The US Marines’ M1 Abrams AEV/ABVs
Most main battle tanks have derivative Armored Engineering Vehicle variants. They sacrifice the main gun in order to provide powerful support for combat engineering tasks under fire, while keeping up with a mechanized brigade in any terrain. The Leopard 2, for instance, has its AEV-3 Kodiak, which has recently been developed and sold to Switzerland, the Netherlands, and Sweden.
The US Army’s Grizzly variant of America’s M1 Abrams tank was specifically designed to breach complex obstacles including mines, berms, wire, rubble, and tank-ditches, in order to keep a mechanized force moving through prepared opposition. Unfortunately, the Grizzly assault breacher was canceled in 2001, as part of a larger restructuring of the US Army’s program portfolio. The US Marines still believed they had a need for the Grizzly’s capability, however, given their core mission of forcible entry from the sea. Marine Corps Systems Command granted Milestone B approval for their similar “Assault Breacher Vehicles” in July 2003, and these AEVs were expected to achieve full operational capability in FY 2007. It took a while, but the machines have now performed their first major combat mission…
As it happened, the production order for operational ABVs didn’t begin until November 2007. The tank chassis are used Army M1s that are overhauled by Anniston Army Deport, but the turret is fabricated and added in-house by civilians working for the Pentagon. USMC ABV project officer J.F. Augustine says that this unusual arrangement came about because:
“By running this as a government integration, a government build, we saved taxpayers millions of dollars. ANAD has the expertise to refurbish M1A1 hulls for our purposes, then grew the capability to fabricate the turret and do the final assembly.”
Related infrastructure projects are already underway.
Feb 5/10: Aviation Week Ares offers an update on the ABV’s progress:
“There are five ABVs in Afghanistan, and the Marines plan to field 52 by 2012, of which 34 have been produced. In a twist on the normal development process, the Army is clamoring for what the Marines are building. “The Army loves them. They’re buying 187,” says J.F. Augustine of Marine Corps Systems Command. “They’ve already started their buy,” with seven built for the Army already.”
At the same time, the article notes that the Miclic line charges have failed to detonate on command. In those cases, someone has had to leave the ABV, walk through an uncleared area, and manually prime the explosive.
Dec 3/09: The ABV plays a key role in Operation Cobra’s Anger, as the US Marines assault the Taliban stronghold in Now Zad, Helmland province, Afghanistan. The Taliban was expected to have roadside bombs planted all around Now Zad, so ABVs led the way by detonating numerous 1,750 pound line charges of C4 explosive on the route in.
Second Combat Engineer Battalion ABV vehicle commander Sgt. Jeremy A. Kinsey said that operational tactics and procedures are still being developed, but added that the vehicle had an unexpected effect, beyond removing land mines:
“There was no guidebook for this vehicle. We’ve had to develop our own tactics and procedures. I think that’s awesome. It’s very rewarding. This project is kind of like our baby… We heard that the Taliban’s radio communication said, ‘get out, because the big boom is coming… I’d have to say; just the intimidation factor is enough to make anyone run. I know I wouldn’t want 1,750 pounds of C4 blowing up were I’m at.”
The Marines took Now Zad, meeting much less resistance than they had expected.
Nov 10/08: Anniston Army Deport begins shipping the first plow-equipped tank to the Marines as part of that initial 28-vehicle order.