Utility-minded vehicles seldom receive the attention they rightfully deserve in the context of battlefield success for their role is just as important to success and any other weapon or tool. The M576 Light Armored Recovery Vehicle (LARV) (G309) became an example of this despite its service in a dozen armies worldwide during a long and storied tenure. Its notable service will always be tied to American military use during the Vietnam War (1955-1975) though other examples have gone on to see considerable service with fighting forces like the Israeli Army.
The M578 was a tracked vehicle based on the chassis of the M107/M110 Self-Propelled Howitzers (SPHs) which debuted during the Vietnam Conflict. In this way, the running gear remained virtually unchanged with five large road wheels to a hull side and the drive sprocket retained at front with no track idler nor track return rollers used. As in the M107/M110, the driver took a position at front-left in the hull with the powerpack shielded to his right. Drive power was from a single General Motors 8V71T 8-cylinder supercharged diesel engine of 345 horsepower promoting road speeds near 37 miles per hour with an operational range out to 450 miles. A standard operating crew was three including the driver and two cab operators.
The additional two crew were fielded in the 360-degree traversing lightly armored cab turret set over the rear of the vehicle replacing the massive gun barrels of the M107/M110 as well as their associated mounting and recoil hardware. The cab integrated a heavy duty powered crane out from the front panel and provided the necessary headroom and elbow space for protected operations of the two crew. Rectangular hinged doors at the sides and rear of the cab provided access while a roof hatch allowed for overhead viewing of the crane and action ahead. As a non-direct-combat vehicle, the M578 was rather modestly armed with a sole 12.7mm Browning heavy machine gun for local defense from air- and land-based threats.
The original M578 form was conceived of by engineers at FMC Corporation to become an air-transportable vehicle to service M107 and M110 vehicles in barrel-changing operations. This vehicle was then known as "T120" in its pilot guise but evolved to become the modified "T120E1" before being officially adopted as the "M578 LARV". The U.S. Army requirement evolved with it and the M578 was used in a more general recovery role on the battlefield than as a dedicated barrel-changing vehicle. Bowen-McLaughlin-York was charged with the vehicle's formal production run as was the case with the M107 and M110 gun carriers.
The M578 was designed with systems to be powered even while the vehicle was shut off. This was solved by the implementation of an auxiliary drive component seated just aft of the primary powerplant. The auxiliary system drove an onboard generator as well as hydraulic pumps which, in turn, supplied drive power to the cab, the boom arm, a pair of winches, and an anchor spade - the latter fitted to the rear of the hull. Two powered winches were installed - one being a 30,000lb boom component paired with a 60,000lb "drag" winch device. The M578 held the power to recover light-class armored vehicles and similarly-weighted components.
The exterior panels of the cab offered stowage areas for items such as "pioneer" tools (axes, shovels, and the like) as well as general safety measures like a fire extinguisher. A small spotlight was fitted to the crane boom arm for low-light/nighttime work and headlamps were also featured at the front corners of the hull for night driving. The crew could be completely "buttoned" down at their respective positions with periscope devices used for limited situational awareness. The turret's full-rotation capability added a tactical flexibility quality about it and coupled this feature with an elevation span granted to the boom arm itself.
As a light armored vehicle, the M578 was not a true frontline implement as its armor protection only shielded the crew from small arms fire and shell splinters. It did, however, provide protection against the elements which became a much appreciated quality for crews. The heavy machine gun was fitted on the turret roof which forced an operator to partially expose himself when operating the weapon - nevertheless some protection was better than none.
Operators beyond the United States and Israel included Austria, Brazil, Denmark, Egypt, Greece, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, the United Kingdom, and Vietnam. The M578 debuted in 1962.