Gen. Amos: Marines Are Big Winners in Gates’ Budget Shakeup
The anticipated cancelation of the troubled Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle was seen as the death knell for the Corps’ beach-storming, sea-based mission. But after last week’s Pentagon budget proposals announced by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, marines are breathing a sigh of relief. The EFV is being terminated, but the Marine Corps gets to keep the mission, and use unspent EFV dollars to buy a new vehicle.
“The Marine Corps has come out [of the Gates’ budget review] in a pretty good position … even though you’d never know it by reading the newspapers,” said Commandant Gen. James Amos.
Gates is giving marines an opportunity to redefine their role and their relevance in U.S. military strategy, and is freeing the Corps’ budget from theEFV’s oppressive cost overruns, Amos said Jan. 13, following a speech to the Surface Navy Association’s annual convention, in Arlington, Va.
“I am the guy who recommended to the secretary of defense to cancel the EFV,” Amos said. “I did it because it was onerous, and it was wearing us down.” If the EFV were kept alive, the Corps would be spending 30 percent of its entire procurement budget — and about 80 percent of the Corps’ tactical vehicle budget — to acquire 535 EFVs. “Where I come from, that’s not a good budget,” Amos said.
The decision to support axing the EFV came after a four-month-long “force structure review,” Amos said. “We had 60 colonels that we shoved pizzas under the door every day and wouldn’t allow to come out until they had products that made sense,” Amos quipped.
The complete results of the review, which covered not only weapon systems but also personnel issues, is still under wraps and will not be made public until some time this spring, said Amos.
As part of the Corps’ return to its maritime roots, Amos is mandating closer scrutiny of all new equipment, to make sure it’s not adding unnecessary weight to the force. In the commandant’s “planning guidance” that lays out his vision for the future, Amos listed a directive to “lighten the MAGTF,” or marine air-ground task force — the organization that is at the heart of any Marine Corps combat deployment.
That means “reducing the size, weight and the energy expenditure of our forces, from the individual rifleman to all components of the air ground task force,” Amos said.
A decade of ground wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have saddled the Corps with heavily armored vehicles and loads of bulky hardware. Years of counterinsurgencies also have turned marines into creatures of army-like life. Amos blames a “culture of plenty” which has resulted in the “acquisition of resources that in some cases are incompatible with the ethos of an agile, expeditionary force.”
The process of trimming down marine brigades could take years, he said. “You don’t go out to the parking lot and say, all those vehicles no longer count.”
One initiative under consideration is to replace marines’ automatic crew-served weapons with lighter ones. The M249 squad automatic rifle is “fairly heavy, but marines love it,” said Amos. “We are experimenting with an infantry assault rifle that weighs half.” Five battalions will be outfitted with the lighter weapon for trials in Afghanistan over the next two years. Depending on how the rifle performs, it may replace the SAW, Amos said.
Even mundane items such as water tanks are being scrutinized for piling on too much weight on a deployed unit. Last month, for instance, Lt. Gen. George Flynn, who oversees Marine Corps program requirements, spotted an order for a much larger water bull (potable water tank) than the ones marines had purchased in the past. Water bulls typically are towed by Humvees. But the greater availability of larger 7-ton trucks encouraged equipment buyers to seek a larger water bull. “That goes back to the ‘culture of plenty’” problem, Amos said. “We canceled that program. Our water bulls are just fine. They fit on ships, can be towed by Humvees.”
To prevent any acquisitions of weight-unfriendly equipment, Amos directed his deputy, Lt. Gen. Joseph F. Dunford, to create a “clearinghouse” for all procurement requests. “All requirements have to work through the normal cycle. But they will all be filtered through him,” he said.
This won’t be easy, Amos said. “But I am absolutely determined to make a difference in the next four years.”