Members ready to battle with Gates on proposed vehicle cut

Members of the House Armed Services Committee are ready to go toe to toe with Defense Secretary Robert Gates to protect a $14 billion Marine Corps program, sources told The Hill on Wednesday.

Gates announced last week that the Marines were canceling the development of the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle (EFV) because it has become too expensive. The cancellation is among a number of moves announced by Gates to cut the Pentagon’s budget by $78 billion over the next five years. 

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But a movement is afoot to keep at least a portion of the EFV program alive, congressional and industry sources said. 

Lawmakers supportive of the Marine Corps — particularly in the House — and EFV manufacturer General Dynamics say killing the advanced combat machine would waste over $3 billion and could put Marines’ lives at risk.

House aides say it is increasingly clear behind closed doors that pro-Marine Corps House Armed Services Committee members are examining which legislative option would be best for reviving the scuttled program.

“That is certainly the plan at this time,” one aide said. “On the [committee], we certainly have had conversations, and many of the members believe this is the wrong time to kill the EFV program.”
Sources said Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) is expected to lead the charge in the House.

Hunter, considered among the Corps’s staunchest allies on Capitol Hill, “is confident that the committee will reject the secretary’s proposal to eliminate EFV,” said Joe Kasper, a Hunter spokesman. “He’ll certainly be making the case for EFV and expects many others to have the same opinion about its necessity. 

Hunter, himself a former Marine, will argue that terminating the program “altogether undercuts the basic mission of the Marine Corps and its unique role among the various service branches,” Kasper said. 

The program has the support of the politically influential Ohio and Michigan delegations, as well as key congressional defense committee leaders.

Just minutes after Gates publicly announced the EFV termination last Thursday, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) issued a statement slamming the plan.
“Members of the House Armed Services Committee remain committed to the Marine Corps as an expeditionary fighting force ‘in ready,’ which includes the capability to conduct amphibious landings,” McKeon said. “This mission could be jeopardized by the cancellation of the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle, a capability re-validated by the secretary just last year.”

For its part, the Marine Corps is moving forward with a new program announced last week by Gates to field a more affordable amphibious vehicle.

Lt. Gen. George Flynn, deputy commandant for combat development and integration, said Jan. 12 that service officials “are not looking at any option” that includes buying EFVs. “I believe the [EFV] program was unaffordable,” he added.

The service will not, however, press lawmakers to resist efforts to resuscitate the expeditionary vehicle effort.

“Congress is our boss,” Flynn said. 

EFV proponents on Capitol Hill this week have floated potential buys between 175 and 225 vehicles, with General Dynamics pitching a 200-vehicle purchase. Under revised plans announced last week, the Marines will upgrade hundreds of existing engines in Amphibious Assault Vehicles.

Such options would allow the corps to meet its goal of about a fleet of 570 advanced amphibious vehicles to quickly move Marines from transport ships to the shore, possibly while taking on enemy fire.

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General Dynamics also is making some noise behind the scenes, trying to salvage part of the program.

The company’s pitch is that the Marine Corps could replace the engines and do other upgrades on just over 373 of its existing amphibious vehicles, while purchasing around 200 EFVs. The company claims that option would cost $4.6 billion.

The entire EFV program was projected to come with a $14 billion price tag.

What’s more, such a “high-low mix” of existing amphibious trucks and new EFVs could begin to enter the Marines’ fleet “in just 18 months,” the General Dynamics official said. 

The company also argues preserving part of the EFV program would create new jobs in Ohio and Michigan, areas hit hard by the nation’s economic slowdown.