By Megan Scully
April 29, 2009
As the Pentagon prepares to take a hard look at amphibious warfare requirements, Marine Corps Commandant James Conway on Wednesday asserted the need for the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle to transport Marines from ship to shore. During a roundtable with reporters at the Pentagon, Conway said he believes strongly the military needs the forcible entry capability provided by the EFV, particularly as the Navy plans to operate at least 25 miles from the shoreline.
"That's a 25-mile bridge that has to be managed somehow and you're not going to do it with our current set of vehicles," the four-star general said. "We think the best way to do that is with a vehicle that can do it in a couple of hours, not in a day. And that's what it would virtually take with our existing fleet" of amphibious assault vehicles.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who has announced major changes to many of the military's largest development and procurement projects, has put off making a decision on the EFV, a program with a troubled history, until the completion of the Quadrennial Defense Review next year. Costs on the General Dynamics program have soared 43 percent to an estimated $13 billion while the Marine Corps has been trying over the last two years to correct reliability problems.
"We have to take a hard look at where it would be necessary or sensible to launch another major amphibious action again," Gates said during an April 17 visit to the Naval War College in Newport, R.I. "In the 21st century, how much amphibious capability do we need?" But Conway said he believes the EFV is essential not just for a major amphibious assault, which the Marine Corps has not done since 1950, but also for humanitarian assistance and evacuation operations. "It really runs the whole gamut from peacetime sort of engagement all the way up to forcible entry," he said. "And we think that that's what the nation really needs."
Meanwhile, Conway said he expects the Marine Corps to deploy a squadron of MV-22 Osprey helicopters to Afghanistan before the end of the year. The next deployment for the Osprey, which was first used operationally in Iraq in 2007, will be aboard a ship to test the aircraft's "seaworthiness," Conway said.
But then a squadron will head to Afghanistan. "We have had issues with our current medium-lift capability" in Afghanistan, Conway said. "The old CH-46 has run up against age and altitude and environment and is not doing the job that we need for our medium lift squadrons to do." As the Marine Corps prepares to bolster its forces in Afghanistan, Conway also said he does not want to buy any more Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles. The military has weighed buying lighter MRAPs that can better handle the rough terrain in Afghanistan. But the Marine Corps, which has about 2,200 heavy MRAPs, would prefer to upgrade their suspension systems to make the fleet better suited for use in Afghanistan. Upgrading the fleet, Conway said, will be faster and a "fraction of the cost" of buying new vehicles.
By Megan Scully
April 29, 2009