Corps' New Jeep Travels Bumpy Road

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I saw an interesting report on the Marine Corps' Growler program (otherwise known as the Internally Transportable Vehicle, or ITV)...

Walter Pincus of the Washington Post dug through some documents and wrote a story that pretty much sums up the rutted path Marine Corps has driven down in this vehicle.

The Marine Corps is starting to deploy a jeeplike vehicle called the Growler, 10 years after conception and at twice the contract price, after delays that were caused by changing concepts and problems in contracting, development and testing, according to two reports...

The inspector general report said that the average cost of a single Growler has risen 120 percent, from about $94,000 when the contract was awarded in 2004 to $209,000 in 2008. The unit cost for the vehicle with mortar and ammunition trailer has grown 86 percent, from $579,000 to $1,078,000...

The first six mortar and ammunition systems have been sent to Marine units, as have about 20 ITVs.

The Army has 81 ITVs under contract and is awaiting bids on 70 more; there are 12 mortar and ammunition trailer systems under contract and 20 more out for bids...

I covered the ITV pretty closely back in the day (before I was largely shut out of Systems Command) and I'm conflicted by the troubled program. On the one hand, I'm still skeptical about the selection of the actual "Growler" vehicle -- essentially a tricked out WWII-era Jeep. It looks vulnerable and doesn't seem to meet a wider need within the Marine Corps. Did the Corps really need a vehicle that could be transported by the Osprey and tow a 120mm mortar? Or did the Osprey need it to convince skeptics that the bird could be used for aerial raids so the Corps concocted this program?

Clearly the selection of American Growler was a poor one. I'm a big fan of the underdog like anyone else here, but with a price tag of $209,000 for a tricked out CJ6 smacks of cost growth and programmatic problems. And just leave it to a defense giant like GD to double the cost in 10 years...

Troubles with the two systems started in 2004 during the final competition between two bidders for the vehicle contract. One bidder was a team of the giant defense contractor General Dynamics Corp. and a small company called American Growler Inc. of Ocala, Fla., known primarily for building a successful dune buggy using surplus, customized Army M151A2s, a popular version of the military jeep. The other was a contractor in Michigan called Rae-Beck Automotive LLC, which built a popular neighborhood electric car.

By choosing General Dynamics and American Growler, the Marines were able to procure an existing vehicle that was equipped with components that could be purchased "off the shelf," avoiding costs of research and developing an entirely new vehicle. While the Rae-Beck entry was found to be superior in some tests, the Growler, according to [SYSCOM spokesman] Garner, was better "in the most important ones."

On the other hand, I have seen the IFAV (the Interim Fast Attack Vehicle, a bad ass Mercedes jeep the size of a Suzuki Samurai) in use by Recon Marines in combat and they love it. It's small, light, holds a ton of gear and can go just about anywhere. Perfect for the Recon mission. And if I know Marines -- and after 10 years of covering them in a wide range of operational environments, I think I do -- they will LOVE the Growler. It just looks like something a Marine could take through the gates of Hell and still come out the other end with the tires melting, the grill smoking but the engine still running.

In short, I think it's a useful exercise to give Pincus's story a look...it's important to remind ourselves of this program and I do think it's worth giving the vehicle a chance. There's a part of me that believes when the Marines finally get their hands on this thing they're going to do some amazing stuff with it.

-- Christian

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