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Defense secretary signals he'll reassess Navy, Marine Corps programs

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Likewise, the Corps’ Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle (EFV), a tracked vehicle that looks like a tank for water, is capable of carrying marines ashore during an amphibious assault. But the star quality of the vehicle, which has been in development since the 1980s and won’t be operational for another year or so, has faded because of performance problems and cost overruns.

In his speech, Gates noted that the capability the vehicle provides was needed in the past, most recently during the first Gulf War. Today may be a different story, he said. “We have to take a hard look at where it would be necessary or sensible to launch another major amphibious landing again – especially as advances in antiship systems keep pushing the potential launch point further from ashore,” Gates said. “On a more basic level, in the 21st century, what kind of amphibious capability do we really need to deal with the most likely scenarios, and then how much?”

Gates' remarks amount to more than idle pondering. Many of his speeches are laced with references that typically translate to policy direction. Corps officials, including Gen. James Conway, commandant of the Marine Corps, defend the program – including Monday morning at the same conference, where he reiterated his support for the EFV. Corps officials issued a statement Monday, saying that while the Corps "understands the challenges that face the EFV," the platform is a "key enablers for amphibious flexibility" and that it remains the service's "Number one ground combat acquisition priority."

But other Marine officials may be taking a more forward-looking posture. They sound as if they are not wedded to the particular EFV program, just the capability it brings.

“The issue is not the specific platform/vehicle, it’s the ability of our nation to conduct forcible entry,” says one senior Marine officer. “We need a vehicle that can conduct ship to shore movement…. [Gates] is right, we need to think about how much we need.”

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