Marine Corps Prioritizes Joint Strike Fighter in Flat 2017 Budget Request (UPDATED)

By Allyson Versprille
F-35 Photo Credit: Defense Dept.

President Obama’s 2017 budget request for the Marine Corps released Feb. 9 includes a small increase over last year’s funding, while continuing to procure expensive F-35B joint strike fighters.

The Marine Corps is requesting a total of $23.4 billion base funding, only about $200 million more than was enacted in 2016. The base budget includes $12.8 billion for military personnel, $6 billion for operations and maintenance and $1.4 billion for procurement. The Marine Corps' request is a small piece of the Navy's total fiscal year 2017 base funding of $155.4 billion.

The Corps has requested $1.6 billion in overseas contingency operations (OCO) funding, which is about $100 million less than the service received in fiscal year 2016. Of that total about $1.2 billion will go toward operations and maintenance, $124 million to procurement and $183 million to military personnel.
The Marine Corps' largest procurement effort continues to be the F-35B joint strike fighter program. In fiscal year 2016 the service received funding for 15 short takeoff and vertical landing variants. For 2017, the Marine Corps is asking for 16 F-35Bs. The multi-role strike fighter will replace the Marine Corps' aging fleet of McDonnell Douglas AV-8B Harrier II aircraft and the F/A-18 Hornet A/B/C/D variants.

The rotary wing aircraft request saw some reductions over 2016 levels. "FY17 reflects small decreases in AH-1Z and MV-22B aircraft for fiscal balancing," said Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Budget Rear Adm. William Lescher during a budget briefing Feb. 9.

The Marine Corps requested 16 MV-22B Ospreys, three fewer than it received in 2016.  The fiscal year 2017 base budget supports the procurement of 24 AH-1Z attack and UH-1Y utility helicopters, five fewer than the service received in last year's budget.

However, the Marines will begin procuring the new CH-53K King Stallion in 2017. The heavy-lift cargo helicopter will replace the Marine Corps' CH-53E Super Stallion, which first entered the fleet in 1980. The first two low-rate initial production aircraft are slated for fiscal year 2017, which is consistent with the previous budget. The service still plans to procure four of the helicopters in fiscal year 2018, seven in 2019, 13 in 2020 and 14 in 2021.

As for shipbuilding, the proposed budget includes $1.6 billion for the procurement of one amphibious warfare assault ship in fiscal year 2017. Additionally, two ship-to-shore connectors have been requested in 2017 at cost of $128 million. The connector serves as a replacement for the landing craft air cushion, which is reaching the end of its service life and provides Marines with the capability to move assault forces from amphibious ships to the beach.

The amphibious ship number total will grow to 33 ships by fiscal year 2019, Lescher noted, which includes: the LHA-8 amphibious assault ship funded in fiscal year 2017; the first LX(R) dock landing ship replacement funded in 2020; the delivery of the USS Portland, LPD-27, in 2017; and the delivery of the USS Tripoli, LHA-7, in 2019.  
The Marine Corps' request of $1.4 billion for its general procurement efforts will help fund the service's joint light tactical vehicle. For the program, the Marine Corps is requesting $113 million in fiscal year 2017 procurement funds. That request will go toward increased production of the platform, associated kits and delivery to receiving units in support of initial operating capability, which is scheduled for fiscal year 2018.

The procurement request will also fund the service's ground/air task oriented radar, which is designed to detect cruise missiles, air breathing targets, rockets, mortars and artillery, Lescher said. "The Marine Corps continues to balance ground equipment procurement and future development to ensure that Marines are supported in the current fight, while modernizing to dominate future fights." 
In the 2017 budget request, the Marine Corps is also asking for $787 million for research, development, test and evaluation. That money will go toward the service's amphibious combat vehicle program, which is aiming to build a new fighting vehicle to replace the service's aging fleet of amphibious assault vehicles. The program has been structured to provide a phased, incremental capability. The fiscal year 2017 budget will support the engineering, manufacturing and developments contracts that were awarded to BAE Systems and SAIC in November. This funding will include the delivery of 32 test vehicles, test and evaluation activities and associated program support, said the budget report.

The service's end strength remained flat at 182,000 active duty Marines from fiscal year 2016 to fiscal year 2017. That number is expected to stay the same through the FYDP. This drop completes the overall drawdown from 202,786 Marines that began in fiscal year 2009. The service's Reserve decreased slightly from 38,900 Marines in fiscal year 2016 to 38,500 Marines in 2017.
Update: Story updated to include comments from Rear Adm. William Lescher.

Topics: Aviation, Joint Strike Fighter, Rotary Wing, Transport Aircraft, Defense Department, DOD Budget, Shipbuilding, Budget

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