A Leaner Corps of 150K

As budget pressures force the U.S. Marine Corps to downsize, Generals should suggest alternatives to reduce manpower costs other than simply shedding manpower. The best idea was General Mundy's effort from two decades ago to bar junior Marines from marriage. That failed for political reasons, but the same objective could be reached with a return to the old policy of limiting family housing benefits to E-4s and above. This should be combined with stretching out promotion to E-2, E-3, and E-4 to develop Professional NCOs. These steps would save enough to maintain at least 10,000 more Marines on active duty. 

This effort may fail or not provide enough savings to meet budget targets. Two previous G2mil proposals: Cut Marine Corps Overhead and A Lean Marine Corps of 160K explain how the Corps can shed overhead to downsize to 160,000 active-duty Marines and restore recently deactivated infantry battalions. If further cuts are required, the Marines can shrink to 150,000 yet easily maintain three divisions with 27 infantry battalions that require just 24,300 Marines. Here are additional options to shed another 10,000 positions:

2000 - Retire 81mm mortars

The Marine Corps is swamped with new types of equipment. An infantry battalion in 2001 consisted of 3205 principal end items (PEI); today that same infantry battalion has more than 8400 PEIs. Each item must be maintained by trained Marines along with a stock of spare parts. Indirect fire support is a good example. In recent years the Marines added 120mm mortars and HIMARS to its options of 155mm howitzers, 81mm mortars, and 60mm mortars. Each of these systems requires its own spare parts, training, manpower, and munitions.

The Marine Corps should shed one of these systems to save manpower and reduce complexity. The 81mm mortar is probably the best choice since it is difficult to manhandle and provides less firepower than the 120mm mortar that requires the same crew. Marines would still have 60mm mortars at the company level while 120mm mortars can provide direct support to battalions. In a MEU, a 120mm mortar battery is already attached to the infantry battalion for direct support. Marines talk about about lighter and faster units. Shedding 81mm mortars is one step that also eliminates a lot of manpower.

1900 - Slash component command HQs

The Marines have maintained a huge administrative headquarters in Hawaii and another at Norfolk since World War II. These became unneeded bureaucracies with the introduction of regional "joint" commands and as internet communications erased distance barriers. The Marines should drastically downsize these two big bureaucracies, now called MARFORPAC and MARFORCOM with their senseless Napoleonic staff sections.

Headquarters Marine Corps can address administrative issues directly with MAGTFs and other commands via Marine Generals assigned to those units. The Marines may retain these commands with Generals and a couple dozen staffers who operate within the joint command, as Congress intended. This would shed an outdated layer of command and some 1900 desk Marines from these and other bloated MARFOR... non-combat elements.

1600 - T2P2 Marines

There are large numbers of Marines tied up as Trainees, Transients (PCS moves), Patients, and Prisoners -- around 16% of the force. Downsizing by another 10,000 automatically sheds  1600 Marines from T2P2. 


1000 - Trim Law Enforcement battalions

There are 5000 Marines with a 5800 military police/corrections primary MOS. If the Marines downsize 25% (from ~200,000 to 150,000), downsizing the 5800 field by 20% is reasonable. The Corps could continue to expand the Marine Corps Civilian Police program, which already replaced 1200 active duty Marines with less expensive and more experienced civilians. 

Military Police is one field where ample civilian experience in the reserves is valuable. Two new USMCR "round out" MP companies could be formed to replace two active companies. The Marines could also drop out of part of the military prison system by transferring long-term prisoners to the federal Bureau of Prisons. It makes no sense to assign expensively trained Marines to stand around and guard former sailors and Marines sentenced to more than a year confinement, as this article explains.

800 - Establish two F-35 master jet bases

Over decade ago, plans were presented for the expensive F-35 that called for basing all Marine Corps F-35Bs at two "master" jet bases: MCAS Beaufort SC and MCAS Yuma AZ, like the Navy has done at NAS Oceana and NAS Lemoore. This is cost effective due to maintenance, logistics, and training (including simulators) demands. As budgets soared after 9-11, plans for F-35 squadrons increased and the need to economize became less important.

