Marine Corps Shedding Old Equipment to Pay for New Technology

October 17, 2018 5:46 PM - Updated: October 18, 2018 7:05 AM
A U.S. Marine with Marine All-Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 533 performs maintenance on a F/A-18 Hornet aircraft, Marine Corps Air Station Kaneohe Bay, Marine Corps Base Hawaii (MCBH) on June 22, 2018. US Marine Corps Photo

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — To make modernizing its equipment affordable, the Marine Corps is weeding out old technology that’s either too expensive to run or hasn’t kept pace with advances made by near-peer adversaries, service officials said on Wednesday.

In the Fiscal Year 2019 budget, the Marine Corps focused on plugging capability holes created by decreased funding in several previous budget cycles and the FY 2020 budget is geared toward improving lethality, Brig. Gen. James Adams, said at the NDIA Expeditionary Warfare Conference. As for the budgets in FY 2021 and beyond, Adams said they would be all about modernizing the Marine Corps.

The challenge is finding money in the budget to afford modernization. The current budget is what Adams called the high-water mark for funding, and future budgets will not be larger.

“It’s only going to get the same or less, in my opinion, down the road,” Adams said. “So in order to modernize we have to divest.”

The Marine Corps developed a Requirements Oversight Council to weigh what to fund and what to cut. Divesting might be caused by new technology making older equipment obsolete, or the long-term maintenance cost of a program does not improve lethality.

“Now we’re focusing more heavily on the cyber and space domains,” Adams said. “That feeds into our divestment discussions all the time.”

During the FY 2019 budget process, the Marine Corps identified more than $567 million in savings, in part by identifying programs to either reduce or phase out entirely. These savings were part of an effort reforming how the Marine Corps buys equipment, which has saved about $3.6 billion, Gen. Robert Neller, the Commandant of the Marine Corps, said in March when appearing before the House Appropriations Committee.

One example is the Marine’s decision to cancel the survivability upgrade for the service’s legacy AAV-7 amphibious landing craft in favor of the new Amphibious Combat Vehicle.

Another example of divesting, Adams said, is how the Marine Corps is replacing its fleet of EA-6B Prowlers and the F-18 Hornets with the F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter. The Marine Corps loses some of its electronic jamming capability by divesting its Prowlers, but Adams said the Corps could lean on the Navy’s fleet of EA-18G Growlers to complement more directed electronic jamming equipment mounted on land vehicles or even carried by Marines.

Instead, the Marine Corps is developing better means of defeating small unmanned aerial vehicles, such as quadcopters. These vehicles are hard to detect with traditional radar, relatively cheap to deploy, and used by the full spectrum of forces from extremist organizations to near-peer adversaries. The Marine Corps is developing improved lasers to track and fry the small vehicles and electronic countermeasures to disrupt the signals sent from operators, Adams said.

“It’s easy to say I need this new thing or that new thing, but no one ever comes to the table with an offset. No one ever comes to the issue team and says, ‘I need this, and I’m going to trade that,’” Adams said.
“But we have to figure out where the trades our if we’re going to modernize and accelerate.”

Ben Werner

Ben Werner

Ben Werner is a staff writer for USNI News. He has worked as a freelance writer in Busan, South Korea, and as a staff writer covering education and publicly traded companies for The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Va., The State newspaper in Columbia, S.C., Savannah Morning News in Savannah, Ga., and Baltimore Business Journal. He earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Maryland and a master’s degree from New York University.

Get USNI News updates delivered to your inbox