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National Defense > Blog > Posts > Budget Cuts and New Ways of Doing Business Await the Marine Corps
Budget Cuts and New Ways of Doing Business Await the Marine Corps
The Marine Corps is bracing for future budget cuts that could begin as early as 2013. It has launched a “force structure review” that could lead to reductions in the size of the Marine Corps. The Corps also plans to shrink its ground vehicle fleet, officials said.

Any drastic downsizing, however, is contingent on what happens in Afghanistan, said Undersecretary of the Navy Robert O. Work. In a speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, he sketched out how the Marine Corps expects to contribute to the Defense Department’s larger effort to achieve “efficiencies” of up to $100 billion over the next five years.

A number of force-structure and weapon-system overhauls will reshape the post-Afghanistan Marine Corps, Work said.

The force structure review will take place during the next several months, he said. By the end of the year, it will recommend possible cutbacks in the size of the Marine Corps, which is currently 202,000 strong. Assuming operations in Afghanistan draw down during the next two years, the Corps will have to figure out the “new normal” and recommend adjustments to the 2013-2018 budget plan, said Work. “It’s all conditions-based,” he stressed.

Separately from the Afghanistan timeline, the Marine Corps also is looking to revamp programs to prepare for future wars, years or decades from now.

One certainty is that the Marine Corps needs to gradually shift from its current status as a second land army towards becoming a naval-oriented force, said Work. New ways to deploy Marines from the sea will be studied, including options to base Marines aboard the Navy’s new Littoral Combat Ship and Joint High Speed Vessel, Work said.

Other changes will focus on how ground-based Marines will deploy. The goal is to enable Marines to operate in small units independently. This concept, known as “distributed operations,” dates back to the 1990s, but it is being refined, said Work. One concern is how much equipment future Marines will need to bring to war. Work predicted that more gear will be required.

“The equipment density list will be higher than our pre-war list,” he said. The lesson from Afghanistan is that units as small as platoons conduct operations on their own, spread across huge areas. Because each platoon or company works independently, “We have to provide more crew-served weapons, more communications equipment to the units to allow them to fight,” said Work. “This we think is what the Marine Corps is really good at: distributed operations.”

He acknowledged that the equipment load will be a challenge. “Marines will be struggling to figure out how to handle the equipment density list,” he said.

Marines also have to find ways to lighten its vehicles. The Corps will have a tough time deploying from ships if it continues to buy heavy vehicles, said Work. Marine Corps officials are drafting a “ground combat tactical vehicle strategy” that will evaluate the current fleet and recommend changes in future procurements.

Lt. Gen. George J. Flynn, head of the Marine Corps Combat Development Command, said that today’s ground vehicle fleet of 42,000 will drop to 32,000 over the next three years.

The most sensitive item on the Marines’ vehicle wish list is the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle, which is being targeted for termination as a result of cost overruns and technical problems.

Work said the fate of the EFV remains tied to yet another review that is under way, which will examine what weapons and vehicles the Corps will need to fight high-end wars in the future. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has criticized Marine Corps strategists for being fixated on the Corps’ ability to conduct amphibious landings or “forcible entry” operations. But Work pushed back on that notion. “This question has been bubbling a lot,” he said. The Corps is not intent on recreating the wars of the past but wants to ensure that the force is able to deploy from the sea and engage in a conflict against a well-armed enemy, said Work.

“We’re getting close to an answer” on what the equipment and transportation requirements for such a force will be, he said. “All this is, is putting a combat ready force on the ground, in a hostile or potentially hostile area,” Work said.

Gates already agreed to the Corps’ demand that the Navy maintain a fleet of 33 amphibious vessels, Work said.

The biggest worry for the Corps, as well as the other services, is to secure “access” to key areas of the world where enemies may challenge the United States. “The battle for access may prove to be the most difficult,” said Work.

Planning for future wars is dramatically changing by the simple fact that the United States no longer has the monopoly on guided weapons. “Any student of history would have anticipated this,” said Work. “We assumed we would have this monopoly for ever.”

He slammed the Bush administration for embracing “ridiculous” concepts such as “rapid decisive operations” that assumed U.S. forces would prevail in any war because of their precision-guided weapons and ability to quickly take out the enemy.

Under former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, the U.S. military developed a strategy that was based on doing more with a smaller force. Rumsfeld’s blueprint for war was dubbed "10-30-30” — U.S. forces should be able to "seize the initiative" from an enemy, such as halting a North Korean assault on South Korea, in 10 days. In another 30 days, it would "swiftly defeat" the enemy and was expected to be ready to swing to a conflict in another part of the world 30 days later.
“We drank the Kool-Aid and it was all about speed,” Work said. “The bad guys are getting guided weapons, so we’ll have to operate differently.”

One option that is being proposed to Gates is known as the “theater entry” model, said Work. It would be based on a joint force of Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps units that collectively would be able to deploy into a hostile area, defend itself and engage enemy forces. The details are still being debated, said Work. A sore point of contention is how far from the shore U.S. ships would have to remain to avoid enemy cruise missiles. The accepted wisdom is that ships should be 25 miles over the horizon. But with advances in weaponry, ship- and air-defense systems, “why couldn’t you get closer than 25 miles?” Work asked. “We’ll have to agree with the Navy on what the right distance should be. It could be more, it could be less,” he said. “Just because the other guy has guided weapons” doesn’t mean we ought to go home, he said. “That doesn’t work for us.”

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