In Future Weapon Procurements, Marines Want to Avoid Repeating Past Mistakes

By Sandra I. Erwin

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. -- The Marine Corps plans to start a more "aggressive" dialogue with its weapon contractors in an effort to avoid the pitfalls that have derailed major procurements in the past, said Assistant Commandant Gen. Joseph F. Dunford.
The Corps has a "pressing need to modernize our equipment in a short period of time," Dunford said April 11 during a panel discussion at the Navy League's annual convention.
Rising costs, tightening budgets and ambitious timelines to deploy new hardware are serious concerns for the Marine Corps, Dunford said. The recent cancellation of the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle -- an amphibious armored personnel carrier that was nearly two decades in development at a cost of nearly $3 billion -- was a tough lesson for the Corps in how not to manage major acquisitions, Dunford suggested.
The Marine Corps is preparing to launch several modernization projects for ground systems. One is the procurement of a new amphibious vehicle to supplant the EFV, another is to upgrade the existing fleet of aging amphibious vehicles that the EFV was supposed to replace, acquire a new wheeled armored personnel carrier, and refurbish thousands of Humvee trucks.
Officials are struggling with how to set priorities and ensure ground vehicle programs, which also are competing for funds with aviation projects, stay on budget and schedule.
"We are going to need a more aggressive, much more iterative dialogue between senior leadership and industry so we understand what the cost drivers are in the middle of a program, and we are in a position to do some risk management," Dunford said.
Marines in charge of programs will be expected to set realistic goals and ensure contractors are not making empty promises, Dunford said. "It can't be a 'fire and forget ... here's the requirements,'" he said. When that happens, "folks go off and try to meet those requirements only to be disappointed five or seven years later when the cost has gone up two or three times, when it didn't exactly meet the requirements and it takes too much time."
The government-industry dialogue that is needed to avert future crises often has taken place in "high-end programs but not across the board," Dunford said. "It's something we need to do."
Last week, several hundred contractors attended an "industry day" hosted by the program executive office land systems and the Marine Corps Systems Command in Quantico, Va.
Officials updated contractors on plans to begin designing the new amphibious vehicle, a Marine Personel Carrier and upgrading the Assault Amphibious Vehicles.
Although there was record attendance, according to an industry source, the audience was rather disappointed that the Corps still is not providing specific details on vehicle requirements and, more importantly, the funding that may or may not be available to execute these programs.
Every top defense contractor had several business-development executives at the briefing, the industry source said. "Everyone is looking to develop new relationships" with the Marine Corps, as companies fear budget cutbacks in the coming years that could result in fewer programs.
"Nobody knows where the money is" to cover all the vehicle programs that the Marine Corps wants, the source said. Some contractors speculate that, in a budget crunch, new vehicle procurements would be deferred, and the top two priorities would be the AAV and Humvee recapitalization.
Whatever new vehicles the Corps ends up buying, they will be held to more demanding standards than previous acquisitions, Dunford said. Weight, for instance, is a major concern for marines. Current equipment is too heavy, he said. "The Marine Corpsneeds to go on weight control," Dunford said. "Weight will be an independent variable in all equipment we buy in the future." Other imperatives for new vehicles are affordability and fuel economy. "Cost, weight, energy efficiency are increasingly important questions" that must be answered before the Marine Corps commits to a major procurement, Dunford said.

Topics: Combat Vehicles, Procurement

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