BALTIMORE — For a sneak peek into the Marine Corps’ future needs, one can look at the recent past. As 4,000 marines in January were amassing for a large-scale attack on Marja, Afghanistan, another 4,000 marines were sailing to Haiti to assist in relief operations in the earthquake-devastated nation. Thousands more were carrying out other missions around the globe.
Marine officials say that the force in the coming decades will be just as busy, but it will have to do the job with fewer resources.
“We have an expression in the Corps: ‘We sometimes have to do more with less,’ and I honestly think that’s what we face in the not-so-distant future,” said Gen. James T. Conway, commandant of the Marine Corps.
Flexibility in equipment, organization and training will be critical, Lt. Gen. George Flynn, commanding general of the Marine Corps Combat Development Command, told industry representatives at a National Defense Industrial Association conference. Marines can expect to prepare for irregular warfare, conventional warfare and terrorism. “We will never know which one we’re facing until the game is called,” he said.
The Defense Department has adjusted doctrine and strategies to reflect this new “hybrid” reality. Operations in Iraq and Afghanistan have helped to expedite changes in force structure and equipment, but they also have drained the treasury.
“As monies get tight, we’re going to have to look at equipment sets that are entirely interoperable, lighter, cheaper ideally, but that will nevertheless get the job done to defend this great country,” said Conway in remarks at the NDIA annual dinner in McLean, Va.
Though its budget request for fiscal 2011 totals $26.6 billion with an additional $7 billion in supplemental war funding, the Marine Corps is fast approaching a crossroads that will force its leaders to make some difficult decisions. Anticipating smaller budgets in the coming decade, officials will have to determine how to modernize war-torn gear while pursuing advanced technologies.
“We will have to balance investment between current and future challenges,” Flynn said.
Marine leaders said they remain focused on supporting operations in Afghanistan, and they are planning to stay the course through 2015. But doing so may be compromising the Corps’ preparedness for future contingencies.
“It may well be that we don’t have everything we want but only what we have to have. And we will have to cut away some capability and do without some things that we think are absolutely essential to the various missions that are out there,” Conway said.
To reduce that risk, the Corps is seeking gear that will have applicability across the full spectrum of warfare. All new equipment will have to have utility in high- and low-intensity conflict, counterterrorism and disaster relief operations.
“If you have something that operates across all four of those mission tasks, we’re really going to be interested,” Flynn said.
Officials insist that vehicles need to be lighter to allow the force to get to the fight and also enhance the Marine Corps’ amphibious capability to maneuver from the sea to the shore. In addition, weapon systems must be affordable and help the service decrease its dependence on fossil fuels.
That wish list is a tall order, officials acknowledged, especially given the exponential growth in the cost of military hardware.
“They have to come in at the amount that we have budgeted, on the schedule we have allotted, with the performance that we have been promised, because there isn’t going to be a second bite of the apple,” warned Brig. Gen. Michael Brogan, commander of Marine Corps Systems Command.
Marine officials are still uncertain whether recent acquisition reforms will help reduce costs.
President Obama last year signed the Weapon Systems Acquisition Reform Act of 2009 into law. The legislation is meant to fix the Pentagon’s troubled procurement system by giving officials increased oversight of major defense programs.
“It demands more reports going to the Hill,” said Brogan. “A lot of burden flows down to program managers.”
The new law puts more pressure on procurement officials to keep programs on budget, agreed Bill Taylor, program executive officer for land systems, which is the Marine Corps’ largest acquisition portfolio.
“Historically, it’s a fact that our programs come in over budget and years late. Report after report has indicated that the key to successful acquisition programs is getting things right at program inception with sound systems engineering, cost estimation and legitimate developmental testing,” said Taylor.
During the last two decades, however, the Defense Department has downsized its acquisition work force — the very same one held accountable for managing those responsibilities. Taylor said his office is focusing on systems engineering and cost estimation by beefing up staff in both areas.
Though WSARA targets the big-ticket defense programs, there will be a trickle-down effect for smaller ones, said Brogan.
The law requires competitive prototyping as a way to reduce risks and costs on new systems. Companies would be asked to build a first-of-kind system for testing so that the government can better assess the technology before it awards a production contract. It is a procurement model that is playing out on the joint light tactical vehicle program. “We will have to mature that process in the government,” said Brogan.
Another technique is known as build-to-print procurement, which was done in the modular tactical vest and plate program. The government owned a design and it awarded multiple contracts to vendors to build it according to the blueprint. “That won’t be the template for every single acquisition, but it is very much relished on the Hill because we own the technical data package,” Brogan said.
Industry is reluctant to part with data rights and other proprietary information on a technology because it cuts into company profits. But vendors will have to start getting used to the idea.
“We’re going to be driven more and more to acquire them,” Brogan said. “If we need to buy the technical data package and your price is so expensive that we can’t, then it might become difficult for you to win a contract,” he warned.
“All of this is driven by statute because the Congress is keen on us competing. Because in their minds, it’s going to drive down the overall costs,” he added.
