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Photo Information

U.S. Marines assigned to the 3d Assault Amphibian Battalion, 1st Marine Division, conduct waterborne training with an Amphibious Combat Vehicle (ACV) traveling from shore to amphibious transport dock ship USS Anchorage (LPD 23) at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Willow Marshall)

Photo by Lance Cpl. Willow Marshall

NETT Positive: Training the Next Generation for the ACV Era

27 Nov 2023 | By Johannes Schmidt, MCSC Office of Public Affairs and Communication PEO Land Systems

Since its 1775 establishment by the Continental Congress, the Marine Corps has been a force in transition. Initially serving as ship guards alongside the fledgling revolutionary Navy, Marines have left an indelible mark on our nation's history-- transforming into a versatile, expeditionary fighting force and distinguishing themselves in battles such as Iwo Jima, Guadalcanal, and Fallujah.

Four years into Force Design’s strategic modernization plan, the Corps is once again reimagining its role in joint force interoperability and expeditionary warfare, with eyes set firmly on the global littorals. A pivotal element in this transformation is Program Manager Advanced Amphibious Assault’s, or PM AAA, New Equipment Training Team, or NETT, whose role has become increasingly vital in equipping Marines with the skills and knowledge required for these new operational demands.

One of the most dynamic new tools in the Corps’ toolbox is the Amphibious Combat Vehicle, or ACV. Fielded by Program Executive Officer Land Systems, the ACV is the Corps' next-generation vehicle designed for the swift and secure transport of Marines from ships to shore along island chains like those found in the South China Sea. This bleeding-edge family of vehicles includes personnel, command and control, recovery, and 30-mm gun variants, and stands to replace the Corps’ aging Assault Amphibious Vehicle—a staple of amphibious operations since it was first fielded in 1972.

Based on lessons from Iraq and Afghanistan, the ACV is a major advancement. Staff Sgt. Latham Faver, NETT Course Operator

As Staff Sgt. Latham Faver, NETT Course operator, recently stated, "Based on lessons from Iraq and Afghanistan, the ACV is a major advancement. With its V-shaped hull and armored plating, enhanced mobility, and stabilized weapons, it far surpasses previous models in survivability, lethality, and communication."

In today’s era of great power competition, ensuring the warfighter is equipped with the most advanced tools and training is essential to keep pace with our stated adversaries. As Program Executive Officer Land Systems Stephen Bowdren recently noted, “The strategic rationale behind our approach is clear: equipping our forces with the capabilities to effectively engage in this highly challenging theater ensures that we have the necessary tools to respond to crises, conflicts, and responsibilities wherever they may arise worldwide."

Although major programmatic changes are often met with apprehension, the NETT is playing a key role in this evolution, guiding Marines through the significant shift from the tracked AAV to the more advanced, wheel-based ACV platform—ensuring a smooth and effective transition in operational capabilities with a focus on safety and operational proficiency.

According to Erik Benitez, director of the NETT for PM AAA, the NETT’s primary role is to bridge the gap between the Assault Amphibious Vehicle, or AAV, and the ACV by providing specialized licensing and initial training to operators and maintainers. NETT’s operator new equipment training, or OPNET, approach focuses singularly on the ACV, allowing Marines to develop a deeper, more concentrated expertise in this specific platform.

“The transition to the ACV demands rigorous training, as it's not just about mastering new hardware but adapting to a fundamentally different operational approach, especially in challenging environments like the surf zone. Our training emphasizes precision, safety, and quick decision-making, crucial for the ACV's more nuanced and tactical employment in amphibious operations. We operate with the understanding that safety must be a key pillar of our training efforts,” he said.

Considering recent safety concerns surrounding the ACV, safety has been a paramount focus for Benitez’s team. Although the ACV's technology exceeds that of the AAV in aspects like force protection and safety features-- such as enhanced armor and individual blast-attenuating seats—it demands more repetitions in the driver’s station to build confidence and proficiency—a concern the NETT is acutely aware of.

Benitez notes, “While the AAV was a blunt instrument, straightforward in its operation, the ACV is more akin to a surgical tool, requiring precise navigation and careful attention to elements like wave angles and ocean behavior in the surf zone. This heightened need for precision and awareness in operating the ACV underscores the importance of the specialized training and safety measures we've implemented.”

But ACV operators aren’t the only ones who enjoy comprehensive training; maintainers also undergo rigorous training programs designed to ensure they are fully equipped to handle the technical complexities and maintenance demands of the advanced vehicle system.

According to Gunnery Sgt. Rouch, Field Level Maintenance New Equipment Training Team course chief, "The maintainer's role is crucial in ensuring operational vehicles for the Fleet Marine Force. We emphasize in our courses that every Marine or civilian acts as a safety officer. We operate strictly by the book, taking all safety precautions and thoroughly addressing every caution and warning sign to maintain the highest standards of safety in training and operations."

At the end of the day, practice makes perfect, as evidenced by a recent intensive training exercise that showcases the NETT's commitment to operational excellence. In just six weeks, 90 students successfully and safely completed approximately 300 surf transits—a testament to the rigorous and comprehensive training regimen that the NETT enforces. This challenging program not only honed the skills of the participants but also underscored the importance of practical, hands-on experience in mastering the complexities of the ACV in demanding amphibious environments.

While many former “trackers” still look back fondly on their AAV days, those who spend time around the ACV recognize its advantages. Reflecting on his own deployment experiences in Afghanistan, Toby Cook, NETT OPNET team lead noted, "The ACV is leaps and bounds superior to its predecessors, especially in terms of survivability and lethality. That’s something I’ve come to understand first-hand.”

Ultimately, as the Corps continues to modernize with the fielding of the ACV, the NETT stands as a linchpin in this evolution. Through rigorous training and an unwavering focus on safety, the NETT plays a pivotal role in equipping Marines to navigate the complexities of modern warfare safely and effectively. As the Corps returns to the global littorals, the ACV's enhanced capabilities in survivability, lethality, and communication—coupled with NETT's specialized training-- ensure that Marines are well-prepared to meet evolving global challenges while prioritizing their safety. This not only safeguards the Corps’ legacy, but also secures its future.

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