Marines Maneuver for Position in Upcoming Battle for Defense Dollars
The Corps will seek to stave off budget cuts by reaffirming its role as a crisis-response force that can react to just about any contingency on short notice, officials said.
Budget decisions about who will bear the brunt of the $400 billion in cuts,President Obama said last week, will be shaped by a “fundamental review of America's missions, capabilities and our role in a changing world.”
Marines will be making a case that, unlike the other branches of the U.S. military, they can deploy anywhere and adapt to unexpected contingencies. “When you respond to today's crisis a week from now, you're irrelevant,” Amos said April 15 at a national security conference in Washington, D.C., hosted by Tufts University’s Fletcher School of international security studies.
In preparation for the Pentagon review, all Marine Corps three-star generals will be meeting this week over three days, “and we're going to talk about nothing but macroeconomics,” said Amos.
Although the Pentagon has yet to decide how it will go about conducting the sweeping review sought by Obama, the services already are bracing for bureaucratic trench warfare of the sort that usually takes place every four years during the congressionally mandated Quadrennial Defense Review.
“My sense is there’s going to be a mini QDR,” Amos said.
The last QDR, in 2010, was widely derided for failing to match priorities with resources, and for essentially endorsing each services’ force size and equipment wish lists.
This upcoming review is seen as far more consequential than the QDR because it may conclude that the nation cannot afford to have the military keep doing everything that it does today.
Among the questions that will be asked in the next couple of months is “what is it that our nation need to have capabilities to do around the world … and who’s going to do it,” said Amos.
The Marine Corps, he said, has a “leg up” in the upcoming competition for resources because it already has conducted its own internal “force structure review” and recommended cutbacks in personnel, vehicles and administrative overhead. Marines also believe they have an advantage in that the service already has a track record as the nation’s 911 force.
Responding to unpredicted crises has “always been our lane,” Amos said. By investing in the Marine Corps, the United States acquires an “insurance policy” that is always able and ready, he said. “The nation can't afford to have all four services be a crisis response force.”
The Corps will argue that, unlike the Army, it does not require massive shipments of supplies and long lead times to be ready to deploy. “What makes us unique is our logistics,” said Amos. “We come with our stuff.”
Each service offers unique assets and skills, he said. Amos cautioned that the Pentagon should avoid turning a missions review into a “dollars and cents” accounting exercise. “The last thing you want when a crisis happens is just-in-time delivery. It’s not logistics at Wal-Mart.”
The Corps, however, may have a tough time defending some of its prized weapon systems. Of concern is the F-35B vertical-takeoff variant of the Joint Strike Fighter. Critics havequestioned the need for the Corps to have its own strike air force when the Air Force and the Navy already have comparable assets.
Amos said he is not worried. “There’s always going to be some duplication,” he told reporters after his conference speech. Again, he stressed that marine aviation is “expeditionary” and can reach hot spots faster because its vertical-takeoff tactical jets don’t require land bases or Navy aircraft carriers. They can deploy from amphibious ships in areas that “may not be convenient for the other services.” Without the Marine Corps’ vertical-takeoff hovering jets, Amos said, “You wouldn’t be able to do what just happened off the coast of Libya.”
Marines acknowledge, however, that they expect a tough fight for funding, particularly for weapon procurement dollars.
The Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps all are pursuing major weapon acquisition programs that are regarded as essential to the future of each service. And their schedules are all proceeding along parallel tracks, which could create fierce competition for a shrinking pool of money several years from now. “The real challenge at the broader OSD [office of the secretary of defense] level is that each of the services’ key procurement priorities come due at the same time,” said Lt. Gen. John E. Wissler, Marine Corps deputy commandant for programs and resource. Projects that are expected to be in either advanced development or production in the next five to seven years include the Navy’s SSBN-X ballistic missile submarine, the Army’s Ground Combat Vehicle, the Air Force’s new long-range bomber and the Marine Corps’ new amphibious vehicle. “They are all expensive investments that all come due at the same time in a period of reduced resources,” Wissler said.
Ronald O’Rourke, naval analyst at the Congressional Research Service, said it would benefit the Marine Corps to begin to articulate how its force structure review will translate into actual savings. “It’s important for the Marine Corps to advertise that it has done something that will in fact achieve savings,” he told service officials at the conference. “You want to be able to take credit for it.”
At the Pentagon, the bureaucracy already is bracing for a fight. “It will be an exciting summer,” said a civilian official. Although inter-service rivalries over resources are par for the course in the building, this time the stakes are much higher because roles-and-missions reviews cut to the core of the military services’ identity, the official said. “It’s about the pride and uniqueness of the military services,” the official said. “It’s about the division of labor.”
Unlike previous QDRs, the official said, in this review there are “real resources involved.”