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Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle

A second round of tests for a core capability

The Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle (EFV), despite delays, remains the Marine Corps’ highest priority ground combat program. It would renew the service’s core mission: conducting a forcible entry into a hostile country from a sea base by means of an amphibious landing.

The unique EFV is a high-water-speed, amphibious assault vehicle that transforms itself into a fully tracked armored infantry fighting vehicle seamlessly as it moves ashore.

Launched from a Navy amphibious ship 25 nautical miles from a coastline (beyond the visual horizon), the 39-ton EFV would hydroplane across ocean waves at a speed of 25 to 30 knots while still providing a smooth enough ride for the Marines inside. It would then move ashore without stopping and achieve land speeds up to 45 miles per hour.

Along with its crew of three (vehicle commander, gunner, and driver), the EFV would carry a reinforced rifle squad of 17 Marines during an amphibious landing and then provide them mobility and armor protection during expeditionary operations on land.

The Marine Corps introduced its current amphibious assault vehicle, the venerable AAV7, in 1972. Its slow water speed of 8 knots has limited the operational flexibility of Marine forces and constrained their buildup of combat power ashore.

The EFV, together with the Corps’ new MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft and the Navy’s Landing Craft Air Cushion hovercraft, would complete the triad of mobility systems Marine leaders have long awaited to give life to the service’s Expeditionary Maneuver Warfare doctrine. That doctrine is built on the concepts of Operational Maneuver from the Sea and Ship-to-Objective Maneuver. The complementary triad would allow Marine forces to threaten wide coastlines from Navy amphibious assault ships positioned over the horizon, move rapidly ashore at points of their own choosing to avoid enemy defensive concentrations or mines, and head straight for their inland objective with uninterrupted momentum. They would no longer have to pause to secure a beachhead.

The EFV’s key technology breakthroughs, which overcame its once-insurmountable design challenges, involved its engine, water jets, and lightweight armor. The 31-foot-long EFV’s high water speed is made possible by its powerful 12-cylinder, 2,700-horsepower diesel engine from Germany’s MTU and twin 23-inch-diameter water jets from Honeywell. Those internal water jets together expel 100,000 gallons per minute from the rear of the vehicle.

The EFV transitions rapidly between land and water operations by retracting its 21-inch tracks, deploying various flaps to produce a smooth planing hull surface, incrementally transferring engine power to water jet propulsion, and vice versa. The vehicle has significant firepower, with a 30 mm automatic chain gun and 7.62 mm coaxial machine gun in a fully stabilized 360-degree turret.

An EFV planing at high water speed. Photo courtesy of EFV Program Office.

The EFV’s crew and embarked Marines are protected against 14.5 mm armor-piercing rounds and 155 mm artillery shrapnel by armor panels made of composite materials instead of metal, which provide better protection and reduce vehicle weight. The EFV’s composite panels allow for easy replacement of damaged panels and, as newer technologies are developed, will better protect the vehicle and its occupants. To provide increased mine blast protection during extensive land operations, the Marine Corps is developing a bolt-on applique armor kit for the EFV. The underbelly applique kit would be bolted on to the vehicle once ashore for prolonged land operations.

Reliability Shortfalls

The EFV, built by General Dynamics Land Systems, has been in the System Development and Demonstration (SDD) phase. It is rebounding from reliability problems experienced with prototype vehicles during an Operational Assessment in the fall of 2006. Those SDD-1 prototypes routinely demonstrated the high water and land speeds. However, they suffered frequent random failures of components spread throughout the vehicle, such as jamming of the 30 mm gun’s ammunition feed system as well as hydraulic system leaks.

Program officials had expected a mean time between operational mission failures (MTBOMF) of about 15 hours, but the vehicles achieved less than eight hours. The EFV already was undergoing a gradual test-fix-test reliability growth program, which aimed to reach a level of 43.5 hours with the first lot of low-rate initial production (LRIP) vehicles in about three years.

The Marine Corps restructured the program and extended SDD by four-and-a-half-years. It subsequently undertook a top-to-bottom redesign-for-reliability effort, which has added greater redundancy and more robust components across the vehicle. General Dynamics has fabricated seven new SDD-2 prototypes incorporating the improvements.

The company delivered the first prototype in May, and will deliver the final one by October 2010. Two are at the Aberdeen Test Center, Md., while the other are at the Marine Corps’ Amphibious Vehicle Test Branch at Camp Pendleton, Calif. They have been in their initial stages of developmental testing and will undergo rigorous reliability growth testing through the end of the year to validate the more than 400 design and engineering changes from the SDD-1 prototypes.

SDD-2 prototypes are being run through 500 hours of operation, repeatedly performing mission profiles until 500 hours are amassed. This will provide the first demonstrated reliability measurements for the new design, which are expected to be in the range of 16 to 22 hours MTBOMF. This will indicate that the program is on a low-risk reliability growth path through 2011 and 2012 to achieve the 43.5-hour requirement for the fielded vehicle.

The SDD-2 prototypes will undergo an Operational Assessment in 2011. An LRIP decision will follow. The EFV’s initial operational capability is now planned in 2016. The Marine Corps’ Approved Acquisition Objective for the EFV is 573 vehicles, of which about 50 would be command variants. (The command variant, which has no 30 mm gun, will house an infantry battalion or regimental staff of nine.) That total number is sized to provide a forcible-entry capability for two Marine Expeditionary Brigades.

Gen. James Conway, the former Marine Corps’ commandant, said last year, “We think the EFV is absolutely essential, based on the fact that the U.S. Navy is not going to put its ships closer than 25 miles to another nation’s shore. We’ve got to bridge that gap, and you don’t do it with a vehicle that goes through the water at 8 knots.”

He also noted, “There’s a lot of blue water on the map in the arc of instability. I do think there will continue to be a need for our superpower nation to have a forcible-entry capability from the sea.”

The Marine Corps’ 2010 Posture Report, released last February, states, “The requirements of the current and future security environment have driven the research and development of the critical capabilities associated with the EFV. The Marine Corps has not taken a myopic view of the EFV; we are well aware of the fiscal realities and developmental challenges associated with such a revolutionary vehicle. We are, however, convinced that national security demands the capabilities of the EFV and justifies the costs. This vehicle will save lives and enable mission success across an extremely wide, and highly probable, range of operational scenarios.”

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This article was first published in Marine Corps Outlook: 2010-2011 Edition.


Glenn Goodman, senior editor of the Journal of Electronic Defense, is also a frequent contributor...