The Marine Corps is set to make large manpower cuts throughout the next decade, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger testified to Congress Thursday.

According to the 2021 budget proposal, the Corps plans to cut more than 2,000 active-duty Marines in 2021, as Berger aims to make a smaller more agile Marine Corps capable of fighting China in the Pacific.

But that is only the start, Berger told lawmakers with the House Armed Services Committee on Thursday as he testified about the proposed budget.

“In this budget we reduced the manpower equivalent of a couple thousand Marines, that probably won’t be the largest one or the last,” Berger said. “We are going to reduce the size of the Marine Corps some this year, more next year."

The top Marine did not go into details about where those manpower cuts would come from or say how large he ultimately wants the Marine Corps to be.

However, he did testify that the force design review the Marine Corps just completed focused on the operational side of the Marine Corps, not the administrative.

“The force design efforts started with the war-fighting end, so most of the adjustments to how we are built had to do with war-fighting,” Berger said.

The 2021 budget proposes cutting the active-duty Marine Corps down from 186,200 to 184,100 by the end of 2021. Any future cuts could make the Corps smaller than the Obama-era Corps, which was left with 183,604 active-duty Marines in 2016.

The commandant said that while he’d love to increase the size of the Marine Corps, the reality of the money spent on the Corps and the resources necessary to develop for a faceoff against China in the Pacific makes manpower cuts necessary.

Berger testified that he knows what size the Marine Corps should be in 10 years, but said that that specific number would constantly be adjusted based on the changing threat and needs of the country.

“We have an advisory that’s moving,” Berger said. “We have to maintain an overmatch” with China.

The cuts will come by reducing retention, Navy Rear Admiral Randy B. Crites told reporters when the 2021 personnel cuts were announced at a Feb. 10 news briefing at the Pentagon.

According to a Feb. 20 memo sent by Berger to the assistant commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. Gary Thomas, the commandant wants to take a hard look at how the Corps’ chooses to retain certain officers and enlisted Marines nearing retirement eligibility.

The memo calls for Marine Corps Manpower and Reserve affairs to identify and make a retention recommendation on all active-duty officers and enlisted Marines who have been passed over for promotion two or more times and are currently eligible for either a 15-year or 20-year retirement.

The memo requires that any recommendation to retain a Marine must be approved by the first three-star general in the Marine’s chain of command and be sent on to Thomas for final approval.

A Marine Corps spokesman has not yet responded to requests on more details.

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