PANAMA CITY, FLORIDA: Navy undersecretary Robert Work fired a salvo in the budget wars Wednesday, taking swipes at the Army while extolling the Navy-Marine Corps team as ideally suited for the post-Afghanistan, Pacific-focused strategy.
“The United States Army is only going to have three combat brigades based overseas,” Work said in his red-meat speech to an audience dominated by serving and retired Marines at the National Defense Industrial Association’s annual conference on expeditionary warfare. (Work is a retired Marine himself). What’s more, two of those Army brigades will be in Europe (a light-weight airborne brigade in Italy, a medium-weight Stryker unit in Germany) versus just one in Asia (a heavy armored unit in South Korea). Work pointedly discounted other Army units in the Pacific theater — even the 25th Infantry Division, which is based all the way out in Hawaii — on the grounds that they were still on US soil.
The Navy-Marine team is truly the world’s “foremost expeditionary organization,” Work declared. The Army, he more than implied, is not. He dismissed the Army’s new emphasis on advisor and partnership-building missions in Africa and elsewhere with “regionally aligned” brigades — “we’ll send a Marine rifle squad” instead, he said — and even downplayed soldiers’ cross-country maneuverability.
“The Marine Corps vehicle strategy calls for vehicles that spend 30 percent of their time on-road and 70 percent of their time off-road. The Army vehicle strategy calls for vehicles to spend 70 percent of their time on-road and 30 percent off-road,” Work noted as one of his examples. “That says it all.” (One hole in Work’s choice of example here, however, is that the Marines are in fact buying the exact same Humvee replacement as the Army, the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle, whose whole purpose is to restore off-road performance lost when current vehicles were laden down with armor to protect against roadside bombs).
So American forward presence and rapid response to crises in the Pacific and around the world, Work argued, is best served by Navy and Marine Corps forces cruising through foreign waters on regular rotations, and by Marines ashore on foreign soil, whether in their longstanding bases in Japan or their new presence in Australia.
“This strategy calls for maritime and expeditionary forces to a greater degeree than any time since the late 19th century,” Work declared. “I see a golden age of American seapower because even though the budget may come down, priorities must drive you.”
So does Work’s argument boil down to taking budget share away from the Army (and Air Force) and giving it to the Navy and Marines? “No,” the undersecretary told reporters when asked that question point-blank after his speech. “Whenever you have a constrained budget topline, you have to make priorities, so it is just as easily foreseeable that money might flow from defense agencies to all of the services, and the United States Navy might get some.”
Or, Work went on, “after the election” — whoever wins — “it’s not beyond a reasonable doubt to think that perhaps more money will come to Defense,” with the Navy and Marines first in line. At a minimum, he said, the Navy-Marine share should stay “at least where it is.”
Despite all the uncertainties about elections, continuing resolutions, and sequestration, Work concluded, “the Department of the Navy is well positioned regardless… to make a play for a good share of the budget.”