CAPITOL HILL: The commandant of the Marines told Congress today that his service could not handle even one major war if Congress doesn’t undo the $500 billion, 10-year cut to defense spending known as sequestration. The Navy, for its part, would have only one aircraft carrier ready to “surge” in a crisis instead of two or three, allowing it to reinforce only one war zone at a time.

A central tenet of American strategy has been the ability to fight and win two major wars in two theaters at the same time since World War II. How well the military could actually meet that requirement has been open for debate, but it was always upheld as the official ideal — until January 2012, when the Obama administration’s Defense Strategic Guidance downgraded the goal to, in essence, win one, hold one.

But the Marines Corps would be stretched even to meet this more modest goal, and sequestration would call conducting even a single “major contingency operation” into question, Commandant Gen. James Amos told the House Armed Services Committee today.

“The Marine Corps today sits at 27 infantry battalions; we’re on our way down to 23 as a result of the Budget Control Act,” which reduces the Marine to 182,100 personnel, Gen. Amos told the House Armed Services Committee this morning. A “notional” major war would require about 19. “There’s not really a large amount of slack,” he said. “We are a single-MCO Marine Corps.”

However, “bring in sequestration and we’ll be down in the teens for battalions, and we will be very, very strained to be a one-MCO Marine Corps,” Amos said.

How the military arrived at these numerical requirements is classified, and the exact numbers are open to debate. But they’re a red flag for Republicans like HASC Chairman Buck McKeon, who had already opened the hearing with a denunciation of the Obama Administration for abandoning “the strategy we’ve basically had since World War II” of standing ready to fight wars in two major theaters at once.”

“Sadly, it’s not surprising,” said one of the GOP’s favorite thinktankers, American Enterprise Institute analyst McKenzie Eaglen, a member of Breaking Defense’s Board of Contributors. “Last year… the President directed the military to scale back long-standing war plans.”

“This is one of the reasons the Pentagon should have detailed the negative consequences of full sequestration in its 2014 budget request,” Eaglen told me in an email. “Congress lacks full awareness of the implications of its own votes across the military under sequestration.”

One Democratic staffer, however, argued that Gen. Amos was just acknowledging what’s long been the reality: “Iraq and then Afghanistan consumed almost the entire Marine Corps, so we’ve always had a ‘one war’ USMC in terms of large-scale conflicts.”

The Chief of Naval Operations, Adm. Jonathan Greenert, the Chief of Naval Operations, was less dire — or at least less blunt — in his testimony than his Marine Corps counterpart, but he dropped some strong hints about hits to the Navy’s “surge” capacity for crises, and I was able to ask him for clarification when he spoke to reporters after the hearing.

“Typically, you have a carrier in the [Persian] Gulf, sometimes two” — two had been the standard until February — “[and] one in the Western Pacific,” Adm. Greenert explained. Then there are carriers back in the United States but ready to sail to war in anywhere from a week to a month, the “surge” capability, he went on. Historically, Greenert said, the Navy has had two or three carriers and their escorts ready to surge at any given time, but keeping so many ships, aircraft, and sailors fully maintained, trained, and ready to go costs money that the Navy no longer has. So, said Greenert, “we’ll have one instead of two or three.”

How long will that 50-plus-percent shortfall in surge capacity last, I asked? Until the middle of next year, Greenert replied.

The Marines have their near-term readiness problems as well. “We are eating our seed corn right now,” said Gen. Amos. To keep Afghanistan-bound units fully manned, trained, supplied, and equipped, the Marines are stripping readiness funds from the rest of the force. While an infantry battalion or aircraft squadron preparing for an Afghan deployment will be funded at 100 percent of need, he said, “if you went to their sister units across the base, they’d be 30 percent down.”