Budget growth has ended while F-35 costs continue to rise. The Corps must accept that fewer F-35 squadrons are likely and consider ideas to save money and manpower. A return to the idea of two F-35 master jet bases is one solution, allowing the elimination of MAG-11 headquarters at MCAS Miramar and its MALS-11, as well as MAG-14 headquarters at MCAS Cherry Point NC and its MALS-14. Not basing F-35s at Miramar also resolves the ongoing noise complaint battle with San Diego residents, and removes some Marines from an area with high housing costs. This would leave Cherry Point with just one flying squadron, but one of the two MAGs from nearby MCAS New River can move over with some squadrons.

A miracle may occur and budgets grow while F-35 costs fall. The two master jet bases could still accommodate all the F-35 squadrons planned since a third of these squadrons will be deployed at any given time. Another option is to demand that the Navy host the planned five (now four) Marine Corps F-35C (carrier versions) aboard one of its air stations. This simplifies logistics and training by co-locating with the other carrier air wing squadrons, and saves the Corps base operating costs. Since the Navy argued that maintaining F-35Bs on its carriers would be too complex, the Marines can argue that maintaining F-35Cs at its air stations is too complex. Yet another option is to transfer Cherry Point and its operational costs to the Navy to ease crowding and noise complaints at NAS Oceana while also hosting four Marine F-35Cs at "NAS" Cherry Point.

The Marine Corps needn't make this decision soon. The first F-35 squadrons are already slated for Beaufort and Yuma. As events unfold over the next two years and if fewer F-35s will be procured, the Corps should adapt by announcing a plan for two master jet bases.

600 - Replace eight engineer battalion HQs with two regiment HQs

Marine Corps engineer officers have long argued that MEF engineer units should be organized into a regiment to better distribute resources, and to provide them with a Colonel command opportunity. As the Corps reorganized into combat logistics battalions and regiments, the Engineer Support battalions somehow survived along with the division Combat Engineer battalions. As the Corps downsizes and seeks to shed heavy equipment and fight as smaller task forces, there is no need for large engineer battalions. The Marines need a flexible system to attach engineer platoons and companies to support smaller MAGTFs.

The solution is to form an Engineer Regiment headquarters on each coast to administratively command engineer companies in the active and reserve force that are attached to MAGTFs as required, as they are today. The eight active and reserve engineer battalion headquarters would be eliminated to shed manpower and flatten headquarters overhead into two regiments that command companies. Reserve field grade officers may complain about a lack of opportunities, but some companies may be commanded by a major and several IMA "reserve" positions could exist in each regiment headquarters.

600 - Downsize Food Service Marines

There are 2400 Marines with a 3300 Food Service primary MOS. Hot chow in the field is vital, but Marines are expensive so more civilians have been hired to run base mess halls in recent years. As the total number of Marines shrink, fewer mess halls are needed and some should close. The Marine Corps should scrutinize its food service field and identify at least 600 positions that can be eliminated. If the Marines downsize 25% (from ~200,000 to 150,000) downsizing the food service field by 25% is reasonable.

Marine units that do not make routine peacetime deployments would not need active-duty food service personnel if reservists are available. Marine mess units can be formed in the USMCR, or perhaps hundreds of individual "IMA" reserve spots can be created at Marine mess halls. Their weekend and annual training may only involve working in a mess hall. This may seem dull, but it also means they will be the first Marines mobilized for any major deployment. Should a MEB or larger unit be ordered deployed, reserve food service Marines would be mobilized. Ideally, an incentive system can be developed so that many of the full-time civilian messmen at Marine bases are also in the USMCR.

600 - Trim at Quantico

The Marine Corps base at Quantico VA has over 6500 active duty Marines, not including students, and none belong to deployable units. Some are involved in education while others perform administrative functions as part of HQMC in Washington DC. As manpower increased this past decade, Quantico grabbed a share and formed new commands and new schools.

