Defense Acquisitions:

Status of the Expeditionary Fire Support System

GAO-08-331R: Published: Dec 21, 2007. Publicly Released: Dec 26, 2007.

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Paul L. Francis
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The United States Marine Corps and the Special Operations Command determined in 1999 that there was a need for a weapon system that could be carried inside the V-22 Osprey and deployed to support assault operations. The Expeditionary Fire Support System (EFSS), which consists of a vehicle that tows a 120 mm mortar and another vehicle that tows an ammunition trailer, is one of the systems now being developed to meet this need. In June 2005, the Marine Corps approved low-rate initial production of 6 EFSS units--each unit made up of two vehicles, a mortar and ammunition trailer. From May to July 2007, the Marine Corps Operational Test and Evaluation Activity, the independent test agency for the Marines, conducted initial operational testing and evaluation of the EFSS using refurbished developmental prototypes. The program office began receiving the low-rate production mortars in late October 2007 and is now going through the acceptance process. The delivery of the low-rate production vehicles to the government was delayed until mid-November 2007 so that problems identified during the summer 2007 operational test could be fixed. The EFSS full-rate production decision was initially scheduled for September 13, 2007, but has since been delayed.

The EFSS met all of its key performance parameters and 13 of 14 critical requirements during the operational test. The only critical requirement not met was the mortars' maximum rate of fire. The EFSS also experienced several safety, performance and reliability problems during testing, which led the test activity to conclude that the EFSS was operationally effective with limitations and operationally suitable with limitations. Testing identified safety issues, including potential injury to a crew member riding in the ammunition support vehicle's rear seat; performance issues, including how fast the weapon can be fired and moved, and the vehicle's equipment-carrying capacity; and reliability issues, including mechanical failures, such as the inability to sufficiently cool the engine and vehicle-starting problems at altitude. Also, because of delays getting test assets, cold weather testing that was planned for February 2007 was not conducted. Recently, the program office discovered a problem with the primer for the propellant section of the mortar's ammunition. If this problem is not resolved in time, the cold weather testing could be missed again. The Marine Corps is working on a number of design changes to address the safety, performance and reliability problems identified to date. In response to the concerns you expressed to the Marine Corps on September 12, 2007, the Marine Corps delayed the EFSS full-rate production decision until after the safety, performance, and reliability shortfalls are shown to be corrected in testing planned for this winter, which will culminate with follow-on operational testing of production units in early 2008. The Marine Corps also approved additional limited production of six EFSS systems. This plan does not commit the government to any additional purchases, but allows the program office to obligate the fiscal year 2007 funding it had intended to use for full-rate production. According to the program office, the scope of follow-on testing has doubled from the previous plan and the test and evaluation master plan is being revised accordingly. Since the original acquisition program cost and schedule estimate was approved in 2004, costs have increased by $15.5 million and the schedule has been extended by nearly 2 years. According to the program office, the cost growth is because of the additional scope of testing, the costs associated with ensuring the ammunition complies with safety requirements, and changes to the vehicle performance requirements. The program has also experienced major schedule delays because the Marine Corps was optimistic in its belief that using commercial off-the-shelf systems with some modifications could provide a solution to meet the need for an internally transportable system. Greater-than-anticipated design changes, coupled with the recent decisions to conduct additional testing, resulted in the deferral of the EFSS's initial operational capability from June 2006 to spring 2008. Because of the additional developmental work, the Marine Corps assumed more risk on the low-rate initial production option, which was changed from firm fixed price to cost reimbursable. Recently the Marine Corps authorized additional limited production before reaching agreement on the scope and price--an arrangement that can make it more difficult to control costs.

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