In the aftermath of the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle’s (EFV) cancellation, the U.S. Marines are charged with coming up with an amphibious vehicle that is actually affordable and fast. Their answer to the challenge could put a crimp on the Pentagon’s intractable problem of requirements creep.

The analysis of alternatives (AOA) is scheduled to start in mid-October. Lt. Gen. George Flynn, commanding general of the Marine Corps Combat Development Command, says the process needs to be wrapped up in about nine months, which is half the time the lumbering acquisition process typically takes.

Along those lines, Marine Corps Systems Command created a systems engineering “war room” in which engineers work elbow-to-elbow with cost estimators. That way the effect of every trade in weight, speed, survivability or other areas can be assessed and priced.

The whole thing involves about a dozen people at the core along with experts from across the Defense Department, government and academia. For instance, a top engineer from Naval Sea Systems Command is working with the nation’s best experts in hydrodynamics on a water-speed red team, says Jim Smerchansky, deputy commander for systems engineering, interoperability, architectures and technology at Marine Corps Systems Command.

Industry is not included in this discussion, but Smerchansky says the process will enable the Marines to draw up requirements in a more detailed way and have a decent idea of the price, enabling them to reject bids that are too high or too low.

And while that may seem like a commonsense approach to buying weapons, it is not how the Pentagon typically does business. “We have not done it on a program of this magnitude in the Marine Corps this early in the program,” Smerchansky says.

Navy Involvement

The effort has top-level Navy involvement; Flynn considers himself a member of the team and acquisition chief Sean Stackley receives weekly briefings on its work. Staff on Capitol Hill have been informed.

Come mid-October, the Marines are looking for a green light from the Pentagon’s acquisition shop on its material development decision leading. During the AOA, the team will prepare a number of options, including the new amphibious vehicle.

“Whether it’s a son of, or a cousin of, or the Auntie Mame version of the EFV,” the Marines will have to address the problem of cost and viability on land that the original program could not overcome, says Dakota Wood, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.

That means the program has to come down in cost from about $20 million per vehicle to $10 million to $12 million apiece. And the new vehicle will have to arrive on shore ready to fight in an environment with rocket-propelled grenades, anti-tank munitions and improvised explosive devices, he says.

Since the commandant has asked for an EFV alternative very quickly, the Marines are likely to rely on existing vehicles or existing technologies. They could offer something like the existing Amphibious Assault Vehicle, the EFV, or marry a wheeled vehicle with a craft optimized for at-sea work, Wood says.

Regardless of how vigilant the Marines can be in necking down the cost of the EFV’s successor, larger budget-cutting efforts in the Marine Corps and the Pentagon that are feeding into the mammoth effort to trim trillions from the federal deficit could get in the way.

“It’s going to be a challenge,” says Kevin McConnell, director of the fires and maneuver integration division for the Marines Combat Development and Integration division. “If this were the only iron we had in the fire, it’d be a walk in the park.”

Other Priorities

The Marine Corps investment portfolio also is juggling an aging fleet of Humvees, command and control and intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance capabilities. “We could negotiate our way to a cheap vehicle and find we couldn’t afford it,” McConnell says. “While it is about this one vehicle, it’s about one vehicle in a portfolio that’s pretty expensive.”

But Smerchansky feels that the process undertaken for this small piece of the Pentagon weapons-buying establishment is one that should be replicated, particularly in tight economic times.

“This will be the way we have to conduct business in the future, and not just for the big programs,” Smerchansky says. “Programs tend to get in trouble for technical reasons. … We’re trying to reduce that risk right up front or understand it and know how to manage it so we won’t be surprised by it.”