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General Dynamics Marine Transport Vehicle Terminated

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has canceled General Dynamics Corp.’s $15.5 billion Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle program as part of his drive to shift as much as $100 billion through 2016 to more urgent needs, according to officials.

“We think that Gates tomorrow is going to announce that this will not be in his budget request, that it’s canceled,” Representative Duncan Hunter, a California Republican and former Marine on the House Armed Services Committee, said in a telephone interview.

He predicted the House committee will reject Gates’ decision because it appears to be a repudiation of the Marine Corps’ central mission. The EFV is designed for amphibious landings on hostile shores.

The termination decision was confirmed by administration and Congressional officials, who asked not to be identified since the action has not been formally announced.

Gates is expected to make the announcement to lawmakers tomorrow as one part of the $100 billion in efficiency savings and weapons program cuts that he plans in order to shift resources to other priorities.

The EFV project is at least five years behind schedule and, at $24 million apiece, 176 percent over its original per-vehicle price tag, the U.S. Government Accountability Office reported in July 2010. It faces additional “cost, schedule and performance risks,” said the report.

Failed Earlier Tests

The transport program has been in development since 1996 and was reorganized in 2007, cutting the number to be purchased and extending the development period, after the vehicle failed earlier reliability tests.

Congress, through this fiscal year, has approved $3 billion of the program’s $15.5 billion cost. Even with fewer transports to be purchased, the overall price tag has grown more than 70 percent over an original $9 billion estimate, according to GAO and Pentagon figures.

The transports are designed to deploy from ships up to almost 30 miles (46 kilometers) out and carry 17 Marines, moving them to shore three times faster than the Corps’ current, 35-year-old transports.

Terminating the EFV was one of the weapons reductions suggested by the co-chairs of President Barack Obama’s deficit reduction commission, a move it said would save $650 million fiscal 2015 alone.

Core Marine Capability

The vehicles are needed because the Marine Corps mission in the last decade has greatly expanded beyond fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan to numerous non-combat missions, Hunter said.

Hunter said that since 2003, the Marine Corps has been a “second land army” operating in about 80 countries “doing everything while they are still providing a major force in Afghanistan.”

“If you take away the vehicle that gets the Marines from ship to shore, I think what the administration is saying is ‘we don’t need a Marine Corps,’” Hunter said. The vehicle “is central to who the United States Marine Corps is.”

He predicted the House committee will not go along with dropping the program. “We are going to vote to keep it going,” he said.

“You don’t cut one of the core competencies of the Marine Corps in order to bring down the budget deficit,” he said.

More Time

The EFV survived when Gates in April 2009 proposed terminating or scaling back some programs that were over budget and behind schedule. Gates agreed to let the expeditionary vehicle demonstrate improvements while the Marines honed the service’s case for continuing the project.

In a May 2010 speech to a Navy audience, Gates said “we have to take a hard look” at the program and if it is “necessary or sensible to launch another major amphibious landing again -- especially as advances in anti-ship missile systems keep pushing the potential launch point further from shore.”

The termination decision comes as the program completes 300 of a planned 500 hours of reliability testing the Marine Corps program office and company said are demonstrating that the vehicle’s previous poor reliability has been overcome.

The program has five new prototypes at the Amphibious Vehicle Test Branch at Camp Pendleton, California, and two at Aberdeen, Maryland, Marine Corps spokesman Emanuel Pacheco said in an e-mail.

The tests are expected to end this month and so far the vehicles are exceeding their goals, he said.

Editors: Steven Komarow, Terry Atlas

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