Problems Stall Pentagon's New Fighting Vehicle
Wednesday, February 7, 2007
After 10 years and $1.7 billion, this is what the Marines Corps got for its investment in a new amphibious vehicle: A craft that breaks down about an average of once every 4 1/2 hours, leaks and sometimes veers off course.
And for that, the contractor, General Dynamics of Falls Church, received $80 million in bonuses.
The amphibious vehicle, which can be launched from a ship and then driven on land, is so unreliable that the Pentagon is ditching plans to begin building the first of more than 1,000 and wants to start over with seven new prototypes, which will take nearly two years to deliver, at a cost of $22 million each.
The Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle is one of the Pentagon's largest weapons programs and exemplifies the agency's struggle to afford a cadre of new mega-systems that are larger and more complex, but also more trouble, than their predecessors.
Despite reforms meant to rein in costs, it is not unusual for weapons programs to go 20 to 50 percent over budget, the Government Accountability Office recently found. Among the offenders is the Army's sprawling modernization program, which aims to update everything from tanks to drones and is now expected to cost $160 billion, up from $90 billion, and a Lockheed Martin missile-warning satellite program, which is projected to cost more than $10 billion, up from $4 billion.
The Marines' troubled program is on a collision course with critics who are wary of its growing price tag and who wonder about the utility of an amphibious vehicle meant to storm beaches in a way the military hasn't done for decades, at a time when soldiers are consumed with urban warfare in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Marines, though, have not been dissuaded by the vehicle's poor showing in tests, as such fits and starts are common in military development programs.
"We were disappointed. We weren't shocked," program manager Col. John Bryant said.
The cost of the amphibious vehicle effort has increased 50 percent, to about $12 billion from $8 billion, with another cost bump projected after the program is relaunched.
The overruns are eating away at the Pentagon's buying power but not its appetite. The amount the Pentagon plans to spend on major weapons systems has doubled in the past five years, to $1.4 trillion from $700 billion, according to the GAO.
"I would never state, in an enterprise this large, that we ever have it all under control," Kenneth Krieg, the Pentagon's acquisition chief, said in a December interview. "I think we're on a good path and only performance will prove that, and that's what we got to do."
When it was launched in 1996, the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle was promoted as an example of acquisition reform as hundreds of General Dynamics and Marine Corps officials moved into the same 62,000-square-foot office building in Woodbridge to run the program, in hopes of saving time and money. The program's efforts to keep maintenance costs low won plaudits from Defense leaders and twice earned the program the Pentagon's highest acquisition award, in 1997 and 1999. In 2001, the program collected an innovation award for developing a system to keep the craft's internal components from overheating, a technology that has been adopted for other weapons.