Marines: Limited AAV Operations on Water Resume As Vehicle Inspections, Unit Certifications Required in Fatal Sinking Aftermath

April 21, 2021 4:42 PM
Marines with Marine Rotational Force-Europe 21.1, Marine Forces Europe and Africa, conduct a safety of use memorandum (SOUM) on an assault amphibious vehicle in preparation for Exercise Reindeer II, Reindeer I, and Joint Viking in Setermoen, Norway, Nov. 19, 2020. US Marine Corps Photo

Amphibious assault vehicle crews at Camp Pendleton, Calif., recently put their amtracs back in the water, the first operational unit to do so after the Marine Corps lifted a suspension that has been in place since last year’s deadly mishap off Southern California.

I Marine Expeditionary Force “met all the criteria to continue and resume waterborne operations,” Capt. Andrew Wood, a Marine Corps spokesman at the Pentagon, told USNI News. “Other units are working to meet that.”

“The resumption does not authorize ship-to-shore or shore-to-ship movements,” Wood said.

The Marine Corps, in an April 9 decision, gave the green light for units that have met a series of conditions – including inspections and certifications – to conduct waterborne operations, which were halted nine months ago after eight Marines and one Navy corpsman died when an AAV sank July 30, 2020, as it returned to a Navy amphibious ship off San Clemente Island.

In the following months, amtracs were limited to land-based operations. Only the Assault Amphibian School, which is located at Camp Pendleton and trains new and returning AAV crew members, got waivers for limited operations to support military occupational specialty qualification, according to Wood. Any waivers for “operational necessity” had to get a three-star approval.

“The restriction on AAV waterborne operations was lifted Corps-wide April 9,” Wood told USNI News on Wednesday. “However, it is based on a unit’s ability to meet requisite conditions.”

Any unit operating AAVs must have performed and been certified in 18 tasks by the first general officer in their chain of command, he said. “The 18 tasks cover a variety of requirements from ensuring training and qualifications for crew and embarked personnel, personnel are properly equipped, vehicles have passed required inspections, and operations are conducted with safety boats, sea-state assessments and positive communication.”

As of April 20, “more than 350 AAVs have passed required inspections,” Wood said. As of March 4, I MEF; the Camp Lejeune, N.C.-based II MEF; Training and Education Command at Quantico, Va.; and the Amphibious Vehicle Test Branch at Camp Pendleton “are 100-percent compliant with the inspections,” Wood said. The requirements also apply to the Assault Combat Vehicle that is being tested by AVTB and will replace the 1970s-era amtracs.

Japan-based III MEF, Marine Forces Reserve and Marine Corps Logistics Command “continue to inspect. Corrective actions are ongoing to bring the remainder of the fleet into compliance,” Wood said. “No AAV will enter the water prior to compliance of the inspection criteria. Currently, ship-to-shore and shore-to-ship operations remain suspended.”

A command investigation, ordered by Marine Corps Forces Pacific, found a series of failures to follow standard procedures and practices – along the entire chain of command – and assigned various levels of blame for the mishap and deaths. Several commanders subsequently were fired. The command investigation also noted 3rd Assault Amphibian Battalion gave the AAV platoon vehicles that were in poor condition just a few months before the platoon began training with the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit and the Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group for a scheduled deployment.

The day after the mishap, the Marine Corps ordered all waterborne operations on hiatus and directed both a broad review of its AAV inventory and an in-depth inspections of every vehicle in its AAV fleet. A Naval Safety Center investigation also got underway and typically is not released to the public.

The following are the 18 tasks required to certify a unit for resumed AAV operations: 

  • All AAV/ACV crew members and embarked personnel conducting waterborne operations must possess current Marine Corps water survival qualification.
  • All AAV/ACV crew members and embarked personnel must qualify in the Submerged Vehicle Egress Trainer (SVET) with the waterborne egress capability (WEC). No waivers to qualification. O-6 commanders may authorize temporary waivers to unique travelers (recon, trap recovery, etc.) provided they are SVET or Modular Amphibious Egress Trainer (MAET) and water survival qualification complete.
  • Ensure AAV/ACV crews meet training and readiness standards by billet to train with embarked personnel in waterborne operations.
  • All AAV/ACV crew members and embarked personnel must complete integrated training which includes at a minimum interoperability and safety training between AAV/ACV crews and embarking personnel. O-6 commanders may authorize temporary waivers to unique travelers (recon, trap recovery, etc.) provided they are SVET or MAET and water survival qualification complete.
  • All AAV/ACV crew members and embarked personnel must complete evacuation procedures and emergency egress procedures drills on both land and water.
  • All AAV/ACV crew members must pass a common knowledge examination developed by the Assault Amphibian School (AAS) prior to resuming/conducting water operations.
  • All AAV/ACV personnel returning to the AA community from b-billets or other assignments must be tested and certified on their knowledge of operational and safety procedures in accordance with the respective training and readiness standards.
  • Ensure completion of risk management records prior to all operations.
  • In coordination with Marine Corps Safety Division, develop and implement a mishap lessons learned program through the unit safety officer.
  • Ensure all AAVs are compliant with applicable criteria. AAVs that exceed the mandated thresholds will not resume water operations until they are corrected, re-inspected, and meet those thresholds.
  • Waterborne operations safety architecture requirements:
    Employ safety boats at all times for waterborne operations.
    Unloaded AAVs and ACVs are no longer authorized to act as a safety boat.
    One safety boat for five or less AAVs/ACVs and two safety boats for six or more AAVs/ACVs.
    At a minimum, one unloaded AAV or ACV must be provided to each wave as a bump / recovery vehicle to receive personnel in the event of an emergency.
    Positive communications established between safety boats, AA unit and ship.
  • All AAV/ACV crew members and embarked personnel will be equipped with and trained in the use of an AAV/ACV waterborne egress capability (WEC) that includes a supplemental emergency breathing device (SEBD).
  • Confirm the communication procedures used during emergencies prior to conducting waterborne operations with all participating units.
  • Conduct sea state assessment when operating without U.S. Navy amphibious shipping.
  • Ensure all operations with U.S. Navy amphibious shipping are conducted in accordance with appropriate directives. (Only applies to ship-to-shore and shore-to-ship movements.)
  • Assess water integrity prior to operations via splash team checklist.
  • Provide waterproofed copy of AA common standard operating procedure (SOP) provided to every AAV/ACV.
  • Provide waterproofed copy of embarked troop brief provided to every AAV/ACV.
Gidget Fuentes

Gidget Fuentes

Gidget Fuentes is a freelance writer based in San Diego, Calif. She has spent more than 20 years reporting extensively on the Marine Corps and the Navy, including West Coast commands and Pacific regional issues.

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