The US Marine Corps is the tip of America's spear—a fast-moving, flexible, forward operating force geared to take and hold territory quickly and efficiently. This flexibility is exemplified in the USMC's favourite armoured troop carrier: the eight-wheeled, tank-hunting LAV-AT. The only thing it can't do is fly.
Built by General Dynamics, the LAV (Light Armoured Vehicle) has been a workhorse for the USMC since its introduction in 1983. Very similar to the US Army's Stryker ICV and based on Canada's non amphibious LAV III, the all-terrain, all-weather amphibious vehicle is designed to provide mobile anti-armour support to infantry and recon forces as well as defeat armoured targets—both tanks and fortified enemy positions—at long range.
To do so, the LAV-AT (anti-tank variant) is currently equipped with a pop-up M901 Emerson turret featuring FLIR and night vision capabilities. It fires two BGM-71 TOW (Tube-launched, Optically-tracked, Wire guided) anti-armour missiles, then drops back down into the vehicle's body for reloading. Another 14 rounds are stored on-board as are 800 rounds for the roof-mounted 7.62 machine gun and 8 extra smoke grenades. The £750,000 LAV-AT runs on a 275 hp Detroit Diesel engine, offers all-time 4WD with selectable 8WD, and can be converted for amphibious use in just under three minutes.
"The LAV-AT modernisation program is designed to improve mission effectiveness and supportability for Marines," Col. Mark Brinkman, LAV program manager, told Defence Talk. "They can operate on land and in water, carry communications equipment and provide a weapons platform. The LAV isn't just part of a combined arms force—it is one."
But after nearly three decades of service, these armoured platforms are getting a bit long in the tooth, specifically their ageing Emerson Turrets. That's why the USMC is currently testing a number of prototype upgrades for the much-lauded fighting vehicles including the new anti-tank weapon system (ATWS) which fires both a new generation of M41 Saber missiles using the upgraded Modified Improved Target Acquisition System (MITAS). This new acquisition system offers better FLIR capabilities, improved far target identification, and the ability to spot and track moving targets.
"The LAV has proved its worth since initial fielding in 1983," Brinkman said. "The Marine Corps is committed to ensuring this platform remains viable until at least 2035."
To that end, the USMC is currently testing the proposed upgrades at Camp Pendleton's testing facility. Barring any development issues, the platform will undergo operational assessment in late 2014 and hopefully go into production on the Marine Corp's 114 LAV-ATs by September 2015. [Defence Talk - Defense Industry Daily - FAS - Wiki 1, 2]