Marine Corps Memo to Defense Industry: Make Our Vehicles Affordable
General officers and civilian Marine Corps leaders hammered that point April 30 at an NDIA conference in Norfolk aimed at facilitating the service's buyers with industry officials.
“It is assumed that you, industry, are going to answer a requirement affordably,” said Brig. Gen. Frank L. Kelley, commander of Marine Corps Systems Command.
“You, industry, understand the environment and so do we,” he said. “By being deliberate, disciplined, providing visibility to each other and collaboration at every opportunity, we can solve this.”
A decade of combat has left the corps with outdated, battered equipment, much of which need to be rebuilt or replaced. Though a smaller force will allow the Marine Corps to buy fewer weapons and vehicles, in most cases the desired replacements cost far more than current systems.
A new Humvee, when introduced in the 1980s, cost about $60,000, said Lt. Gen. Richard P. Mills, commander of Marine Corps combat development command. Its eventual replacement, the joint light tactical vehicle, by comparison could cost as much as $350,000 in today’s dollars, he said. But a total fleet reduction of 9,600 vehicles over the next decade will save about $2.3 billion in the long run.
Bruised by the cancelation of the expeditionary fighting vehicle, the Marine Corps is still intent on replacing at least a portion of its ship-to-shore vehicle fleet. Many of the amphibious assault vehicles in service today have seen more than 30 years of service and are basically the same designed used in the Korean War.
“We think we have a good, logical, sequential plan to get the equipment we need in a timely manner,” Mills said. “Our number one priority is AAV replacement because its vulnerable to [improvised explosive devices] and it’s old.”
An analysis of alternatives is under way on the AAV’s replacement, now dubbed the amphibious combat vehicle. That document is scheduled to be released in June, Mills said.
“Then the commandant will decide how many he wants,” Mills said.
Other considerations include how far the vehicle should be able to swim to shore, survivability and endurance requirements.
“But the most important thing is going to be affordability,” Mills said. “And I’m not just talking the cost in the showroom, but the cost over the life of that vehicle.”
William Taylor, program executive officer for Marine Corps land systems, said “significant preliminary work” is being done on the AAV replacement in anticipation of the AOA release.
As for JLTV, Taylor said the program “experienced a sea change” when the Army and Marine Corps agreed on a basic design an procurement agenda.
“I’m extremely confident that we have a path forward to an affordable vehicle,” he said. JLTV is scheduled to enter the Engineering and Manufacturing Development phase in June, but would likely not meet that milestone until July, Taylor said.
Writ large, the Marine Corps plans to replace about 20 percent of its gear and vehicles after it draws down from Afghanistan beginning in 2014, Mills said. The remaining 80 percent will be reset and maintained “well past normal service life,” he said.
“Selective modernization and selective sustainment will save us money in the long run through 2035,” Mills said.
Repositioning itself from what many have termed an auxiliary land force in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Marine Corps plans to “restock the shelves” in its forward-deployed bases, both with men and materiel, Mills said. Plans are to maintain at least two Marine Expeditionary Brigades worth of equipment — enough to support around 14,500 Marines and sailors.
Despite heading into a defense spending trough, Mills said the Marine Corps was committed to its traditional role of amphibious, forcible entry capabilities. As it modernizes, though slowly and in fits and starts, if industry delivers affordable technologies, both will thrive, he said.
“My advice to our suppliers is to simply keep calm and carry on,” he said. “The Marine Corps has been through this before.”