Supporters of the Marine Corps’ effort to develop a replacement for its Vietnam-era amphibious assault vehicle are rallying to oppose a provision in the House 2007 defense appropriations bill. The measure would cut funding for the program by $64 million.
That’s nearly 30 percent of the $231 million that the Corps requested to start building 15 expeditionary fighting vehicles in 2007. Three senators from states where the EFV would be built are trying to get their colleagues to reject the cuts.
Full funding for the program “is critical,” said the senators, George Allen, R-Va.; Mike DeWine, R-Ohio, and George V. Voinovich, R-Ohio. The EFV is the Marine Corps’ number one priority ground system acquisition, they noted in a letter to the Republican and Democratic heads of the Senate Appropriations Committee.
“The EFV program is quickly approaching a critical programmatic juncture,” the three senators wrote. “It ... is slated to enter low-rate initial production later this year.” Any reduction in funding would lead to increased cost and production delays, they said.
The three apparently made their point. The Senate committee, in approving its version of the 2007 defense appropriations legislation, voted in July to provide the requested funding for the program. The full Senate put off the matter until this month.
No matter how the Senate votes, however, the battle is far from over. Some time later, conferees from both houses will meet to work out details for a single bill, including whether to cut EFV funding.
The issue arose in May after the Government Accountability Office reported that the EFV program has been plagued by schedule delays, a 45 percent increase in estimated cost and significant technical problems.
Since beginning its final phase of development in 2001, the program schedule has grown 35 percent or four years, said the GAO report, signed by Paul L. Francis, the agency’s director of acquisition and sourcing management. The reported noted:
• The estimated cost to build the 1,013 vehicles that the Marines have been planning to buy from the contractor, General Dynamics Land Systems, of Sterling Heights, Mich., has risen from $8.7 billion in 2001 to $12.6 billion in 2005.
• The requirement for the vehicle to operate continuously has been reduced from 70 hours to 43.5 hours.
• Testing of EFV prototypes revealed design problems with the hull electronic unit, which provides computer processing; the bow flap, which helps generates lift as the vehicle moves through the water, and the hydraulic systems, which control many of the platform’s operations.
The EFV’s plight comes at time when the Marine Corps is struggling to find funds — perhaps as much as $12 billion in 2007 alone — to repair or replace equipment lost, damaged or worn out in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Marine officials are considering major cuts and perhaps production delays in the EFV program. Program manager Col. Michael M. Brogan, in Woodbridge, Va., told National Defense that he could not discuss the proposed changes until the decisions are final, but he did say that the reductions being discussed are not as steep as reported. Brogan admitted that reliability remains “a challenge,” but he hoped to find some solutions as the Marines and General Dynamics continued testing at military bases in California this summer. They conducted amphibious exercises offshore near Camp Pendleton and hot-weather operations at Twentynine Palms.
Pentagon evaluators are scheduled in December to decide whether to proceed immediately with low-rate initial production or to postpone that decision until some time in 2007.
“I don’t want to delay that decision,” Brogan said. Such a delay simply would drive up the ultimate cost of the vehicle and postpone getting it into the hands of war fighters, he said.
Nominated for a promotion to brigadier general and command of the Marine Corps Systems Command — the service’s main acquisition organization — Brogan is moving into a position where he will have a stronger voice in the EFV’s future.
“We very much believe the nation needs the forcible entry capability that the expeditionary fighting vehicle brings to the table,” Brogan said.
The EFV — formerly known as the advanced amphibious assault vehicle — is the latest of a series of platforms that Marines have developed since 1932 to move troops and equipment from ship to shore while under hostile enemy fire.
It is intended to be faster, tougher and more deadly than the current assault amphibious vehicle, which was first fielded in 1972. The EFV’s name was changed to reflect the fact that, unlike traditional practice, it is expected to spend most of its time moving cross-country, not from ship to shore.
The Marines’ only other combat personnel carrier is the light armored vehicle, which can carry no more than six troopers. Thus, although the AAV was designed to be amphibious, it has been pressed into service as a troop carrier in the deserts of Iraq and Afghanistan.
