The Army and the Marine Corps plan to meld their combat-vehicle
development programs into a single effort within the next decade.
Such a combination would be comparable to the Defense Department’s
Joint Strike Fighter in that its focus would be commonality of vehicle
components and technologies.
The two programs are the Army’s Future Combat System and
the next-generation Marine Corps expeditionary family of fighting
vehicles, called the MEFFV, which will replace the existing tanks
and armored troop carriers.
Col. Dennis W. Beal, program manager for Marine Corps tanks and
the MEFFV, said that it would make sense to fuse the two projects,
because it would save a lot of duplicative work. For the time being,
however, the programs will remain separate, until each service’s
goals and requirements are set.
“Ultimately, the two efforts will most likely merge into
a single program, once mission profiles have been defined and once
vehicle requirements have been defined,” Beal told National
He predicted that the two programs would be ready to come together
in about six to eight years, “Once we have delineated the
concept of operations.”
The Marines, meanwhile, are maintaining active communication lines
with the FCS program, which is managed by the Army and the Defense
Advanced Research Projects Agency. “We have an officer permanently
based at the Army-DARPA FCS office,” said Beal. “We
have constant synergy and exposure to what FCS is doing. ... What
we are doing is totally transparent to each other. We go to their
reviews. They come to our reviews.”
One of the most obvious differences between the two programs is
their schedule. While the Army plans to begin fielding the FCS in
2008, the MEFFV is not expected to join the fleet until 2024.
More importantly, said Beal, “Our concept of operations is
different from the Army, and it should be. We have different missions.”
Unlike the Army, the Marines don’t have to design a ground
force to fight an extended continental ground war. A Marine Expeditionary
Unit, made up of about 2,000 Marines, usually stays in theater for
90 days or less, before it runs out of supplies.
“We are not designed for a long, sustained operation,”
said Beal. Marine vehicles are likely to have different weight and
size requirements than the Army’s, because the Marines have
to fit an entire MEU in the three ships that typically deploy with
an amphibious ready group. “The FCS would never fit on a three-ship
ARG,” he added. “We come from the sea. We are an amphibious,
offensively minded force.”
An FCS “unit of action,” with up to 3,000 soldiers,
would bring along about 1,000 combat vehicles—each weighing
between 10 and 20 tons—and more than 200 robotic platforms.
“We couldn’t have hundreds of assault vehicles and
robotic platforms, with a manned center. [In a MEU], that would
displace too much other equipment,” said Beal. Even 10 or
15 years from now, “we will have to take everything we are
taking for the MEU on those three ships.”
The Army’s program executive officer for ground combat systems,
Maj. Gen. Joseph L. Yakovac, noted that programs such as FCS and
MEFFV are “hard to bring together.” Nevertheless, both
services should work toward that goal, he told an industry conference.
“Unless we can leverage each other, none of us can afford
the future,” Yakovac said. The FCS program office also signed
a “memorandum of agreement” with the Marine Corps Systems
Command to share non-lethal weapon and ground robotic technology.
In his opinion, the Marine vehicle design “is not as constrained”
as the FCS, but Yakovac predicted that there will be much commonality
in technologies such as munitions and sensors.
The dissimilarities notwithstanding, both the Army and the Marine
Corps will be building combat vehicles of sorts, so there is plenty
of technology that will be shared, Beal said.
About 85 percent of the cost of any vehicle program is attributed
to the weapons, sensors, propulsion system and survivability suite,
he explained. “What the Army develops in these areas for a
10-ton vehicle, I can put in a 30-ton vehicle.”
The notion that each service can have its own vehicle but still
benefit from common components was pioneered in the Joint Strike
Fighter program. “We’ve had conversations with the JSF
office,” Beal said. Ground-vehicle programs could learn from
JSF how to “work the synergy between the services.”
Ultimately, Beal said, “In JSF, each has a different airplane.
But the cost savings in the program come from the fact that 75-80
percent of what’s under the hood is the same.”
Gregory Fetter, land-warfare analyst at Forecast International/DMS,
said that bringing together the MEFFV and the FCS is the only way
that the Marines can be assured they’ll have enough money
to develop their vehicles. “The Marines always have come out
on the short end of the stick when it comes to funding,” Fetter
told National Defense. “Their program is basically the FCS
with a different color of paint. Both services desire the same things.”
