Battle brews over US Marines EFV, larger mission


US Lawmakers are primed to defend a US$14 billion General Dynamics Corp amphibious landing vehicle canceled by Defence Secretary Robert Gates, but the larger battle may be over Pentagon plans to shift away from the Marine Corps’ storm-the-beaches mission.

If the Pentagon wins this initial test on the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle, a host of other weapons contracts focused on that mission could be chopped.
“The EFV cancellation is part of a broader plan by policymakers to scale back Marine Corps missions so that many planned programs might not be needed in the future,” said Loren Thompson of the Virginia-based Lexington Institute, Reuters reports.

Thompson said the next target could be the Marine Corps variant of the new Lockheed Martin Corp F-35 fighter jet, developed with short takeoff and vertical landing capabilities for traditional “forcible entry” and amphibious assault missions.

Gates has said it should be canceled unless significant technical issues were resolved within the next two years.

He and others have questioned whether large scale amphibious assaults, last conducted in the Korean war 60 years ago, were still feasible given missiles that can hit ships up to 60 miles offshore.

Gates must now convince Congress, which makes Pentagon budget decisions, that the military should drop pricey Marine programs.

The Pentagon has paid General Dynamics about US$3.3 billion to develop the EFV, which the Marine Corps has called absolutely critical. The armored 39-ton vehicle can quickly transport 17 Marines from 25 miles out at sea to shore and run up to 45 miles per hour on land.

Gates has argued that it would cost another US$13 billion to build the planned 573 vehicles, and has said the Marine Corps needs the money for other programs.

Cost increases and technical problems make for “a pretty compelling case” against the EFV, said Todd Harrison, an analyst with the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.

But former Marines and some lawmakers in Congress have said they will fight for the program and jobs it would create.

Spending US$34 million beyond the US$243 million that was in the fiscal 2011 budget for EFV would allow completion of the current system design and development contract, saving the Marines about $185 million in termination costs, said General Dynamics spokesman Kendell Pease.

He said there was “tremendous support” in Congress for General Dynamics’ proposal to build 200 of the vehicles for US$3.4 billion and avoid wasting billions already spent on development.

The proposal would save hundreds of jobs in Ohio and Michigan, and production would start in about two years, some six years earlier than if the Pentagon launched a new program, Pease said.

Thompson said other programs that could be cut include future maritime prepositioning ships and amphibious assault warships.

Chris Hellman of the National Priorities Project said the Marines had signaled their support for Gates’ plan, keen to safeguard other weapons programs in their budget.
“While they never want to give up that kick-down-the doors and storm-the-beaches capability, they recognize it as an increasingly anachronistic role,” Hellman said.