Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to ride in (and even occasionally drive) quite a few different armored vehicles. For the most part, riding in one is pretty much like another. Loud, fairly uncomfortable, and rather bumpy. One that I’ve always had a hankering for, but never achieved, was the USMC’s AAV-7A1 Amtrac.
The AAV-7 family has been in service since the early 1970s, and is descended from a series of amphibious tractors, or Landing Vehicle Tracked from World War II. They bring the unique capability of landing assault forces ashore from the sea. While several Army armored vehicles, such as the M113 were technically amphibious, they were only capable of swimming in calm waters such as lakes or slow moving rivers. Amtracs, on the other hand, are quite comfortable swimming in open water, and can handle surf as high as eight feet.
From the earliest days of armored infantry, the Army has always tried to tie one vehicle to one rifle squad.* For instance, in World War II, an Armored Infantry squad would all be mounted on one M3 halftrack. Similarly, the later M113 equipped units would have one rifle squad tied to one carrier.
Space is always at a premium on amphibious shipping. That is, there is never enough room for all the things the Marine commander embarked wants to carry. Since the capacity of an armored vehicle increases quite a bit for relatively modest increases in size, the Marines have always had a somewhat different philosophy toward how their troop units integrate with their armored personnel carriers. Rifle companies and battalions don’t own their own carriers. Instead, the amtrac battalion belongs to the division, who parcels out companies and platoons as needed to support the various infantry units.
Whereas an Army M113 platoon would have 4 carriers, and the three rifle squads of the platoon, a Marine amtrac platoon has 12 carriers, and their crews, but no infantry troops of their own.
Each AAV-7, in addition to its crew, can carry 18 Marines. Given that Marine rifle squads have 13 men, that means some creative task organization goes into loading each AAV. Each AAV has a driver, and a vehicle commander. The commander’s station also has a cupola armed with a .50cal machine gun and a Mk19 40mm automatic grenade launcher. There is a third topside hatch for the troop commander as well.
In addition to the basic carrier, there are other versions built on the same basic hull, including a recovery vehicle version and a commanders version.
The fleet of vehicles has been upgraded over the years. Interestingly, the last round of upgrades saw much of its suspension and powertrain replaced with Bradley components.
The Marines have a fleet of about 1300 AAVs, in two active and one reserve battalions, as well as prepositioned in various theaters and war reserves. The AAV-7 is also in service with South Korea, Brazil, Italy, Taiwan, Chile, Spain, Thailand, Venezuela, and others. Argentina used 20 of its AAV-7s in the initial assault landings in the 1982 Falklands War, but they returned to Argentina before the British counterattack.
The AAV-7 was to have been replaced in Marine service by the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle beginning in 2013, but the cancellation of that program has left the Marines looking for a new, cheaper replacement, and struggling to keep the AAV-7 fleet operational for some time to come.
*With a few very minor exceptions that resulted in only very limited production.