Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle: A Two-Stage Alternative

The US Marine Corps Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle is again in the news, following a Government Accountability Office report on the growing expense of the system. Basically, the EFV is getting as expensive, and complex, as a helicopter.

In this new fiscal environment, everything overpriced is facing the budget axe. The Marines have not had their turn yet, and of their programs the EFV is the most vulnerable. [The super-jeep and EFSS are smaller and thus less endangered.] The requirement is valid, but the vehicles are too expensive. So it is time to look at possible replacements.

One way to maximize return on our technology investment, yet reduce technical complexity, is to split the EFV into two components: A landing craft, and A fighting vehicle. The landing craft can carry the vehicle to the beach at the 25kn required speed. The fighting vehicle can disembark and carry on the fighting. The landing craft can then ferry the next wave of follow-on forces. The fighting vehicle can be minimally amphibious to ford inland rivers and streams.

Most of the complexity of the EFV design comes from the 25 knot waterborne speed requirement. This requirement led to the retractable tracks to minimize the hull drag. The speed requirement also restricts weight, which led to a reduction in operational range. By splitting the design, we can re-use the waterborne-hull and waterjet design in building the fast landing craft, while keeping the vehicle chassis and tracks for a simpler assault vehicle. Without the waterborne speed requirement, the assault vehicle will be cheaper and more compact. We will also have more flexibility in extending the waterborne range of the overall system, depending on other design constraints.

The waterborne speed requirement is driving unnecessary complexity, because it is a distinct and separable phase of the EFV operational spectrum. Once it beaches, the EFV does not require that 25kn speed anymore. In traversing rivers and other brown-water obstacles, it does not have the room to accelrate fast enough to materially affect the crossing time. The seconds of crossing time reduction is an expensive investment, which may be better spent in smoke and other visual obscurants [that also are tactically useful on the ground]. If the EFV is working as a riverine gunboat, it can bring along the landing craft component for that part of the operation.

By splitting the EFV in two, we will require two power packs, one for the landing craft, and one for the tank. To achieve the 25kn assault speed, we can use a clutch to couple the tank powerpack to the landing craft, combining the power output of two engines to drive the landing craft. The landing craft can also use an autopilot after dropping off the tank, [to get home], to minimize the manpower requirement.

By de-coupling the blue water phase from the ground phase of the amphibious assault, we can dramatically reduce the technical complexity of the follow-on EFV-lite program, while preserving much of the technical investments we have made on the EFV program. It is a win-win for the taxpayers.

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