“As we move into the early parts of ’14,” said Amos, units not committed to Afghanistan “will be at a readiness rating of C-3 or below,” on a scale from C-1 (fully ready for “wartime missions”) to C-5 (totally unprepared — a rating almost never given). Units rated below C-2 are normally not sent abroad at all. So if there’s a crisis anywhere but Afghanistan, the Marines will have to “cobble together” ad hoc forces as they did for the first days of the Korean War in 1950 — a particularly painful analogy given the current tensions with Pyongyang.

“If the balloon goes up, we will go, and we will turn in a good performance, but it will be painful,” Amos said.

The spending bill finally passed in March has made the military’s immediate readiness problem more manageable, Greenert told reporters, and the Navy now is preparing detailed plans on how to spend that money in hopes of getting the Pentagon Comptroller’s full approval by the end of the month. Even so, last month’s Continuing Resolution, H.R. 933, only deals with slightly more than half of an estimated $8.6 billion shortfall in Navy operations and maintenance accounts, leaving readiness funds still $4.1 billion short, or about 10 percent below what service had planned for 2013.

So while the Navy won’t have to cancel any of the major ship overhauls known as “maintenance availabilities,” it will reduce the scope of work done on two ships and must defer maintenance on 84 aircraft — maintenance deferred into 2014, when the budget is already looking tight. All told, the Navy estimates it will have $9 billion worth of unmet 2013 needs to make up for in 2014, said Greenert. If sequestration continues in full force, he went on, that shortfall would rise to $23 billion.

The sea services will struggle to protect their top priorities, Greenert and Amos both said, such as support for wounded warriors and victims of sexual assault. But the price, Amos added, would be reduced readiness for combat.

“We’re going to do less with less,” Gen. Amos told the committee. “That doesn’t mean we’re going to do it poorly.”


  • CharleyA

    I know- delete Marine tacair and let the Navy provide the service. The Navy’s jets are newer, and the Navy’s army doesn’t need it’s own air force and navy (small aircraft carriers optimized for fixed wing aircraft.) While they’re at it, stop buying V-22s that cost more than Super Hornets, and use -60’s like the Army’s airborne units. The Marines have morphed from a “can-do” barebones service to one much more like the USAF – they must have all the latest, most expensive hardware in order to perform their mission – or so they maintain…

  • Ken Souza

    Then maybe we’ll stop starting wars if we can’t afford to fight them.

  • Michael

    Anyone with a lick of sense knows that congress would allocate funds immediately if push came to shove….. and if the military and their civilian employees stopped stealing government property, more than what was cut would be on their books again.

  • Honestjohn

    The pentagon needs more cuts. We spend more on defense than all other nations combined and several of the countries that rank 2-6 On the spending list are our close allies. Every time the pentagon faces cuts they talk about reducing troops. Leave troops intact and cut the waste. Also, using a classified methodology to create budget estimates like this should be quickly rejected by congress.

  • PolicyWonk

    Historically, the marines were never designed to fight a major war as they are the assault troops – the army is/was supposed to fight the Big Ones.

    Or did I miss something?





  • Sam Pensive

    i’m very perplexed as how a cut in the rate of growth in these results in a huge core capacity drop result…in the military or the civilian programs…bunk!
    Obama is sing the same garbled lingo in his pet programs much less those the armed forces

  • Lop_Eared_Galoot

    The Marines depend on air power because they were never an artillery service (couldn’t find the lift to lug it nor the accuracy to make it work.).

    But now we have changes in technical capability (noteably GPS and laser ranging) that make it a LOT easier to put rounds where you need them from the first shot onwards which lowers the need to make up for inaccuracy with payload weight and shot counts as _heavy steel_. A single missile can do the job of a barrage of long guns so the question then becomes ‘where is that missile cheapest-best sent from?’

    It is not from an airplane which costs tens of thousands of dollars per flight hour to run and only stays on station for minutes out of every 24hr combat day.

    Netfires as the logical precision engagement SSM of choice is gone but Spike works the same way and the Israeli’s swear by it. So does the ALAS, Polyphem and FOG-MPM if we are worried about jamming/spoofery.

