Commandant: Vehicle Modernization Key to Marine Corps' Future

By Dan Parsons
The commandant of the Marine Corps has a grand vision for the service as it moves out of Afghanistan and refocuses on its old haunts in the western Pacific, the sight of its greatest battles and a spiritual “home” for the ship-to-shore fighting force.
After a decade of landlocked combat, it will take an ambitious and expensive vehicle upgrade and modernization program to get the Marine Corps back on its sea legs. With a carefully timed acquisition strategy, Marine buyers have decided to scrap an all-out assault on the “huge mountain” of procurement needs in favor of incremental steps, Gen. James F. Amos told reporters Aug. 23.
“One of the pillars of readiness is modernization,” Amos said. “You can’t just continue to hold yourself back trying to be the most frugal force. What you have to be able to do is some modernization … the question is the balance and what’s good enough.”
Programs are in the works to replace nearly every vehicle in the Marine Corps’ ship-to-shore fleet, as well as its Humvees and fighter jets. All these needs created the mountain of requirements that Amos said the Marine Corps would never be able to afford. Flattened out and sequenced, Amos believes the Marine Corps’ vehicle needs can be covered with the $2.9 billion it annually spends on procurement, just 12 percent of its total budget.
“That mountain of requirements that were unaffordable … we’ve spread that out to where it is affordable,” he said.
Recognizing the tight fiscal environment, Marines will have to make do with some of what they have. An unspecified number of assault amphibious vehicles will undergo a service life extension program and be reintroduced into the fleet, Amos said. 
New acquisition of ground vehicles will occur in three phases  — Joint Light Tactical Vehicle to replace Humvees, followed by the Amphibious Combat Vehicle, then the Marine Personnel Carrier.
The JLTV program reached a major milestone Aug. 22 when three engineering, manufacturing and development contracts were awarded. The Marine Corps is committed to buying at least 5,000 of those vehicles, then shifting to other platforms to diversify its fleet.
ACV is essentially a rebirth of the Expeditonary Fighting Vehicle program that was voluntarily scuttled last year. Engineers are at work honing the requirements for what will eventually be an armed heavy tracked vehicle capable of carrying a squad of Marines. An analysis of alternatives has been completed and plans are to release a request for proposals to industry sometime this fall, but Amos gave no specific date.
The Marine Personnel Carrier, which will bought after ACV, will be a medium-weight wheeled vehicle for transporting Marines once ashore. The three vehicles make up the Marine Corps’ tactical ground mobility fleet.
“We can do that, but we’re going to manage it with a real sense of frugality,” he said. “It allows us to live within our means, which are kind of the rules of the road right now.”
One program will ramp down as another enters engineering, manufacturing and development, he said. Each has to contend also with development and procurement of the F-35B Joint Strike Fighter. Amos was known to micromanage that program when he became commandant in an attempt to pull it from floundering in cost overruns and development delays. Less hands-on now, he meets with the JSF program office quarterly and believes "the airplane is progressing well."
All of those vehicles fit into a strategy that requires the Marine Corps to be able to deliver 12 battalions ashore anywhere in the world, then be able to maneuver and resupply them, Amos said. Whether in a combat situation or a humanitarian crisis, Marines will most likely be going ashore next in the western Pacific, Amos said.
All these plans are predicated on sequestration not happening, he stressed. If those across-the-board cuts go through, then these plans would be on hold.
Fresh off a two-week trip touring Marine Corps installations in the Pacific, Amos is convinced it will again be his service’s “home” once the war in Afghanistan is over. “The Pacific is the Marine Corps’ backyard,” Amos said. “We kind of cut our teeth there in the early part of the last century, so it’s familiar territory for us.”
It is also a region that loses 70,000 people a year to natural disasters and suffers political and military tension. “We consider that to be one of our missions,” if called upon to assist in a natural disaster, Amos said.
There eventually will be 22,000 Marines stationed west of Hawaii, Amos said. Locations include: Okinawa and Iwakuni in Japan; Guam; Darwin, Australia; South Korea; and on Navy amphibious assault ships throughout the region. He visited the Philippines during his trip to see if there are opportunities to cooperate with Marine Corps counterparts there.
With 40 percent of the service’s equipment tied up in Afghanistan, the transition will be a massive undertaking, especially as it shrinks from 202,000 troops to 182,000 as mandated by budget cuts. It will be a transition more viscerally for young Marines who have known nothing but combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, Amos said.
More than 70 percent of the overall force has seen combat in one or both of those wars. Only the oldest enlisted men have ever seen the Marine Corps’ more traditional realm at sea, Amos said. “There is a sense of kind of going home,” he added.
Photo Credit: Marine Corps

Topics: Expeditionary Warfare, Land Forces

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