This is part III in a four-part series on AAVs. You can read part I here. You can read part II here

Even with the Amphibious Combat Vehicle rolling out, the question that always seems to come up is: what does the future of war look like? Will it involve or even need a vehicle like this? That same question arose after World War II, and it was answered in 1950 when Marines conducted an amphibious landing in Korea. Marine amphibious vehicles were again used, to a lesser degree, in Vietnam. AAVs were even used to cross the Tigris River into Baghdad in 2003, causing many of the Marines to question the vehicle’s reliability in the water after the punishment suffered during the invasion.

Now, looking ahead, it seems less and less likely that there be another large-scale amphibious landing on an adversarial beach, especially one in which ACVs will be the first wave. In his address at the Naval War College in 2009, then-Secretary of Defense Gates noted: 

“I have also directed the QDR [Quadrennial Defense Review] team to be realistic about the scenarios where direct U.S. military actions would be needed – so we can better gauge our requirements. One of those that will be examined closely is the need for a new capability to get large numbers of troops from ship to shore — in other words, the capability provided by the Marine Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle […] But we have to take a hard look at where it would be necessary or sensible to launch another major amphibious action again. In the 21st century, how much amphibious capability do we need?”

While the Marine Corps sees the Amphibious Combat Vehicle as the next generation of vehicles to land them on beaches, traverse rivers, lakes, and littorals, there is the if such a need will ever arise. In developing the EFV, it seemed as though the Marine Corps was looking backward more than forward, determined to create a high-water-speed amphibious vehicle that could itself assault a beach supported by Naval fire and air support.

Marines with Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, navigate the water before loading their Assault Amphibious Vehicle onto the USS New York, March 29, 2012.

With that scenario looking less likely in the 21st century, the ACV seems almost more of a land vehicle with amphibious capabilities. It keeps the signature mission of the Marine Corps intact while nodding at a future of war that will probably not require large-scale amphibious assaults. In the time of funding wars between the branches and with doubts over the existence of an amphibious force like the Marines, the ACV keeps the Marine Corps relevant and their budget renewable. 

Thought leaders in predicting future wars believe that:

“Future conflicts will likely place a premium on being able to operate at range. Staying outside adversaries’ missile ranges and basing from afar both could be important factors, and the U.S. military should invest in these capabilities. All branches of the military will need to enhance their information warfare capabilities, especially for gray-zone operations. Because of the trend toward greater use of artificial intelligence, the military will need to invest in automation.”