For a good few decades since WWII, the primary landing vehicle in most armed forces across the globe is the form of Land Crafts, of various designations, LCM (Landing Craft Mechanised), LCI (Landing Craft Infantry), LCA (Landing Craft Assault). These flat bottomed, ramp bowed boats allows run-ups into beaches and as mentioned earlier, depending on the type, deploy troops and some tanks onto the beach head for amphibious assaults. However, the lack of armour, firepower and the high profile of these crafts proved to be easy targets for artillery units on the beach, and the lowering of the front ramp became a death trap for disembarking troops, a la Saving Private Ryan.
This led to the development of the LVT-1, Landing Vehicle Tracked, which first came into service in 1943. The tracked armoured crafts swims its way onto shore and up into the beach head. The REAR ramp allows troops to get out under the cover of its host vehicle, some of which are armed with 37mm gun , or 75mm howitzer. The success of these LVT in WWII saw them in combat again in the Korean War, where the last massive amphibious operation took place, and limited use in the French Indochina War.
The modern form of the LVT comes in the shape of LVTP-5 (Landing Vehicle, Tracked, Personnel), a gigantic 37 tonnes box like vehicle which saw combat in Vietnam, and capable of 34 troops, and today, the LVT has evolved into the AAV-7 (Amphibious Assault Vehicle), currently in service with the US Marines, and at least twelve other international users. The geographical feature of South East Asia (SEA), with islands, beaches and swamps make excellent playground for these AAVs and LVTs, evident in Vietnam and many other US-led joint exercises, eg CARAT.
One of the largest Marine Corp in the region, at 36,000 troops, the Royal Thai Marine Corps (RTMC) once operated the LVT-4 before changing them out for the AAVP-7A1,AAVR-7A1 (Recovery) ,AAVC-7A1 (Command). Currently, the RTMC has 36 of AAVP in service, also the biggest LVT/AAVP force in the region.
The RTMC deploys the AAVP out from the Royal Thai Navy’s HTMS Angthong, based on the Singapore’s Endurance-Class ‘LST’, together with their BTR-3 8×8, although the latter is often seen transported on a landing craft.
The second largest archipelago operated four LVTP-5 and LVTP-6 (with 105mm howitzer) for decades since 1970s, and recently sport the urban splinter camouflage of white grey and blue.
Renewed interest of the military from the new President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III, tensions with China over South China Sea territorial claims and new defence relations with South Korea saw the Philippines Marines Corp (PMC) ordering 8 KAAV-7A1 from the Republic to booster sea-land capabilities. Prior, US Marines’ AAVPs were already being operated by PMC crew during exercises.
The most established Marine Corp in SEA, Korps Marinir , was set up in 1945 just months after the end of WWII. They operate a multitude of Soviet, French and American amphibious armoured vehicles, from the PTS, to the standard PT-76 and BTR-50. Similarly with the Philippines, Indonesia has benefitted with newfound S.Korean defence ties, T-50s light attack jets, refurbished U 209 Cakra-class subs and now, 10 LVTP-7A1 donated by the South Koreans. They still sport the Korean camouflage in the recent RIMPAC 2014 exercises, where they operated out from the LPD KRI Banda Aceh.
South East Asia’s quest for new amphibious ships , and interest in far flung islands will see further developments of these sea-land transports in tandem with their ‘mothership’. US Marines’ hundreds of surplus AAVPs might see new homes once the SEA Sea-Land Corps established their footing and ease in operating the armoured landing craft. Chinese pressure in the region might catalyse amphibious development, with Japan already testing out AAVPs and potential order for 52 units. Its time to get these tanks salty.