Defense Secretary Robert Gates has signaled that the long-awaited and seriously over-budget Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle (EFV) may be the next high-profile project scrapped — the latest in a series of moves meant to streamline the Pentagon’s budget and refocus the military on future challenges.
The EFV, an amphibious armored troop transport, was designed to replace the tired AAV-7A1, a 1970s-era vehicle that has had its service life extended several times as the Marine Corps has sought a replacement.
Both vehicles occupy a specific niche that few vehicles in the world can (or try) to match. They are purpose-designed to transport Marines from the well deck of amphibious assault ships — “swimming” out the back of these massive carrier-like ships and carrying Marines ashore to conduct assaults on defended beaches. Once ashore, the Marine infantry pile out the back of the vehicles to conduct ground operations, while the armored amphibians use their tracks to crawl off the beach and provide close-in and mid-range fire support for the infantry through turret-mounted weapons systems. After the amphibious landing is over and the beach is secured, these tracked vehicles are used much as traditional armored personnel carriers and infantry fighting vehicles.
On paper, replacing the AAV-7A1 with a modernized amphibious troop carrier seems a no-brainer. Such vehicles are closely tied to the image the world developed of Marines in World War II, which saw the use of armored tractors called LVTs. Used from Tarawa onward, the use of amphibious armor became an integral part of Marine Corps doctrine.
But does a doctrine last employed in 1950 still have relevance in today’s world, against current and future enemies, and the expanded use of “smart” weapons systems? Are the millions being invested in the continued development of the EFV being spent to create a vehicle that will best serve current and future Marines?
The theory behind the EFV is that the high-speed planing performance of the craft would enable it to launch amphibious invasions from “over the horizon” — 25 miles out to sea, beyond the range of shore guns and line-of-sight shore-launched missiles that could target the multi-billion dollar amphibious assault ships (and other costly vessels of our modernized, smaller Navy). But the “over the horizon” doctrine that was the rationale behind the EFVs costly and problematic amphibious systems was envisioned during the 1980s. Evolving threats 30 years later include guided artillery and fire-and-forget missile systems that make the EFVs potential sitting ducks long before they ever hit the beach — turning them into seagoing coffins.
Likewise, the evolving threats posed by ship- and shore-launched cruise missiles mean that the 25 miles envisioned for “over the horizon” operations is no longer valid. Naval vessels can now be struck out to 100 miles or more — far beyond the swimming range of the EFV.