UPDATE 1-Marine landing craft said in Pentagon cross-hairs

* Congressman says expects Pentagon to try to kill program

* General Dynamics program projected at $13.2 billion
(Adds General Dynamics and Marine Corps comments, background,
byline)

By Jim Wolf

WASHINGTON, June 8 (BestGrowthStock) – The head of the U.S. House
of Representatives Armed Services Committee said he expects the
Defense Department to try to kill a projected $13.2 billion
General Dynamics Corp (GD.N: ) program to build a new
landing-craft fleet for the U.S. Marine Corps.

“I judge that’s correct,” said Representative Ike Skelton,
a Democrat, referring to signs that Defense Secretary Robert
Gates will terminate the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle program
as part of budget belt-tightening.

The Defense Department did not immediately respond to a
request for comment. The Marine Corps has been fighting to
protect the so-called EFV program as its No. 1 acquisition
priority on the ground.

General Dynamics cautioned against any Pentagon rush to ax
it.

“The testing and performance of these systems by Marines
over the next 18 months will provide data essential for an
informed decision on the program’s future,” Pete Keating, a
company spokesman, said by email.

The Marine Corps says it understands the challenges facing
the EFV but considers it critical to push its forces from ship
to shore quickly and safely.

“So long as we operate in an anti-access world, we need the
EFV’s capability,” said Major Carl Redding, a spokesman for the
corps.

The landing craft currently in use, the Assault Amphibious
Vehicle, moves at a speed of 6 to 8 knots on the water,
compared with 25 knots for the EFV, he said.

Gates repeatedly has called into question the EFV’s
suitability amid anti-ship missile advances that boost the
distance from shore before landing craft can be safely
launched.

He has cited the EFV as one of two examples of weapons —
the other being aircraft carriers — that reflect “a gap we
risk creating between the capabilities we are pursuing and
those that are actually needed in the real world of tomorrow.”

“Considering that, the (Defense) department must
continually adjust its future plans as the strategic
environment evolves,” Gates said in a speech on May 3, a day
before the Marines put on display the latest EFV prototype.

Skelton hesitated when asked whether he would support a
Pentagon move to terminate the program.

“There will be further discussion” of its fate, he said,
“if not this year, next year.”

General Dynamics shares were up 32 cents to $62.40 in
late-morning trading on the New York Stock Exchange.

Stock Market

(Reporting by Jim Wolf, editing by Dave Zimmerman and John
Wallace)

UPDATE 1-Marine landing craft said in Pentagon cross-hairs