Marines present armor upgrade plan for fighting vehicle
By Megan Scully
November 2, 2007

In response to concerns registered on Capitol Hill, the Marine Corps has devised a proposal that would improve the ability of its Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle to withstand blasts from deadly roadside bombs.

During a closed-door briefing with lawmakers Thursday, Marine Corps officials said they could design an armor insert to attach to the amphibious vehicle that would give it nearly as much protection on land as the best Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles now fielded in Iraq, said House Armed Services Seapower and Expeditionary Forces Subcommittee Chairman Gene Taylor, D-Miss.

The briefing was the result of an extensive review of the program prompted by Taylor and Seapower and Expeditionary Forces Subcommittee ranking member Roscoe Bartlett, R-Md., both of whom raised concerns in June that the vehicles would be too vulnerable to the improvised bombs that have killed and wounded scores of U.S. troops in Iraq.

The General Dynamics Land Systems vehicle, estimated to cost $17 million a copy, has been in a development and testing phase, still several years away from actual production and deployment.

Taylor and Bartlett initially urged the Marine Corps to consider redesigning the EFV to include the same kind of v-shaped hull that has made the MRAP the Defense Department's top wartime procurement priority.

The EFV features a flat bottom similar to the military's fleet of Humvees, which have offered little protection against improvised explosives despite extensive efforts to add armor to the vehicles. But the Marine Corps has argued that a v-shaped hull would mean sacrificing speed when the vehicle skids across open water to bring Marines ashore.

The EFV, which is expected to be one of several platforms designed to improve the Corps' speed and maneuverability in expeditionary or amphibious operations, is designed to race across water at more than 25 miles per hour and drive across land at 45 mph.

Despite the Marine Corps' aversion to the v-shaped design, Taylor and Bartlett persisted in a letter sent days later to Marine Corps Commandant James Conway, followed by a breakfast meeting on the issue between Conway and Taylor.

During their review, Marine Corps officials explored several options, including a "shallow-V" design, Taylor said. Their favored option, he said, is the armor insert, otherwise known as an "applique," which would offer almost as much protection as the Buffalo MRAP, the largest of the military's new fleet of mine-resistant vehicles.

"We would like to see it as good as the MRAPs, personally," Taylor said. "I hope that they got that message today."

But Taylor noted that the Marine Corps' briefing illustrated only the preliminary results of the study and said the issue of protecting the EFV from blasts is not yet resolved.

"We're moving in the right direction," he said, adding that the House Armed Services Committee will likely weigh in on the issue.

During Thursday's meeting, Taylor and Bartlett urged the Marine Corps to test prototypes of the vehicles extensively to ensure they offer adequate protection against roadside bombs before they begin to produce them.

"A lot of this is computer models," Taylor said. "We want to see ... the real deal."