The Marine Corps is legendary for its ability to storm beaches and take the fight to the enemy —whether at Iwo Jima or Inchon.
But now that the Corps wants to spend billions of dollars on a new amphibious landing craft, budget cutters in Washington say that’s simply too much money for a vehicle that Marines may never ride into battle.
The new landing craft will be known as the EFV, or Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle. It can be launched by a Navy ship 25 miles over the horizon and storm the beach with its 30 millimeter m-k-44 chain gun blazing.
Shifting into land mode, it can drive like a tank 100 miles inland to deploy as many as 18 combat ready Marines.
The Corps says it wants to buy more than 500 of the ship-to-shore assault vehicles, which are built by General Dynamics . They hope to deploy the first vehicles in 2016.
"I am disappointed that it's been in development for over 20 years. From the best I can tell, we spent maybe two to four billion dollars developing this vehicle and we really haven’t gotten a real leap in technology in those 20 years."
But the Marines haven’t stormed a hostile beach since the historic landing at Inchon during the Korean War. And warfare itself has changed dramatically in the 20 years the corps has been working on the $15.6 billion dollar EFV program.
Now many defense experts question whether Marines will ever storm a beach again. That’s because of advances in guided missile technology that make it dangerous for ships to get near enough to the shore to dispatch their forces.
And even some of the veterans who want Marines to continue to be able to hit the beach, argue that the EFV simply costs too much money.
“I am disappointed that it's been in development for over 20 years,” said retired Marine Col. G.I. Wilson “From the best I can tell, we spent maybe two to four billion dollars developing this vehicle and we really haven’t gotten a real leap in technology in those 20 years.”
But the critic the Marines will need to be most wary of is Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who called the EFV program into question earlier this year.
"We have to take a hard look at where it would be necessary or sensible to launch another major amphibious action again,” Gates said. “In the 21st century, how much amphibious capability do we need?”
Its defenders say they value the vehicle — and what it can do.
“I think there’s been this resurgence of conversation about the importance of amphibious capability, the importance of being able to project force from the sea,” said EFV program spokesperson Manny Pacheco, a retired Marine.
Pacheco points out that Marines have landed on beaches in "non-permissible" circumstances in recent years, even if they haven't done a D-Day style invasion. He points to the evacuation of civilians from embassies in Lebanon and Liberia and landings in Somalia.
“This is a 38 ton tank basically that does 25-30 miles per hour in the water. Is it expensive? Absolutely. At the end of the day this is replacing technology that is 1960s technology,” says Pacheco.
Nonetheless, the co-chairs of the federal fiscal responsibility commission earlier this month recommended killing the EFV, saying that would produce a one-year savings for the taxpayer of $650 million dollars.
That would make beach landings increasingly a relic of the past.
Watch for Eamon Javers' TV report on the EFV today on "Street Signs" at 2pm ET and look for more stories on-air and online from Javers and other CNBC correspondents in our continuing "The Fleecing of America" series.