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Expeditionary Fire Support System (EFSS)
Dragon Fire/Dragon Fire II

In 1998 the first Dragon Fire mortar system was developed by the US Army Armament Research Development and Engineering Command (ARDEC) at the Picatinny Arsenal in New Jersey. The design was fabricated in the same year at the Army's Rock Island Arsenal in Illinois. This system was tested by the US Marine Corps in relation to both a Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory (MCWL) design initiative for such a system and a 1996 requirement issued by the Marine Corps Combat Development Command.

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. In 2001 the Mission Need Statement for the EFSS system was approved.

In 2002 the Analysis of Alternatives (AoA) analyzed the operational and cost-effectiveness of potential approaches for meeting the broad capability need described in the Mission Need Statement (MNS). The results of the AoA would drive the threshold and objective parameters that shaped the Capability Development Document (CDD). Once the CDD matures, a Draft Request For Proposal (RFP) would be released with a set of Key Performance Parameters sufficiently stable to avoid imposing an unnecessary burden on potential contractors. MarCorSysCom remained committed to pursuing a dynamic, fast-paced acquisition strategy.

The Marine Corps studied a triad of indirect fire systems comprised of a lightweight 155mm howitzer (LW155, now M777), a High Mobility Artillery Rocket (HIMARS, now M142), and the Dragon Fire system to support a need for an Expeditionary Fire Support System. The Marine Air Ground Task Forces would have the EFSS on all types of expeditionary operations. It would serve as the primary indirect fire support system for the vertical assault element of the ship-to-object maneuver. For units requiring speed, tactical agility and vertical transportation, EFSS was expected to be the answer.

EFSS would receive RDT&E funds starting in FY04, and PMC funds starting in FY06. During FY02, Marine Corps Systems Command formed a cross-functional Integrated Product Team (IPT). The IPT conducted studies and market research of potential material solutions.

EFSS and LAV-EFSS were separate efforts responding to separate, but with related requirements. The two efforts would continue to share information and continue to assess the potential for commonality in a material solution.

The first-ever test fire of the Dragon Fire mortar aboard a LAV was successfully completed 11 August 2003 at Dahlgren, Va. The three-day test fired 80 rounds of 120mm rifled and smoothbore rounds with the weapon system fixed within the LAV to measure vehicle and weapon reactions, accelerations and shock loads. The Dragon Fire mortar had a range of more than 8,200 meters (8883 yards) and more than 13,000 meters (14,083 yards) with a rocket assisted projectile. It was designed to be fully automated with a rate of fire of 10 rounds per minute for two minutes, or four rounds per minute sustained. It was planned for Dragon Fire to conduct accurate, responsive fire missions for Marines in harm's way.

A follow-on Dragon Fire II employed even further advanced fire control and stabilization systems that would permit fire-on-the-move capabilities from within the LAV. The next generation Dragon Fire would be smaller and approximately 3000 pounds lighter than its predecessor. It also would incorporate a more advanced fire and gun control system, which would make the system more responsive and automatically load and fire both rifled and smoothbore ammunition. Developed versions could fire smoothbore ammunition, but it must be hand-loaded. Automated loading and firing was designed to allow the crew to remotely operate the system from a covered, secured location while providing responsive, accurate indirect fire support.

Another important development with the Dragon Fire II system was its modular nature, allowing the same system to be either towed, transported internally in various USMC aircraft (primarily the CH-53 and V-22 series), or mounted internally inside a USMC Light Armored Vehicle (LAV). The Dragon Fire II system could be fired from the LAV internally, or dismounted and fired. The Dragon Fire II system was subsequently designation XM326.

The Dragon Fire II system would ultimately be selected by the USMC for the EFSS program. On 11 June 2003, the Commanding General, Marine Corps Systems Command, signed a Milestone A Acquisition Decision Memorandum (ADM) for the EFSS. A new Program Management Office was formed concurrently with the signing of the ADM. LtCol Ed Smith was assigned as the Program Manager.

