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Budget plan prioritizes Pacific shift, disregards sequestration

Apr. 16, 2013 - 02:32PM   |  
Marines and sailors arrive in Thailand. The fiscal 2014 Marine Corps budget reflects a shift in priorities as the U.S. turns its attention to the Pacific region.
Marines and sailors arrive in Thailand. The fiscal 2014 Marine Corps budget reflects a shift in priorities as the U.S. turns its attention to the Pacific region. (Lance Cpl. Cody Underwood / Marine Corps)
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Pacific pivot and the budget

The Marine Corps’ proposed $24.2 billion budget for fiscal 2014 reflects its shift in focus to the Asia-Pacific region. The amount includes only the baseline budget, not overseas contingency operations, which are expected to add an estimated $6 billion to the total. Therefore, some of the numbers below, including personnel numbers, may fluctuate as Congress approves additional funds.

THE MARINE CORPS FORCE REDUCTIONS
The Marine Corps’ end-strength numbers remain as previously planned over the next three years:
FY14: 190,200
FY15: 186,200
FY16: 182,100
OFFICERS AND ENLISTED
Officers
FY13: 21,157; FY14: 21,467; % change : 1
Enlisted
FY13: 176,143; FY14: 168,733; % change : -4
NEW MARINES
Accessions: FY13: 32,100; FY14: 30,199; % change : -6
RE-ENLISTMENTS
First-term re-enlistments
FY13: 6,725; FY14: 6,300; % change : -6
Subsequent term re-enlistments
FY13: 8,385; FY14: 8,414; % change : 0.3
Total: 15,110 : 14,714
RE-UP CASH
With “favorable recruiting and retention conditions,” re-up bonus funding will continue to shrink in FY14:
FY13: Recipients
Re-enlistment bonuses: 5,050; Total Amount: $86 million
Enlistment bonuses: 2,175 : Total Amount: $12 million
FY14: Recipients
Re-enlistment bonuses: 4,600; Total Amount: $79 million;
Enlistment bonuses: 1,853; Total Amount: $10 million

TRAINING AND READINESS
Unit readiness remains a top priority. The 2014 budget emphasizes large-scale training and post-combat reset projects including:
* Integrated Training Exercises. The Corps is slated to conduct 50 ITXs through 2016. Those will include infantry, artillery and logistics battalion exercises and aviation squadron exercises.
* Mountain exercises. Four infantry battalion-level mountain training exercises and three infantry regiment-level exercises are scheduled through 2016.
* Asia-Pacific region. A boost in funds geared toward the shift to the Asia-Pacific region will be invested in the readiness of units in that part of the world.
* Post-combat reset. The process of getting equipment back from Afghanistan and moving it through depot maintenance is expected to extend through 2016 or beyond. Budget documents state that repairing and rebuilding equipment that supports operations remains a priority.

AIRCRAFT
The Navy will continue to invest in the Corps’ major aviation projects:
* The F-35B. The Corps’ version of the Joint Strike Fighter continues to inch forward, and leaders remain confident it will be a successful replacement for the F/A-18, AV-8B and EA-6B. The budget proposal calls for procurement of six F-35Bs in 2014 and about 50 more through 2018.
* The MV-22B Osprey. The Corps will continue to invest in the tiltrotor aircraft, which Marine officials have deemed critical as the Corps reinvigorates its amphibious operations. Marine Corps Base Hawaii will construct hangars to house Ospreys there. The Corps is budgeting for the procurement of 18 new Ospreys in 2014 and 60 more through 2018.
* Upgraded helos. The Corps will continue its plan to field new attack and utility helicopters, the AH-1Z Super Cobra and UH-1Y Huey. The budget proposal calls for 25 helos to be procured in 2014 and another 111 by 2018.
* RQ-21A STUAS. The department scrapped its plans to purchase 10 more of the Small Tactical Unmanned Aircraft System in 2014 and 2015. Development efforts will continue in 2014, however, according to budget documents.

CONSTRUCTION
Military construction will fall by 9 percent. Structures used for training have been safeguarded, but the modernization of other buildings will be slowed. Structures used for training at places like the School of Infantry, Weapons Training Battalion and Motor Transport School will continue to be modernized. But infrastructure not associated with readiness or family housing will be lower-priority.
Construction projects will include:
* $133 million for an Osprey hangar, parking apron and infrastructure at Marine Corps Base Hawaii.
* $84 million for a new headquarters for Marine Corps Forces Cyber Command in Fort Meade, Md.
* $33 million for upgrades to Camp Wilson, which is used for ITXs, aboard Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif.
* $20 million for upgrades and repairs to the regional communication station at Marine Corps Air Station New River, N.C.

GROUND EQUIPMENT
The Corps wants to procure certain critical ground vehicles, while postponing the development or slowing purchases of others.
* Amphibious Combat Vehicle. The budget preserves funding for the vehicle that carries combat Marines ashore from Navy ships afloat at sea.
* Joint Light Tactical Vehicle. The budget supports development and testing of the JLTV, which is expected to replace the Humvee throughout the military’s fleet.
* Humvees and Light Armored Vehicles. Less funding for Humvees and delayed upgrades to LAVs can be expected as the Corps shifts funding to the ACV and JLTV.
* Marine Personnel Carrier. Funds for the development of this next generation eight-wheeled vehicle, which also floats, have been curbed.

Source: Department of the Navy fiscal 2014 budget

The Marine Corps' proposed budget for 2014 prioritizes the service's shift to the Asia-Pacific, but does not address the lurking issue of sequestration, which still has the potential to force sweeping cuts across the Defense Department starting as early as October.

