Marines ponder upgrades for light armored vehicles.
Most of the nearly 800 LAVs in operation today have been in service since the early 1980s. They are corroding, the sensors and weapons are badly outdated and they don't have adequate communications systems to meet the demands of fast-moving operations, officials said.
"We have some decisions to make about where we are going to go in the future," said Marine Col. John J. Bryant, program manager for the LAV. "We need a plan for the future of this vehicle."
An unofficial "lessons from Operation Iraqi Freedom" report written in late April said that the "LAV community had favorable comments about the LAV. However, the concern was raised that LAVs are getting old, requiring increased maintenance. A replacement was desired for the near future."
The Marine Corps already has funded a four-year $200 million service-life extension program for more than 400 LAVs, including the development of a new thermal sight for the 25 mm gun on the newer LAV-25 model.
These upgrades were intended to extend the operational life of the LAVs until 2015. But a replacement vehicle will not emerge until at least a decade later.
"We were thinking there would [be] a replacement for the LAV sometime around 2015.... Now, it's going to be around 2024," Bryant said at a conference of the Institute for Defense and Government Advancement.
"We are cracking, we are corroding, we have components that are becoming obsolete," he said. "We have our bases right on the ocean. We drive these vehicles onto [landing craft air cushion] LCACs, zip along the water at 55 mph with salt spray coming into every crack and crevice of the vehicle. We employ them for sex months at a time, in the well deck of amphibious ships, where they are subject to salt water."
As part of the service-life extension program, vehicles will get new electronics and will be made more corrosion-proof, he said. The upgraded LAVs will begin low-rate production in late 2004, depending on how quickly the vehicles return from operations overseas, Bryant said. Metric Systems Corp. is the prime contractor for the upgrade program.
The second piece of the SLEP upgrade is all improved thermal sight system, with a second-generation forward-looking infrared sensor, now in development by the Raytheon Co. The ITSS is scheduled to begin production in 2005. The system is "critical to our ability to ID bad guys on the battlefield," Bryant said. It includes a laser rangefinder and, for the first time in the LAV, a computerized fire-control system. This technology is immensely helpful to the artillery units, he explained, became it provides 10-digit coordinates for precise targeting.
Three other LAV upgrade programs are scheduled for the 2005-2009 budget cycle: a new anti-armor system, an expeditionary fire support system and a more advanced command-and-control variant.
The current anti-tank vehicle, called the LAV-AT, is inadequate, Bryant said. Its firing cycle is too long, leaving crews vulnerable for up to two minutes while firing, it also has excessive corrosion due to design imperfections, its maintenance costs are rising, and Marines, for years, have complained about the poor performance of the Emerson 901 turret, which has been discontinued in the Army and Marine inventories.
"Our readiness rates on our anti-rank systems are going down and getting worse," said Bryant. "Maintenance costs are going up." It got so bad that Marine Expeditionary Unit commanders, said Bryant, "pretty much decided they didn't even want to take this thing out. It was more of a hassle than it was worth."
The plan is to replace the entire inventory of 95 Emerson 901 turrets with an LAV-AT turret, to be purchased from the open marker, Another option is to use the funds to buy anti-tank guided missile launchers for a portion of the LAV-25 fleet, thus allowing the Marine Corps to get rid of the LAV-AT system completely.
"We are doing tradeoff analyses and cost-benefit analyses," said Bryant. His office wants to have a new system in the tidal by 2008.
The preferred missile for the anti-tank system is the TOW 2B, he said. "We are doing R&D work to find out if we can get a universal launcher that can do TOW, as well as some other things."
For the LAV fire-support upgrade, the Marines are pursuing a so-called "expeditionary fire support system," or LAV-EFSS, which would replace the current 81 mm mortars.
This program has "caused a lot of confusion" among contractors, said Bryant, because the Marine Corps Systems Command sponsors a separate EFSS program that was not associated with the LAV. Now, "we are seeking a common materiel solution for two different requirements," he said. The LAV-EFSS is likely to be a small howitzer or mortar that can fit in the back of the V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor and would provide fire support to vertical assault forces. Bryant stressed that the EFSS would have to be smaller than the Corps' M777 towed 155 mm howitzer.