    While these weapons round-cost are in the range of 60-100,000 dollars, one needs to remember that by the time you count wingmen and support missions like tanking and SEAD, it takes the better part of half a million to fly a single Super Hornet sortie.

    When you have to use precision guidance /anyway/ (collateral politics) it makes sense to put the launcher only 20-40 miles away from the target and let simple (100 gallons a day in fuel, not 2,117 _per mission_ in the F/A-18E) logistics as gravity hold you in place to service threats very rapidly upon call.

    When you start to think SMART in terms of over the horizon guided fires, you also start to think about whether you absolutely have to have a contact force to take the dirt away from the enemy or can simply attrite him until he can no longer logistically as much as tactically hold it himself. Going to where the enemy waits is a great way to get ambushed under conditions where civilians in the same target picture restrict your ability to fight back regardless.

    I call this refusal to be a walking witness plate ‘Contempt Of Engagement’ and it is not a new idea.

    Indeed, the Marines themselves chose to remove themselves from a line of sight fires condition (inside the same horizon) in a 2003 engagement whereby one of their scout teams in LAVs did exactly what they were supposed to: screening for the heavy elements coming up the highway behind them so that -they- didn’t hit a major ambush.

    And when these scouts found the enemy at a protected highway junction, did they themselves attack?


    Rather, they _backed off_ so that a B-52 could come in and drop CBU-105 WCMD/SFW rounds which destroyed an entire column of the Iraqi Al Habbaniyah division. Some 20 odd vehicles.

    SFW destroys armor, but it is the number and payload capacity of delivery platforms
    which determines the number of munitions delivered. The Air Force currently has 95 B-1s, six B-2s and 95 B-52s; 22in FY01 the programmed force is 95 B-1s, 20 B-2s and 66 B-52s.23 With the assumptions and calculations listed in Appendix II, the
    Air Force can put 46 bombers per day over the target with CONUS-SWA-CONUS operations.24 Multiplying the SFW carry capacity by bomber type gives 1,256 CBU-97 dropped in a single day.25 With a 3.6 kill rate per CBU, over 4,400 vehicles, or the equivalent of two and one-half full divisions could be totally destroyed in a single 24 hr period!26 As an aggressor in a major regional contingency is expected to field eight to ten armored/mechanized divisions,27 asymmetric attacks on armor by bombers could destroy up to 22% of the attacking armored force per day.

    So essentially, brilliant weapons let you destroy an rob an army of all morale in just a couple days, if you can find them and get them long enough to be bombed.

    Why is this important if airpower costs too much to sustain? Because with systems like the AMOS 120mm mortar shown here-

    You can deliver ‘BONUS’ or ‘SADARM’-

    Which are the artillery equivalents of the SFW.

    The range of the AMOS is around 12km which means that it outranges tank main tubes by around 50%. With rocket boosting, that range goes up to 15km which is over the functional horizon (the enemy cannot even see muzzle flash).

    So, you have a swarm of UAVs on a secure network providing massive ISR coverage of the entire battlefield so that nobody can hide in ambush as you maneuver your ‘everyone is a scout’ mini kampfgroups.

    And you have a few Spike-ERs in vertical launch cells in the back of GCV (as CV-90, the best IFV in the world right now) acting as long range preemptive counter battery fire to enemy artillery so that -their- scouts cannot shoot you up from outside the range of your breach loading auto-mortars. And on every other CV-90 these are these AMOS turrets which can saturate entire armor columns with more top attack than -any- APS can defeat. Leaving only just a couple IFVs to provide laager security at night.

    Alternatively, you can go even lighter with Wiesel (Nemo) or R-Gator (Spike-R) type softskins which are actually helimobile and thus enable deep-STOM delivery in multiple by CH-53K (if you cannot secure a SPOD/APOD as theater entry).

    At full roll-on/roll-off speed without sling loading range restrictions.

