Marines aboard the amphibious assault ship 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 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.

The Marine Corps LAV-25 has a high-end targeting system that directs its 25 mm chain guns and M240 7.62 mm machine gun. The 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, rocket pods, a handful of air-to-surface missiles, and a 20 mm 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 take-off and landing jets, as well as transporting Marines — to make the ships more lethal.

An AH-1Z Viper helicopter takes off Aug. 12, 2019, during a Strait of Hormuz transit aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Boxer (LHD 4). (Lance Cpl. Dalton S. Swanbeck/Marine Corps)
An AH-1Z Viper helicopter takes off Aug. 12, 2019, during a Strait of Hormuz transit aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Boxer (LHD 4). (Lance Cpl. Dalton S. Swanbeck/Marine Corps)

In September, the 31st MEU embarked aboard the Wasp, another amphibious assault ship, for an exercise 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.

"This was the first time," Capt. George McArthur, a 31st MEU spokesman, told Military Times, "that an 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."

He added: "Weapons Company assets improved the integrated defensive posture aboard the Wasp."

The Boxer was harassed by Iranian unmanned aerial assets in the Strait of Hormuz last month, and the U.S. says the warship downed one, if not two, of the 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 in 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 boats."

That the 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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