Lockheed Martin successfully test fired the company's EFSS engineering prototype system at 29 Palms, California, in mid-August 2003. Using internal research and development funds, Lockheed Martin designed and built an engineering prototype solution for the Marine Corps EFSS requirement in four months. The self-propelled 120mm mortar system fired several rounds from various elevations and azimuths, including over the cab. The Lockheed Martin EFSS concept integrates the individual capabilities of a Supacat High Mobility Transport (HMT) vehicle, the Soltam 120mm recoil mortar system, and a weapon control system and Enhanced Tactical Computer from EFW. Fully integrating and embedding the crew positions, weapon and fire control systems with the vehicle provided tactically maneuverable fire support and rotary wing or tiltrotor transportability. The transformational configuration was expected to enable the Marines to fire 120mm mortars mounted on their weapons carrier with "effects of fire" comparable to 155mm artillery.

On 10 November 2004, General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactical Systems, St. Petersburg, Florida, was awarded an $18,295,337 firm-fixed-price, cost-plus-award-fee, indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contract for both the EFSS and Internally Transportable Vehicle (ITV). This contract was for two separate programs produced by General Dynamics under one contract. The basic award was for program management and engineering, logistics support, the EFSS, technical publications, ammunition to support developmental testing, and the ITV (with ITV integrated management plan, system engineering management plan, system engineering documentation, logistics management, assessment training, and contractor support during assessment). The contract contained options, which if exercised, would bring the total cumulative value of this contract to $296,281,243. Work was expected to be performed in St Petersburg, Florida (51 percent), St Aubin, France (32 percent), Ocala, Florida (15 percent), Huntsville, Alabama (1 percent), and Alexandria, Virginia (1 percent). Work was expected to be completed by September 2005. The contract was competitively procured via the Internet, with three offers received. The Marine Corps Systems Command, Quantico, Virginia was the contract activity (M67854-05-C-6014).

The EFSS program achieved the Milestone C conditional approval for low-rate initial production (LRIP) in June 2005. Initial development testing occurred between March 13 and 18, 2006, and was followed by the LRIP decision in September of that year.

The EFSS was in production as of March 2007. According to a March 2007 Government Accountability Office report, the program office had conducted an ITV operational assessment revealed manufacturing problems. In addition, the EFSS passed its design review and entered production without having achieved design stability. Deficiencies were identified during EFSS developmental testing of selected requirements. Although 18 requirements were fully met, 3 were not. Also, while other variants of the ITV have received an interim flight certification for the V-22, CH-53, and C-130 aircraft during the ITV operational assessment, the EFSS vehicle had not yet been certified as it was not a part of that assessment. The EFSS program has, however, completed about 95 percent of the certification indicating it can safely transport munitions on Navy ships.

The EFSS design was not stable at the time of the EFSS design review as only an estimated 60 percent of the system drawings were complete at that point. Furthermore, EFSS entered production still short of having obtained design stability, though it was nearing stability with 84 percent of the drawings completed. During ITV operational testing, the vehicle's half shaft (an axle component) did not perform adequately and there were problems with some fuel flow gauges. While most of the EFSS components were modified commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) items, the half shaft used during the ITV operational test was a custom-built item. The program office replaced it with a stronger commercial one to address the operational shortfalls noted. The operational assessment also revealed problems with the accuracy of the fuel gauges. Fixes for these deficiencies were undergoing reliability testing at the time of the March 2007 GAO report. The EFSS design was expected to change As these issue were resolved.

The EFSS prime mover was an unarmored vehicle as of 2007. In FY07, Congress added $8 million to the EFSS program for armor kits. Because the program was constrained by weight and size requirements (a key performance parameter is its ability to be transported internally by the MV-22 aircraft and CH-53E helicopter), the program office set about designing two types of kits. The "A" kit would be permanently attached and add about 60 pounds to the vehicle. The "B" kit would be added after the vehicle exits the aircraft and was expected to add an additional 85 pounds. Also, the program office was installing blast-attenuating seats on the EFSS vehicles. These changes resulted in additional design modifications, as many lessons were learned in the course of further testing.

In their 2007 report, the GAO said it could not assess EFSS production maturity as the program was not collecting statistical control data on its production processes. The program was currently in low-rate initial production and was on schedule to enter full-rate production by the third quarter of FY07. According to the program office, during the ongoing operational assessment of the ITV, EFSS experienced 24 failures, 18 of which were associated with 2 components. The remaining 6 failures were associated with assembly problems. For example, 3 vehicles did not have their fuel pumps set at the right setting for the type of fuel used. According to the program office, manufacturing problems remained a challenge for the program.

