Marine Corps: Good Riddance to the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle

1/12/2011
By Sandra I. Erwin
The termination of the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle — announced last week by Defense Secretary Robert Gates — was seen as a big blow to Marine Corps’ ambitious plans to modernize the force for the 21st Century.
But in reality, the end of the long-troubled program turns out to be good news for the Corps.
The EFV cancellation could free up at least $2.5 billion over the next five years for the Marine Corps to spend on the design of a new amphibious vehicle, on improvements to the current fleet of landing craft, and on the acquisition of armored personnel carriers.
“All the money in the POM [program objective memorandum] that was dedicated to EFV remains, as of today, in the POM for use by the Marine Corps on other vehicles,” Lt. Gen. George Flynn, head of the Marine Corps’ Combat Development Command in Quantico, Va., said Jan. 12 during a conference call with reporters.
Flynn’s comments confirm what industry insiders had been saying for years: the EFV had turned into an albatross whose rising price tag was endangering other prized vehicle programs in the Marine Corps’ budget.
“The program was unaffordable,” Flynn said. Measured in 2011 dollars, the EFV price tag has reached $18 million per vehicle. When the program started in the early 1990s, officials estimated the vehicle would cost $5 million. At that rate, the EFV was on pace to consume the entire Marine Corps’ procurement budget over the next decade, Flynn noted.
Facing a forecast of flat defense budgets, the Marine Corps needed to cut its losses ($3 billion already sunk into EFV development) before the vehicle’s rising costs began to eat into other programs. “Everything has gotten more expensive,” Flynn said.
By being allowed to keep the EFV money and start over, Marines get to take another stab at acquiring a swimming tank, albeit one that is less pricey and technologically ambitious than the EFV.
Most armored vehicles today cost between $4 million and $12 million, Flynn said. “We would be looking for the new vehicle to fall somewhere in that range.”
A solicitation for industry proposals for the new amphibious vehicle — known as a “request for information” — will be published by early February, said Flynn.
To avoid the pitfalls of EFV, Marine Corps vehicle buyers will be instructed to not “overreach” and to keep the technical requirements within reason, Flynn said. “We want this program to be an example of how to change the acquisition paradigm,” he said. “This means nailing the requirements on the front end. Before we get to [advanced development] milestone B we need to have the requirement at 95 percent,” he said. “We need to do better systems engineering and systems integration. We need to do capability-cost trade-offs early on in the process.”
Flynn did not offer any predictions on how long he expects the new vehicle program to take. “I don’t have a number. But it should be years, not decades.”
In anOctober interview, Christopher Yunker, chief of counter-mobility programs at Combat Development Command, said it could take up to a decade to bring a new design to fruition. “Because of the acquisition process, there would be a 10 to 12 year ‘risk window’ if we have to start anew,” he said.
One way to simplify the design would be to scrub the vehicle’s original requirement to transport marines from a ship to the shore from 25 nautical miles away. A shorter range “might translate to some different automotive designs that might not be as advanced as the current EFV,” Yunker said.
The 25-mile standoff distance is what was deemed necessary to protect the Navy’s vessels. The Marine Corps’ “ship to maneuver concept” calls for 25 miles because that would give the Navy enough time to deploy air defenses if a ship were targeted by enemy missiles. But that scenario is no longer valid as missile technology advances and potentially hostile nations begin to acquire anti-ship weapons with longer ranges.
Under the new amphibious vehicle program, contractors will be asked to make realistic estimates of how fast and how far the new vehicle will be able to travel without compromising the crew’s safety, Flynn said.
The vehicle’s manufacturer, General Dynamics Corp., has delivered seven prototypes, which will be retained for tests and experiments, said Flynn.
“We’re going to take a fresh look and take lessons from EFV to make sure we’re fielding realistic capability,” he said. “We got in trouble by underestimating the complexity. We’re going to try to do better to not over-ask what is feasible and not overreach.”

Topics: Combat Vehicles

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