If the Corps downsizes 25%, Quantico commands that provide Corps-wide manpower support need fewer personnel. The Marine Corps must review all Quantico activities with a goal of shedding some 600 active duty Marines by eliminating duplication, overlap, and non-essential programs. For example, does the base security department with a single MP company require a "Security Battalion" with two LtCols, S-1/S-3/S-4 and S-6 sections, and a sergeant major? Couldn't the MP company join the base H&S battalion? 

There is the Marine Corps University, which is separate from the nearby Marine Corps Training and Education command. There are now three schools for field grade officers: Command & Staff, War College, and Advanced Warfighting. Perhaps a goal of shedding 600 non-combat Marine positions is too small since this would still leave manpower equivalent to two infantry regiments at Quantico.

300 - Eliminate Bridge companies

The Marine Corps has two active and three reserve Bridge companies. Officers in these units have very minimal training on building wooden bridges, so such work is best left to real civil engineer units like Navy CBs. The basic purpose of Marine Bridge companies is to assemble aluminum "MGB" bridges within a few hours. The big challenge is transporting the large MGB components to where they are needed and fitting them together by hand. Bridge companies also have some boats and pontoons that can be employed in a lengthy and complex river crossing. These bridges are usually warehoused far in the rear and moving them to where they are needed takes weeks.

During the past decade, the Marines acquired dozens of a far superior bridges, the Armored Vehicle Launched Bridge (AVLB), which is an armored vehicle that launches and retrieves a 60-foot scissors-type metal bridge (pictured). The entire bridge is self-propelled and can be emplaced within a few minutes by two Marines, even under fire! This is what Marines need so it should leave bridge construction missions to Navy CBs and the U.S. Army, which have entire battalions trained and equipped for these tasks, which Marines rarely, rarely need. This would allow the Marines to eliminate tons of "big land army" MGB equipment and Bridge companies. 

300 - Shed Postal Marines

The Marines should follow the lead of the other armed services and eliminate most postal clerks and postal officers, who have their own primary MOS. Most don't need to be replaced by DoD civilians since the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) can deliver mail directly to Marine Corps offices and individual post boxes as they do everywhere else in the nation. Postal Marines are only needed to support deployed Marine units, so there is no need for any at places like Quantico.

As the Corps shrinks, less mail flows and the volume of mail has plummeted this past decade due to e-mail. The Marine Corps should scrutinize the number of Marines involved in postal operations and turn over most operations to the USPS. Active duty postal Marines are only needed to accompany units that make routine deployments. 

Wartime requirements can be filled by reserve Marines. USMCR postal units may be formed, or couple hundred IMA reserve positions created at active duty bases. Reservists could perform their weekend drills and annual two-weeks of training by simply working at base post offices. Should a MEB or larger unit be ordered deployed, postal Marines would be mobilized. Ideally, an incentive system can be developed so that many USPS employees are also in USMCR postal units.

300 -  Reverse the increase in KC-130s and leave Stewart ANGB

C-130 aircraft are valuable, but they also exist in large numbers in the U.S. Air Force, the Air National Guard, and the U.S. Navy Reserve. Each Marine Air Wing has one KC-130 squadron, but the reserves 4th Wing has two! As the Marine Corps began to downsize, the active VMGR squadrons grew from 12 KC-130s to 15 in 2011. The KC-130Ts left in the reserves are old and replacing them newer KC-130Js may be fiscally impossible. (Only one was purchased in FY2014 and one in FY2015.) The KC-130 fleet is due trimming to match cuts elsewhere in the Corps. Reducing the active squadrons back to 12 aircraft is one answer and eliminating one reserve squadron is another.  

Here is an option that eliminates VMGR-452 and supporting elements at Stewart ANG base in New York. This was chosen since the Corps is focused toward the Pacific and VMGR-234 in Texas is at an airbase with lower housing costs for active-duty personnel and is co-located with other USMCR units. This would be a gradual, decade long transition to evade BRAC accusations and allow adjustments for reservists.

