View Full Version : EFV delivery delayed to 2015; costs double

03-15-07, 07:23 AM
EFV delivery delayed to 2015; costs double

By Kimberly Johnson - Staff writer
Posted : Wednesday Mar 14, 2007 19:46:48 EDT

The Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle program, which has long languished under cost and scheduling overruns due to unreliability during testing, now has doubled in price and won’t bear fruit until 2015, according to an internal defense report.

Program acquisition unit costs per vehicle are now expected to total $22.3 million each, up from $12.3 million estimated last August, according to briefing slides from a March 1 stakeholder report obtained by Marine Corps Times.

The slides went on to say that even with redesign tweaks, there is “limited evidence” that the Corps’ reliability requirement is achievable, it’s “unclear if a redesign effort of the current vehicle is a feasible solution,” and also “unclear” if the time frame is executable.

The revised numbers and conclusions are “astonishing,” said Philip Coyle, senior adviser for the Center for Defense Information and the former top tester at the Pentagon. The delay is the second major setback so far this year for the program, which is slated to replace the aging Assault Amphibian Vehicle.

Until late 2006, the program was expected to begin low-rate initial production this year, with the first vehicle hitting the fleet in December 2010.

That changed in February, when the president’s defense budget proposal pushed production back by three years to allow time for new testing prototypes to be built. The amended timeline was also expected to add another $300 million annually, Corps officials said. The new plan, presented to Pentagon officials March 1, pushes that back even further, with “initial operating capability” in 2015 and “full operational capability” in 2025.

While Corps officials say the EFV prototype, built by General Dynamics, meets many of the program’s standards, such as compatibility with Navy amphibious ships and the ability to punch through surf zones, it fails in numerous areas considered critical for combat. It breaks down, on average, about every eight hours and has unpredictable steering when accelerating in water, according to a Defense Department Operational Testing and Evaluation report released last December.

On Feb. 6, the week the president’s budget proposal was submitted to Congress, Navy Secretary Donald Winter sent a letter to lawmakers informing them that the EFV program had breached the Nunn-McCurdy statute, a tripwire that activates once the unit cost for a program exceeds the base-line cost by 15 percent. When a breach occurs, the secretary of defense must certify that the program meets certain criteria in order for the program to survive.

At the March 1 meeting of Defense Department and Marine Corps stakeholders, officials looked ahead and designated teams to discuss the four areas that must be certified: that the program is essential to national security; no alternatives would do the job at a lower cost; new unit costs are reasonable; and management structure is adequate to ensure the problem doesn’t occur again.

Despite the fact that the Corps has almost halved the number of EFVs it intends to buy — from 1,013 to 573 — the total cost of the program remains roughly $10 billion.

“Even though they’ve cut the quantity in half, the total cost will be almost the same,” Coyle said. “If they hadn’t cut the quantity in half, the cost would be twice as much.”

Despite the program’s trends, Congress will still likely support it, Coyle said. “If it starts to look like they’re throwing good money after bad, they’ll have a problem,” he said. “I think Congress will support the Marine Corps, they always do, so long as they believe the Corps has its arms around this program.”

The EFV will now face more congressional scrutiny, he said. “Programs never want to be in that situation. It sends up a red flag to Congress that this program is in trouble.”

Just how the Corps reached this point has some pointing fingers at General Dynamics.

“The problem has got to be with the contractor,” Coyle said. “They have not as yet produced a system that is acceptable.”

The amount of time invested in the program could potentially save General Dynamics from losing the contract, he explained.

“It’s pretty late at this point,” Coyle said. “Once you get this far along in the program, competition gets expensive because basically you start from scratch.”

A call to General Dynamics for comment was not immediately returned on Wednesday.

Bob Work, a defense analyst at the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, said officials are “coming to grips” with the cost overruns.

“It is now reaching the level where you really have to debate whether or not this program should go forward,” he said.

Cutting the unit buy in half, coupled with the redesign to hit reliability targets, is pushing the program acquisition costs up, and “driving costs into an area where you have to debate the feasibility and advisability of this program,” Work said.

The Corps’ lofty goals for the EFV — to build a vehicle that rides on top of a wave for 25 miles, then gears down and becomes an armored personnel carrier for the next 200 miles on land — are extensive, the Corps’ top officer conceded Wednesday. “That’s pretty complicated, so we can understand why there have been some burps in the program when you realize that you’re asking industry to do something that has never been done like that,” Commandant Gen. James Conway told reporters during a breakfast meeting in Washington, D.C.

The Corps’ existing fleet of amtracs will take the service only so far into the future. AAVs travel about 8 miles per hour on the water and fill the troop compartment with fuel fumes. “It can’t negotiate those higher sea states that you would find the further you get out to sea,” Conway said. “I think we’re in a period of risk right now until we get this EFV.

“The Navy’s billion-dollar ships will not come closer than probably 25 miles to the beach,” he added, citing sea-skimming missiles that were fired at Israeli ships this past summer off the coast of Lebanon. “Those weren’t nation states, those were just terrorists … using that kind of capability.”

The Corps needs the capability that the EFV would bring, he said.

“We’ve got to close that 25 miles,” Conway said. “It’s an absolutely essential requirement that we have that kind of capability. And from my perspective, sooner is much better because we shorten that period of risk that we’re in right now with the Navy ships not wanting to get close to those anti-access systems.”