- The Washington Times
Thursday, May 5, 2011

Sparking a potential showdown between Congress and the Pentagon over a weapon the Defense Department doesn’t want, lawmakers Thursday supported a high-tech amphibious tank by voting to hold up funds for an alternative vehicle.

The seapower subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee agreed on legislative language that would bar spending on shutting down production of the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle (EFV) or on developing a replacement until the Pentagon assures Congress that the alternative will adequately serve the Marine Corps‘ needs.

The move will be hailed by supporters of the EFV program, which has already started laying off workers in the Washington area.

Pink slips were given Tuesday to 112 employees at the Woodbridge, Va., plant of General Dynamics Land Systems, which developed the EFV and hoped to build 573 of them at a total cost of $11.2 billion.

The company referred questions to the Marine Corps office that oversees the program.

“The concern in Congress is that the Corps gets the right vehicle to meet its needs,” said Emmanuel Pacheco, spokesman for the Marine Corps EFV Program office.

But any effort to save the EFV will provoke a showdown with the Pentagon, similar to the long-running battles over the alternative engine for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, which Pentagon officials have been trying to cancel for years.

In January, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates canceled the development of the EFV, saying it had cost too much and taken far too long to develop. The program started in the 1980s and was originally projected to cost just $8 billion for nearly twice as many vehicles.

Mr. Pacheco said the program office had not issued a stop-work order yet but was engaged in a “gradual termination of some of our projects.”

The House panel’s bill would bar the Pentagon from terminating the project or working on alternative vehicles until Mr. Gates submits a report outlining the Marine Corps‘ requirements for an amphibious assault vehicle and comparing the costs and capabilities of the various alternatives, including the EFV itself.

The legislation now goes before the full committee, which will consider it as part of the 2012 defense authorization bill scheduled for markup next week.

Rep. W. Todd Aiken, Missouri Republican and subcommittee chairman, told The Washington Times in a statement that the legislation was designed “to underscore the subcommittee’s concern that the cancellation of the program was a bad idea.”

“One of the core missions of the Marine Corps is to get from sea to shore,” Aiken spokesman Steve Taylor told The Times in a separate interview.

The existing vehicles, even if upgraded to make them more resistant to mines and roadside bombs “are too slow and you have to launch them too close to the shore,” Mr. Taylor continued. “Without the EFV, the Marines’ job will be harder and more dangerous.”

Mr. Aiken added that holding up funding for a replacement was also meant to ensure “that a viable alternative be found that is properly thought through to avoid a repeat scenario in where money is wasted in development of a program that does not end up meeting the needs of the Marine Corps regarding this core capability.”

Critics say alternatives to the EFV are not fast enough and have such a short range that the ships carrying them have to get so close to shore that the ships then become vulnerable to the latest shore-to-ship missiles.

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