The EFV is intended to do a better job in this role, Brogan said. It can cruise at 45 mph on land, compared to no more than 30 mph for the AAA. The EFV also is faster on the water — reaching 20 mph in heavy seas, as opposed to 6 mph for the AAV.
The EFV is powered by a 6,000-pound, 12-cylinder, MT883, Ka523 diesel engine made by Germany’s MTU Friedrichshafen. That’s the same engine used in Germany’s Leopard, the United Kingdom’s Challenger, France’s LeClerc and Israel’s Merkava tanks. It can generate up to 2,700 horsepower to propel two 23-inch diameter water jets at sea and 850 horsepower to do the same for the vehicle’s 21-inch tracks on land.
The EFV also has a greater range than its predecessor. It can launch from 25 miles at sea, while the AAV can do so from only two miles out. Once it reaches land, the EFV can go 345 miles without refueling, compared to 200 for the AAV.
In addition, the new vehicle can outshoot the older one. The EFV is armed with a fully stabilized MK44 Mod 1 30 mm automatic cannon that can shoot on the move. For greater accuracy, it has a laser range finder and a second-generation forward-looking infrared system, giving it a 90 percent probability of a hit at 1,500 meters, Brogan said.
The AAV, by contrast, has an MK 19 MOD3 40 mm grenade launcher, but it cannot shoot on the move, the launcher is not stabilized, and the vehicle has no range finder or infrared sensor.
The EFV comes in two versions, a command-and-control variant and a personnel carrier, which can accommodate 17 combat-equipped infantrymen, plus a crew of three.
That’s fewer than the 21 passengers and three crews members that the AAV can transport. The AAV, however, is only lightly armored, while the EFV is protected by a ceramic-composite bolt-on armor that can stop 155 mm artillery shrapnel and 14.5 mm armor-piercing rounds.
Because the armor is bolted on it can be removed for greater speed when not needed and upgraded when improvements come along, Brogan said.
Since the EFV must remain light enough to stay afloat, there is a limit to how much armor it can carry, but even the most heavily armored vehicles — such as the Abrams tank — are susceptible to really large explosives, he said.
The EFV’s seats, however, are built to withstand mine blasts, and the vehicle is insulated against chemical, biological and nuclear contamination.
The new vehicle also has an enhanced command-and-control capability. Unlike the AAV, which comes equipped only with a radio system, the EFV’s command variant is intended to provide a senior officer and seven staff members with the ability to communicate with higher, adjacent and subordinate maneuver units, as well as supporting organizations and an offshore amphibious task force. It includes 11 radios, seven computer workstations with displays and keyboards, and six servers, with three operating systems — Windows, Unix and Solaris.
The GAO report, however, warned that a key requirement for the EFV — interoperability — cannot be demonstrated properly until the initial operational testing and evaluation phase begins in 2010. “Interoperability means that the EFV communications system must provide essential command, control, communications and intelligence functions for embarked personnel and EFV units,” the report said. Also, the document noted, the EFV system must be compatible with other Marine Corps communications equipment, as well as with the Army, Navy, Air Force and North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
In addition, the GAO said, reliability — which “still presents a significant challenge” — is not scheduled to be demonstrated until 2010.
EFV program officials have noted that they have developed plans to resolve these issues and are optimistic that they can do so. However, the GAO countered, “There are no guarantees that this will actually happen.”
Therefore, the GAO recommended that the Defense Department delay a decision to begin low-rate initial production until the vehicle’s design and technologies can be demonstrated successfully. Commenting on a draft of the report, the Pentagon’s acting director for defense systems, Mark D. Schaeffer, concurred, promising to assess the EFV’s readiness to begin production “within a year.”
Marine Commandant Gen. Michael Hagee admitted that his service could have made a better effort explaining the need for the EFV.
“We probably haven’t done a real good job of articulating what that vehicle is going to be able to do for us,” he told a recent gathering of defense writers. Delaying or cutting production, he cautioned, would come with a price.
“If we don’t have that type of vehicle, we’re going to have to buy more bridging,” Hagee said. “As you’re driving around, just count how many bridges you cross in a day’s drive. You’d be surprised. ... If those bridges are gone, you have got to be dragging bridges with you or find some other way around. With an EFV, you don’t need that. You just go right across.”
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