Cancel the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle

The Marine Corps' expeditionary fighting vehicle (EFV) is a tracked armored vehicle that can travel at high speed through the water from a ship to land. The Marine Corps regards the EFV as essential for the conduct of amphibious warfare in the future, particularly for its concept of operational maneuver from the sea, in which troops deploy from ships and move directly to their intended objective far inland without pausing to build up additional forces on the beach. In a major amphibious assault from the sea, six brigades of Marines would deploy from amphibious ships to attack the enemy position. Four of those brigades would be equipped with EFVs, and the other two brigades would deploy from aircraft. According to the Marine Corps, the EFV represents a significant improvement over the existing amphibious assault vehicles (AAVs). The EFV is more survivable and can deploy with higher speed and from much greater distances than the AAVs. In particular, the EFV is intended to deploy from amphibious ships that are 25 nautical miles from the shore compared with only a few miles for the AAV. The higher speed and range provide the Marines with more flexibility as to where and when they land, making it more difficult for the enemy to defend against the assault.

The Marine Corps plans to begin procuring the EFV in 2012. Annual procurement costs would range from about $500 million to $1 billion between 2013 and 2025, when the program would end. The entire program would involve 574 EFVs at a total procurement cost of about $12 billion. The Marine Corps has already spent about $3 billion to develop the vehicle.

This option would cancel the program but provide a stream of research and development funds--and, eventually, procurement funds--that would enable the Marine Corps to come up with an alternative to the EFV. This option does not specify which alternative the Marine Corps would pursue in lieu of the EFV but simply reserves research, development, and procurement funding for an alternative. Such an alternative could involve a different tracked amphibious vehicle that "swims" ashore but is better suited for ground combat, for example, or a new ground combat vehicle that is ferried to shore by a high-speed, ship-to-shore connector craft. Savings over the 2012-2016 period would total about $2 billion. Savings over a longer period would depend on which alternative system emerged from research and development.

An argument for this option is that when the EFV was first conceived as a replacement for the AAV two decades ago, the prospective combat environment was very different. At that time it was thought that the proliferation of antiship cruise missiles would compel naval forces to operate 25 nautical miles from the shore; an amphibious vehicle would therefore need high speed and greater range to deploy from its ship. However, many supporters of this option observe that over the past 20 years the shore-based threats to naval forces have grown more diversified, sophisticated, and numerous; as a result, naval forces in the future may have to operate much farther than 25 nautical miles from an enemy shore to be able to protect themselves from antiship threats. In addition, new enemy tactics and threats have emerged from the insurgency campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan that make the EFV particularly vulnerable during operations on land. To achieve high speed in getting ashore, the EFV is designed with a flat bottom. Once ashore, however, that flat- bottom design, as well as other features of the EFV--its flat sides, low ground clearance, light armor, small interior space, and many hydraulic pressure lines throughout the inside--make the vehicle particularly vulnerable to tactics that employ improvised explosive devices (IEDs), mines, and antiarmor weapons. In short, optimizing the vehicle to get to shore quickly makes it much more vulnerable in a fight once it has reached land. Supporters of this option also argue that if the objective is to use the EFV's range to land in places that are not heavily defended, speed may be less important than the ability to engage in effective ground combat once the force has landed. In addition, the growing cost of the program could make it difficult for the Marine Corps to buy other needed ground equipment.

An argument against this option is that the major criticisms of the EFV's capabilities are overstated and that canceling the EFV is tantamount to abandoning the concept of major amphibious warfare. Under that argument, what is needed is an amphibious vehicle with the capability to get to shore quickly and then immediately move out and fight. Canceling the EFV now would at best mean relying on the aging AAV for years to come. Redesigning the EFV to make it less vulnerable to IEDs or mines would mean forgoing the flat bottom of the vehicle needed to achieve the high speed from the ship to shore. A better solution to the vehicle's vulnerabilities, supporters of the EFV argue, would be to use more blast-resistant material in constructing the vehicle and to employ bolt- on armor when needed. Furthermore, the threat of IEDs and mines would be mitigated by the range of the EFV, which makes it difficult for the enemy to predict where the vehicle would land and therefore where to place IEDs and mines.