    Once on the ground, you begin slowly ‘showing the flag’ maneuvering as needed to get the enemy to come out and play as opposed to losing control over their own internal traffic chokes as highway onramps and road/rail junctions and power and water utilities.

    When they do respond to your presence, you maintain a deep battlefield standoff as utter contempt of direct engagement. Retiring by fire to as you take out enemy maneuver elements until they stop coming. You _do not_ destroy key infrastructure or create civilian mazcats because you are NOT fighting over the rubble of these installations.

    Eventually, when the enemy has no more force reserves to allocate, you control all the countryside as GLOCs ‘from the bushes’ of offroad dominance. And by controlling the roads and highways, you lock down the country.

    So what can the enemy do now?

    Hole up in their cities? That worked real well for Saddam didn’t it?

    If they do, they are only safe so long as they are willing to huddle as guerillas not recognized national authorities amongst masses of their own civilian populations. These latter, numbering in the hundreds of thousands if not millions, will begin to starve in just a few days and will be all too happy to turn over their unwelcome guests to SOF targeted assassination teams.

    All of the above is inherent to a major doctrinal change which says you don’t need to be prepared to FIGHT high intensity campaigns if you are in fact configured to rapidly get in there with small combat teams and quickly attrite enemy maneuver elements.

    Thereby stopping threatfors from eventuating probing or massing preindicators of conflict into true MRC/MTWs.

    As long as you don’t have to go dig somebody out of an established occupational zone like Kuwait, victory is a given, simply by taking away there own deep rear areas and not allowing their societal transport and utilities infrastructure (as food, ammo, POL, spares supplier) to function until they surrender.

    It is because Marines like General Amos refuse to acknowledge how you REALLY fight wars (at low force-protection required exposure risk and with low enemy as friendly casualties overall) that we have to hear all these prevaricative assumptions about manpower.

    And have no doubt: they are lies.

    Because budgets are based on billets by which the military chain of command, and _only_ that chain of command, can convert NCA policy directives into operational orders to troops. Remove troops to fight as high-tech on the ground as we do in the air and your manpower droops which means your budget droops because manning ratios on mechanized systems are tiny compared to infantry.

    No money = no power or status as career options in the politics of the Pentagon or post-retirement employment in the MIC after service.

    What we are mistaking here is the difference between warfighting capabilities and post-conflict occupational ones. Anyone who has read PW Singer’s book on _Corporate Warriors_ will recognize that when it comes to ‘building capacity’ in a force, as a national infrastructure on which to stand up a functional society, the armed forces of the U.S. are hugely wasteful.

    It’s not their design mission and while they can do a little quick pick up gaming because they have such large excesses of capacity in their own manning and logistics bases, they are not economically efficient at it. PMFs, operating under a separate, highly specialized, set of job skills as contractual execution requirement can be made efficient. Because they pick up the best of only those needed skills to fulfill a given mission, be it policing, asset or personal security, construction, transport or training/advisement. For which they can cherry pick existing service or civilian markets for ‘the right people for the job’.

    This is where the true paradigm shift as RMA needs to be acknowledged folks. Because we could have kicked over AfG or Iraq on a hundredth of the budgets assigned to OEF/OIF. But we could not (and did not) stand up a contractual occupation force as stand-in administrative bureaucracy in the aftermath. And the fact that we mistakenly believed that Iraqis would not also devolve to corrupt influence peddling as sectarian backstabbing in a sub rosa ethnic cleansing campaign is what made The Surge necessary as a _followon_ combat operation, vastly bigger than the initial invasions.

    If you want to do nation building, go privatized and let the corporate PMFs show the idiot socialists in the UN what a binding arbitration is all about on the ‘do it right within the money we have allocated or we leave’ theory of performance based contracting.

    Keep the warfighters (as the proliferation of advanced arms marketing) small and focus them strictly on preempting major wars, not fighting them.

    We will all be a lot better off as we take apart the MIC power politicking which is basically about insuring they always have the biggest possible customer base to sell another turn of the escalation cycle to.