Last week, Marine Corps Commandant James Amos told reporters that if sequestration of defense funds mandated under the 2011 Budget Control Act persists into future fiscal years, his service may have to back out of the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV) program. JLTV is a shared Army-Marine Corps program to develop a next-generation jeep, one that will remedy the deficiencies of the current Humvee. The Humvee proved highly vulnerable to improvised explosive devices in Iraq and Afghanistan, and installation of armor led to accelerated wear on the vehicle.
The Commandant’s comments are just the latest indication that budget sequestration will lead to increased casualties in future wars. The Marines have already shelved plans for a new personnel carrier in order to scrape up money for a much-needed replacement of their slow and vulnerable Amphibious Assault Vehicle. The latter vehicle has been used since 1972 to storm hostile beaches, but despite numerous improvements it has not kept up with the threat. The Marines actually developed a successor in the last decade called the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle, but that too was killed due to cost concerns.
So now the service has to start over on an urgently needed replacement of its 40-year-old assault vehicles, and to find the money for the new program it may have to defer both a new personnel carrier and a new jeep. To make matters worse, nobody expects the Amphibious Combat Vehicle — the new assault vehicle — to reach the force until sometime in the next decade, by which time existing assault vehicles will be approaching half a century of age. Isn’t it sort of obvious that this is going to put the lives of many Marines at risk?
Lawmakers have been lulled into thinking sequestration is little more than a bookkeeping exercise because constituents are only now beginning to feel the pain, and U.S. troops are gradually withdrawing from overseas contingencies. But there will be new fights in the future, and enemies will naturally focus in on the weakest features of our force. Military planners hope to minimize the danger of first-responders using antiquated equipment by keeping them away from hostile shores until air power has suppressed defenses, but sometimes we will not have the luxury of waiting.
This is not a matter of misplaced priorities — at least among Marine leaders. The Corps is much smaller than the defense department’s other services (it consumes less than 10% of the department’s budget), and General Amos acknowledged last week that sequestration may force it to keep cutting uniformed personnel even after headcount has reverted to the pre-9/11 level. The only bright spot in Marine modernization plans today is aviation, but there is a real possibility sequestration might impact that area too in future years. Although the Marine Corps looks tailor-made for an Asia-Pacific posture, failure to adequately fund modernization of ground equipment has the makings of an epic tragedy.
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