JUST IN: Marine Corps Aims to Buy Reaper Drones in 2020
The Trump administration’s fiscal year 2020 budget request calls for the Marine Corps to purchase MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aerial vehicles for the first time, according to budget documents released March 12.
The fiscal blueprint would have the service buy three of the drones, which can perform intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and strike missions, at a total cost of $77 million. The Air Force currently operates a fleet of the systems. Historically, the Marine Corps has not operated large unmanned aerial vehicles in the Reaper's class.
The UAVs are “single engine, turboprop, remotely piloted aircraft designed to operate over the horizon at medium to high altitude for long endurance” missions, according to budget documents.
The Reaper can “fulfill an urgent operational need for the Marines as we intend to transition this as a program of record once we complete the program evaluation process," Rear Adm. Randy B. Crites, deputy assistant secretary of the Navy for budget said during a press briefing at the Pentagon.
The topline for the Marine Corps in the 2020 fiscal blueprint is $45.9 billion, $2.7 billion more than was enacted in fiscal year 2019. That includes $3.1 billion for procurement.
The budget request would buy fewer F-35 joint strike fighters. The service flies the B variant of the aircraft, which has short takeoff and vertical landing capabilities. The request is for 10 of the Lockheed Martin-build platforms, 12 less than the previous year, according to budget documents.
The budget also calls for six more CH-53K King Stallions at a cost of just over $1 billion. The platform is a Sikorsky-made helicopter that is the Defense Department's only “ship-board compatible” heavy-lift cargo helicopter, according to budget documents. The CH-53K’s are a replacement for the CH-53E, which the service has been operating since the early 1980s.
The budget request also includes funding for 56 amphibious combat vehicles, at a total procurement cost of $318 million. The purchase of the platforms, which are eight-wheeled, ocean-capable systems meant to transport Marines from sea to shore and then operate on land, would come as the service is working to replace its aging assault amphibious vehicles.
“The amphibious combat vehicle is armored, it's designed to handle the [improvised explosive device] threat … and it's larger" than lighter vehicles, said Bryan Clark, senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.
The program will consist of multiple phases, budget documents noted, with the first phase designed to provide an initial operational capability of personnel carriers.
The service is also asking for $558 million for 1,398 joint light tactical vehicles, a 6.8 percent decrease from the $599 million enacted in 2019. The joint Army-Marine Corps program is currently in low-rate initial production, with a full-rate production decision expected later this year. The platform is expected to replace a large portion of the military's Humvee inventory.
The budget proposal also requests funding to purchase eight ground/air task oriented radars, formally known as G/ATOR. The system is “an expeditionary, three-dimensional short/medium range multi-role radar designed to detect cruise missiles, air breathing targets, rockets, mortars and artillery,” according to budget documents.
Aside from procurement, the Marine Corps is requesting to grow its force by 100 personnel in fiscal year 2020, going from 186,100 to 186,200 Marines, according to budget documents. Although the service is only requesting to grow by 100 service members, it recently increased its number of infantry squad leaders by 330 through “internal structure realignments.”
“The Marine Corps is moving to this advanced base model where they are going to try to have more Marines postured forward rotationally, which will put a demand on the operational Marine force,” Clark said.