President-elect Donald Trump has vowed to add nearly 12,000 Marines as part of his plan to expand the size of the U.S. military.
In September, Trump publicly embraced the recommendations from the conservative Heritage Foundation think tank about increasing the size of the military, including adding 12 active-duty Marine infantry battalions and one active-duty tank battalion.
Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller has said that the Heritage Foundation recommendations are "doable," but he cautioned that the Corps should not expand too quickly.
"We've got a very high-quality force," Neller said on Dec. 7. "Whenever you try to grow too fast, it's very difficult to maintain that level of quality and experience."
The expansion would have many ripple effects across the force that could impact operational tempo, career paths and promotion opportunities for thousands of Marines.
A decade ago, when the Marine Corps grew to 202,000, it added infantry battalions, tank companies and other units needed in Iraq and Afghanistan, Neller said. But "the battlefield has changed" since then and now the Corps needs more Marines in highly specialized jobs to fight future threats, such as intelligence analysis, cyber, air defense and electronic warfare, he said.
"We believe – not just me – but I think all the leadership believes that the capabilities that we're trying to build into the force are the things that we're really going to need for the future," he said. "If you don't have those things, whatever formation you put on the battlefield is not going to be as survivable or combat effective without them."
Congress has already called for increasing the number of active-duty Marines from 182,000 to 185,000 in the fiscal 2017 National Defense Authorization Act. Three thousand extra Marines would be "enough to get started," Neller said.
"We've been looking at this for a year," he said. "We got a plan if we stay at 182,000. We got a plan if we went to 185,000 We got a plan if we grow to numbers higher than that. So, we'll execute."