If you could build the ultimate rig, would it have four-wheel drive? How about eight-wheel drive? Four-wheel steering? Would it be waterproofed, or better yet, amphibious? Would you power it with a torquey turbodiesel engine and make the drivetrain bulletproof? Heck, while you are at it, make the whole thing bulletproof. Oftentimes we get to think of ways to improve the experience of wheeling, and with projects like the Mega Titan and Teal-J, we get to illustrate our ideas on how to build the most capable vehicles we think are possible-and then someone just has to trump us. Sometimes it is a reader, sometimes it is another magazine, and sometimes it is Uncle Sam.
Last spring, we were invited out to the United States Marine Corps' Camp Lejeune in North Carolina to participate in live fire exercises and recovery operations with the 2nd LAR (Light Armored Reconnaissance) Battalion, C Company, as they prepared for their current deployment to Iraq. When we found out that we would be able to get up close and personal with some serious Marine Corps machinery, we got on the first flight out that we could find. After all, a huge portion of our readers are in the military, and what better way to thank you for your service and readership than to share your experiences? Besides, who doesn't like military metal?
Camp Lejeune encompasses 156,000 acres of prime North Carolina real estate near Jacksonville, and is the home for several Marine commands, as well as one Naval command. Its primary mission is to maintain combat-ready units for expeditionary deployment. After some cryptic directions, we managed to pilot our rental through a hole in the forest and down a dirt road to the correct gun range, where we met up with C Company and their impressive fleet of LAV-25s.
The Marine Corps LAV-25 is an eight-wheeled, light armor vehicle that projects power through its turret-mounted 25mm M242 Bushmaster chain gun. Cool. After a brief tour of the facilities, we got down to business with the Marines in charge of maintaining the fleet and received hands-on introduction to the LAV-R (recovery) variant, just one of the several variants in this company, including -25 (standard), -C2 (command and control), -AT (anti-tank), -M (mortar) and -L (logistics).
Originally built by General Dynamics back in the mid-'80s, the eight-wheeled LAV series of vehicles have been upgraded several times to best serve its current role of all-weather, all-terrain strategic and tactical mobility. They can be delivered anywhere in the world by ships, military cargo planes, as well as moved by CH-53E helicopters. Each LAV is powered by a two-stroke 318ci Detroit Diesel 6V53T V-6 with 225 hp and 627 lb-ft of torque, backed by a five-speed Allison MT653DR transmission. Depending on variant, it can reach speeds of nearly 70 mph on hard surfaces or just over 6 mph in nonsurf bodies of water, such as lakes or streams. A maximum range of just over 400 miles is capable with its 71 gallons of JP-8 diesel fuel-not bad for a 28,000-pound vehicle.
LAVs are suspended by independent suspensions, featuring struts for the front four wheels and torsion bars for the rear four. Typically, LAVs run in four-wheel drive, but can be switched in to eight-wheel drive on the fly through a single-speed Rockwell transfer case. Low range is accomplished through a granny-low first gear. The LAV has a differential gear ratio of 2.3:1 and a set of planetary hubs with a 3.79:1 ratio. With 38-inch-tall 325/85 R16 Michelin XMLs on steel bead-locked wheels, the LAV has over a foot and a half of ground clearance and can conquer just about any terrain. Steering is power-assisted, as are the massive drum brakes.
The main weapon system of the LAV-25 is an M242 25mm Bushmaster chain gun, mounted on a gyroscopically stabilized, hydraulically operated turret with mechanical backup. The turret also holds a pintle-mounted M240G 7.62 fully automatic machine gun as well as smoke grenades.
When filled with the M792 HEI-T (High Explosive Incendiary Tracer) exploding rounds, the 25mm gun is good for a 3,000-meter range with a kill radius of 5 meters. With the tungsten alloy-tipped M791 APDS-T (Armor Piercing Discarding Sabot-Tracer) armor-piercing rounds, the Bushmaster has a range of 2,200 meters and can penetrate up to 2 inches of armor.
We were able to ride in the back of the LAV-25 during target qualifications, and let us tell you, when that big gun goes off, you feel it. The shockwave is strong enough to seemingly take an extra breath for you. It is an amazing piece of weaponry, and seeing the damage it can inflict, we wouldn't want to be anywhere near what the LAV-25 has in its sights. Watching the live fire exercises at night was another treat provided by the Marine Corps. As the teams practiced their night firing, we watched as tracer rounds flew down the range, eventually tumbling skyward as they made direct hit after direct hit. We took some Quicktime movies from our digital camera, and you can find them on www.fourwheeler.com.
