Marine Corps’ Procurement Gets Boost in President’s Budget
The Marine Corps could see a modest increase in funding under the Trump’s administration's proposed fiscal year 2018 budget, according to documents released by the Pentagon May 23.
The total requested budget for the Marine Corps is approximately $27.6 billion, with $26.3 in base funding and $1.3 billion in overseas contingency operations funding. That’s a total increase of roughly $1.5 billion over fiscal year 2017's enacted numbers. More than half of that increase is going toward procurement, with the administration requesting roughly $2.1 billion in such spending, compared to $1.3 billion in 2017.
However, Bryan Clark, a senior fellow who focuses on naval issues at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank, said the funding doesn’t do enough to help with modernization.
It will “basically allow the Marines to operate at the readiness they have been over the last few years,” he told National Defense. “It addresses some of the readiness shortfalls … but what is doesn’t do is really help them with their modernization problems.”
The Marine Corps is currently working on two major vehicle programs — the amphibious combat vehicle (ACV) to replace aging amphibious assault vehicles and the joint light tactical vehicle to replace some of the service’s Humvees.
“Those two things are not going to be plussed up or accelerated as a result of this budget,” Clark noted.
Overall, the Marine Corps is slated to purchase at least 5,500 JLTVs as part of a joint program being led by the Army. Service officials have recently signaled that they might like to increase that to more than 9,000.
The Marine Corps plan requests 527 JLTVs, which is 335 more procured than in fiscal year 2017. The vehicles would cost $233.6 million, budget documents showed. The 2018 budget funds the third and final year of low-rate initial production of the vehicle.
However, that is substantially less than the Obama administration allotted in its future years defense plan for fiscal year 2018, Clark said. Budget documents would have put quantities at 1,157 vehicles.
The Marine Corps might be leaning on the Army to make up for its reduced buys, Clark said.
They might be thinking, “’Well, if I buy fewer of them of now, it’s not like the program is going to suffer overall because there’s a large number being bought by the Army,’” Clark said. “They can just up that number later … if funding becomes available through supplemental [accounts], or through additional funding.”
The ACV is another major vehicle program and is a new start in fiscal year 2018. The Marines plan to procure 26 systems, which will fulfill low rate initial production, according to budget documents.
While 26 platforms is a good place to start, the Marines have around 400 amphibious assault vehicles to replace, Clark noted. “You’re looking at a long procurement program to recapitalize those” if the rate doesn’t ramp up, he said.
Already, the service has been trying to replace the systems for a decade, so a slow procurement will have ramifications, he added.
They’re going to have difficulty “maintaining the numbers of AAVs in the fleet if they need to use them for an actual operation,” he said. “What’s going to save them is the fact that we’re probably not likely to do a large scale amphibious assault any time soon.”
The Marine Corps has signaled that it is interested in multi-domain capabilities — including electronic warfare and surface-to-surface missiles — but those types of technologies won’t be properly funded in the fiscal year 2018 budget, Clark said.
“They want to invest more in the kind of capabilities that would let them do multi-domain operations like the Army is trying to do, but they’re just aren’t going to have the money in their modernization budget with this level of funding,” he said.
However, the service is funding an increased number of Javelins, a portable anti-tank missile. It plans to purchase 41 systems, which is 40 more than were purchased in 2017.
“The Javelin increase is a little bit of this multi-domain battle being incorporated into the Marine Corps,” he said. “The Marine Corps is buying more of those to give them some opportunities to help with surface-to-surface fires, but … also they’re useful in some of the operations they’re doing … in the Middle East.”
Combatants in the region do not have armored vehicles but do have improvised armor and hardened shelters that the Javelin can pierce through, he noted.
Other major Marine Corps programs include the F-35B short takeoff and vertical landing variant. The system is replacing the AV-8B and F/A-18 A/B/C/D. The service plans to buy 20 systems in 2018, two more than in 2017.
Research-and-development dollars are taking a hit in the new budget. The Trump administration is requesting $929 million for the Marine Corps, compared to the $1.3 billion that was enacted in 2017.
In terms of personnel, the active component will remain at 185,000 Marines and the Reserve at 38,500, documents showed.
Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Budget Rear Adm. Brian E. Luther, during a briefing at the Pentagon, said: “The makeup of this force was informed by Marine Corps Force 2025, a year-long review which focused on the changes necessary to successfully operate in the increasingly complex global environment.”
While the Marine Corps wants to keep up end strength, that could come at the cost of modernization, Clark said.
“The Marine Corps is going to have to make some choices because they could maintain this high level of personnel but then have the force not be modernized in the way that the commandant’s new operation concept would indicate,” he said. “They might have to accept a smaller end strength.”