Marines Use Armored Vehicle to Defend Navy Ship from Small Boats off Iranian Coast

An AH-1Z Viper attached to Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron (VMM) 163 (Reinforced), 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) takes off during a strait transit aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Boxer (LHD 4). (U.S. Marine Corps/Lance Cpl. Dalton S. Swanbeck)
An AH-1Z Viper attached to Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron (VMM) 163 (Reinforced), 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) takes off during a strait transit aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Boxer (LHD 4). (U.S. Marine Corps/Lance Cpl. Dalton S. Swanbeck)

As sailors and Marines are sailing in more contested waters, the blue-green team is getting creative about how to defend amphibious assault ships from enemy small boats and drones.

Members of the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit were photographed sailing through the Strait of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf this week with a Light Armored Vehicle on the flight deck.

The armored vehicle can be seen in the background of photos released by the Marine Corps on Wednesday, showing AH-1Z Viper attack helicopters flying off the amphibious assault ship Boxer. The LAV was first spotted by Phil Ewing, national security editor at NPR.

Sailing through or near the Strait of Hormuz, a narrow waterway that runs between the Persian Gulf and Gulf of Oman, has been contentious in recent months.

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In July, the 11th MEU jammed one Iranian drone -- and possibly two -- that flew within 1,000 yards of the Boxer. Iranians also seized a British tanker in the strait last month. And in June, two oil tankers were attacked in the nearby Gulf of Oman.

Maj. Gen. David Coffman, director of expeditionary warfare, said last year that Navy and Marine leaders were coming up with innovative ways to defend ships in contested areas. They've typically relied on aircraft, he said, but now they're getting more creative to combat new threats.

"I can tell you I watched a MEU commander strap an LAV to the front of a flight deck because it had better sensors than the ship did to find small boats," Coffman said during an event hosted by the Hudson Institute in Washington, D.C., last fall. "... The LAV guys will sit up there."

Marines have put an LAV on an amphib flight deck in another disputed waterway. In September, members of the 31st MEU parked an LAV on the flight deck of the amphibious assault ship Wasp during a training exercise in the South China Sea, Marine Corps Times reported last year. The MEU's weapons company fired the LAV's M242 chain guns and coaxial M240C medium machine guns at simulated targets in the ocean during the exercise, the paper reported, which was meant to prep sailors and Marines for transiting through dangerous waters.

This isn't the first time the 11th MEU has turned to a land vehicles to defend the Boxer.

Marines were able to take down the Iranian drone last month by using a weapon system that fits onto a pair of small MRZR all-terrain vehicles. The system is equipped with high-power sensors and jamming technology, which the Marines used when the drone got too close to the ship.

-- Gina Harkins can be reached at gina.harkins@military.com. Follow her on Twitter @ginaaharkins.

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