Lawmakers waiting for Pentagon to justify Marine vehicle cutback

U.S. military officials have provided lawmakers with almost no data to support their plan to end a Marine Corps vehicle program and have been unable to sketch a clear vision for a new amphibious craft, congressional aides say.

House Armed Services Committee members are expected to press hard for answers when Pentagon leaders testify Wednesday about the decision to kill the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle (EFV). 

“Other than a lower cost, the Marines don’t know yet what they want from the new program,” one Democratic House aide said. “They have no real plan yet to fill that gap.”

One the eve of the House Armed Services session, congressional defense aides confirmed they have yet to receive information from the Pentagon that they requested weeks ago about the amphibious vehicle changes.

Republican House Armed Services Committee members have led the charge against the proposed termination and are expected to butt heads with Deputy Defense Secretary William Lynn and other Pentagon officials during the hearing. Marine Corps Assistant Commandant Gen. Joseph Dunford will also testify.

During a meeting last week with Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.), Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Amos confirmed the service still sees a need for some kind of amphibious troop hauler to quickly move Marines from ships to the shore, likely under hostile fire.

“But when we asked him if he had a plan for how they will meet that requirement with a new program, his answer was basically: ‘Not yet,'" one aide said.

This is the second time in several months that lawmakers have demanded to see internal Pentagon analyses used to make major cost-cutting decisions. Virginia lawmakers and congressional defense committee leaders hammered DoD officials last fall after they struggled to provide the supporting information used in the decision to close the Norfolk-based U.S. Joint Forces Command.

Congressional sources said the Defense Secretary Robert Gates's legislative affairs office has taken over all queries and meetings on the amphibious plans. But a Pentagon spokeswoman said that is not the case, saying all outreach on the proposal being done by the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the Marines is “coordinated.” The Marine Corps did not respond to a request for comment.

According to a list of yet-unanswered questions HASC staff sent to the Pentagon earlier this month, members and aides want the Defense Department to shed more light on issues such as:

• What “courses of action” were considered before a final decision to end the EFV program was made?

• “Assumption and analysis” that support Pentagon officials’ statements that operational and support costs for the EFV fleet would be double those of the Marines’ existing amphibious vehicle.

• Plans for seven already purchased development models of the expeditionary vehicles.

Lawmakers and aides also have so far come up empty in efforts to obtain DoD plans for the new program. Armed Services staffers have asked for a timeline for starting the follow-on program, as well as all analysis “done in terms of lowering current EFV requirements in regards to follow-on program,” according to the committee’s inquiry to the Pentagon, which was obtained by The Hill.

Sources said that in private conversations since the Jan. 6 announcement about the amphibious vehicle changes, defense officials have only identified one requirement for the “New Amphibious Vehicle” program: that it cost less than the projected $14 billion EFV fleet.

One defense source said it is understandable that military officials would have little data to hand Congress on the expeditionary craft termination. Gates and Marine Corps brass say they killed the General Dynamics-built EFV largely because of its ever-growing costs, meaning it could be as simple as the price tag, the defense source said.

“To fully execute the EFV — which costs far more to operate and maintain than its predecessor — would essentially swallow the entire Marine vehicle budget, and most of its total procurement budget for the foreseeable future,” Gates said during a Jan. 6 Pentagon briefing. “As with several other high-end programs canceled in recent years, the mounting costs of acquiring this specialized capability must be judged against other priorities and needs.”

The secretary added that new Navy and Marine Corps assessments had determined that the kinds of missions the vehicle was intended for — inserting Marines into conflict from the sea — could be done with a mix of aircraft, ships and a cheaper amphibious craft fleet “that do not require the exquisite features of the EFV.”

Lt. Gen. George Flynn, deputy Marine Corps commandant for combat development and integration, said on Jan. 12 that service officials “are not looking at any option” that includes buying EFVs. General Dynamics is pushing an option to buy around 200 EFVs, while also upgrading almost 400 existing vehicles.

Marine Corps officials have said in recent weeks the price of one of the envisioned “New Amphibious Vehicles” could surpass $10 million. Development cost estimates for the new program also are unknown, leaving aides questioning whether the Corps will come out with substantial savings.

There is a worry among defense members and aides that “this could probably cost the Marines money in the long run.”