Law­mak­ers will fight Gates’s plan to can­cel Ma­rine ve­hi­cle

De­bate comes as Corps weighs dif­fi­cult cuts in bud­get, forces

The Washington Post Sunday - - POLITICS & THE NATION - BY WAL­TER PIN­CUS pin­cusw@wash­post.com

The back­room con­gres­sional bat­tle over De­fense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates’s plan to elim­i­nate the Ma­rine Corps’ multi­bil­lion-dol­lar am­phibi­ous Ex­pe­di­tionary Fight­ing Ve­hi­cle will be fought out at the same time as the Corps wres­tles with how to shrink its forces.

Rep. W. Todd Akin (R-Mo.), new chair­man of the House Armed Ser­vices sub­com­mit­tee on seapower and ex­pe­di­tionary forces, said Thurs­day that he and oth­ers “are go­ing to be op­pos­ing the sec­re­tary and his de­ci­sion.” He added, “ The need for the core ca­pa­bil­ity of the Marines’’ — to at­tack on land from the sea — “ has not gone away . . . but how many we buy may be ne­go­ti­ated.”

The ar­mored 39-ton ve­hi­cle, which is op­er­ated by a three-per­son crew and can carry 17 com­bat ready Marines, is in­tended to travel at 20 knots from 25 miles out at sea to the shore and run at speeds of up to 45 mph on land. De­signed to re­place a slower, 30year-old am­phibi­ous as­sault ve­hi­cle that car­ries 21 Marines and a crew of three, the EFV has cost $3.3 bil­lion to de­velop. As costs have sky­rock­eted, the Marines have re­duced the num­ber they ex­pect to or­der from 1,025 to 573.

Tests of orig­i­nal pro­to­types in 2006 saw re­peated fail­ures and crit­i­cal break­downs with ve­hi­cles, re­quir­ing 3.4 hours of cor­rec­tive main­te­nance for ev­ery one hour of op­er­a­tion. The pro­gram was re­struc­tured in 2007, and five new re­designed EFV pro­to­types are be­ing tested at Camp Pendle­ton, Calif.

In his state­ment an­nounc­ing that the pro­gram would end, Gates said that it would cost $13 bil­lion more for the planned 573 to be built and that they could bring ashore only 4,000 troops at any one time, be­cause not all of the EFVs could be used in a sin­gle op­er­a­tion.

Since Au­gust, a study group has been car­ry­ing out Gates’s or­der to re­view what ex­pe­di­tionary forces should look like in the 21st cen­tury. The group’s char­ter ac­knowl­edges that bud­gets cuts will re­quire “re­duc­tions in Ma­rine Corps end strength, equip­ment and mod­ern­iza­tion.”

Ma­rine Com­man­dant Gen. James F. Amos is go­ing over a draft of the force struc­ture re­view and says it will be re­leased in early spring. Gates has said that be­gin­ning in 2015, about 20,000 Marines will be cut from the Corps’ cur­rent size of 202,000.

Gates said his de­ci­sion to cut the EFV “does not call into ques­tion the Marines’ am­phibi­ous as­sault mis­sion. We will bud­get the funds nec­es­sary to de­velop a more af­ford­able and sus­tain­able am­phibi­ous trac­tor to pro­vide the Marines a ship-to-shore ca­pa­bil­ity into the fu­ture.”

But Gates does not have the fi­nal word. And al­though Amos, the Marines’ new com­man­dant, has pub­licly called the EFV pro­cure­ment and main­te­nance costs “oner­ous” and “sim­ply not af­ford­able,” some key leg­is­la­tors want the pro­gram kept alive.

Akin said try­ing to up­grade the older am­phibi­ous ve­hi­cle would be “ to­tally un­ac­cept­able.” Its lack of speed and need to stay over the hori­zon in any com­bat sit­u­a­tion mean that it needs three hours to get to shore, and af­ter “ bob­bing in the ocean mov­ing at 4 knots, the Marines would not want to do any fight­ing.”

“My po­si­tion is if we can’t af­ford 500, we can scale the num­ber back but our ob­jec­tive would be to pur­chase EFVs,” Akin said. With Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon (R-Calif.), the new chair­man of the House Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee, on his side, Akin said, “I don’t see the House do­ing any­thing other than re­sist­ing Gates’s po­si­tion.”

Other mem­bers of Congress, many of whom have com­pa­nies in their states or dis­tricts with EFV con­tracts or sub­con­tracts, have also crit­i­cized the planned elim­i­na­tion of the EFV and its ef­fect on the Ma­rine Corps.

Sen. Sher­rod Brown (D-Ohio), who serves on the Se­nate Ap­pro­pri­a­tions de­fense sub­com­mit­tee, and Reps. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio) and Jim Jor­dan (R-Ohio) sent a let­ter to Pres­i­dent Obama on the day Gates an­nounced the can­cel­la­tion, urg­ing the pres­i­dent to hold up any de­ci­sion un­til af­ter the test­ing pro­gram is con­cluded.

“Do­ing any­thing else will deny our Marines a much needed war-fight­ing ca­pa­bil­ity, will un­nec­es­sar­ily cost tax­pay­ers bil­lions of dol­lars, and will en­dan­ger the key ground com­bat ve­hi­cle in­dus­trial base in this coun­try,” they wrote. They pointed out that EFVs will be com­ing off a “ tank pro­duc­tion and mod­i­fi­ca­tion line at Lima, Ohio. . . . With­out the EFV, these fa­cil­i­ties will be se­verely down­graded, hurt­ing the lo­cal economies and elim­i­nat­ing hun­dreds of high-pay­ing, high-skilled man­u­fac­tur­ing jobs.”

Brown, Kaptur and Jor­dan also sug­gested “pur­chas­ing 200 ve­hi­cles” as a vi­able op­tion, say­ing it would equip two Ma­rine Ex­pe­di­tionary Bri­gades with mod­ern am­phibi­ous lift and save up to $5 bil­lion from the cost of the cur­rent pro­gram.

Peter Keat­ing, vice pres­i­dent of com­mu­ni­ca­tions with Gen­eral Dy­nam­ics Land Sys­tems, the lead con­trac­tor, said the pur­chase of 200 EFVs would also al­low Gates to have enough funds from the orig­i­nal pro­gram to up­grade ex­ist­ing am­phibi­ous ve­hi­cles. He called that “a win-win sit­u­a­tion.”

The test­ing of pro­to­types at Camp Pendle­ton has lasted 400 of a planned 500 hours and is sched­uled to be com­pleted by month’s end. Scor­ing of the re­sults is ex­pected in Fe­bru­ary. “What­ever data we get from there will in­flu­ence what we do in the near fu­ture,” said Emanuel Pacheco, a Ma­rine Corps spokesman.

He added that there have been lessons learned from the pro­gram, “and de­spite all the de­trac­tors, this” — am­phibi­ous land­ing in a con­tested area — “is not a ca­pa­bil­ity that is go­ing to go away.”

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