The Marine Corps used its limited funding in the Fiscal Year 2017 budget request to protect the Amphibious Combat Vehicle and the Ground/Air Task Oriented Radar acquisition programs, taking cuts instead in the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle program that was already going to be somewhat delayed by a protest over the contract award, the head of the service told USNI News on Thursday.
The Marines received $23.4 billion in total spending in the FY 2017 budget request, which was released on Tuesday. In the budget, the Marines ask for $159 million for ACV and $124 million for G/ATOR. Due to last-minute budget alterations, the Marines had to make some cuts in the budget, and Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. Robert Neller said the service made a decision to concentrate those cuts in the JLTV program rather than risk harming other programs.
The Marine Corps originally intended to buy 269 vehicles but decided to cut 77 vehicles, leaving them with 192 in FY 2017. The requirement for 5,500 vehicles total has not changed, and the Marines will likely buy those 77 vehicles later in the program.
“There were bills. We had to make some decisions,” he said Thursday after speaking at the Atlantic Council.
“So one of the decisions we made was to buy fewer of these vehicles. Because of the protest on that vehicle, that’s mitigated somewhat. It wasn’t a choice we had to make, but there were some things that we needed to protect, and one of them was Amphibious Combat Vehicle, and the radars, and things like that. So there was no way that we weren’t going to take some reductions … so that was just a conscious decision. Not one we wanted to make, and we’re hoping that there will be other – somewhere over the course of the fiscal years other monies become available and we’ll be able to put that back in.”
The Marine Corps has committed to buying 5,500 JLTVs in a massive contract with the Army, which is buying more than 49,000 vehicles. The services awarded a low-rate initial production contract to Oshkosh Defense in August 2015, but Lockheed Martin protested the decision to the Government Accountability Office. GAO declined to extend the hearing period despite new evidence coming to light late in the process, and it ultimately ruled against Lockheed Martin. So the company brought the issue to the Court of Federal Claims.
Neller told USNI News that “I think the judge has decided, but they haven’t published the decision, as I understand it. Hopefully that will happen and then we’ll start to see these vehicles start showing up.”
Though Neller said the decision to cut the JLTV program by 29 percent instead of spreading out the financial hit among multiple programs made the most sense, given the circumstances, “we want to get the JLTV as fast as we can.
“We’re driving Humvees that have been around a little bit,” he said. “There’s nothing like having a new vehicle that’s still under warranty, a lot more reliable, and it’s more survivable too.”
The Marines have tried to improve their existing fleets of Amphibious Assault Vehicles (AAVs), Humvees and Abrams tanks, and reset them after more than a decade of operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, but among the effects of congressional spending caps in recent years has been insufficient funding for depot maintenance. The Marine Corps has reset 77 percent of its ground equipment and returned 50 percent of it to operations, according to the Navy’s FY 2017 budget material. However, the FY 2017 budget request only funds 79 percent of the Marines’ depot maintenance needs, including both base budget and Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) funding.
“As a force in readiness, it’s critical to our identity that we are ready,” Neller said during his speech at the Atlantic Council.
“We’re mandated by Congress to serve as our nation’s force in readiness, meaning that our bags are always packed, Marines are ready to go and our gear is prepared, and we have to be able to fight when we get where we get.”
Yet, spending caps in recent years have made maintaining that high level of readiness a challenge. Neller said the service would have to continue its recent trend of prioritizing only deployed and next-to-deploy forces, leaving the “bench” back at home without the proper resources to train or maintain equipment.
Neller noted readiness challenges within Marine Corps aviation as well. As the service transitions to new type/model/series, transitioning squadrons will not be ready for tasking for as long as two years, putting more of a strain on the remaining squadrons. The number of total squadrons has dropped since a decade ago, Neller said, further adding pressure to the aviation community.
According to Navy budget documents, in FY 2017 “the Marine Corps invests heavily in rotary wing aircraft, accelerating the procurement of the final 78 AH-1Z/UH-1Y helicopters, and procures 24 MV-22 Ospreys.” The service will increase its aircraft count, going from 976 primary authorized aircraft in 2015 to 1,227 in 2017 as the new helicopters and the F-35B Joint Strike Fighter deliver.
However, “the FY 2017 budget fiscally stretches the Marine Corps to maintain current readiness and conduct modernization required to keep pace with constantly evolving and capable adversaries,” the document notes.
The budget also includes $47 million for the Common Aviation Command and Control System (CAC2S), $80 million for four RQ-21 unmanned aerial systems and $159 million to buy 32 Amphibious Combat Vehicles for testing in the engineering and manufacturing development phase. More than half the Marine Corps procurement budget, $780 million, goes to the Next Generation Enterprise Network (NGEN), command post systems and other various communications and electrical equipment.