Rep. Hunter will not lead fight to keep Marine Corps vehicle

Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) will not lead an effort to reverse a Pentagon proposal to cancel the Marine Corps’s Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle (EFV) program.

Hunter’s decision is a setback for General Dynamics, the manufacturer of the EFV. Hunter, a former Marine, was considered by many industry and congressional sources as the most likely lawmaker to mount an effort to keep alive the initiative to complete the amphibious combat craft, which Pentagon and Marine brass have concluded is too pricey.

“Mr. Hunter would certainly support keeping EFV alive but doesn’t plan on leading an effort to do so,” Hunter spokesman Joe Kasper told The Hill on Tuesday.

Kasper made it clear that the nation’s budget deficit would make funding for the EFV a tough sell.

“In a perfect world, the Marine Corps would make the strongest possible case for the EFV,” Kasper said on Tuesday. “The reality is that budget constraints are forcing the Marine Corps into a corner, leaving it with an outdated and increasingly incapable amphibious vehicle.

“The Marine Corps speaks for itself on whether it absolutely needs the EFV right now,” Kasper said. “Facts and circumstance scream yes — but it seems the Marines are stuck.”

Pressure continues to build on the Pentagon to reduce its spending.

The House and Senate approved a 2011 defense spending bill that slashed the Obama administration’s request by $18 billion, and the Standard & Poor credit rating agency on Monday downgraded its outlook on Washington’s debt to “negative,” adding urgency to efforts to control the nation’s debt.

While Hunter will not lead any bids to give the expeditionary program new life, he would sign on if another lawmaker were to take up the fight, Kasper said, adding: “He definitely thinks EFV is necessary to the Marine Corps mission.”

Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced in January that the Marines were canceling the development of the vehicle because it had become too expensive. The cancellation is among a number of moves to cut the Pentagon’s budget by $78 billion over the next five years.

Lawmakers supportive of the Marine Corps — particularly in the House — and General Dynamics say killing the advanced combat machine would waste more than $3 billion already invested in the program.

The Marines already are working on a program to field an alternative vehicle, saying it will be cheaper and feature fewer high-tech subsystems.