Marines embarked aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Boxer recently sailed through the Strait of Hormuz with an armored vehicle strapped to the flight deck, ready to fight off drones and Iranian gunboats.

A light armored vehicle (LAV) belonging to the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit can be seen on the flight deck as an AH-1Z Viper lifts off in a recently-released Marine Corps photo, NPR's Phil Ewing first noted.

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

The Marine Corps LAV-25 has a high-end targeting system that directs its 25mm chain guns and M240 7.62mm machine gun. The USS Boxer is armed with counter-air missiles, as well as various close-in weapon systems, among other weapons. The Vipers carry two air-to-air missiles, a handful of air-to-surface missiles, and a 20mm Gatling cannon.

The Marine Corps began experimenting last year with strapping LAVs to the decks of the amphibs — flattops capable of carrying helicopters and vertical landing and take-off jets and transporting Marines — to make the ships more lethal.

In September 2018, the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit embarked aboard the USS Wasp, another amphibious assault ship, drilled in the South China Sea with a LAV parked on the flight deck, training to fend off the types of threats Marines might face in hostile waterways.

Marines with Weapons Company, Battalion Landing Team, 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines, on a Light Armored Vehicle atop the flight deck of the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp(U.S. Marine Corps/Gunnery Sgt. E. V. Hagewood)

“This was the first time,” Capt. George McArthur, a 31st MEU spokesman, told Military Times, “that a LAV-25 platoon with the 31st MEU performed this level of integrated targeting and live-fire from the flight deck of a ship such as the Wasp with combined arms.”

“Weapons Company assets improved the integrated defensive posture aboard the Wasp,” he added.

The USS Boxer was harassed by Iranian unmanned aerial assets in the Strait of Hormuz last month. The U.S. warship downed one, if not two, of the Iranian drones with a new electronic jamming system. Another potential threat in this region is Iranian gunboats, which have targeted commercial shipping in recent months.

Commenting on why the Marines experimented with using armored vehicles on the flight decks of the amphibs, Marine Maj. Gen. David Coffman, the director of Expeditionary Warfare for the chief of naval operations, said last November that he “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 boat.”

That the USS Boxer was sailing through the Strait of Hormuz with an LAV out on the flight deck suggests that the ship was ready for a confrontation.

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