Proposed KC-130 Realignment

VMGR-452 - at Stewart ANGB New York, downsized over a decade then deactivated

VMGR-234 - eight KC-130Js at Fort Worth, TX (four fewer)

New VMGR-234 (det) - four KC-130Js, co-located with VMGR-352 at Miramar

New VMGR-234 (det) - four KC-130Js, co-located with VMGR-252 at Cherry Point (or Andrews AFB)

This would allow two active squadrons to downsize back to 12 PAA KC-130Js since augmentation from co-located USMCR aircraft is simple. Recruiting and retention from the active force into these USMCR dets would be easy. This is more a cost cutting move, eliminating the nine KC-130s added to the active force in 2011. The reserve force would lose eight old KC-130Ts and shed overhead in expensive New York to free funds for new reserve KC-130Js.

There may be concerns that the sparse population in the region around MCAS Cherry Point is too small to attract qualified former Marines to man a USMCR KC-130 det. One option is to seek space for this det. at Andrews AFB, where a USMCR aviation squadron and HMX-1 det are based, along with a Navy reserve C-130 squadron. With two active Marine Corps bases nearby, Marine Generals should find the presence of four KC-130s valuable. 

Revamp the USMCR

The three G2mil downsizing proposals call for shifting thousands of active duty Marines into the reserve force. They also suggest eliminating headquarters layers that exist in the USMCR as well, which allow for those units to change missions. These would not suffice to provide the reserve manpower for all these G2mil suggestions unless the reserve component expands. A Marine Corps with 150,000 active and 50,000 drilling reservists is politically attractive. However, increasing the reserve component by 10,000 requires some 1000 more active Marines. Reserve Marines must be recruited and trained while on active duty. Reserve units require active duty trainers, administrators, and equipment maintainers. Nevertheless, a USMCR with 50,000 drilling reservists is a viable option.

Any expansion of the USMCR should avoid the expensive option of establishing new drill sites. There is space aboard active bases recently vacated by deactivated active duty units. Many USMCR sites in big cities can support a second unit, so they can share full-time staff and drill on different weekends each month. Expanding Individual Mobilization Augmentee (IMA) reservists is the most cost effective option. These Marines are attached to active duty units to provide immediate wartime augmentation, so they require no reserve facilities or equipment.

If the USMCR does not expand, it must convert some less useful units to provide wartime augmentation to active-duty MEBs and MEFs. The USMCR must abandon its old "mirror image" force structure and organize to support the Corps' wartime needs. Eliminating the 4th Reconnaissance battalion and the two Force Recon companies in the USMCR is one solution, especially since the active force added a Special Operations regiment. Recon has never been a good fit for the reserves. USMCR units want to welcome all former Marines in their area to join. However, recon is exclusive and turns many away. It also requires specialized skills that require expensive schools and frequent practice. This is impractical for many reservists due to their civilian job. 

Why is manpower the top priority?

Active duty manpower costs money! General James Amos warned that military pay and benefits consumed 63% of the Marine Corps budget in 2014, leaving just 8% for modernization and investment. This is why civilian leaders are demanding manpower cuts, but Marine Generals instinctively fight to protect manpower.

Manpower costs are a major reason the U.S. Navy is reducing the size of its fleet, to include amphibious ships. Marine Generals complain but compromises are not discussed. Can the Marines trade 10,000 active duty personnel within the Department of the Navy budget for a guarantee of retaining more amphibious ships? If such guarantees are suspect, can 10,000 Marines be assigned to amphib ship crews? Marines have the skills to fill many of these positions and more sea tours would increase naval cooperation and education while providing career diversity. The Marines should also suggest the closure of vulnerable NB Sasebo to save the Navy money and manpower better spent on ships.

The Marine Corps must adapt to the future by shedding overhead and moving big war elements into the USMCR. The Marine Corps must study future resources and accept that it cannot afford the manpower it now considers vital. The Marine Corps must change to perform today's missions with an active force of 150,000 Marines, and restore several infantry battalions to meet new requirements. The 27 infantry battalions required for three active divisions need just 24,300 Marines! The Marines must stop fighting reality and plan for deeper manpower cuts.

                                          Carlton Meyer  editorG2mil@Gmail.com

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