Former Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates’ efficiency initiative provided with the FY 2012 budget request identified $154 billion in potential savings through 2016. Among identified cuts is the Marine Corps Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle (EFV), intended to replace the 1970s-era Amphibious Assault Vehicle (AAV). As a combat Marine officer in Iraq and Afghanistan, what are your thoughts on providing effective ship-to-shore movement of Marines over hostile beaches?
The EFV issue has been strongly reverberating and I’ve gotten out in front with an op-ed piece in the newspaper and another on my website. As after every war, there is a nattering, chattering mafia that begins questioning the need for a Marine Corps amphibious force in readiness. You would think they would have learned by now. However, there is a persistent undercurrent to do away with the Marine Corps. That never goes away.
One example: The next two Navy amphibious assault ships for Marine Corps landings are being built without well decks to launch EFVs or Amphibious Combat Vehicles [ACVs], beefed-up, next-generation versions of the old AAVs. Instead, these amphibious ships are designed as small 45,000-ton displacement aircraft carriers to launch MV-22 tilt-rotor Ospreys and F-35B vertical takeoff and landing strike fighters. This is a leadership failure. Using tilt-rotor aircraft to land Marines assumes control of the air, which may not always be the case.
The minimum number of amphibious ships for Marine Corps operations is 33, but the number available is short two. The Air Force wants control of the air and the Army wants an amphibious role. Meanwhile, the Marine Corps is asking for and will accept less, putting their trust in the other services.
We need Marine Corps leaders to explain why billions have been wasted on the EFV and what is needed in a new assault vehicle in terms of speed, weaponry, and survivability – how much speed and range are required and the necessary standoff distance from the beach.
The Navy says it could completely prep the battlefield and allow Marines to come ashore in cruise ships or Zodiacs; however, there is a history here. We either often fail to get the fire support needed or it’s ineffective and landing units must dig in deep and remain a long time on the beach, suffering casualties.
The ACV will not be available for 10 years, if at all. We shouldn’t assume future threats would be any easier. We’re not buying it. The committee requires studies before the Marine Corps can embark on an EFV replacement. The Marine Corps mission hasn’t changed. This EFV decision goes down hard for the committee and we will monitor it closely.
The Pentagon plan adds $4 billion for the F-35 fighter program for system design and development, but purchases only 31 F-35s instead of 41 as earlier planned. What is the reason for this change? Another program element hit by Gates’ efficiency push is the F-35B short takeoff/vertical landing (STOVL) aircraft for the Marines, which has been placed on a two-year probation. The Corps is counting heavily on this aircraft to replace aging Harriers. What can be done to assure adequate funding for a future STOVL replacement?
The committee approved of $7.7 billion for F-35 development and procurement of 32 aircraft for the Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force. The markup also limits the obligation or expenditure of funds for performance improvements to the F-35 propulsion system, unless the secretary of defense ensures funds are made available and spent in fiscal year 2012 for two options for the F-35 propulsion system. Meanwhile, General Electric and Rolls-Royce are funding the F136 engine with their own money, which could later force another competition between the two engines for the F-35. The committee may have to step into the breach and ensure the F-35B stays on track and is adequately funded.
Compensating for F-35 delays, the Defense Department plans to procure an additional 41 F/A-18s from 2012-2016. What is the logic behind this procurement of an aircraft design that dates back beyond the 1980s?
The F-35 delays have no bearing on procuring additional F/A-18 Super Hornet aircraft. This is a solid and rugged platform with an outstanding weapons system that can drive a nail with its accuracy. Just as with the A-10, the aircraft is needed to fill out the inventory and deliver a blow with battlefield interdiction, especially against armor. The committee’s 2012 markup funds 12 EA-18G electronic warfare aircraft for the Navy at $1.1 billion, and 24 F/A-18Es and Fs at $2.4 billion.
The Army will reduce end strength by 27,000 soldiers, consolidate commands, and take other actions to curb funding. The Marine Corps’ end strength will be reduced by 15,000 to 20,000 Marines. Why cut force structure when history repeatedly shows the need for contingency operations and a force in readiness?
Force structure will remain an issue into the future. However, we have to assume that the Marine Corps Commandant, Gen. James F. Amos, knows what he is doing. He said he wants to downsize to a smaller force structure to provide a leaner 911 Corps as opposed to another ground army. The general wants to accept less and go back to the Marine Corps’ frugal ways. Nevertheless, I simply don’t see the practical advantage of that approach.
Does the 2012 defense spending request allow for adequate acquisition of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), fixed wing and helicopters, which proved so crucial in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region?
Unmanned aerial vehicles are performing missions better than envisioned. They are the weapons systems of choice, especially in areas of rugged terrain such as Afghanistan and Pakistan. Funding requests and procurement numbers in 2012 are adequate for these multimission platforms. It is likely that we will never again become involved in combat without heavily using numerous UAVs overhead. The open and barren terrain in Southwest Asia favors drones for surveillance, unlike jungle canopies of Southeast Asia.
Is the Navy’s Future Years Defense Plan shipbuilding plan realistic? Demands by U.S. regional commanders are growing faster than BMD-capable Aegis ships, even though the number of Aegis ships expands from 20 to 38 by the end of 2015. As China’s anti-ship ballistic missile, an area denial threat to U.S. aircraft carriers, begins deployment, there is a plan to increase numbers of Aegis-equipped cruisers and destroyers using the SM-3 hit-to-kill anti-ballistic missile. However, the SM-3 production line is not operating at full capacity. It would appear that additional SM-3s are required to meet the threats and that some could be land-based in Southeast Asia to effectively ease the burden on the fleet. What are your thoughts in this regard? Please discuss in some detail.
The nation needs all of the Aegis ships and Standard missiles we can afford because we are not deploying ground-based missile defense interceptors in places like Poland.
Having maritime basing is not a bad play, especially over the next decade as we pull back from areas run by dictators or other bad actors, such as Bahrain, where population unrest lingers. We must stop supporting dictator regimes that kill their own people every day. This will mean sea basing, increasing the Navy’s 313-ship fleet objective to perhaps 400 or more ships to project American power.
Aegis and SM-3 should prove effective against Chinese deployment of anti-ship ballistic missiles. However, this system could also be land-based on Pacific Islands or with Asian allies and prove effective.
This interview was first published in Defense: Summer 2011 Edition.