The US Marines’ EFV Program: Current State Report, November 2006
On October 13, 2006, Jane’s Navy International reported that:
“Production of the US Marine Corps’ (USMC’s) next-generation amphibious assault vehicle is expected to slip after the vehicle returned poor reliability in a recent operational assessment. Designed as a replacement for the ageing AAV7 family of amphibious assault vehicles, the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle (EFV) is to be capable of speeds of up to 25 kt at sea – three times faster than the legacy AAVP7-A1 – and 45 mph on land, enabling it to keep up with the M1A1/2 Abrams main battle tank.”
Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle Program Manager Col. John Bryant took the time to answer questions on the project. The conversation covered that operational assessment, its implications, and the future of the EFV program. Some things are clear. Some things aren’t yet clear…
The EFV’s Operational Assessment
The Operational Assessment (OA) was used to gauge the EFV Program’s progress on the way to a decision about certifying the vehicle for “Milestone C” status that makes it eligible for low-rate initial production. The OA was conducted from January to September 2006, and the final report is due in December 2006.
The OA process is intended to be a challenging, realistic attempt to put the EFV through mission profiles similar to those it would face in use, with Marines at the controls. The EFV had to demonstrate launch from an amphibious ship over the horizon, high speed in the water and while transporting 17 marines inland, mobility inland that can keep up with the Marines’ M1 Abrams tanks, firepower, and communication nodes that worked and were compatible with USMC networks. These Key Performance Parameters (KPPs) had been set in advance, and the EFV met them all.
The EFV also had to demonstrate expected progress along a reliability growth curve. Note that this isn’t the same thing as final mission reliability, which is measured part-way through low-rate initial production. Rather, the vehicle’s reliability level is expected to grow over time as technologies mature and integration progresses within the program. Operational Assessments test whether that growth is at the level the Marines were expecting, and therefore showing the progress they were expecting – unfortunately, the preliminary assessment confirms that the EFV fell short of those targets.
We talked to Col. Bryant and asked where the problems were, and whether they were concentrated in specific areas. He replied that unfortunately there was no single problem area that drove down reliability all by itself, just scattered groups of occasional failures in systems throughout the vehicle.
Obviously, that’s a harder problem to solve.
In response, an EFV Program stakeholder meeting with Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Kenneth Krieg in attendance was held on October 4, 2006 to assess the program’s state. The meeting determined that the EFV was not ready for Milestone C and Low-Rate Initial Production (LRIP) this year; it needed to present a plan for achieving with the required reliability growth first, and then show adequate progress.
EFV LRIP was supposed to start in FY 2007, in order to allow for further testing. The inability to start LRIP mean the EFV program will be restructured, therefore – but in order to do that properly, they need to know how big and complex the maintainability challenge really is.
In order to achieve that goal, Secretary Delores M. Etter (US Navy Secretary for Research, Development & Acquisition) has sent in an independent expert review panel to assess the situation. Their task is to figure out how big the program’s reliability challenges really are, and what might be required in order to succeed and move on. All parties – Krieg, the Marines, and EFV program management – are waiting for that report before they move to restructure the program. All parties know that the program will take longer now that it has missed its expected Milestone C date; they just don’t know how much longer yet. So reports of a 2-year program delay are somewhat premature, but depending on how complex the challenges prove, the most likely range is 1-2 years.
The independent expert review report is expected in December 2006. The final operational assessment report is also due in December. A specific program restructuring plan is expected to follow by February 2007.
EFV Quantities Headed for a 50% Cut?
Over the last few months, there have also been reports of a cut in EFV numbers. DID’s EFV FOCUS Article discussed the effects of a numbers cut on the price paid per EFV, especially if the production period is kept the same but the number produced declines (fixed costs same, production down = more $$$ per item). This is not always a pure pork decision, though Congressional pork-barrel politics certainly plays a role and often result in very specific stipulations that increase program costs. There can also be an aspect of strategic risk reduction and paying for future options involved in keeping the production capability open over a longer period of time.
While decisions about the EFV’s production period are very premature, it does appear that the number of vehicles looks set to be cut almost in half.
Here’s what happened.
During the recent Quadrennial Defense Review, the Office of the Secretary of Defense directed the Marine Corps to look at its entire planned mix of ground combat vehicles, and consider the kinds of needs they’d be likely to face. DID has covered some aspects of this before, along with unaffiliated third-party reports that have attempted to do similar things. When the USMC had finished its QDR review, their mix of vehicles had changed. Forcible, over-the-horizon amphibious entry vehicles went down in importance. On the other hand, the categories of wheeled armored vehicles (the LAVs are an example) and tactical vehicles (examples include the mine-resistant Cougar, whatever succeeds the Hummer, and other options) rose in numbers. Under the new plan, the US Marines would have more Marines with a ride, dispersed into more vehicles.
As a result, the projected orders for the EFV went from 1,013 to 573. Col. Bryant notes that this numbers cut could increase their cost by as much as $2 million per vehicle.
This shift will also need to be taken into account by the US Navy, who will need to have the LCAC hovercraft, landing craft, pre-positioned ships, or other means as required in order to bring this revised vehicle mix ashore effectively under battlefield conditions.
The Marines, too, may need to rethink their helicopter plans once future tactical vehicle decisions become clear, in order to ensure sufficient lift capability to support the EFVs with a related over-the-horizon maneuver capability. This is especially valuable if it can also position forces in ways that bypass IED land-mine threats et. al. en route. Most mine-resistant tactical vehicles are heavier than the Hummers, however, which could raise the importance of the Marines’ ongoing CH-53K heavy-lift helicopter program to the Corps’ future capabilities.