House Panel Questions Marine Corps Readiness Plans, Funding Requests
By OTTO KREISHER, Seapower Correspondent
WASHINGTON — The leaders of the House Armed Services readiness subcommittee questioned how the Marine Corps’ low 2019 budget request for operations and maintenance (O&M) funding and the “flat-lined” aviation request met the Corps’ long-stated need to reverse a deep decline in readiness.
Chairman Joe Wilson, R-S.C., and another committee member also objected to the Marines’ award of a sole-source contract to a German firm for 15,000 assault rifles, instead of allowing U.S. contractors a chance at the big buy.
Opening the panel’s hearing March 6, Wilson said the $8.2 billion (O&M) funding request for fiscal 2019 was about $214 million below the amount authorized for the current budget year.
Wilson said that while the $8.2 billion did not include Marine aviation needs, which is covered by the Navy budget, “Marine aviation is also roughly flat-lined for FY 2019. This is somewhat troubling” considering that readiness is the Corps’ top priority and it is “struggling to improve aviation readiness.”
Citing the same numbers and “the threats and operational challenges you face,” Ranking Democrat Madeleine Bordallo of Guam said she was “concerned the FY ’19 budget request fails to meet your needs for short-term readiness recovery.” She also complained that the budget request would meet only two-thirds of the documented requirement for depot maintenance.
But three senior Marine officers minimized the reduction in O&M funding and insisted the Corps is coming out of its readiness hole and considers the money promised in the new two-year budget agreement adequate.
“Assuming the proposed budget is passed, the Marine Corps will be ready,” said Lt. Gen. Brian Beaudreault, deputy commandant for Plans, Policies, and Operations.
Beaudreault said the requested funding would cover “our most critical investments” for improved command and control, increased lethality and enhanced maneuver, and the “top priority for readiness,” which was to meet the milestones for improving aviation readiness by increasing pilots’ flying hours. It also would meet the needs of “our most important asset, the individual Marines,” by adding 1,400 Marines for increased capabilities in cyber and other technical fields.
Lt. Gen. Rex C. McMillian, commander Marine Forces Reserve, said “your Marine Corps Reserve is thriving. Morale is high.” It has 99 percent of its authorized personnel and re-enlistment rates are rising.
McMillian added later that, “I think we’ve reached the bottom of the [readiness] barrel and are on an upswing,” noting that his one F/A-18 Hornet squadron has gone from few ready aircraft to seven and he expects soon to have a full squadron of ready jets.
Lt. Gen. Michael G. Dana, deputy commandant Installations and Logistics, said the Marine logistics community has “really good people and enough resources, thanks to you,” but needed to improve its processes.
To address the process issue, Dana said he assembled a panel on “hybrid logistics” to look at the use of unmanned platforms and additive manufacturing, commonly called 3-D printing. He said a sergeant, on her own, developed the idea of using 3-D printing to produce broken components that had put six M-1 tanks out of service and had the tanks fixed in days at the cost of a few hundred dollars, compared with months of delay and thousands of dollars through the regular supply system.
He said the funding for depot maintenance was enough to maintain their equipment readiness rates, which for ground equipment was about 85 percent.Addressing the complaints from Wilson and Rep. Austin Scott, R-Ga., about the sole-source contract to German weapons producer Heckler & Koch for 15,000 M27 rifles, Beaudreault said the service had bought more than 6,000 M27s from the company after an open competition and decided to buy more to replace the M16s and M4s in all infantry units. He said it would have cost from $5.8 million to $15 million and delayed fielding for perhaps two years to hold another competition.