Assistant Commandant Outlines Marine Corps Spending Priorities, Budget Concerns
By OTTO KREISHER, Seapower Correspondent
WASHINGTON — The Marine Corps needs an array of new capabilities, ranging from high-tech systems and improved networks to long-range fires and improved air defense, and it needs those advances faster than potential adversaries can develop them, the Corps’ No. 2 officer said March 6.
But “everything in our plan depends on two things: actually getting the [fiscal 2018] money” by March 23, when the latest continuing resolution (CR) expires, and the authority to spend “the ’18 dollars across the ’19 line,” Gen. Glenn M. Walters, the assistant Marine Corps commandant, told a forum sponsored by McAleese Associates and Credit Suisse.
“There is a problem with 12-month money when you only have six months to spend it,” Walters said, referring to the fact that the government has been working for nearly six months on CRs that tie spending to previous-year levels and congressional rules normally limits spending funds from one fiscal year into another.
Walters said the main concern was on extending the ability to spend operations and maintenance money, rather than procurement funds.
Sen. Roger Wicker, R-MS, chairman of the Senate Armed Services seapower subcommitee, assured the forum earlier that Congress would approve an omnibus appropriations bill for the fiscal 2018 money before the current CR expires.
Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, said he was “not very confident of anything” in Congress but “I believe it will happen. The Pentagon is not going to be able to spend all that money,” in the six months remaining, he said.
Rep. Mike Turner, R-OH, chairman of House Armed Services tactical air and land subcommittee, said the extended spending authority “is the plan” for the omnibus spending bill. “It makes no sense otherwise.”
Walters, who has a major role in deciding how the Marines spend their fund, said the Corps operating concept and Force 2025 plan “values” electronic warfare capability, cyber, command and control, long-range precision fires, improved air defense, enhanced maneuver and the ability “to operate in a denied environment” when adversaries can disrupt the electronic systems.
The Marines also are “doubling down on manned-unmanned” teaming and pushing robotic systems, including small “robotic mules” to take some of the load off of foot-mobile Marines, and the small unmanned aerial systems being given to infantry squads, he said.
Walters noted that young Marines were solving the problem of the small unmanned aerial vehicles getting broken in the field by using 3-D printing systems to make replacement parts.
He also saw great potential in the application of artificial intelligence to improve the Marine and joint networks and medical care.
But he stressed the need to get “affordable technologies at a speed that matters. … It needs to be faster than our enemies.”
Walter also cited concerns about filling the Corps personnel needs, particularly attracting and retaining young people with cyber skills. He said the service would have to “incentivize” those people to keep them, including extra pay, similar to aviation retention pay.
In response to a question, the general said the Marines’ F-35B’s readiness rate was “about the same as” the overall fleet, which the program executive officer recently said was about 50 percent. But he added that the F-35 squadron now deployed on the USS Wasp was fully ready.
Walters said the plan for maintaining the F-35s, which also are used by the Navy and Air Force and a dozen allies, that includes depots around the world, was great, but would take time to be ready and the services “have to build bridges” to keep the aircraft ready until then.
He also complained that the military did not invest enough in preparing for spare parts.