Unveiled April 10, the Corps' overall request is likely to top $30 billion once the Defense Department finalizes its needs for overseas contingencies, said Capt. Eric Flanagan, a Marine spokesman at the Pentagon. That includes a base budget of $24.2 billion, according to budget documents. The total will be nearly identical to the $30.8 billion requested for fiscal 2013.

Of top priority are unit readiness and the structural rebalance necessary for the Pacific shift, with $4.6 billion slated to cover future unit rotations to Japan, Australia and Guam, the relocation of two helicopter squadrons from the continental U.S. to Hawaii, and training Marines who will need to conduct operations in that part of the world.

And while adjustments were made in other areas to account for these new priorities, the Corps' proposal is void of plans for dealing with the deep cuts tied to sequestration. President Obama's federal budget plan proposes $526.6 billion in military spending next year plus an $88 billion placeholder for the war in Afghanistan and other overseas operations. But it excludes the $500 billion, 10-year sequestration defense cut that went into effect March 1 and instead proposes a mix of tax hikes, spending cuts, entitlement program reforms and interest accumulated via past deficit reduction moves.

Speaking the same day at the Sea-Air-Space Expo outside Washington, the Marine Corps' assistant commandant, Gen. John “Jay” Paxton, said the services were instructed not to budget for sequestration in fiscal 2014. However, he added that it'd be foolish to think they weren't planning for it in some capacity.

“The spirit of the guidance was ‘Do not self-sequester,‘“ Paxton said, a nod toward what it would have taken to budget for the fiscal cuts. “There's a big difference.”

As such, the Corps is forging ahead with development of the Amphibious Combat Vehicle and the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle, two major acquisition projects.

The ACV is intended to replace the Corps' aging Amphibious Assault Vehicles. Marine officials say the ACV or a newer version of the AAV will be needed before the existing crop becomes obsolete in the early 2020s.

The JLTV is expected to replace Humvees throughout the military's fleet. The Corps' vehicle strategy called for the service to buy about 5,000 JLTVs before the ACVs hit the fleet to make sure both are affordable within a limited budget. But the timeline of the JLTVs rollout has been called into question by ongoing budget constraints.

Additionally, the Corps intends to allocate several billion dollars for continued procurement of new aircraft, including its variant of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. The Navy Department plans to procure six F-35Bs next year and about 50 more through 2018.

Also on schedule is the Corps' plan to push the Osprey into the Pacific, with $133 million in military construction funds planned to build a hangar, parking apron and infrastructure in Hawaii. Marine officials announced a plan last year to base as many as 24 tiltrotor aircraft there.

The Navy Department also intends to procure 25 new AH-1Z Super Cobra and UH-1Y Huey helicopters in 2014. Plans call for adding another 111 of the attack and utility helos by 2018.

Where the Corps will cut, invest

To offset some of the spending needs in 2014, nearly $2 billion would be cut from equipment-modernization and infrastructure-sustainment accounts compared with the Corps' budget request for fiscal 2013, according to budget documents. That will entail delaying planned upgrades for its fleet of Humvees and Light Armored Vehicles while cutting funds for development of a next-generation troop transport known as the Marine Personnel Carrier.

Cut from aircraft procurement was the Navy's plan to purchase another 10 Small Tactical Unmanned Aircraft Systems — or RQ-21A STUAS — by 2016. The aircraft was expected to provide Marine expeditionary unit commanders with better surveillance options. The Navy bought five in 2013 with plans then to do the same in 2014 and 2015, but budget documents show development efforts are expected to continue only into 2014.

Military construction at Marine Corps bases and air stations is scheduled to fall by $323 million compared to fiscal 2013, according to budget documents. Dozens of programs would be affected, including some planned modernization and maintenance not directly associated with operational readiness.

But funding for military construction will remain a priority if tied to training facilities. The budget allots for a $33 million upgrade to Camp Wilson aboard Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif. Camp Wilson has been used for Integrated Training Exercises, which replaced Mojave Viper, the predeployment desert training Marines received before heading to Afghanistan until last summer.

Also receiving military construction funds would be Marine Corps Forces Cyber Command, based in Fort Meade, Md. Cyberwarfare capabilities are a hot commodity across the military as security threats turn digital. The budget proposes $84 million in military construction for a new headquarters building.

The long view

Commandant Gen. Jim Amos said April 7 at the Sea-Air-Space Expo that the services still need to look for ways to rein in personnel costs in coming years. About 64 percent of every dollar the Marine Corps spends goes to manpower and personnel overhead, and the growing cost of health care has become a burden for the military, he said.

Amos said he and the other service chiefs advocated last year a series of proposals to help, including moving some pharmacy services online and looking for savings in Tricare, the military's health care program. “Quite honestly, many of them — in fact, most of them — did not see the light of day through Congress,” he said. “I think we're going to have go back and do this again.”

Amos said there has to be a balance between caring for people who are about to enter the force, those who are serving and those who already have. The Joint Chiefs recommended unanimously that if changes are made to the retirement system, all veterans and service members on active duty should be grandfathered, with the changes affecting only the next generation of service members.

A few days later, Amos appeared alongside Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Mike Barrett in a video message to Marines. He said the Corps has enough money to continue training through the rest of the year, but is working to prevent furloughs to its civilian employees who support operations at bases and air stations worldwide.

“The very latest information that I have is that furloughs have been delayed until mid-May, with an effective date of mid- to late-June,” he said.

But Foreign Policy magazine reported the same day that the Navy and Marine Corps might have a plan for avoiding those furloughs. A Navy official told the publication the department has other ways to cut the $300 million it would save by furloughing more than 200,000 civilian workers.

Paxton, the ACMC, said Marine officials believe they have enough money for two more deployment cycles, but that sequestration would begin having more serious operational impact sometime between next fall and this time next year.

———

Staff writer John T. Bennett contributed to this report.

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