5 years, 6 months ago
The EFV (Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle) has fallen on hard times. More accurately, it fell on hard times long ago.
It’s back to the drawing board for the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle.
The multibillion dollar program, designed to deliver combat-ready Marines from Navy ships to enemy shores aboard amphibious, armored personnel carriers, is so over-budget and behind schedule that it has been blasted as an “embarrassment” on Capitol Hill and identified as a poster child for troubled military acquisitions projects.
Widespread technical failures caused the Corps to scrap its existing plans two years ago and restart the program’s entire development and demonstration phase, a move that cost nearly $1 billion. But Marine Corps Systems Command is pushing forward with the creation of seven new prototypes while testing continues on existing vehicles in an attempt to head off future problems.
Marine officials say the program has turned a corner, but critics insist the EFV’s time has passed. It’s a money pit, they say, an engineering stinker that will consume about a quarter of the Corps’ research and development budget through 2014.
Even if does better next time around in operational assessments, analysts question whether the development of an amphibious vehicle without a V-shaped hull — favored for deflecting roadside-bomb blasts — makes sense, when there is no apparent need for amphibious raids on the Pentagon’s horizon.
But it’s more than just budgetary problems that plague the program.
Things began unraveling early into the development and demonstration phase. According to reports by the Government Accountability Office and the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, the Corps delayed the project’s completion date three times between November 2002 and March 2005 as numerous components failed in reliability tests.
Ultimately, General Dynamics was paid $1.2 billion under the contract, including $60 million in bonuses and fees for good performance, a 2008 congressional report said.
The GAO and Defense Department auditors blamed the EFV shortfalls on a variety of factors, including the adoption of an unrealistic schedule that rushed production, skipping a comprehensive design process in favor of having General Dynamics fix problems in a piecemeal fashion and not appointing an overall system engineer.
In a pivotal moment, the EFV failed a milestone operational assessment on numerous levels in 2006. According to Defense Department and congressional reports, the assessment was “dominated by very low reliability,” where the vehicle was able to operate only 4.5 hours between breakdowns, with 3.6 hours of corrective maintenance needed for every hour in use. Reviewers completed only two of the 11 amphibious tests and one of the 10 gunnery tests, and the gun turret support arm broke free during the assessment.
The Marines Corps is uncharacteristically willing to accept inferior equipment, even after all of the redesign has been finished. “The Corps expects the new prototypes to last about 19 hours in between breakdown when they first receive them, which would put the requirement of 43.5 hours before breakdown within reach for the final product.” Don’t let this fact escape notice. Target = less than two full days of operation before major malfunction occurs requiring protracted maintenance. This is the ultimate goal, not the interim stages while the Corps tests the vehicle.
Finally, there is the issue of the IED and roadside bomb vulnerability of the EFV, since it has a flat bottom hull due to its need to float. The Corps has experience in the use of flat bottom craft when, in the summer of 2005, 14 Recon Marines perished in Anbar when running an Amphibious Assault Vehicle down a road in the desert.
Marine Corps Commandant Conway has a justification for the continued investment in the EFV. “We’re optimistic that once people understand the facts and understand that the United States Navy is not going closer than 25 miles to a shore, they’ll appreciate the value of a vehicle that is really an armored personnel carrier that also planes at about 30 knots over open ocean,” Conway said. “We think that the program is absolutely necessary to what we do.”
This issue touches on a debate over the so-called littoral combat program on which the U.S. Navy has supposedly embarked. Twenty five miles is beyond the horizon. The Navy believes in littoral combat, or so it says, but not really. Not if it’s a risky proposition. So Commandant Conway’s solution is to field the EFV. A video of the USS San Antonio, the LCAC and the EFV is below.
But the whole amphibious assault construct including the EFV rests on the propositions that it [amphibious assault] will be necessary, that the assault will be a surprise along with the corollary idea that there will be no IEDs to destroy the EFVs, and that there is no other solution to the dilemma.
Let’s challenge at least the last three of those propositions. First, if an amphibious assault becomes necessary against a nation-state, it is not a legitimate claim that the state will not be aware of the Amphibious Assault Dock just off its coast. The element of surprise is thus taken away, and therefore the EFV is vulnerable to IEDs due to its flat hull, just like the Amphibious Assault Vehicle shown above.
Second, if the target to be invaded is a failed state, it’s not plausible to claim that conventional equipment such as the EFV is necessary. If there is a need for rapid deployment of Marines, along with heavier equipment and firepower, then the solution is to invest money in a new generation of assault helicopters.
The problem of a broken military procurement system and irresponsible defense contractors isn’t going to go away. The Marine Corp Commandant doesn’t need to jettison the expeditionary philosophy of the Corps. Helicopters can supply the needed firepower, carried on board Aircraft Carriers and Amphibious Assault Docks. The Commandant needs to jettison the EFV. And the Navy needs to stop bragging about littoral combat unless they prove themselves actually willing to do it.