The Marine Corps Combat Development Command is responsible for
defining the MEFFV requirements, before Beal’s office can
begin the actual design and development process.
It is way too early yet to try to pinpoint the characteristics
of the MEFFV, other than to say it will be a family of vehicles
to replace the tank and the LAV, Beal said. The so-called “operational
requirements document” for MEFFV will not be finished until
late 2004, he said. The Corps has requested funding for MEFFV in
fiscal 2004, for research and development work. It will be at least
2005 before any solicitations to contractors are published.
The phase-out of the M1 tank is scheduled to begin in 2020. The
Light Armored Vehicles will stay around until at least 2015.
Ideally, said Beal, the MEFFV platforms will be “modular,
plug-and-play,” so certain pieces can be removed and replaced
relatively quickly, based on the missions. “This would be
akin to what we do with the Humvee today,” he said. “You
can use the basic chassis and make it into an ambulance, an ammo
carrier, a troop carrier, a TOW missile variant. ... Potentially,
I can take the reconnaissance variant and turn it into a medical
support variant,” Beal said. The Corps reconfigures the LAV
today for different missions, but not in the “plug-and-play”
fashion that Beal envisions for the MEFFV.
MEFFV is likely to include a heavier, more survivable vehicle—of
about 30 tons—to replace the current 70-ton tank.
The assault variant of the MEFFV is expected to cost $19 million
to $21 million, in 2020 dollars. That would equate to about $6 million
in current dollars. The Abrams M1A2 tank costs about $6.7 million.
The Corps has yet to decide how many of the new vehicles it will
need to replace the existing fleet of 403 tanks. “MEFFV is
not designed as a one-for-one replacement program,” Beal said.
Once the Corps begins phasing out the M1 in 2020, it will take
about five years to transition to the MEFFV. Similarly, the Marines’
1,200 LAVs will be removed from the fleet over a five to six year
period, once the replacement vehicles are fielded.
The new vehicles will have a 68-inch height limit, for survivability
reasons, Beal said. The idea is to make them less vulnerable to
line-of-sight antitank missiles, which typically fly at higher altitudes
than 68 inches. That height also conforms to the storage compartments
planned for future amphibious vessels. The Marine landing craft
air cushioned (LCAC) currently can carry only one tank. The MEFFV
would be designed so that at least two vehicles would fit on an
None of the vehicles is required to be transportable by helicopter,
because the concept of operations is to get the MEFFV to the theater
by ship and to move them by LCAC to the shore. Once ashore, they
could fly to the combat zone by C-130 airplane, for example.
“We are not tethering any of our weight requirements to aviation
lift assets,” Beal said.
A MEU typically only has four CH-53 heavy-lift helicopters, which
are the only rotary aircraft that can carry 10 tons. “No MEU
commander is going to jeopardize one of these aircraft hauling a
vehicle into a hot zone and getting shot down,” he said. “That
would be incredibly stupid.”
As far as the weapon system for MEFFV goes, the field of options
is wide open, Beal said. It could be guns, missiles, lasers or electromagnetic
The EM guns offer a huge advantage, he said, because Marines could
load at least 100 rounds in every vehicle, while the M1 tank only
can carry 39 bullets.
“If we could put 100 rounds in every MEFFV vehicle, we would
solve the resupply problem,” said Beal.
The survivability requirements for MEFFV are for the vehicle to
have 1.5 times more ballistic protection than the current M1A2,
even though it would be less than half the weight of the Abrams.
The only way to meet that goal would be to develop an “integrated
In a 30-ton vehicle, for example, the suite would include reactive
armor, sensors, active protection and adaptive response systems
such as rods and chaff.
The armor would be made of lightweight composite material, unlike
the armor in the M1, which is 1970s technology.
The Office of Naval Research is managing a separate six-year program
that seeks a lightweight composite armor for the Marine Corps.
As to whether the MEFFV will be tracked or wheeled, Beal said that
still is up in the air. “We would like, for the 30-ton assault
variant, to have 8x8 tracks-over-wheels. That gives us the flexibility
to operate in a tracked or wheeled mode,” he said. “For
the lighter variants, we’ll use wheels.”