To Save EFV, Marines Must Kill Operational Maneuver From the Sea

Earlier this week, we ran a story on the Marine's Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle that questioned the swimming amphibian's utility, arguing that it was a niche capability. Our resident maritime warfare expert, Craig Hooper, disagrees; but saving the EFV will require the Corps rethink how the vehicle will be used.

By Craig Hooper Defense Tech Naval Weapons and Warfare Analyst

If the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle (EFV) proves reliable and meets current performance goals, it has a chance to enter the American arsenal. But the EFV’s chances would get even better if the Marines decoupled the EFV from “Operational Maneuver From The Sea” (OMFTS).

In 2008, after a year of fighting with Marines serving on the U.S. Naval Institute Editorial Board, Proceedings published my essay on the EFV (you can read it here). In the article, I suggested that, to survive, the EFV forgo OMFTS to focus on the beachhead and the wetter side of the littorals.

But it’ll be tough. First, the Marine Corps must acknowledge that, in the case of heavy amphibious armor, the goals of “Operational Maneuver From The Sea” need to be dialed back. Let OMFTS goals for amphibious armor evolve…or die.

Look. Ever since Cold War-era Marines were tasked to take the Kola Peninsula, the OMFTS strategy and the EFV Program have been locked in a mutually-constraining strategic straitjacket. The relationship is stifling innovation. Instead, let’s acknowledge that heavy armored vehicles just can’t be built to reliably handle both sustained land operations and contested amphibious landings--and move on.

The need for specialized OMFTS heavy armor is vanishing. As Joint High Speed Vessels (JHSV) and other new seabasing tools enter the fleet, America will—soon—have the capability to project (at almost any unimproved, albeit secure lodgment) a goodly amount of tanks and vehicles specialized for land warfare.

I’m not arguing that the EFV be cancelled. It is an important tool, but, given America’s new littoral assets, Marines must be content to leave the EFV at the beachhead and allow specialized land warfare tools to shoulder the workload further inland.

Amphibious armor will always be useful during routine “bread-and-butter” amphibious contingencies. Heavy Infantry Fighting Vehicles will be just as useful in the future as they were in Grenada, Somalia and other legacy operations. Getting an armored vehicle or two ashore quickly during an evacuation or lightly-contested confrontation makes a big difference. That’s not going to change.

Nor will maintaining a credible coral-crawling forcible-entry capability in the Pacific. With atolls governing large swaths of economically-important sea floor, lightly-held islets and sea features will likely be the centerpieces of future conflict.

But if removed from the constraints of OMFTS, the EFV is open to serve a number of interesting roles. In the water, can’t the EFV fight boats? Serve as a ship’s defensive screen? With a bigger gun (or mortar) could the EFV “shoot-and-scoot” from the hard-to-hit surf? Or fight from the shallows of some maritime choke-point? Dashing inland if outgunned at sea?

Might the EFV be able to serve as a means to give cheap logistical vessels some fangs? Imagine if a slightly modified Ro-Ro, JHSV or LCS could disgorge (and perhaps even recover) a few EFVs? Armed with 120 millimeter GPS-guided mortars? That’d certainly be interesting.

A more water-happy EFV would serve as a cheap means to enhance the utility of existing cost-effective platforms. By jettisoning the lofty OMFTS goals for armor and directing the EFV towards the wetter littorals and the Pacific, the Marines can save the EFV—getting a chance to keep honing their new tech and build a small cadre of amphibious specialists.

But if the Marines go into a defensive crouch over the EFV, sticking to the EFV’s old Cold War rationale, they’ll find their battlefield ethos makes a poor match for a wily old SECDEF who has nothing left to loose.


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