Reporters and pundits say the EFV is over budget, behind schedule and plagued by design defects. Now for the good news: Most of the bad news is years out of date.
The program is running late because problems were found in testing that needed to be fixed, and now they have been. As Bettina H. Chavanne -- one of the few journalists who seems to be paying attention -- reported in Aviation Week & Space Technology on March 6, "The U.S. Marine Corps' Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle -- EFV -- negotiated its latest hurdle, a Critical Design Review -- CDR -- in December with relative ease, clearing the way for the first hull to roll off the assembly line as a prototype in May 2010."
Somehow, this success has been overlooked by many of the news outlets that pronounced EFV an acquisition disaster in recent years. The reality is that it is by far the best amphibious armored vehicle ever built, and the Marine Corps continues to describe it as the service's No. 1 ground combat priority.
The high priority is easy to understand: The EFV is the only system available that can swiftly take a reinforced rifle squad -- the basic building block of Marine expeditionary warfare -- ashore from warships beyond the reach of enemy weapons, and then immediately transition to being a highly effective land combat vehicle. Its speed in the water is three times that of the vehicle it will replace, and its range enables EFV to go ashore in more places than an enemy typically can fortify.
The controversy surrounding EFV is similar to the long-running debate over another Marine program, the MV-22 Osprey. The Osprey is a revolutionary rotor-craft that combines the vertical agility of a helicopter with the speed and range of a fixed-wing aircraft. It has proven itself in multiple deployments to Iraq and is now destined for Afghanistan, but its success also has been largely ignored by the media.
Apparently, bad news sells better than good news. Fortunately, the leadership of the Marine Corps is more loyal to its operating principles than the rest of the culture, which is why EFV is likely to be fielded as planned -- just as MV-22 has managed to reach the force despite the best efforts of unbelievers.
The EFV and the MV-22 Osprey are part of a broader Marine vision formulated in the 1990s called "Operational Maneuver from the Sea." The basic idea is that the Marine Corps must be able to enter hostile nations quickly and forcibly from the sea in order to defeat terrorists, insurgents, pirates and other adversaries.
The sea services have been conducting such operations for two centuries -- most notably in the island-hopping Pacific campaign of World War II -- but littoral areas are now so dangerous that warships must stay farther from shore, so Marines need better lift to move swiftly to their objectives. EFV was designed to transform water and land alike from an obstacle to a maneuver space for U.S. war fighters.
The latest complaint from critics is that the flat bottom of the EFV makes it vulnerable to improvised explosive devices -- IEDs. Some are saying it needs a V-shaped hull to resist such blasts. But that would require a complete redesign and deprive the vehicle of the planning capacity that makes high water speed possible.
The Marine Corps has come up with a better idea: use of more blast-tolerant material, combined with bolt-on armor that can be added when needed. Obviously, if the enemy doesn't know where you are coming ashore, the IED threat is much diminished. The important thing is to get to shore safely, and then have a vehicle like EFV that allows war fighters to adapt quickly to what they find there.
(Loren B. Thompson is chief operating officer of the Lexington Institute, an Arlington, Va.-based think tank that supports democracy and the free market.)
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