Marine Corps Prepared to Hold On to Aging Weapons
“These are not the days when you can get rid of old equipment and buy new,” said Gen. James F. Amos, commandant of the Marine Corps.
The Corps simply will not have enough money to replace its Humvees, amphibious vehicles and tactical aviation fleet in the foreseeable future, Amos said in a speech this week at the Naval War College.
Marines over the past decades have crafted a reputation for being more frugal and less prone to overspending on shiny objects than the other branches of the military. But in recent years the Corps has been battered by big-ticket procurement setbacks that have left senior leaders politically bruised. Most notably, Amos terminated a two-decade old effort to build a $12 million-apiece amphibious vehicle for ship-to-shore maneuvers. And the Corps’ most prized new weapon system, the F-35B short-takeoff vertical landing Joint Strike Fighter, has suffered delays and itstrue price tag remains unknown.
But it’s not all bad news. The F-35B is expected to survive and eventually reach production. Marine Corps engineers are working on a new design to replace the canceled Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle. There is also an Army-Marine program under way to acquire a new light tactical truck.
None of this new hardware, however, is going to be in the fleet any time soon.
In his speech to Naval War College students, Amos said that the projected funding in the 2013-2017 budget will not be enough to replace most of the current hardware. As a result, most of the equipment that is coming back from Afghanistan will be sent to repair depots so it can be restored to working condition.
“I told the Marine Corps, ‘You’d better figure out what’s good enough,’” said Amos.
The Humvee truck fleet, for instance, will be kept in service for years to come. “In some cases, older Humvees are going to be good enough for some regions of the world,” he said.
The Corps will be getting rid of some of its expensive Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles, or MRAPs, because they are too costly to maintain and too heavy to transport aboard ships.
The Marine Corps’ fleet of 4,000 MRAPs will be downsized to 2,500, said Lt. Gen. Richard Mills, Marine Corps deputy commandant for combat development and integration.
The Corps plans to reduce its entire ground fleet by more than 20 percent, which will result in the decommissioning of about 10,000 vehicles.
During an April 26 hearing of the Senate Armed Services seapower subcommittee, Mills, along with the Navy’s senior procurement executive Sean Stackley, said that “affordability” is a stumbling block in most Marine Corps procurement programs.
The subcommittee’s ranking Republican, Sen. Roger Wicker, pressed Mills and Stackley to explain how the Corps planned to move forward with a new amphibious vehicle after sinking $3 billion into the EFV.
The replacement, known as the Amphibious Combat Vehicle, or ACV, is now the “highest priority” in the ground-systems portfolio, said Stackley. The program is still in the analysis phase, and the Corps has not yet set a target price tag for the new vehicle.
Stackley cautioned that no single vehicle program should be viewed in isolation from the rest of the portfolio. The Marine Corps has an “integrated vehicle strategy” that allows for tradeoffs between upgrades and existing systems and procurement of new hardware, he said. The current plan calls for upgrades of Humvees and of the current amphibious vehicles. Research-and-development efforts include the design of a new armored personnel carrier.
The Joint Light Tactical Vehicle also is a priority. The Army and Marine Corps expect to award development contracts this summer, with the goal of procuring more than 50,000 trucks. The Corps expects to purchase 5,500 but just 400 trucks will be bought between 2015 and 2017.
The estimated price tag of JLTV has dropped to $266,000 per truck, less than half of what it was projected to cost a year ago.
Mills said industry competition — six industry teams have jumped into the fray — has helped drive prices down. According to Stackley, changes inarmoring requirements also contributed to reducing costs. Instead of asking manufacturers for a fully loaded armored truck, the Corps asked for a base model, with scalable kits that could be added when necessary. It also helped that contractors were asked to use “mature” technology that already exists in the commercial market, said Stackley. JLTV will be “more integration than development,” which contributes to keeping costs down, he said.
The aviation portfolio, like ground systems, faces great financial pressures.
Stackley said that the F-35B still is in developmental testing, and the Corps still is “battling” unit-price increases. Uncertainty about how much F-35B will cost is creating problems in the tactical-aviation portfolio of both the Navy and the Marine Corps, said Stackley. The long-term requirement of 680 aircraft for both services has not changed, he said. But in the next several years, the Navy and Marine Corps will have to rebalance their aviation budgets to pay for the modernization the aging fleets, including the Marines Corps’ Harrier and the Navy’s Hornets, and for the procurement of new Super Hornets to bridge the gap until the F-35B and Navy’s F-35C enter production.
The budget crunch confronting the Marine Corps is not unlike what the other branches of the military are facing, Amos said. But the Corps, which requested $1.6 billion for procurement spending in fiscal year 2013, is going to have to adjust to post-war cutbacks rather dramatically, as its acquisition programs have been bolstered in recent years by OCO (overseas contingency operations) supplemental appropriations. In 2011, for example, the Marine Corps' $3.2 billion procurement budget included $1.4 billion in the base budget and $1.8 billion in OCO funds. In 2012, the split was $1.4 billion base and $1.2 billion OCO. In fiscal year 2013, the projected OCO procurement is dropping to $900 million.
Amos said he is “proud” of the efforts that the chiefs of the services have made in being “fiscally responsible” and adjusting their spending plans after Congress passed the Budget Control Act in August.
Amos said he found it “discouraging” that the Joint Chiefs’ integrity had been called into question regarding the defense budget.
Over the past weeks, GOP lawmakers have suggested that the Obama administration was seeking to cut defense spending without proper regard for the needs of the military. Some congressional leaders have even asked the chiefs to return to the old practice of submitting “unfunded requirements” wish lists.
Amos said it was unfair to imply that the service chiefs are not providing the president with honest advice on budget issues. After the Budget Control Act was signed and the Pentagon was directed to cut spending, “we were being responsible stewards,” Amos said. With the end of the wars in sight, he said, it was clear that we needed to downsize, said Amos. “We understood that long before the Budget Control Act.”