Second Opinions Sought For Marines Troubled Amphibious Vehicle
The bow flap enables the box-shaped EFV to cut through water, and then retracts as it reaches shore and changes itself back into a combat vehicle.
“The EFV is basically a tank that gets tossed into the ocean, works its way towards shore, and turns itself back into a tank,” said Bob Morazes, EFV program manager at Alion Science and Technology.
“The challenge is to try to take this tank, which is typically not designed to operate in the water, and make it a boat for about 25 miles,” he said.
The EFV is designed to carry up to 18 Marines. After reaching shore, it should continue in the tank mode and move at speeds of up to 45 miles per hour.
Morazes likened the EFV to a Transformer toy. With the push of a button, the boat becomes a troop carrier.
One of the issues the Marines would like Alion to look at is weight, Morazes said.
That has been a problem in the much maligned program from the start, according to a House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform report titled, “The Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle: Over Budget, Behind Schedule, and Unreliable.”
Marine Corps Systems Command and its lead contractor General Dynamics Land Systems worked for five years to develop and demonstrate a working EFV. The $1.2 billion that was spent resulted in a vehicle that failed several major tests during a 2006 operational assessment.
The test revealed that the vehicle could only operate 4.5 miles between breakdowns, that the weapons system jammed, the hydraulic system leaked and that the vehicle was so loud that Marines had to wear earplugs.
Excess weight emerged as another deal breaker.
Requirements call for high speed and mobility in water. The EFV achieves fast speeds by going up on a “plane,” or accelerating until the vehicle moves along the top of the water, the House report explained.
“The vehicles could get ‘on plane’ during high-speed water travel only if armor was removed from the vehicles and the Marines on board left vital equipment behind,” said the committee report.
The Marines went back to the drawing board, again with General Dynamics
as the lead contractor. The new efforts will take an estimated four-and-a-half years and cost an additional $1 billion.
The second version of the EFV will require 4,000 redesign actions, Marine Corps officials said at a conference earlier this year.
But the $2 million contract with Alion to examine the bow flap will not be part of the larger redesign. That is a parallel effort to see if there can be any improvements made to the existing bow flap.
General Dynamics Land Systems and the Marine Corps’ program executive office for land systems declined interview requests. Neither would comment on whether or not they were satisfied with the current bow flap.
The EFV is scheduled to undergo a critical design test in November and a defense acquisition board review in December. The reviews come only a few months before a new administration will submit its 2010 budget request.
The Government Accountability Office, in a July report on the Defense Department’s swelling weapon systems procurement budget, pointed out that the EFV’s original development cost was $1.1 billion. That has now ballooned to $3.6 billion. The EFV is not expected to enter service until the 2014 to 2015 timeframe, about 18 years after the development began.
Alion’s contract runs through the summer of 2009. The company will analyze the current design and an alternative concept proposed by the Naval Surface Warfare Center Carderock Division to determine whether any improvements that can be made in structure and performance. Alion will also attempt to design and build a prototype for an alternative bow flap.
Morazes described the bow flap as a complicated, yet critical, piece of equipment.
“There are some very ingenious dynamics that have been put into [the bow flap] so far,” he added.
In the boat mode, “the craft wants to go faster than it was designed for,” he said. “And once you go faster in the sea state, then (pressure) loads accelerate rapidly.”
Requirements call for the EFV to travel at 25 to 30 knots.
As a fully loaded EFV comes out of a trough and crashes into a wave, there is a tremendous amount of force slamming onto the bow flap, he said. And “it has to be very efficient from a stand point of hydrodynamics,” he added.
“You want it to be light because less weight means less displacement, but you want it to be very strong because it’s running into walls of water as it’s planing,” he said.
This proved to be one of the key downfalls for the first failed version of the EFV. Engineers redesigned the bow flap several times, but never came up with a working version. It “bent and cracked” during systems development testing, the House report said.
Approximately 1,900 pounds of armor had to be removed from the vehicle’s first prototype to achieve a speed high enough to plane, the report said.
Without a bow flap, the EFV would be a floating box and only would operate at unacceptably slow speeds of about 5 knots, Morazes said. It would be more like a barge than a boat.
Alion also hopes to identify ways to keep the manufacturing costs down, Morazes added.
Because of the delays, the per-vehicle cost has more than doubled since its 2001 estimate of $8.5 million apiece. Plans to purchase 1,025 EFVs been sharply curtailed. Current plans call for the Marines to procure 593 units.
Of the current bow flap, General Dynamics spokesman Karl Oskoian said in an email: “GD passed a [preliminary design review] and [defense acquisition board] review this May, giving us approval to move forward with our design.” He referred other questions to the Marine Corps.
Col. John Bryant, program manager for the EFV, declined to comment or
make others available for interviews.
The Alion contract for the EFV is “one of many ongoing parallel technology demonstration efforts in the baseline design to identify possible performance enhancements in the future that meet our requirements,” Marine Corps Systems Command spokesman David Branham said in an email.
“We saw potential to increase the high water speed performance of the EFV and as such, we’ll decide if this parallel effort offers better performance over the existing bow flap,” he said.
If Alion’s prototype can show increased performance, then it may be incorporated into the vehicle at a later date, he added.