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AAV splash: Marines return to amphibious roots

By Nathan L. Hanks Jr. | | May 22, 2014

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Nine assault amphibious vehicles and their crews of Marines sped, one by one, down the ramp of a Maritime Prepositioning Force ship May 15 and into the Marine Corps Support Facility Blount Island slipway adjacent to the St. John’s River,  Jacksonville, Florida, testing the operational capabilities of the AAVs.

The hulls of the AAVs were hidden in spray as each one collided with a wall of seawater.

As officials at Blount Island Command looked on intently, thick, black smoke filled the air when the AAV engines roared as each one disembarked.

This was the scene as Marines with 3rd Assault Amphibian Battalion, 1st Marine Division, Camp Pendleton, California, splashed nine prepositioned AAVs during an amphibious assault training exercise.

The launching of the AAVs, from Bobo Class Ship U.S. Naval Ship Pfc. Dewayne T. Williams, marked the first time in several years that tracks have splashed from a MPF ship, according to Col. Matthew R. Crabill, commanding officer, BIC.

“We are going back to what we traditionally do, which is perfect the art of coming from the sea,” Crabill said. “We have been engaged in Iraq and Afghanistan now for 13 years and this is part of the Marine Corps’ deliberate effort to return to our naval expeditionary roots. Rehearsing (the AAV launch) is very important and is different for each ship.”

The exercise is the first step in a program that will be executed during the next 18 months to two years where AAVs will be launched from each type of MPF ship, according to Crabill.

Crabill said the exercise tested the Marines’ and the ship crew’s capabilities.

“We want the ship’s ramp to be exactly 15 degrees,” he said. “We need at least two feet of water above the end of the ramp and the amtracks have to maintain a certain speed to clear the ship’s ramp.”

Once the launch was completed, the AAVs were piloted down the slipway to a nearby landing beach.

The evolution, which took about 10 minutes with a 45-second interval of separation between each vehicle, was successful, according to Crabill.

Crabill said the AAVs can be used in almost any contingency for carrying troops on land to transporting supplies back and forth from a ship.

Jacksonville, Florida, was the best site to conduct this type of training, he added.

“It’s the best location for us because we periodically have the ships come through here,” the commanding officer said. “We have 12 ships in the program and each ship comes here once every three years.

“We unload the entire ship and use a contractor to refurbish everything including vehicles, tanks (and) trucks, to the supplies on the ship,” he said. “We reload the ship and make sure everything is pristine and send the ship back out to sea.”

The MPF program is a fleet of 12 ships that are divided into two squadrons: one in the Pacific Ocean and the other in the Indian Ocean.

 “(The) program prepositions material around the world on ships and landward locations,” Crabill said. “What we do is support the rapid closure of Marine forces in a time of crisis, whether it is a typhoon relief, humanitarian disaster or whether the nation is calling on the Corps to go back to war.”

According to Military Sealift Command at the website, www.msc.navy.mil/PM3/, these ships carry a variety of Marine Corps equipment and supplies, including tanks, ammunition, food, water, cargo, hospital equipment, petroleum products and spare parts - ready for rapid delivery ashore when needed.

Each MPS squadron carries sufficient equipment and supplies to sustain more than 16,000 Marine Expeditionary Brigade and Navy personnel for up to 30 days, according to the website.
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