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Gates Opaque on EFV Call

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One of the decisions not yet made by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates is the future of the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle (EFV), the new "amtrac" being developed for the Marine Corps. The EFV program was initiated in 1996 as a "high-speed" combat vehicle to carry Marines from amphibious ships offshore to the beach and, once ashore, operate as an armored personnel carrier.

But speaking at the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island, on 17 April, Secretary Gates said, "[W]e have to take a hard look at where it would be necessary or sensible to launch another major amphibious action again. In the 21st century, how much amphibious capability do we need?" The U.S. Marine Corps has not made an opposed amphibious assault in more than half a century -- since the landing at Inchon, Korea, in the fall of 1950.

The Marine Corps has operated "amtracs" -- amphibious tractors -- since 1942. Production and the introduction of new types of LVTs for landing vehicles, tracked (with those mounting heavy guns called LVT(A) for "armored") continued, with the last model being the LVTP-7 (the "P" for personnel), introduced in 1967. The designation was changed to Assault Amphibian Vehicle (AAV-7) and when its successor was initiated it was designated as the Advanced AAV. On 10 September 2003, the planned AAAV was changed to EFV, according to the official Marine Corps web site, "in keeping with the U.S. Marine Corps cultural shift from a 20th century force defined by amphibious operations to a 21st Century force focusing on a broadened range of employment concepts and possibilities across a spectrum of conflict."

While the gobbledygook explains little, the Marine leadership continues to give the EFV a high priority, saying that it is vital to provide an amphibious capability into the 21st Century. As recently as 12 March of this year, Lieutenant General George J. Flynn, the Deputy Commandant for Combat Development and Integration, wrote that, "This nation requires the ability to rapidly project combat power ashore from U.S. Navy ships to ensure our security against international threats. The Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle remains a vital capability to accomplish that amphibious mission and is the commandant's top ground combat priority."

But after more than a decade of development and the expenditure of many millions of dollars, the prime contractor, General Dynamics, has not yet produced an operational vehicle. The principal difficulty is in making the EFV a high-speed water vehicle, that is capable of traveling from ship to shore at just under 30 m.p.h., and upon climbing onto the beach become an armored fighting vehicle, capable of 45 m.p.h. speeds on good roads.

It has a complex configuration to achieve those speeds in water and to then "transform" into a land vehicle. The vehicle's diesel engine produces 850 horsepower through a complex transmission in land mode and an impressive 2,700 horsepower through twin pump-jets in the water mode.

The EFV is intended to carry 17 combat-laden Marines and is operated by a crew of three. It would be armed with a 30-mm Bushmaster II M242 cannon and a 7.62-mm M240 machine gun.

The question must be asked, however, is how does the EFV fit into modern "amphibious" operations? The Marine Corps speaks of over-the-horizon assaults as the key component of its Operational Maneuver From the Sea. Several Department of Defense, Defense Science Board, and Naval Research Advisory Committee studies indicate that amphibious forces must stand off some 50 miles from hostile beaches because of the increasing threats from land-launched missiles, low-flying aircraft, and unmanned aerial vehicles. Thus, Marines could be afloat in EFVs for almost two hours in reaching the beach. And the word beach is significant -- EFVs come across a beach, they do not "land" at the objective, which could be an inland airfield, government building, or crossroads. Even a port that is critical for capture may not be suitable for EFV landings.

In contrast, at the same time as the EFVs are moving through the water toward the beach at about 25 m.p.h., other Marines will be landed at the objective by helicopters and the MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft, which have much greater speeds. Further, once ashore, the EFV may not be an effective combat vehicle because of (1) its high noise level, (2) height of the vehicle, (3) treads that are vulnerable to heavy land use, (4) slow speed over certain terrain, and (5) relatively light armor.

These factors, coupled with the low probability of the need for across-the-beach landings -- which should not be confused with the potential viability of air-landed amphibious operations -- demand that the EFV program be carefully scrutinized.

The fate of the EFV will most likely be decided by the Department of Defense's Quadrennial Defense Review, a major assessment of military programs and policies, that will shape the Pentagon's fiscal year 2011 budget.  Indications are that if the review takes an objective look at the requirements for future amphibious operations and the relative costs of retaining over-the-beach assault capabilities, the EFV will receive its long-delayed scuttling.

-- Norman Polmar

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