Marines' Sequester Bill: 8,000 Troops, Ground Vehicles, Combat Aircraft
To absorb its share of a $500 billion spending cut that will hit the Defense Department over the next decade, the Marine Corps would shed 8,000 troops and forgo purchases of new armored vehicles, trucks, tactical aircraft and helicopters.
The Marine Corps is prepared to shoulder its portion of the sequester, said Commandant Gen. James F. Amos.
Under current law, the Defense Department would have to slice 10 percent off its future planned spending between now and 2021. Secretary Chuck Hagel recently completed a “strategic choices and management review” that will inform future budgets. The leaders of each branch of the military were asked to offer alternative scenarios for how they would absorb the cuts. The review is expected to shape the fiscal year 2014 budget and beyond. The administration’s spending request for the Defense Department that was submitted to Congress in April ignores the sequester. A revised 2014 budget that reflects the 10 percent sequester is in the works, and is expected to arrive on Capitol Hill July 1.
Amos said the Marine Corps already had been conducting what-if budget drills even before the sequester went into effect March 1.
“We studied what the force would look like,” Amos said June 26 during a breakfast meeting with reporters in Washington, D.C.
The Marine Corps completed an extensive “force structure review” in 2011 that called for post-war reductions of 20,000 active-duty troops, from 202,000 to 182,000 by 2017. “That’s acceptable risk,” said Amos. The Corps currently is at 194,000, losing about 5,000 Marines per year.
If sequester cuts continue beyond 2013, the Corps will have to cut 8,000 more Marines, resulting in a force of 174,000. “I have articulated the risk [of this reduction] to the secretary of the Navy and the secretary of defense,” Amos said. With a force of 174,000, for instance, the Corps would not be able to support rotational deployments as it has for the past 12 years in Afghanistan and Iraq. “We would go to war and come back”, Amos said.
“I don’t want this to happen,” he said of the sequester-related cuts. But as soon as sequester became law, Corps leaders decided to begin drawing up options for how to cope with the reductions.
The centerpiece of Marine combat forces is the infantry battalion. From a peak of 27, the Corps is down to 23. Amos would not specify how many more battalions could be eliminated as a result of sequester. But if 8,000 Marines have to go, “there will be battalions in there,” he said. Each battalion is made up of 800 to 1,000 Marines, and is supported by logistics, aviation and other specialized units.
Part of the 8,000-troop reduction would include fixed-wing aviation squadrons that currently fly F/A-18 fighters and Harrier vertical takeoff attack jets. Future F-35B squadrons would be affected, too, said Amos, as well as attack helicopter units that operate Cobra and Huey aircraft. Some V-22 Osprey cutbacks might also be in the mix.
Ground vehicles also would be axed if sequester cuts continue. The Corps already nixed a new armored personnel carrier. “You can’t have everything,” said Amos. The joint light tactical vehicle — a truck that the Marine Corps and the Army are developing to replace the Humvee — would be on the chopping block as well. “I keep telling everyone, ‘You have to get the cost down or I’m not going to buy it,” said Amos. “Under sequestration, it’s questionable.” The fallback plan is to fix older Humvees and seven-ton trucks. “I like JLTV but I’m not going to die in a ditch for it,” he said.
Amos is not willing, however, to give up a new amphibious combat vehicle — which operates on land and in water — that has been in the works for nearly three years, following the cancellation of the troubled expeditionary fighting vehicle. The Pentagon supports the ACV, said Amos. Now the issue is “how to build it so that it is affordable.” Two concepts are being considered: one high-seed hydroplaning design and a lower speed displacement vehicle. “They’ll tell me in the fall what is the art of the possible,” he said. “I need a good solid Ford F-150. I don’t need a Cadillac Escalade.”
If the Marine Corps has to give up 10 percent of its budget, whatever size force it can afford at that reduced level of spending has to be “equipped and ready,” said Amos. A smaller but well prepared force is better than a larger one that lacks proper training and equipment, he said. “What I said to the secretary is, ‘If you’ll tell me how much my portion of the bill is, allow me the flexibility to build the best Marine Corps America can afford."