Commandant vows to be 'player-coach' on F-35, amphibious vehicle programs

Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Amos on Friday vowed to be a “player-coach” on several major hardware programs at the center of his service’s future plans, including the embattled F-35 effort.

After a string of development and technical problems tripped up the Marines’ version of the F-35 fighter and caused the termination of its Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle (EFV), Amos plans to inject top-level — and real time — oversight into major programs.

The commandant said Friday during a breakfast with reporters sponsored by the Center for Media and Security that he will be a “player-coach” for three big-ticket programs: the Marines’ F-35B, a replacement for the amphibious EFV and a new wheeled troop-hauler.

He intends to routinely “sit down with” military and industry program managers to “go through where we are” on those acquisition programs.

The commandant has taken steps to ensure that data about each one is at his fingertips, saying he has had his IT staff install computer monitors in his office that allow him to dial up the latest information about program tests and other milestones.

Amos compared his role to that of Bill Russell, the NBA legend who was both a player for and coach of the Boston Celtics from 1965-1969. The Celtics captured two NBA crowns during that span.

On the replacement amphib program, Amos told reporters the craft the service eventually buys “will be a Chevrolet Bel Air, not a Cadillac Escalade.” The former was a full-size automobile Chevrolet produced from 1950-1975; on its website, Cadillac calls the Escalade a "luxury SUV."

The Marines will issue a request for information on the EFV replacement effort “within the week,” seeking views from industry on “the art of the possible.”

The commandant made clear that cost — the final nail in the EFV’s coffin — will be a major data point he will monitor.

The “new amphibious vehicle” likely will travel from Navy ships to beaches at “12 to 15 knots” while carrying a Marine rifle squad and topped by a 30 mm gun, Amos said. The EFV would have traveled faster.

Amos said he and Adm. Gary Roughead, the chief of naval operations, have tentatively agreed the new craft will have to leave ships and traverse about 12 miles to 15 miles onto hostile shorelines.

He wants the service to move quickly on the new amphibious craft to have one in the fleet well before 2024, a date some have suggested.

“Every time someone mentions 2024, I pick up something and throw it at them,” the commandant told reporters. “We don’t have to do that.”

As the service moves forward with the new platform, pro-Marine lawmakers and prime contractor General Dynamics have floated the idea of buying about 200 EFVs and upgrading more than 300 existing amphibs.

The program has powerful proponents in Congress, like Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon (R-Calif.), the House Armed Services Committee chairman, and Rep. Bill Young (R-Fla.), Defense Appropriations subcommittee chairman. It remains unclear whether they can save at least part of the program.

On the F-35, Amos, who took over late last year as the top Marine, is personally taking ownership of righting the course of the B variant. It would be able to take off and land vertically from the decks of Navy ships, but has been plagued by a number of technical ailments.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates in January placed the F-35B in a two-year probationary period, and said if its problems are not corrected by then, Pentagon leaders should terminate it.

Officials are battling with the weight of the fighter jet, as well as ongoing software and flight test problems.

Amos expressed confidence in the ability of prime contractor Lockheed Martin, as well as DoD’s program office, to save the B model.