"I have range and lethality deficiencies on my current 81 mm mortar," which has a range of less than 6 km. In a light armored reconnaissance battalion, he added, "you almost have to put your mortars in direct fire range to even get them into the fight."
The Marines own 50 LAV mortars. One option would be to integrate an existing off-the-shelf weapon and fire control system. These vehicles are slated to enter service in 2009.
The command-and-control LAV upgrade will need to address the "digital divide" in the Corps today between the division-level command posts and the moving forces. Satellite communications, digital fire control systems and intelligence-collection terminals are available at the division and regiment level, with fairly static command posts. Mobile units, meanwhile, are not part of the network. "As soon as you start driving, you are off the net on all that stuff," said Bryant. "It has caused a digital divide."
In the light armored reconnaissance battalion, the commander is talking to a regiment commander or a division commander, but is not "playing in the digital environment," he added. "Right now, we have no capability to do sat-com on the move.... We have an intercom system in our vehicle that doesn't work right."
Current LAVs have HF (high frequency) radios, but they are not "dependable HF on the move." With an upgraded LAV C2, the reconnaissance battalion would have the connectivity needed to operate directly under a division commander, for example.
The goal is to upgrade all 50 LAV C2, beginning in 2008, by integrating existing radios and off-the-shelf digital C4I systems.
A trade study was scheduled to begin this summer to determine what computers to install on the vehicle and how much commonality the LAV C2 could have with the C2 variant of the Marines' new Advanced Amphibious Assault vehicle.
These near-term upgrades, however, will not be enough to sustain the LAV for 20-30 more years, until a new family of vehicles is introduced, Bryant said. Of particular concern is that the LAV technology gradually will become more outdated, compared in other vehicles that probably will be employed by future enemies, he said. "The threat that we used to be able to defeat, we can't defeat anymore.
A case in point is the Soviet BMP-3 infantry-fighting vehicle. This latest version of the BMP--with a 100 mm main gun that fires high-energy and anti-tank munitions--easily would overmatch the LAV, Bryant said.
"BMPs have come a long way. Our 25 mm round falls a bit short in performance against some of our most common threats," he said. "Our turret is more primitive than an M-60 tank. It's a hydraulic turret with almost no stabilization." An electric turret would be more desirable, he said.
In simulations, engineers have shown that the LAV could improve its capabilities drastically by up-gunning the turret and making it fully stabilized. "Users are screaming for it," said Bryant. But so far, no fun, Is have been budgeted for these upgrades.
Marine battalion commanders also are asking for survivability enhancements that would not necessarily turn the LAV into a tan1 he said. "It doesn't have to be just armor."
The Corps, however, currently has no budget for any survivability features. On the wish list are technologies in signature management--to make the vehicle less visible to enemy sensors, countermeasures (laser warning receivers, missile warning receivers), active protection and some type of lightweight armor.
Active protection potentially could defeat chemical energy rounds without adding extra weight, Bryant said. But active protection systems are viewed by most senior officers as unsafe and are unlikely to become an acceptable option.
LAV operators, meanwhile, would like to see a better drive train and suspension, he said. "As we look at adding protection, we have to improve cross-country mobility."
Another vexing problem is tires. Marines often have grumbled about the durability of the sidewalls in their tires. Most LAV tires are variants of radial truck tires, and are vulnerable to punctures. It is a simple issue, he said, "Do we need a 40,000 mile tire if the side, gall is going to get punctured before it gets to 40,000 miles?"
The Marines also are contemplating 120 mm, 81 mm or 105 mm mortars or the LAV. The Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory developed a 120 mm prototype. The Army's version of the LAV, called the Stryker, has a 120 mm mortar as well.
"We are totally open" to various options, said Bryant. "With 120 mm mortar, I am not getting an improved capability unless I go to an improved range round.... Our 81 mm at 5,900 meters has a much higher rate of fire compared to 120. Unless we improve range, we don't have much added capability."