Marines' amphibious vehicle program could end under House budget plan

By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 20, 2011; 11:34 PM

The House has approved legislation that could permit termination of the Marine Corps' multibillion-dollar amphibious Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle, giving Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates a victory in his attempt to reduce Pentagon spending on costly or unneeded programs.

In approving the fiscal 2011 continuing resolution early Saturday, the House gave the Defense Department $145 million, which Gates can use to complete testing of the EFV landing craft or pay termination costs that would be due if he ended the contract immediately. Either way, the Pentagon expects to save about $12 billion, which would have been required to purchase 573 of the controversial vehicles.

The fiscal 2011 budget still must pass the Senate, which is expected to balk at other budget cuts approved by the House. It also must then be signed by President Obama, who has threatened a veto if some House cuts are not restored in the bill. Earlier, the House had followed another Gates initiative by voting to drop funding for a second engine for the F-35 fighter plane, which could save an additional $3 billion.

Rep. C.W. Bill Young (R-Fla.), chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee on defense, whose panel worked out the compromise, said during floor debate that the $145 million was "for termination liability, or for continued system development and demonstration if certified by the secretary."

Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said in a statement Saturday, "We welcome the flexibility the legislation provides us to wind down program activities in an orderly manner without costly contract termination."

The armored 39-ton fighting vehicle, which would be operated by a three-person crew and can carry 17 combat-ready Marines, is intended to travel at 20 knots from 25 miles out at sea to the shore and at up to 45 mph on land. Designed to replace a slower, 30-year-old amphibious assault vehicle that carries 21 Marines and a crew of three, the EFV has cost $3.3 billion to develop.

Its skyrocketing costs, which would have required the Marines to use almost 80 percent of their vehicle procurement budget for planned EFVs, led the Marine commandant, Gen. James F. Amos, to recommend termination of the program.

Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.), new chairman of the Armed Services subcommittee on sea power and expeditionary forces, supports the EFV and said during debate that he hopes Gates will choose testing rather than immediate termination. That way, he said, the ultimate decision would be left to "Congress during debate on the fiscal year 2012 budget."

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