Why Amphibious Assault Vehicles are Banned from Swimming

Why Amphibious Assault Vehicles are Banned from Swimming

The commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps has concluded that AAVs aren’t safe in the water. 


The U.S. Marine Corps’ Cold War-era Amphibious Assault Vehicles are suspended from operations on water and limited to land-only activity, according to a U.S. Marine Corps press statement.

The statement states that  “the Marine Corps stands by the efficacy of the recommendations that came from the multiple investigations into the AAV mishap from the summer of 2020, and with those recommendations implemented and sustained, the AAV is a safe and effective vehicle for amphibious operations.” 

Last summer, an AAV sank during a routine training exercise off the California coast, killing nine people. An investigation into the cause of the disaster attributed a lack of adequate training, maintenance mistakes, and overwork as leading causes for the sinking. 

“That said, given the current state of the amphibious vehicle program (the program that manages both AAVs and ACVs), the Commandant of the Marine Corps has decided the AAV will no longer serve as part of regularly scheduled deployments or train in the water during military exercises,” the statement reads, adding “AAVs will only return to operating in the water if needed for crisis response.” 

Aged Amphibious Armor 

The Marine Corps’ aging Amphibious Assault Vehicles are some of the oldest equipment in Marine Corps inventories and have been in service for nearly half a century. And while it won’t swim anytime soon, it will continue to operate on land in cases of emergency or absolute necessity. 

The Marine Corps explained that “the AAV will continue to operate on land; 76% of its tasks are land-based. In doing so, we reserve the capability to reverse this decision should the need arise.” 

Amphibious Combat Vehicle 

The U.S. Marine Corps selected an AAV replacement in 2018, the Amphibious Combat Vehicle. The ACV lacks treads, unlike the legacy AAV, opting instead for a 4x4 wheeled drive. Though the newer ACV does offer some advantages over the AAV, particularly speed over land, the platform has sustained criticism for its speed on water which is similar to the older AAV. But they haven’t been problem-free.   

The U.S. Marine Corps statement adds that “ACVs were temporarily suspended from open ocean waterborne operations as we worked to solve an issue that was identified with the towing mechanism. We expect that issue to be resolved soon and for ACVs to return to the water early in the New Year.” 

It is perhaps little surprise that after nearly fifty years of service, the Amphibious Assault Vehicle is ready for a quiet retirement. And given the AAV’s more recent mishap, it is not a moment too soon. 

Caleb Larson is a multimedia journalist and defense writer with the National Interest. A graduate of UCLA, he also holds a Master of Public Policy and lives in Berlin. He covers the intersection of conflict, security, and technology, focusing on American foreign policy, European security, and German society for both print and radio. Follow him on Twitter @calebmlarson 

Image: Reuters