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Retired Navy 4-star: USMC can cut another 10K

Feb. 26, 2013 - 06:11PM   |   Last Updated: Feb. 26, 2013 - 06:11PM  |  
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Numbers to know

As of Feb. 22, there were:
• 195,581 Marines on active duty.
• 40,078 Marines in the Selected Marine Corps Reserve.
• 2,105 Reservists on active duty.
Source: Marine Corps

The Navy's former top officer has suggested cutting the Marine Corps by an additional 10,000 personnel, dropping the service's manning levels to approximately 172,000, as part of an aggressive proposal to cut costs and reorganize the Defense Department.

Adm. Gary Roughead, who retired in late 2011 as the chief of naval operations, has co-authored a paper arguing that if the military makes significant changes to its structure and priorities, the Corps could fulfill its roll as the nation's "forced-entry and initial-response capability" with far fewer bodies. The paper, which Roughead wrote with Hoover Institution fellow Kori Schake, was published this month through the independent Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank.

The Corps is in the midst of a four-year effort to reduce its authorized active-duty end strength from 202,100 to 182,100, although the threat of severe budget cuts has raised speculation the service could be forced to make further reductions after this year and top Marine officials have acknowledged the possibility. Current plans call for eliminating about 5,000 positions annually through 2016. Today, the Corps has about 195,000 Marines on active duty.

Roughead was not immediately available for comment. However, he discussed the paper during an appearance in Washington on Friday. The recommendation to further shrink the Corps is part of a larger proposal that would force the military to overhaul its procurement system, reduce personnel costs, and shift focus towards maritime and air operations and away from sustained ground combat.

The task of managing terrorism outside Afghanistan and Iraq has required "smaller engagements of specially trained and exceptionally lethal forces to work with affected countries," the paper said. Despite the trend, current downsizing strategy sustains an Army that is far larger than needed, Roughead and Schake suggest.

"The criticism is less true in the case of the Marine Corps, given their expeditionary nature and competence," according to the paper, "but still, the Marines' structure is too much dictated by Congress' stipulations than it is by the needs of future challenges."

The Defense Department can do what's necessary abroad with a smaller military, Roughead and Schake argue, by prioritizing the regions that are most vital to U.S. interests. "We would recommend rebalancing the force to concentrate … more on providing for rapid response time in executing campaigns in Asia. Perhaps, even, at the expense of response time in other regions," the paper said.

The paper was published against the backdrop of sequestration, which is scheduled to trigger about $500 billion in automatic budget cuts over the next decade unless Congress finds a compromise by Friday.

The military service's personnel chiefs are scheduled to appear on Capitol Hill Wednesday to testify before the House Armed Services Committee's Military Personnel Subcommittee. The topic: the impact of budget constraints on manning levels.

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