The fate of the Marine Corps’ Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle (EFV) has been hanging by a thread ever since the military services delivered their proposed fiscal 2012 budgets to the defense secretary last Summer. If assembly of the final budget request for submission to Congress in February is following a normal schedule, then this is the month when decisions on controversial programs like EFV will be made. However, trying to fit an EFV decision inside the usual budget schedule could doom both the program and many Marines going ashore in the future, because the data needed to make an informed decision won’t be available until January.
Most people who follow the sea services by now know the EFV story. It’s supposed to replace aged Cold War amphibious vehicles that have become sitting ducks in an era of precision guided munitions. It has more speed, more range, more firepower and more protection than any amphibious vehicle in history, with a price-tag to match. But the price-tag wouldn’t matter were it not for reliability problems that cropped up in early testing of the vehicle, because everybody knows that the service has no backup plan if EVF falters. In other words, it will either be out of the amphibious warfare business or it will be facing heavy casualties every time it goes ashore in an opposed landing.
The service has adopted a series of modifications to compensate for the fact that it underfunded reliability at the beginning of the program, and more resilient prototypes began testing this week. The tests will be completed in January. That isn’t such a long wait to find out whether the $2 billion investment in EFV made to date was worth it, but it may be too long for some Pentagon budgeteers. They will be urging a final decision before the test results are in, so the budget can be locked down and they can go wherever bureaucrats go during the holidays. Given the past pronouncements of defense secretary Robert Gates on the future of amphibious warfare, that probably would mean the end of the road for EFV.
This is a moment that calls for some reflection on the part of policymakers and military leaders. Whether we like it or not, the U.S. Marine Corps will need to go ashore in the face of hostile fire in the future. If its warfighters do not get the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle or something like it after waiting decades for a new amphibious vehicle, then hundreds, maybe thousands, of them could die unnecessarily in future conflicts. So if EFV fails in its reliability testing, then the Pentagon needs to start over fast on something better. But if it does well, then the government needs to find a way of funding it. What the government should not do is kill a vital warfighting system before it knows whether that system is suitable for future combat needs. To act precipitously now, without the necessary data, wouldn’t just waste money spent to date on the program, it would squander the lives of Marines who put themselves in harms way to protect America.
Find Archived Articles: