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Can the Marines' 'war room' save their new EFV?

The Marine Corps is racing to beat the clock as it tries to jump-start work on a cheaper replacement for its Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle. It was another of those Pentagon programs that supporters said was just about to turn the corner when it was eliminated by Secretary Gates. The Marines had been bracing for that contingency by modifying their official lexicon to call for an "EFV-capability," rather than the specific vehicle itself, but it isn't clear how much other Plan B-style fallback planning they had done -- so they've got to shoot through it now most ricky-tick.

The Corps' Amphibious Assault Vehicles are worn out, and it wanted the EFV to whisk Marines from Navy amphibious ships at high speeds over long distances, so the gators could stand well away from shore and keep safe from dangerous, cheap anti-ship missiles. So if that basic construct still applies, how can the Marines build a new EFV-like EFV without running into the same problems that killed the original EFV? That is the subject of a fascinating writeup by my former Politi-pal Jen DiMascio, now of AvWeek, who reports that the Marines are using an acquisition 'war room' to try to clamp down on design and requirements issues as early and as quickly as possible in the process:

Wrote DiMascio:

The analysis of alternatives (AOA) is scheduled to start in mid-October. Lt. Gen. George Flynn, commanding general of the Marine Corps Combat Development Command, says the process needs to be wrapped up in about nine months, which is half the time the lumbering acquisition process typically takes.

Along those lines, Marine Corps Systems Command created a systems engineering "war room" in which engineers work elbow-to-elbow with cost estimators. That way the effect of every trade in weight, speed, survivability or other areas can be assessed and priced.

The whole thing involves about a dozen people at the core along with experts from across the Defense Department, government and academia. For instance, a top engineer from Naval Sea Systems Command is working with the nation's best experts in hydrodynamics on a water-speed red team, says Jim Smerchansky, deputy commander for systems engineering, interoperability, architectures and technology at Marine Corps Systems Command.

Industry is not included in this discussion, but Smerchansky says the process will enable the Marines to draw up requirements in a more detailed way and have a decent idea of the price, enabling them to reject bids that are too high or too low.

And while that may seem like a commonsense approach to buying weapons, it is not how the Pentagon typically does business. "We have not done it on a program of this magnitude in the Marine Corps this early in the program," Smerchansky says.

The full story is worth your time, and it raises some interesting questions about what effect this could have for other programs in Austerity America. Does the Air Force need a 'war room' like this for its bomber, or does the Navy need one for SSBN(X)? If it speeds up the process, this might become more common. One reason the Marines want to get this new amphibious vehicle going yesterday is they know the sooner they start the program, the likelier it is to survive -- just like the Army's Ground Combat Vehicle. In fact, because it's already dedicated to an armored troop carrier, albeit one with a very different details, could the Marines' new 'war room' concept become a model the Army could borrow to control the costs of GCV?

Then again, there may not be enough budget cuts in Christendom to get the Army to willingly emulate the Marines.

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