Marines: USMC Abandons Amphibious Armored Vehicles


January 10, 2011:  The U.S. Department of Defense is cancelling the U.S. Marine Corps new amphibious EFV (Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle), and the marines and navy are not fighting the decision. The EFV has been threatened with cancellation for several years now, because the vehicle is too expensive and doesn't work. Well, parts of it work. A year ago, tests revealed that the EFV had similar survivability characteristics to MRAPs, when hit with roadside bombs or anti-vehicle mines. The EFV needed all the good news it could get, but marines are already using MRAPs in Afghanistan, and are quite happy with them. What they don't really need, and may never need, is a high speed (in the water) armored vehicle that can cross 50 kilometers of open water to assault a defended beach. There has been no need for that since 1950.

For the last three years, the EFV developers have been making changes in the electronics, waterproofing of electrical elements, the gun turret and the stabilizers (for when it is moving in the water), trying to get the vehicle approved for production. Seven new EFV prototypes were built, for another round of tests. Those tests are still underway, and the plan was to begin production of the EFV next year. But large numbers of the new vehicle would not reach marines for another seven years. Under the original plan, the EFV was to enter service three years ago, and cost less than half its current price. .

The new prototypes were the result of Congress refusing to provide money for mass production until reliability and protection (against roadside bombs) issues were taken care of. Three years ago, existing prototype EFVs had one failure, on average, for every 4.5 hours of operation. The marines insisted they had fixed the reliability and protection issues, and this persuaded Congress to provide money to build seven of the modified EFVs to confirm that. The bomb resistance tests were a success. But there are a lot more things the EFV has to do right. But in the end, it was the sheer expense of the vehicle. The marines can't afford the EFV, which would cost $16 billion (for 573 of them).

Things have been bad for EFV for a long time. Five years ago, it was decided that, instead of buying 1,013 EFVs, the order would be cut 44 percent, to 573 vehicles. High development expenses have resulted in per vehicle cost of over $12 million. Costs have continued to climb, and each EVF will now cost over $22 million. That's more than twice what the most recent model M-1 tank costs.

The marines ordered the first 15 production models of its EFV in late 2005. Tests with these vehicles did not go well. Initially, the high-speed water-jet propulsion system feature was the cause of most of the problems. Since the EFV is an amphibious armored vehicle, the water propulsion feature had to stay.

The EFV was previously called the AAAV (Advanced Amphibious Assault Vehicle). Weighing nearly 36 tons, the EFV is 3.4 meters (10.5 feet) tall, 3.9 meters (12 feet) wide and just under 10 meters (30 feet) long. It's armed with a 30mm automatic cannon (MK34 Bushmaster) and a 7.62 mm co-axial machine gun. The EFV also has better armor protection and electronics than the AAV7 it replaces. The EFV is about 25 percent heavier than the AAV7, and somewhat larger.

The EFV has been in development for over a decade, and has been delayed largely because of a complex water-jet propulsion system which, when it works, allows it to travel at 60 kilometers an hour while in the water. This capability was specified to reduce the danger (from enemy fire) when the EFVs were moving from their transports to shore, a distance of 30-50 kilometers. The additional gear required for the water jet system made the vehicle less robust and reliable, and fixing those problems has taken a lot of time. Otherwise, the EFV is basically a truly amphibious Infantry Fighting Vehicle (IFV), similar to the army's smaller M-2 Bradley. The EFV has a crew of three, and carries 18 passengers.

The current force of 1,057 AAV7s entered service three decades ago and are falling apart. Moreover, some two thirds of the AAV7s saw service in Iraq, where they got as much use in two months as they normally did in two years of peacetime operations. In response to this, most of the AAV7s are being refurbished, so they can still be used until the end of the decade, when enough EFVs were supposed to be entering service to replace the older vehicles.

It now costs nearly ten times as much as the $2.5 million AAV7 (taking inflation into account). The marines apparently felt they could get by with half as many amphibious armored vehicles because future wars are likely to be more dependent on delivering troops by air, or moving them around in armored hummers. Now the marines are going to dispense entirely with vehicles like this, which were first used in 1943, once the existing AAV7s are retired (before the end of the decade).




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