Instead of focusing on growing end strength, the Marine Corps is striving to heal readiness wounds suffered from the last several years of budget cuts, delays and temporary spending measures.
"The continuing resolutions of years past have put us in this place, so before we talk specifics on growth, we need to be ready to fight with the force we have funded," said Lt. Col. Eric Dent, spokesman for Commandant Gen. Robert Neller.
Inside Defense first reported on Wednesday that readiness instead of growth is the focus of the Marine Corps' proposed fiscal 2018 budget. That is in line with Defense Secretary James Mattis' guidance to the Marine Corps: "Make what you've got well," Neller told the publication.
In January, Neller said the Marine Corps would make sure it has the right number of Marines doing the right jobs, even if the Corps did not get bigger. That could include moving Marines from overmanned to undermanned military occupational specialties.
An internal force structure review has determined that the Marine Corps needs to grow to at least 194,000 active-duty Marines, Assistant Commandant Gen. Glenn Walters said in February. The Corps' proposed fiscal 2018 budget calls for keeping the Corps' active-duty end strength steady at 185,000.
"Nothing has fundamentally changed from [Walters'] testimony, but the 'near fight' is readiness," Dent said in an email on Thursday. "We still have an eye on potential growth, but readiness remains our immediate and determined focus of effort."
Per Mattis' marching orders, the Marine Corps is making sure that its current force of 185,000 active-duty Marines is as lethal as possible, while it fleshes out capabilities it needs more of, such as cyber operations, Dent said.
"Aviation readiness, ground equipment reset, and ground vehicle modernization efforts are going to get more attention with this approach," Dent said.