Marine general sees some good in Gates' reductions

Commandant notes cancellation of the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle could make way for development of a better and more affordable amphibious assault vehicle.

The Marine Corps' top general Thursday disputed the widely held view that the Marines took the biggest hit in Defense Secretary Robert Gates' latest round of "efficiencies," saying there was "a lot of good" in those actions.

Gen. James Amos, the Marine Corps commandant, said he had recommended the cancellation of the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle because the cost of the revolutionary high-speed amphibious assault vehicle had become "too onerous."

Amos said that the soaring cost of the EFV created a situation in which he would have to spend 80 percent of his procurement budget to buy 535 vehicles. That did not make sense, he told the Surface Navy Association conference in Arlington, Va.

He noted that the Defense secretary emphasized in his announcement last week that cancellation of the projected $15 billion EFV program, after more than a decade of technology problems and cost overruns, "was in no way a refutation of the Marine Corps' amphibious assault mission."

The Marines are committed to developing an effective, survivable, and affordable amphibious assault vehicle "sooner, rather than later," Amos said. He suggested that the rapid acquisition of the Mine Resistant Armor Protected (MRAP) vehicles to counter IEDS in Iraq and Afghanistan could be the model for producing a quick replacement for EFV.

On Gates's decision to put the short-takeoff, vertical-landing (STOVL) version of the F-35 on a two-year probation with a threat of cancellation, Amos said he was confident that the problems can be corrected. He called the STOVL F-35B vital to the Marines' expeditionary mission and to assuring close air support of ground forces while operating from "austere" airfields or "big deck" amphibious ships.

Amos pointed out that corrections already had been found for several of the problems that had slowed testing of the F-35B, including failures of a key structural component. The mid-fuselage bulkhead had been redesigned and has shown no new failures, he said.

He noted that an F-35B had conducted a vertical landing during tests last week at Patuxent Naval Air Station, Md.

The general also defended the Marines' commitment to the amphibious mission, rejecting the "erroneous claim" that forcible entry landings were the only purpose for amphibious forces. He said Navy-Marine amphibious units had performed more than 50 amphibious operations for humanitarian relief, disaster assistance or crisis response since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Amos contended that the Marines are leading the Pentagon effort to reduce energy consumption for deployed forces and were engaged in a major program to reduce the size, weight, and energy use of the expeditionary units. That project would address everything from what individual Marines wear and carry to the Corps' major equipment.