Armor: Marine LAVs Go Airborne


November 20, 2018: American airborne troops are again being equipped with an armored vehicle. From the 1960s to 1996 airborne divisions had Sheridan 25 ton light tanks, which saw combat in Vietnam, Panama and Kuwait. In the 1990s these were replaced with armored hummers for recon duty. Noting, over the last decade, that Russian and Chinese airborne units are having success with wheeled armored vehicles the U.S. Army is obtaining from the Marines some LAV (Light Armored Vehicle) 25A2 8x8 vehicles. These are armed with a 25mm autocannon (200 rounds a minute, 3,000 meter range) and two 7.62mm machine-guns. In addition to the three-man crew (driver, gunner and commander) there is room for six troops in the back. At 13.4 tons the LAV 25 is light enough to be air dropped. LAV is amphibious and has a top road speed of 100 kilometers an hour. Electronics include two thermal sights, laser range finder and GPS navigation system. LAV can also be equipped with TOW ATGMs (anti-tank guided missiles) although the airborne division already has these operating from hummers in addition to the lighter Javelin ATGM. The major advantage of the LAV is that the Marines have been using it successfully since the 1980s and it was that achievement which led the army to adopt the heavier Stryker wheeled vehicles in 1999. The airborne division needed something lighter and the LAV 25 was available and the marines trained airborne troops on how to use it.

The Sheridan “airborne tank” was a promising design that had a lot of problems. It was armed with a troublesome 152mm gun that fired caseless HE (high-explosive) rounds as well as Shillelagh ATGM with a range of 3,000 meters. The 152mm HE shell was useful but because of the crude guidance system and other technical problems the Shillelagh never really became useful. Ultimately it was the conventional HE rounds that were most often used and 30 could be carried. Sheridan was amphibious but during combat airdrops, up to 20 percent of vehicles did not survive the drop. By the 1990s Sheridan had thermal sights, better armor and a reputation of a reliability as a recon or infantry support vehicle. The ATGM was rarely used in combat and the Sheridan itself turned out to be less effective than new (1980s) IFV (Infantry Fighting Vehicle designs like the M2 Bradley. The only thing that really kept the Sheridan around was it was light enough to airdrop.

In the late 1990s the army adopted Stryker, a heavier 8z8 wheeled armored vehicles similar to the LAV. Both LAV and Stryker were based on the Swiss Piranha vehicle that showed up in 1972. Since then thousands of Piranha vehicles (including derivatives and variants) have been built. The Piranha design and technology is found in numerous other similar vehicles, like the Canadian LAV the American marines adopted and Stryker. The Swiss manufacturer is now owned by an American firm. The army did not adopt a Stryker variant for their airborne vehicle because the Stryker design was too heavy while the LAV was not.


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