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Marines Looking for a Ride

It doesn't have a budget yet and the public can't learn much about the still evolving requirements but we can tell you that the Marine Personnel Carrier will be lighter than its brethren the MRAP, JLTV and EFV.

Just reciting that vegetable soup of rides for the Marines can get confusing. But this isn't just an academic exercise. Marines need vehicles that can handle varied terrain, provide ballistic protection and are substantial enough to carry combat rigged Marines. MRAPs work pretty well in nice flat desert places like Iraq but, as Marine Commandant Gen. James Conway reminded us, they ride pretty high and can tip over fairly easily. Plus, while MRAPs offer excellent protection against bombs planted in the ground, they are big and heavy and not as mobile as the Marines would like.

Humvees aren't bad but they don't provide enough protection and they are coming to the end of their production line. And, of course, the Marines' own EFV was the poster child for botched Pentagon buying during an April 30 hearing held by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. The $13.2 billion Marine Corps program - meant to produce an updated AAV - started in 1996 when the Marines issued a contract to General Dynamics. Initially, the program won plaudits for its innovative management and it passed through the program definition and risk reduction phase in mid-2001. Then things began to fall apart. The Marines issued a contract for the next phase of the program which was supposed to cost $712 million but quickly rose by the end of 2006 to an estimated $1.2 billion.

The EFV weighs too much to carry combat-ready Marines and still go as fast as it should. It operated only four-and-half hours before requiring major maintenance instead of the planned 47 hours. It is so loud that Marines cannot speak to each other and have to wear ear plugs. But Conway told reporters he thought that the program was moving ahead smartly and making improvements. Of course, it's not too hard to do a better job when your program has been pared way back, as it was by John Young, undersecretary of Defense for acquisition technology and logistics. Young signed a June 18 acquisition decision memorandum that allows the Marines to build only seven prototypes of the EFV over the next four years. How hard can that be? Still, Conway was optimistic. "I mean, it was having some issues earlier but we think those issues are substantially resolved. We've gotten some good reports in recent weeks and months on the progress of EFV," he said Wednesday.

But, as Conway conceded, even a robust EFF program wouldn't be enough. The Joint Light Tactical Vehicle was supposed to help a lot. "But we still have a shortfall in terms of a mounted capability for our Marines with regard to the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle or making up the shortfall really in the EFV. You know, we needed a little over 1,000 to be able to provide everybody a conveyance in the same vehicle. That buy was essentially cut in half so there's a need out there for what my guys at Quantico are calling an MPC -- a Marine Personnel Carrier. And so we're going to try to sort out just what that vehicle needs to look like."

There is one knowledge point (the folks at GAO would love that reference) we have from the Marines System Command: "Two MPCs will lift a reinforced rifle squad permitting a greater degree of tactical dispersion." And it will be able to swim. So far, there's only one industry team pursuing the MPC. Lockheed martin teamed with Patria, the Finnish defense company, to offer their Armored Modular Vehicle 8 X 8.

The Marines have too little money, too many wars and too many other fires to put out to pay for MPC any time soon so the first milestone decision on MPC was pushed off until 2010 a few months ago.

In the meantime, Conway said the Army and Marines "are still waiting for that technological breakthrough that's going to give us the amount of soldier and Marine protection in a vehicle that is lighter than what's on the market right now. So we -- you know, we continue to wait."

So that's what we'll do while this crucial piece of the Marines procurement needs get hammered out.

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