Marine Corps Resource Manager Details Modernization, Readiness Concerns
By OTTO KREISHER, Special Correspondent
WASHINGTON — An extended funding shortfall and fiscal uncertainty has forced the Marine Corps to sacrifice modernization and capacity to keep deployed forces ready, and risk losing its competitive advantage over potential adversaries in some areas, the Corps’ top resource manager told a congressional panel March 10.
The Corps is struggling to maintain aged aircraft and ground combat vehicles, is unable to adequately train and equip its non-deployed units and pilots, or to add the capabilities needed to address emerging threats in cyber, electronic warfare and unmanned aerial systems, Lt. Gen. Gary L. Thomas, the deputy commandant for programs and resources, told the House Armed Services tactical air and land forces subcommittee.
“We are making progress. We have programs in place … We just don’t have the resources to buy them at the rate we need,” Thomas said. He also cited the problems and expense of acquiring spare parts for aircraft that are 30 years old, which has reduced overall aircraft availability from a goal of 75 percent to 45 percent.
In response to a question, Thomas said the Corps has estimated the need for an additional $4 billion to its top line and an increase in end strength to 185,000 Marines, from the current 174,000.
Thomas’ concerns were widely shared by committee members, including chairman Mike Turner, R-Ohio, who noted that from last week’s testimony by Gen. Glenn Walters, the assistant commandant, “we know the Marine Corps is not only out of balance, but also lacks the necessary resources needed to rebalance itself. This is a dangerous trend that we must reverse for the ‘nation’s expeditionary force in readiness’.”
Mass. Rep. Niki Tsongas, the subcommittee’s top Democrat, however, questioned the Marines’ funding priorities, noting that its procurement spending was titled three-to-one in favor of aircraft over ground combat equipment.
Tsongas cited acquisition spending of $1.5 billion for ground equipment and ammunition against $5.3 billion for “just five aircraft programs” — the F-35B, the MV-22, the AH-1, UH-1 and CH-53K helicopters.
But Thomas noted that much of that difference was a reflection of the much higher costs for aircraft over ground equipment. He cited the Amphibious Combat Vehicle, the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle and the new multimission Ground/Air Task Oriented Radar system, which has the ability to detect small unmanned aerial systems, as high-priority ground programs.
He also emphasized that the because the Marines are a light expeditionary force, they do not have the heavy ground firepower that the Army has, so “much of that capability comes from air power.”
“We believe we have it about right,” he said of the spending balance.
In her opening statement, Tsongas brought up the expanding story that some current and former Marines are distributing on Internet sites photographs of naked female Marines, in some cases with names and units identified.
Tsongas called those actions “reprehensible” and said the Corps’ leaders must “make sure we protect the victims and bring justice to those who have violated the law.”
Turner said he shared Tsongas’ concern about the distribution of the photos, which now has been expanded to include members of other armed services.
Thomas did not respond to those statements, but Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert B. Neller has issued a video strongly denouncing the action. Defense Secretary James Mattis, a former Marine general, also has issued a strong statement against it.