Defense Acquisitions:

Status of the Safety, Performance, and Reliability of the Expeditionary Fire Support System

GAO-09-189R: Published: Nov 18, 2008. Publicly Released: Nov 18, 2008.

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Paul L. Francis
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The Expeditionary Fire Support System (EFSS)--which consists of two kinds of motorized vehicles, a 120-mm mortar, an ammunition trailer, and fire direction equipment--is being developed to meet the United States Marine Corps' need for a weapon system that can be carried inside the MV-22 Osprey to support assault operations. The Marine Corps Operational Test and Evaluation Activity (MCOTEA), the independent test agency for the Marines, conducted initial operational testing and evaluation of the EFSS from May to July 2007, and reported in September 2007, among other things, that it experienced several safety, performance, reliability, and mechanical problems. We briefed Congress on these and other issues related to the EFSS in September 2007. Subsequently, at congressional request, the Marine Corps delayed full-rate production of the EFSS until after GAO reported on the system. In December 2007, we issued our report, which described the system's safety, performance, reliability, and mechanical problems. MCOTEA retested the system in February and March 2008, focusing on determining whether the problems identified in 2007 were resolved. It reported its analysis of the test results in May 2008. In October 2008, Congress asked us to provide Congress with a brief assessment of the Marine Corps' conclusions regarding whether the concerns we reported have been addressed. To do so, we reviewed MCOTEA's May 2008 Independent Evaluation Report from the EFSS' Follow-on Operational Test and Evaluation as well as documentation of the system's insensitive munition certification, and compared the results with the concerns we reported in 2007. We also reviewed documentation of EFSS' full-rate production decision. We interviewed EFSS program officials, a Marine Corps Combat Development Command official, and the MCOTEA official who oversaw EFSS testing to obtain their perspectives regarding whether and how the previously reported concerns were addressed. We conducted this performance audit from October 2008 through November 2008 in accordance with generally accepted government auditing standards.

Based on the May 2008 independent test report, most of the EFSS' safety, performance, reliability, and mechanical issues we reported in 2007 have been addressed through a combination of design changes and increased training. While some issues remain, MCOTEA did not judge them to be serious. The test report indicates that the EFSS' major safety issue we previously reported on--the system's inability to tow the ammunition trailer safely--has been addressed. The 2008 report also indicates that most of the performance issues we reported from the 2007 initial operational testing have been addressed. For example, follow-on testing showed that the system met all requirements associated with timed events, except the maximum rate of fire requirement, and resolved problems with the mortar's sight. Because the maximum rate of fire was frequently, but not consistently achieved, MCOTEA did not report it as a serious shortcoming and a Marine Corps requirements official stated that it was not a problem. EFSS vehicles are still not capable of securely carrying all required equipment, but Marine Corps officials attributed this problem to the space constraints imposed by the need to fit the system inside the V-22 Osprey, rather than to a design problem. The 2008 follow-on testing indicated that all of the reliability issues we reported in 2007 have been addressed, including issues related to the mortar's need for maintenance, transport barrel clamp weakness, and inconsistent vehicle configuration. The mechanical issues we reported on in 2007 appear to have been addressed, although not all of them could be directly tested during the 2008 follow-on test events. Although most of EFSS's earlier problems have been addressed, MCOTEA reiterated in its 2008 test report that the EFSS is a survivable platform provided it is used within its concept of employment and that employing the EFSS outside of the concept of employment would present a significant survivability liability to the operators given its limited protection.

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