Each LAV-25 carries a crew of three: driver, gunner, and vehicle commander, or VC for short. The passenger compartment has accommodations for six Scouts, but typically only four are carried. The VC sits on top of the turret on the right, gunner sits in the turret to the left while the driver is up front.
Smoother and faster than you might think, our LAV-25 was able to charge down tank trails with ease, the LAV-25 feels much lighter than it is and soaks up all but the biggest trail imperfections. It is also amazingly maneuverable, sporting an impressive 51-foot turning radius (for reference, a Jeep Wrangler Unlimited does it in 41 feet, a Dodge Power Wagon in 49-feet). LAVs are designed to cross a trench 81 inches wide, climb a 60-percent grade or traverse a 30-percent slope. In the event of a stuck, they have 15,000-pound winches at the ready.
With credentials like that, it took quite a bit of effort to get an LAV-25 stuck so that C Company could show us their recovery techniques and recovery gear in action. Fortunately, two LAV-25s were able to free themselves without the use of the LAV-R. As much fun as we had taking the LAV-25s out in the field to experience their capabilities, we didn't have a better time than when we were able break bread with the Marines. Whether it was MREs (worlds improved over the surplus rations we used to eat on Boy Scout outings, by the way) for lunch or a mess hall dinner, we enjoyed the conversation and camaraderie with these guys.
As you read this, our friends in the 2nd LAV Division are on tour in Iraq. We won't soon forget our time with these brave men and wish them luck. Please keep these guys in your thoughts and prayers. As of this writing, they are scheduled to be home in May, and if you would like to keep up with C Company, you can find their newsletter at www.lejeune.usmc.mil/2dmardiv/lar/charlie%20company/charliecompany.html
The LAV-R is the support vehicle for the LAV fleet, and as such is outfitted like a well-protected garage, but instead of Pit Bulls and Rottweilers, it has an M240 7.62mm machine gun and smoke grenades. In place of the 25mm Bushmaster chain gun is a 265-degree-capable remote-operated boom crane rated at 9,000 pounds. The recovery variant also carries flood lights, tow bars, giant snatch blocks, an onboard welder, and an awesome 30,000-pound PTO winch. No wonder it weighs a hefty 27,900 pounds. The crew of an LAV-R consists of a VC, driver, and rigger.
At the time we were at Camp Lejeune, all of the LAV-25s were A1 versions. In order to protect our Marines, funding has recently been approved to upfit LAV-25s to the A2 version, which includes an improved armor package, as well as heavier-duty suspension and drivetrain components to support the heavier armor. Part of the upgrades will eventually replace turret hydraulics with an electric-drive motor. An improved thermal site system with laser range finder and engine upgrades are also anticipated in the future.
We'd like to give a special thanks to the Marines of C Company who made for an incredible visit.
PPfc. Jonathan Ernst
PPfc. Kevin Mack
PPfc. Cameron S. Nelson
PLance Cpl. Jon Osborn
PLance Cpl. Daniel V. Collura
PLance Cpl. Jason C. Gerringer
PLance Cpl. Mike Lerner
PLance Cpl. Matthew Scott
PLance Cpl. Scott Stovall
PCpl. James R. Mellinger
PCpl. Blake J. Miner
PCpl. Justin Sherwood
PSgt. Ryan Daughtry
PSgt. Jason Gowen
PSgt. Jimmy Hayes
Vehicle model: General Dynamics LAV-25A1
Price As Tested: $1,000,000
Engine Type: Detroit Diesel 6V53T Two-Stroke V-6
Valvetrain: OHV, 12 valves, roller followers, hydraulic lifters
Mfg.'s hp: 275
Mfg.'s torque (lb-ft): 627
Transmission: Allison MT653DR
Axle ratio: 2.3:1
Geared hub ratio: 3.79:1
Suspension (f/r): Independent with struts/Independent with torsion bars
Brakes (f/r): Power drum
Wheels/Tires: 16-inch steel bead locks/Michelin 325/85 R16
Length (in): 251.6
Width (in): 98.4
Height (in): 106.0
Curb weight (lb): 24,100
Combat weight (lb): 28,200
Ground clearance (in): 19
Fuel capacity (gal): 71
Max range (miles): 410
Seating capacity: 9