Magazine article National Defense

Frugality, Careful Timing Drive Marines' Modernization Plan

Magazine article National Defense

Frugality, Careful Timing Drive Marines' Modernization Plan

Article excerpt

For a decade, the Marine Corps has poured money into bomb-resistant trucks and other vehicles specifically designed for use in Iraq and Afghanistan while neglecting its amphibious fleet.

That means the service's plan to focus on traditional stomping grounds in the Pacific will require an ambitious and expensive vehicle upgrade program. Though service leaders are sanguine about the fiscal realities of a shrinking force and dwindling budgets, they are committed to achieving the modernization of thousands of vehicles that in many cases are twice as old as the Marines who drive them.

When he took the job in 201.0, Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. James E Amos decided to scrap a planned all-out assault on a "huge mountain" of procurement needs in favor of an incremental attempt at the summit. The service cannot afford to ignore modernization for frugality's sake, he said.

"One of the pillars of readiness is modernization," Amos said recently during a roundtable discussion about the Marine Corps' future after Afghanistan. "You can't just continue to hold yourself back trying to be the most frugal force. What you have to be able to do is some modernization ... the question is the balance and what's good enough."

Programs are in the works to replace nearly every vehicle in the Marine Corps' tactical ground mobility and ship-to-shore fleets. It will be a considerable effort for a shrinking service that has nearly half of its equipment tied up in an 11-year ground war and is concurrently developing one of the most expensive fighter jets ever built, the F-35B Joint Strike Fighter.

Tackling all the desired vehicle upgrades at once was an impossibility, given Defense Department budget cuts, Amos said.

As the service fixes its sight on the Pacific Ocean, a region that loses 70,000 people a year to natural disasters and is the location of potent political and military tension, a reliable vehicle fleet is increasingly important, said Amos.

There eventually will be 22,000 Marines stationed west of Hawaii, many of them aboard Navy amphibious assault ships throughout the region. Those Marines will use amphibious and ground vehicles to accomplish a variety of missions from humanitarian relief to amphibious assault, if called upon to do so.

Amos believes the Marine Corps' vehicle needs can be covered with the $2.9 billion it annually spends on procurement--just 12 percent of its total budget--if the programs are sequenced correctly and spread out.

New acquisition of ground vehicles will occur in three phases: Joint Light Tactical Vehicle to replace Humvees, followed by the Amphibious Combat Vehicle and the Marine Personnel Carrier.

The JLTV program reached a major milestone in late August when engineering, manufacturing and development contracts were awarded to three companies. (See story on p. 34) The Marine Corps is committed to buying at least 5,500 of those vehicles to replace a portion of its 24,000 Humvees.

With that and other programs like the Amphibious Combat Vehicle, the Marine Corps will have to settle for "what's good enough, certainly for the next decade," Amos said.

There is not enough money in the service's procurement budget to replace all of its Humvees, so 1.0,000 to 12,000 will be sent to depots for an overhaul and returned to service.

He offered the Medium Tactical Vehicle, more commonly called 7-ton trucks, as another example of making due with the vehicles at hand. The service had plans to replace the cargo-and troop-transport trucks sometime after the 2014 pullout from Afghanistan. Those plans have been scaled back to save money. Instead, most of the vehicles will be "sent through the depots" for repairs and upgrades, Amos said.

The same goes for a portion of the existing fleet of Amphibious Assault Vehicles, said Manny Pacheco, spokesman for the Marine Corps' Advanced Amphibious Assault program office. …

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