While an EFSS developmental test revealed that 3 of the 24 tested requirements were not met, officials said that as of March 2007 all but 1 have been resolved. When placed in a firing position and with a projectile ready to load, the system should have been able to fire the first round within 30 seconds. The average first round response time was 57.3 seconds with live fire. In addition, the program office told the GAO it had successfully reduced the vehicle weight by 180 pounds, completed 95 percent of the process designed to ensure that the system can safely carry munitions on-board Navy ships, and would meet insensitive munitions requirements. In addition, other ITV variants have received interim flight certification for the V-22, CH-53, and C-130 aircraft. However, the EFSS vehicles had not yet been flight certified. However, according to the program office, all EFSS vehicles were on track for final certification by April 2007.

In addition to the internal EFSS program issues discussed in the GAO report, the space available on the MV-22 constrained the EFSS vehicle design and weight. As a result, if the MV-22 interior design was to be altered, it could adversely impact the EFSS program. The V-22 program office was aware of these constraints and was committed to them.

In August 2007, the program office completed the production readiness review and accepted delivery of the first production vehicles in November 2007. Prior to this date, two pre-production vehicles had participated in tests at the Defense Ammunition Center, Validation Engineering Division in McAlester, Oklahoma. These tests were to assess whether the planned pair of vehicles could transport the required number of rounds (34 total, 4 in the prime mover for the weapon system and 30 in a prime mover towing an ammunition trailer). The performance of the ITV based vehicles in the tests was described as adequate for the mission.

Between March 2007 and March 2008, the EFSS program completed operational testing. However, the aggressive test schedule allowed no time to implement corrective actions for problems previously discovered during developmental testing. As a result, the EFSS was determined to be operationally effective and suitable with safety, reliability, and performance limitations. In response to congressional concerns, the program subsequently rescheduled the full-rate production decision until after an expanded follow-on test and evaluation effort assesses progress in fixing these limitations. The follow-on testing was expected to be conducted in early calendar year 2008. In the past year, the program obtained its internal and external flight certification for use on the MV-22 and CH-53 aircraft. Naval concurrence regarding the ammunition's compliance with safety standards was pending as of March 2008.

In its 2008 assessment, the GAO noted that the EFSS program faced unique design challenges due, in part, to the internal MV-22 Osprey transportability key performance parameter requirement. The EFSS design had to fit within the MV-22 cabin size and meet its weight restrictions. The program office initially planned to meet EFSS requirements by using a mostly commercial off-the-shelf system. However, EFSS needed more development than originally anticipated. Many changes were incorporated into the design due to the internal MV-22 transportability requirement and due to issues that arose with the vehicle's axle, hub assembly, drive shaft, chassis, and electrical system. The aggressive test schedule allowed no time to incorporate corrections identified during developmental testing into assets for use in operational testing. In addition, a design issue with the tail charge of the mortar round was discovered and had to be fixed prior to starting cold weather testing, scheduled for early calendar year 2008.

Operational testing revealed several safety, reliability, and performance issues. For example, there were safety concerns regarding instability with the ammunition trailer (which could cause harm to personnel riding in the rear seat). In addition, the EFSS vehicle could not carry the recommended combat load, the radiator was unable to sufficiently cool the engine and transmission during operations, the compressor was not robust enough to support the air ride system and central tire inflation system, and the vehicle had problems starting at higher altitudes. These issues led the operational testers to determine that EFSS was operationally effective with limitations and suitable with limitations. The testers characterized the EFSS as a "niche capability," which must operate within a small performance envelope.

The Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee requested that the Marine Corps delay the EFSS full-rate production decision that had been scheduled for September 2007. This decision was now planned for May 2008 and the program office was revising the test plan to support validation of the corrections required for the identified limitations.

According to the GAO report, the program office authorized additional limited production before reaching agreement on the scope and price of the work. Under this undefinitized contract action, the contractor was authorized to begin work before reaching a final agreement on contract terms. The GAO stressed that they had previously reported that such arrangements provided little incentive to the contractor to control cost until the terms of the work were finalized. The program office expected to reach agreement on the terms of work between the end of 2007 and January 2008.

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