The act also includes provisions for giving the government more insight into subcontracting. “We’re going to want to know how you’re doing in making ‘buy’ decisions,” said Brogan. Program managers will want to know the factors involved in those choices. For example, does a different business unit of a bidding organization have a leg up on those who would be competing for that piece of work? Or will it be fair and open competition as it makes those decisions?
“There will be hooks in the contract that demand government insight and surveillance of that process. We will be expected to assess how you do that. Now is that insight, oversight or intrusion? You’ll have to answer that yourselves as we go forward,” said Brogan.
The marine personnel carrier has potential to become the poster child for how the Marine Corps implements the latest acquisition reform measures, said Bob Lusardi, deputy program manager for light armored vehicles. The MPC is envisioned as a multi-wheeled, armored vehicle designed to carry an infantry squad. The Marine Corps plans to buy 630 vehicles. A technology demonstrator is being evaluated at the Nevada Automotive Test Center. Pending results, the engineering and manufacturing development phase is scheduled to commence in 2012 with initial operating capability in 2018.
“This whole program is open to industry, particularly at the component level and at the subsystem level, to come in and play,” said Lusardi.
One of the programs that has been the guinea pig for acquisition reform is the joint light tactical vehicle. Intended to replace the 25-year-old humvee, JLTV has a V-shaped hull to protect occupants from roadside bombs. The Army and Marine Corps plan to buy thousands in the coming years. Three teams remain in contention for the contract: BAE Systems; General Dynamics Land Systems and AM General; and Lockheed Martin Corp.
Program officials will take a look at what they’ve learned so far in the first 15 months of the technology development phase, said Lt. Col. Ben Garza, the Marine Corps’ program manager on the Army-led project.
“There’s still room for improvements,” he said.
There are concerns about the weight of the vehicle, estimated at 20,000 pounds. The program office is seeking lighter-weight armor and vehicle components. It also is looking for an innovative blast-resistant hull and blast-mitigating technologies that can reduce injury to vehicle occupants.
“I am absolutely convinced that the U.S. vehicle manufacturing industry can create a survivability capsule that can withstand virtually any blast,” said Brogan.
In addition to improved cabins, JLTV program managers want to increase fuel efficiency and are open to considering alternative power sources.
“We’re also interested in increasing the off-road capability of the vehicle and improving reliability and maintainability to reduce total ownership costs,” said Garza.
After 18 more months of technology experimentation, the program will enter the next phase of engineering and manufacturing development. The request for proposals will be out in the first quarter of fiscal 2012, Garza said. Program managers expect to award two contracts. Full production and fielding is expected to begin in 2015.
Another program that is causing stress is the beleaguered expeditionary fighting vehicle program. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has questioned the Pentagon’s need for the 40-ton, $22 million per copy amphibious assault vehicle replacement. But Marine officials say the vehicle is the linchpin for the force to retain its amphibious ship-to-beach combat capability and they still intend to buy 600 of them.
“We are looking forward to receiving our prototypes this summer and putting them through the paces to see if the design matches predictions,” said Tom Stevenson, the logistics director in the program office. “We have worked hard to improve the reliability of the system.”
There are areas where science and technology can help. Developers continue to look for ways to lighten the vehicle. “We’re not at the 1,500-pound weight margin,” said Stevenson. Heavy components, for example, could be replaced with lighter materials. Program officials also seek technologies to increase survivability, cut down on fuel consumption and help crews maintain awareness of their surrounding environment. The vehicle requires a lot of power to plane through the water, so technologies that can increase fuel efficiency and yet provide performance will get a look, said Stevenson. The office also is searching for ways to clean and dispose of hazardous materials that are discharged by the vehicle and to reduce corrosion to the hull.
The ability to reduce energy consumption in the Corps is now becoming the long pole in the tent, said David J. Karcher, director of energy systems. Depending on how one slices the infantry battalion, the number of vehicles has gone up three-fold, fuel usage has increased by 10-fold and the number of radios has jumped by a factor of eight.
“All of those have driven energy usage in areas where we’re least equipped to take care of it — battalion and below,” he said. Convoys to deliver fuel, water, batteries and other supplies to forward operating bases have been the intended targets of insurgents planting IEDs in roadways. Nearly half of the casualties caused by IEDs were riding in vehicles supporting that logistics train.
Unless something is done, that problem will only grow worse because the Marine Corps will require small units to function as a team while spread out over large areas.
Karcher challenged industry to help reduce the amount of equipment in the Corps. If the medium tactical vehicle replacement (MTVR) could eliminate a trailer by incorporating an onboard power generator into its system, then that would help trim what marines need to haul around. Another challenge is how to increase the fuel efficiency of an up armored MTVR from four miles per gallon to six miles per gallon or higher.
By 2015, officials also want to see a marine expeditionary unit generating all the water it needs ashore. They would like the unit to be 20 percent more fuel efficient and capable of generating 20 percent of its power needs from alternative sources for a duration of five to seven days. These measures will help to take trucks and convoys off the road.