Magazine article National Defense

Spending Outlook: Marine Corps Procurement Forecast Clouded by Bleak Budget Projections

Magazine article National Defense

Spending Outlook: Marine Corps Procurement Forecast Clouded by Bleak Budget Projections

Article excerpt

The prospect of tighter defense budgets is arriving at a time when the Marine Corps is struggling to repair and replace equipment lost or damaged in recent fighting, and to restore its combat readiness.

"If we get involved in another major operation any time soon, we could have a severe problem," said Brig. Gen. Raymond C. Fox, assistant deputy commandant for programs and resources.

The rebuilding process will cost about $12 billion and take at least two years. The Corps has asked for $6 billion to get started in 2007.

To get a clearer idea of what kinds of equipment and personnel the Corps will need a decade from now, Commandant Gen. Michael Hagee has commissioned a "capabilities assessment" that is scheduled to be completed this summer.

This is "a time of urgency" for the service, said Lt. Gen. Richard S. Kramlich, deputy commandant for installations and logistics. "We have a lot of irons in the fire right now," he told an industry conference in Baltimore, Md.

Equipment buys in the near term, officials told contractors, will focus on technologies to defeat improvised explosive devices and on protective systems for troops and vehicles.

The Marine Corps Systems Command has established a counter IED technology directorate at its headquarters in Quantico, Va. Current technologies are "only marginally effective," according to a Congressional Research Service study published in February.

Concerned about providing useful information to the enemy, the Marines declined to be specific about what they're working on. "We're keeping public discussions very generic," said Maj. Gen. William D. Catto, who heads the Marine Corps Systems Command.

The Marines are seeking a second-generation counter IED jammer that will be more effective in blocking the signals of radio-controlled explosives than current models, said Lt. Gen. James N. Mattis, deputy commandant for combat development and integration, in testimony on Capitol Hill.

Funding for Marine counter IED projects has nearly tripled from $105 million in 2005 to $290 million in 2006.

Body armor remains a top priority in the Corps' procurement plans.

Officials declined to provide dollar amounts, but Daniel M. Fitzgerald, infantry combat equipment program manager, said the service will continue to buy armor vests fitted with ceramic plates that can block 7.62 mm rounds. To protect under the arms, the Marines are fielding additional inserts that fit along the sides. As of March, the service had issued nearly 26,000 of a planned 33,000.

"Torso protection is now as good as it's going to get," said George W. Solhan, deputy chief of naval research. Efforts now are focusing on reducing body armor weight. The vest with just two inserts weighs 30 pounds. To protect the entire body minus the head would increase that weight to 90 pounds--approximately the same weight as a medieval knight's metal armor--and that's "tactically impractical," Solhan noted.

The most difficult areas to protect are the head, face and neck, he added. For this reason, the Office of Naval Research and the Marines are collaborating with the Army's Natick Soldier Center and Canada's defense establishment in an effort to develop a next-generation helmet--the Marine advanced combat head-borne system--that would include a transparent visor, plus protection for the nose, mouth, neck and throat.

Approximately $27.3 million will be spent on the expeditionary fire support system in 2007, up from $18.1 million in 2006, while spending for the internally transportable vehicle will increase to increase to $4 million in 2007, up slightly from $3.6 million in 2006.

The Marines are preparing to decide this month whether to proceed into low-rate initial production with the internally transportable vehicle and the expeditionary fire support system, said program manager John Garner. These systems are being designed to fit inside the V-22 Osprey. …

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