March 9, 2015, Washington – The Marine Corps has adjusted to budget constraints by prioritizing the readiness of forward deployed forces, the service’s top officer told Congress March 4.
Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr. told the Senate Appropriations Committee’s defense subcommittee that amid budget uncertainty, the Marine Corps will strive to meet America’s expectations to successfully operate forward, engage with partners, deter potential adversaries and respond to crises, with 31,000 Marines currently forward deployed and engaged.
Recent Marine Corps missions, Dunford reported, include support to U.S. citizen evacuations in Sudan, Libya and Yemen, ongoing strikes in Syria and Iraq, Iraqi army training and U.S. Embassy protection in Baghdad.
Concurrently, 22,500 Marines remain west of the International Date Line in support of the U.S. rebalance to the Pacific region, Dunford said.
Budget Informs Decisions
The budget informs how the Marine Corps mans, trains and equips, Dunford said, and also informs how it prioritizes and allocates resources Congress allows.
“I can assure that your forward-deployed Marines are well-trained, well-led and well-equipped,” Dunford told the senators, “but we’ve had to make tough choices to deal with the effects of two wars, sequestration in 2013, and reduced budgets in 2014 and 2015.”
But forward-deployed force readiness, Dunford acknowledged, has come at the expense of investments in home-station readiness, modernization, infrastructure sustainment and quality-of-life programs.
“Approximately half of our non deployed units … who would respond to unforeseen contingencies suffer personnel, equipment or training shortfalls,” the admiral said. “In a major conflict, those shortfalls will result in a delayed response and/or the unnecessary loss of young American lives.”
Failure to Modernize Threatens Competitive Advantage
Over time, underinvesting in modernization will force the Marine Corps to maintain older, degraded or obsolete equipment at a higher cost, the commandant said. “It will eventually ruin our competitive advantage,” he added, “and we don’t ever want our Marines and sailors in a fair fight.”
Ultimately, the Marine Corps can meet defense strategic guidance requirements with the president’s fiscal year 2016 budget request, but there is no margin attached to that bottom line, Dunford emphasized.
“Funding below the president’s budget level will require we develop a new strategy,” the general told the Senate panel.
Budget Control Act funding levels, which currently require a return to sequestration spending cuts, would exacerbate the current readiness state, forcing of the Marine Corps to reduce the size of battalions and squadrons required to respond immediately to crises involving diplomatic posts, Americans citizens or U.S. interests.