Amidst the global coronavirus pandemic, a plethora of real and fake news reports have emerged on nature returning to urban areas as human activity has all but stopped. Dolphins in Venice, and plenty of “nature is healing” memes. Jokes aside, the Marines are actually returning to the sea.
Back to the Basics
Commandant of the Marine Corps General David Berger said that the Marine Corps’ Light Armored Reconnaissance (LAV) units are ill-prepared to confront near-peer rivals in the Pacific—namely China.
General Berger’s comments make sense. The LAV is old. It originally entered service with the Marine Corps in 1983 and was intended to quickly and cheaply augment Marine’s firepower and mobility. To that end, it has a Bushmaster 25 millimeter chain gun. While the LAV’s firepower is adequate for a variety of scenarios, armor is not.
In order to increase mobility, the original LAV-25 was equipped with simple welded steel armor that only protects against the 7.62x39mm rounds that Warsaw Pact countries would have been equipped with. In 2012, the armor was upgraded to resist 14.5 mm armor-piercing rounds.
The LAV-25 is nominally amphibious, though slow, and not equipped for ocean conditions—a glaring problem for a force that sells itself as amphibious in nature. After decades in the Middle East, the Marine Corps is trying to shift back towards its amphibious roots.
General Berger commented on this aquatic shift, saying that the Marine Corps has to “transition to a lighter footprint, more expeditionary, more in support of a littoral environment.”
General Berger told reporters that the Marine Corps will need to be able to “collect forward of itself even if offshore into the water,” with an eye towards China and the South China Sea. A difficult goal to achieve for vehicles not designed to deal with surf conditions.
Out with a Bang
In addition to the LAV-25, the Marine Corps is deciding to forgo armor and divest all its tank battalions, with an emphasis on unmanned systems, longer-range precision fire, and reconnaissance.
General Berger said that, “infantry battalions will be smaller to support naval expeditionary warfare,” and emphasized the importance of Marines being highly mobile and decentralized, while amphibious.
Tanks for Zodiacs
Rather than being attached to immobile islands, Marines will need mobile “motherships” of some sort from which to draw weapons, food, and ammunition. This strategy would favor decentralization of command (a concept the Corps champions).
By returning to its nautical heritage and axing armor, the Marine Corps surprised many, though the rationale behind the decision is solid—especially considering the Corps’ current equipment.
The LAV-25 has only limited armor, and limited amphibious capabilities. The M1A1 tips the scale close to 70 tons and is not aquatic. Not exactly a boat captain’s dream.
Regardless of the amphibious issues with the Corp’s current inventory, recent experiences in the Syrian civil war, in Libya, and elsewhere demonstrate the advantages that long-range precision strikes have over armor.
The Marine Corps is trading tanks and armor for more highly-mobile and better-survivable weapons systems with an amphibious nature. The Marines are returning to the sea.
Caleb Larson holds a Master of Public Policy degree from the Willy Brandt School of Public Policy. He lives in Berlin and writes on U.S. and Russian foreign and defense policy, German politics, and culture