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No Trump buildup in Marine Corps FY18 budget

Despite President Trump's promise for a massive military buildup, the Marine Corps is not expected to grow any more next fiscal year.

If approved by Congress, the proposed Marine Corps' fiscal 2018 budget will keep active-duty end strength at 185,000, budget documents show. Lawmakers recently approved funding for the Corps to grow from 182,000 to 185,000 this fiscal year.

Trump, on the campaign trail last year, publicly endorsed recommendations from the Heritage Foundation think tank calling for adding 12 active-duty Marine infantry battalions and one active-duty tank battalion. 

"We will build a Marine Corps based on 36 battalions, which the Heritage Foundation notes is the minimum needed to deal with major contingencies," Trump said during a Sept. 7 speech, in which he called for a bigger U.S. military.

At this point, it is impossible to say whether future budgets will call for the Marine Corps to become larger, said retired Marine Lt. Col. Dakota Wood, the principal author of the Heritage Foundation’s review.

Although Trump has said he intends to increase the size of the military, and the House and Senate Armed Services committees have expressed support for the idea, other lawmakers do not want to increase defense spending without finding non-military spending cuts, Wood told Marine Corps Times Monday.

A Marine Corps force structure review has determined that the service needs to grow to at least 194,000 Marines to defeat future adversaries, Assistant Commandant Gen. Glenn Walters said in written testimony to Congress in February.

The force structure review concluded that the Corps needs to add Marines for information environment operations, counter unmanned aerial systems and air defense, anti-ship and sea control capability, and other capabilities needed for 21st century warfare.

"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," Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller said in December.

One of the major challenges facing the Marine Corps is keeping its aging fleet of planes and helicopters flying. The proposed Corps budget does not accelerate the purchase of new aircraft. Next fiscal year, the Marine Corps expects to purchase 20 F-35B Joint Strike Fighters and four CH-53K King Stallion helicopters, budget documents show.

The Marine Corps plans to buy a total of 353 F-35Bs, and 67 F-35Cs to replace its F/A-18 Hornets, EA-6B Prowlers and AV-8B Harrier II jets by fiscal 2032. The fiscal 2017 appropriations bill passed by Congress calls for the Marine Corps to purchase a total of 18 F-35Bs and six F-35Cs this fiscal year

an increase of two of each F-35 variant, budget documents show.

Meanwhile, the Corps plans to buy 200 CH-53Ks to replace its fleet of 146 CH-53E Super Stallion helicopters, which have the worst readiness rates of any Marine Corps aircraft. Each CH-53K costs $87.1 million, but when research and development and other costs are included, the total price tag balloons to $138.5 million per helicopter.

The Marine Corps is working to keep costs for the CH-53 under control, the program manager for U.S. Marine Corps and U.S. Navy heavy lift helicopters told Marine Corps Times’ sister publication Defense News.

"[It’s not like] we’re sitting on our butts, just accepting that it’s going to cost this much," Col. Hank Vanderborght said in an interview. "It’s like a war. We fight the war on cost every single day to get things at the best, absolute value for the taxpayer."

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