With a focus on the competitive Pacific theater, the U.S. Marine Corps is rapidly developing a new fleet of lightweight Advanced Reconnaissance Vehicles (ARV). These armored platforms are capable of swimming miles through the ocean from ship to shore before conducting forward scouting and surveillance missions.
The new vehicle is clearly intended to support, or even lead, an amphibious attack by sharing information in real-time with nearby unmanned systems to monitor an enemy coastline, identify enemy fortifications and possible points of attack, and operate onshore to support land operations. An ability to support land incursion would be significant, as the service’s new Amphibious Combat Vehicle (ACV) is engineered for a deeper, more lethal penetrating land attack when compared to the now-retiring Amphibious Assault Vehicle (AAV).
“The design of the ARV we’ve followed the Marine Corps requirements. We think we are highly compliant in meeting all of their key requirements. The lightweight aspect of our vehicle is something we think is suited for a future reconnaissance mission. That is where the customer is,” said Phil Skuta, the director of strategy and business development U.S. Marine Corps and Navy, General Dynamics Land Systems (GDLS).
Although the U.S. Marine Corps is studying the possibility of adapting the larger Amphibious Combat Vehicle for reconnaissance missions, the arrival of an ARV is entirely consistent with the service’s tactical and strategic plans articulated by the Force Design 2030 document. The document calls for the complete removal of “difficult to deploy” platforms such as Abrams tanks and a reduction in heavy weapons systems. The plan aims to prepare the U.S. Marine Corps for a maritime amphibious warfare future environment in the Pacific. This kind of combat environment requires a rapid ship-to-shore transit ability as part of a fast-evolving multi-domain air, surface, and land fight. To prevail in the Pacific, a force needs to be distributed, fast, and armed with lethal long-range weapons.
“The Marine Corps must be able to fight at sea, from the sea, and from the land to the sea; operate and persist within range of adversary long-range fires; maneuver across the seaward and landward portions of complex littorals; and sense, shoot, and sustain while combining the physical and information domains to achieve desired outcomes,” Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger wrote in the Force Design 2030 document.
General Dynamics Land Systems and Textron are both now building prototype ARVs for the U.S. Marine Corps to evaluate and assess, in anticipation of a possible move into full production next year. While the ultimate fate of the vehicle has yet to be determined, builders of the ARV believe the new amphibious vehicle could perform critical missions a larger vehicle could not. For instance, the vehicle is much lighter than an ACV, meaning as many as four ARVs can fit onto transport platforms such as a Landing Craft Air Cushion or new Ship-to-Shore-Connector. More forward surveillance nodes can enable a force designed to be dispersed, supported by unmanned systems, and connected by secure long-range networks.
“The ARV can be a small mobile platform as part of several platforms for multi-domain reconnaissance capability. It can function as a node within part of a larger reconnaissance network. We are designing the ARV to connect with surface vessels, ships, loitering munitions and a national and joint force to bring information in and disseminate it to make tactical decisions,” Skuta said.
The ARV closely aligns with other aspects of the evolving force structure of the U.S. Marine Corps which is also building a Light Amphibious Warship for rapid “island hopping” missions to transport marines, weapons, and other critical systems such as drones, missiles, and helicopters. The concept, as articulated in Force Design 2030, is to increase the use of drones and build a more agile yet highly lethal force.
“The infrastructure that is ashore in the Pacific demands a lightweight small-profile vehicle,” Skuta explained.
Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Master's Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.
Image: U.S. Navy/Flickr.