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Corps' 2016 budget temporarily halts drawdown

The Marine Corps will temporarily "pause" its drawdown in 2016 in order to assess the impact the policy has had on small unit leaders following years high operational tempo.

Pentagon officials plan to keep the Marine Corps at 184,000 strong through the next fiscal year, according to the 2016 defense budget request, released Monday. Defense Department officials made it official Tuesday: Barring another round of across the board spending cuts, the service will not drop below 182,000 Marines, according to the document.

The budget, which deals the Corps with $24 billion — plus another $1.3 billion for overseas contingency funding — sets aside enough money to keep 184,000 Marines on payroll through September fiscal 2016. It'll then drop down to The Corps' end strength will then drop to 182,000 in fiscal 2017.

The pause will reduce deployment-to-dwell rations as Marines are called on to fulfill a slew of missions around the world, including contributing to the fight against the Islamic State group, manning two new land-based crisis response units for Africa and the Middle East, and carrying out the service's pivot to the Asia-Pacific region.

Up until recent months, the Corps was preparing to shed draw its force down by an additional 8,000 Marines. revelation, hinted at for weeks, emerged in the Navy's proposed fiscal 2016 budget. Coupled with budget limitations mandated by sequestration, the drawdown was expected to leave the Corps with just 174,000 Marines by 2017.

But as recently as a few months ago, Marine officials quietly revised those numbers, saying the Corps would hold fast at 182,000.

According to budget documents, the pause also allows officials to assess the "impact of the four year drawdown on small unit leaders in the face of a continued high operational tempo." Commandant Gen. Joseph Dunford highlighted what he described as a shortage of noncommissioned officers NCOs in key positions as an area needing addressing in his recently released planning guidelines.

Though this year's budget represents a $1.5 billion increase for the Corps, combined with significant cuts to the overseas contingency funding given the end to the war in Afghanistan, it comes out to a roughly $400 million boost over fiscal 2015, said Capt. Tyler Balzer, a Marine Corps spokesman.

Still, the size of the defense budget flies in the face of sequestration, which likely will make it contentious in Congress. Rear Adm. William K. Lescher said the scope of the financial road map was a response to 13 years of war combined with austere budgets in recent years.

"The Navy and Marine Corps remain deeply engaged across the globe demonstrating a mandate to be where it matters when it matters," he told reporters during a briefing at the Pentagon on Tuesday. "The execution of that mandate over the course of a decade plus now ... of sustained wartime operational tempo combined with funding that over FY13-15 collectively provided $26 billion less than requested has stressed the force."

That stress includes reduced deployment-to-dwell times and a maintenance backlog, Lescher said.

The Corps' budget also includes about $219 million for the unfinished amphibious combat vehicle, with millions more slated for updating amphibious assault vehicles to temporarily bridge the gap, Lescher said. The Navy will award contracts to two vendors for the engineering, development and manufacturing of the ACV in the first quarter of fiscal 2016, he added.

As for aviation, the budget sets aside money for nine F-35B Joint Strike Fighters as well as as well as four of its carrier variantswo two KC-130J Super Hercules and are budgeted for, as are 19 MV-22B Ospreys.

The proposed budget also includes a 1.3 percent pay raise for soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines, but that's well below wage increases private sector employees are expected to see.

Money budgeted for re-enlistment bonuses increased by $1 million, up from $55 million in fiscal 2015. Enlistment bonuses are up as well, rising from $6.8 million to $8.5 million.

The pool of money for incentive pay shrinks in the budget. For enlisted Marines, there is $9.5 million available as opposed to $9.9 million in fiscal 2015. For officers, the amount of money dropped from $38.2 million to $36.3 million.

But more money has been put aside for education. After allocating $2.3 million in fiscal 2014 and $7 million in 2015, the Corps will have roughly $9.7 million to dole out in 2016.

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