2018 Budget Request Disappoints Lawmakers, Senior Army and USMC Officers
By OTTO KREISHER, Seapower Correspondent
WASHINGTON – The fiscal 2018 defense budget request provides only “modest improvements” in funding for the Army and the Marine Corps, a fact that clearly disappointed both senior officers from the two services and members of the House Armed Services tactical air and land forces subcommittee May 24
That led subcommittee Chairman Mike Turner to ask what the services would do if additional funds were provided and to request submission of their unfunded requirements list as soon as possible.
“I am concerned that the current budget does not go far enough,” the Ohio Republican said, noting that the Trump administration’s defense request for $603 billion was only 3 percent above last year’s request.
“I’m concerned that we are losing our competitive advantage over our near peer competitors,” Turner said.
He supported the $640 billion proposal from HASC Chairman Mac Thornberry, R-Texas.
Ranking Democrat Niki Tsongas said the request for the Army and Marines “do appear to show modest growth,” which the Massachusetts representative called “welcomed news” given the urgent need for modernization of the ground capabilities.
Similar complaints came from other panel members in a hearing cut short by extensive floor votes.
Lt. Gen. John Murray, the Army’s top resources officer, and Lt. Gen. Gary Thomas, the Marine Corps deputy commandant for Resources and Programs, agreed that the proposed budget did not provide much relief from the extended requirement to prioritize current readiness for the deployed forces at the expense of modernization.
Thomas said the Marines would focus the limited modernization funds on replacement of their aged legacy systems with the Amphibious Combat Vehicle (ACV), the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle, the F-35B Lighting II joint strike fighter and the CH-53K heavy lift helicopter. The Corps also would fund changes in their equipment sets to support mobile, networked forces and to expand use of unmanned systems, he said.
Both of the officers answered “yes” to Turner’s question of whether they could accelerate modernization programs if provided more funds. They also agreed that the policy calling for elimination of “cluster munitions,” which are rocket rounds or aerial bombs that disperse dozens of small explosive charges, would eliminate an important capability.
The two said they are pushing programs to improve their long-range support weapons, with the Marines seeking to buy additional munitions for their High Mobility Artillery Rocket System.
On the Marines’ top ground combat modernization program, the ACV, Thomas said their budget requests a small number of vehicles because they planned to select one of the two competing prototypes later in fiscal 2018 to start low-rate production. While they could not accelerate initial operational capability even with additional funding, they could speed up the full operational capability with more money.