on how the amphibious combat vehicle differs from its predecessor, according to materials provided by the Corps.
The vehicle is replacing the aging amphibious assault vehicle, which Marines have used since the 1970s.
Both vehicles can emerge from a ship’s well deck, traverse waters and roll onto beaches, making them an important part of the Marine Corps’ strategy for amphibious assaults.
But there are key differences between the two platforms that affect how Marines should operate them, according to the Corps.
Twenty-nine Marines got recertified Tuesday to operate the amphibious combat vehicle upon graduating from the course, joining the 30 Marines who had graduated from a pilot course in June, according to a Friday Marine Corps news release.
To get recertified as operators, Marines have to undergo 15 days of training at Camp Pendleton, California, and complete both written and practical evaluations, according to the release.
The Marines going through the recertification work their way up from training on land, to protected waters, to the surf zone, where the vehicle has to transit through the waves, according to the release.
Marines have done more than 100 loops through the surf as part of the transition training unit process, with no mishaps, Lt. Col. Frederick Monday, the officer in charge of the unit, said Friday at a media roundtable at the Pentagon.
The transition training unit, part of the Assault Amphibian School, also has trained the first 19 maintainers who are certified to work on amphibious combat vehicles, in a five-day course, according to the release. An additional 11 maintainers were set to graduate Friday, assuming they pass their evaluations, according to Monday.
The Marine Corps estimates the remainder of the previously licensed amphibious combat vehicle operators and maintainers will get recertified by fall 2024, according to the release. About 240 or 250 operators and about 50 maintainers still need to get recertified, according to Monday.
The Marine Corps also has begun applying the transition training unit’s insights to the entry-level training for amphibious combat vehicle operators, Col. Benjamin Venning, commander of the Amphibian Assault School, told reporters Friday. Those Marines now get 80 training days, up from 55, to learn the basics of being in the crew of an amphibious vehicle, according to Venning.
Although the Marine Corps now has dozens of Marines who are authorized to operate and maintain amphibious combat vehicles, it’s unclear when the vehicles will next be deployed.
“We’re working to ensure we’ve set the proper conditions, to include making sure our training is appropriate, before we speculate on future deployment decisions,” Marine spokesman Capt. Ryan Bruce said in a statement to Marine Corps Times on Friday.
After the latest mishap, in October 2022, the Marine Corps halted operations of the vehicle in the surf zone.
Bruce said in April that the Corps was taking a “phased approach” to letting the vehicles back in the surf zone. Under that approach, the first Marines allowed to operate the vehicles in the surf were transition training unit staff, followed by students getting certified.
In 2022, the BAE Systems-made amphibious combat vehicle was involved in at least two mishaps, which Marine leadership has attributed to training shortfalls. At least three amphibious combat vehicles flipped in at least two separate incidents off the coast of California. No injuries were reported.
The direct cause of the mishaps, then-Commandant Gen. David Berger told Congress in March, was “a lever effect generated when the vehicle becomes parallel to the surf-line and is struck by a large wave.”
The heavier, wheeled amphibious combat vehicle has a V-shaped hull and internal systems that work differently from those in the tracked, flat-bottomed amphibious assault vehicle, Bruce told Marine Corps Times in April. As a result, the two vehicles behave differently in the surf zone, Bruce noted.
In general, it takes service members a while to adapt to new platforms, and the amphibious combat vehicle is no exception, retired Marine Lt. Col. Dakota Wood, senior research fellow for defense at the conservative Heritage Foundation think tank, told Marine Corps Times in April.
“The ACV is just a different vehicle, so it’s going to handle differently,” Wood said in April.
Part of the problem was that the technical manuals were changing faster than the training program could adapt, Col. Howard Hall, chief of staff for the Corps’ Training and Education Command and the previous officer in charge of the transition training unit, told reporters Friday.
“I think consciously or subconsciously, we filled in that gap with what’s called negative habit transference from from the legacy vehicle,” Hall said.
“I think some of those things crept into the current training: ‘We’ve always done it this way, we have 50 years of doing it this way, the guidance isn’t clear yet because the technical manuals are updating every couple of weeks,’” he said.
As a result, the most proficient amphibious combat vehicle operators tended to be the more junior Marines, according to Hall, who noted that the group that developed the new training program was mostly made of up sergeants.
The Corps has said it would like Marines to have training simulators to help them get used to working with the amphibious combat vehicle, Marine Corps Times previously reported. But the simulator is still being developed, Venning said.
Berger acknowledged in his March testimony that the amphibious combat vehicle also had some mechanical problems, Marine Corps Times previously reported. The Marine Corps was working with BAE Systems to address these problems with the shock absorbers and with the central tire inflation system, which allows operators to adjust tire pressure as the vehicle traverses different terrain.
The amphibious assault vehicle, the older platform, was at the center of a high-profile tragedy in July 2020, when nine troops died after their vehicle sank. The Corps later determined inadequacies in training, maintenance and judgment by leaders contributed to the accident.
The Corps permanently halted deploying the older vehicle in December 2021, leaving the amphibious combat vehicle as the service’s sole amphibious platform.
The Marine Corps has now fielded 139 amphibious combat vehicles, mostly to the West Coast’s I Marine Expeditionary Force and Assault Amphibian School, according to the Marine Corps.
The hundreds of amphibious combat vehicle operators who haven’t been recertified through the transition training unit may still train on the vehicle on land or in protected waters, but not in the surf zone, according to Venning.
“Training still continues,” Venning said. “We’re still making sure Marines are proficient on the system going forward.”
Irene Loewenson is a staff reporter for Marine Corps Times. She joined Military Times as an editorial fellow in August 2022. She is a graduate of Williams College, where she was the editor-in-chief of the student newspaper.