MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif: Approaching a black dot on the GPS system, a squawk of radio static is followed by “this is command, approaching buoy alpha.” The vehicle commander replies with an affirming “roger command,” and a powerful roar erupts off to the left of Col. Keith Moore’s rigid-hulled inflatable boat, more commonly known as a RHIB.
The newest variant of the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle throttles all 2,700 horsepower and lifts out of the glassy water gliding like a jet ski.
Although the EFV program manager’s RHIB has no problem keeping up with the 30 mph speed of the 78,000-pound EFV, it is a breathtaking advancement from its venerable predecessor, the Amphibious Assault Vehicle, which comparatively crawls at 9 mph in water.
Moore is observing a demonstration of the newest prototype, EFV Personnel Variant, System Development and Demonstration-2, at the Amphibious Vehicle Test Branch (AVTB) at Camp Del Mar. The temperate climate, rigid terrain, and access to 17 miles of coastline and live-fire ranges, makes Camp Pendleton an ideal test bed for amphibious vehicles.
“We can debark from ship, land on the beach, maneuver through the training areas and [conduct live fire] without interruption,” says Sgt. Tom Bauras, a test operator and one of the vehicle crew members in the demonstration. “That’s why it makes sense to have the test branch here.”
Bauras noted that in addition to Camp Pendleton, his team has also tested the EFV at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center, as well as DoD facilities in Alaska and Hawaii, ensuring that Marines can employ the vehicle in any clime and place.
The vehicles are subjected to a list of prescribed tests designed to stress the EFV in every aspect according to Maj. Shaun Doheney, deputy director of the test branch.
Throughout the developmental testing, Marines, program managers and engineers from General Dynamics Land Systems, the main contractor, collaborate on necessary improvement to the prototypes. To date, more than 400 engineering design improvements have been implemented since AVTB became involved with testing the first EFV prototype in 2003.
Test operators like Bauras contributed to the vehicles’ overall development and improvement such as the addition of a whale-tail exhaust system. The new exhaust system disperses heat down and outward from the vehicle, instead of straight upward, reducing the heat signature of the vehicle.
The AVTB is staffed by 53 Marines and 25 civilians who are currently conducting testing on eight EFVs manufactured in Lima, Ohio.
The EFV is expected to enter limited production in 2012 and the Marine Corps has planned to field 573 vehicles by 2026 according to the EFV Program Office in Woodbridge, Va.
Dating back to the Landing Vehicle Tracked (LVT), the AVTB at Camp Pendleton has been able to subject amphibious vehicles to the various rigors of Western installations and training ranges since 1946.