Cut Marine Corps Overhead

You have read stories about how budget cuts are destroying our military. Generals claim they won't be able to accomplish many wartime missions. Let's look at facts, in the Marine Corps' budget for example, using a chart published by the Marine Corps.


The "war on terror" spending surge began in 2002 and the Marines swept aside the Iraqis using their FY2002 funding. Saddam was gone, yet spending soared and peaked in FY2008 after the Marines' annual budget had tripled, to include temporary war funding. Congress yanked the leash with the sequester cuts in 2011, so the Marines must exist with $32.5 billion in FY2014, double the amount from FY2001. Inflation must be factored, which has been low in recent years so roughly 2% a year justifies a 26% increase. However, the Marines budget is still far higher than 13 years prior, so why all the talk of doom?

Marine Corps manpower increased from 172,000 active duty Marines in 2002 to over 202,000 in 2011. As the temporary wartime increase in manpower allowed by Congress is no longer justified, Marine Generals organized the 2010 Force Structure Review that implemented cuts and attempted to justify a force of 186,800 active duty Marines. This produced a detailed plan that mostly cut combat power, to include 3 of 27 infantry battalions. In 2012, the Secretary of Defense ordered Generals to plan for a force of 182,100 Marines. No formal plan was presented, but another infantry battalion was cut.

Ever rising costs for personnel and equipment forced the Corps to plan for a reduction to 175,000 active duty Marines by 2018. Marine Commandant James Amos wrote an article stating that nothing would be cut from the supporting establishment and nothing from the sacred region around Washington D.C. All cuts would come from operational units, but the few he listed were insufficient to accommodate this reduction, which will lead to lower manning levels. In March 2014, Amos told lawmakers the number of infantry battalions would fall to 20 in 2015. 

Infantry battalions are the heart of the Marine Corps and provide the nucleus for rapidly deployable forces. Each requires around 900 Marines, so a full three division Marine Corps with 27 battalions requires 24,300 Marines. Why does anyone assume that a force of 175,000 active duty Marines cannot maintain 27 infantry battalions that require just 24,300 Marines?  Why have Marine Generals chose to cut combat units and become less ready?

Cut Overhead to Keep Infantry Battalions

Combat power is being sacrificed because it is far easier politically and institutionally to cut combat units than to eliminate outdated headquarters and support bureaucracies full of career officers and civil servants. In addition, Generals resist moving the Marine Corps away from a big war, big headquarters, equipment-heavy 50,000-man MEF-based Cold war structure, back to a pre-World War II lean, light, and fast Marine Corps serving as naval infantry.

The 175,000 active force level is considered a ceiling, not a floor. If the Marine Corps is unable to halt ever rising operating costs, manpower will go lower. The Marines need to shed equipment, headquarters, and base structure, but no plan has appeared. The Marines must shed Cold war missions that require thousands of excess items of equipment ready for World War III. The actual storage costs are low, but all this equipment must be procured, maintained, and transported for rotations through logistics centers every three years for testing, overhaul, and upgrades. To slash costs, the Marine Corps must end three outdated Cold War programs and drop one impossible new idea:

1. The Norway Air Landed MEB (later renamed MCPP-N and touted as part of a worldwide stockpile) is long outdated. The Russians will not invade Norway! Even if they did, a MEB would be easily overrun by a dozen Russian divisions. This program has dodged elimination for over a decade.

2. While the Marine Corps is wisely forming airmobile task forces to react worldwide, it insists on keeping large numbers of Marines on Okinawa where they are not wanted, and most are non-combat troops! That force is far too small to intervene in any serious Asian conflict and uses manpower needed elsewhere. The Marine Corps should adopt "The Okinawa Solution" by closing MCAS Futenma without a replacement, closing Camp Kinser as promised and removing excess equipment, and diverting half the UDP units elsewhere. 

3. The US Army continues to sell the bogus North Korea threat, even though South Korean forces are five times stronger. The Marine Corps should should move on, and out of it's "second land army" role in South Korea. Disband the unneeded MARFORK headquarters, remove the vulnerable aviation storage sites and put them in Tinian, Guam, and Australia, close down the camp near Pohang and shift training exercises from South Korea to more likely contingencies, like airbase defense in the Western Pacific. MARFORK manpower can transfer to new facilities on Guam and Darwin. 

4. Abandon the unneeded and fiscally impossible idea of building a new airbase on Okinawa and basing thousands of Marines on Guam, although basing aircraft and perhaps a UDP infantry battalion on Guam is a sound idea. The CBO estimates that a new airbase on Okinawa and new facilities on Guam will cost at least $24 billion and do nothing to improve national defense. As the Corps eliminates a dozen flying squadrons, why infuriate the Okinawans by spending billions of dollars for a new airbase that the Chinese can destroy in an hour?

Where to Cut 14,300 Marines

Ending these programs and closing these facilities can save the Corps a few billion dollars a year in equipment procurement, operations, and maintenance costs to easily fund seven additional infantry battalions each year. The 2010 Force Structure Review (FSR) produced a plan for 186,600 active duty Marines. To shrink to a force of 175,000 Marines, another 11,600 positions must be eliminated. Since the 2010 plan eliminated three infantry battalions, another 2700 positions must be eliminated to restore the 9th Marines with its three battalions, so a total of 14,300 positions must be identified for cuts to restore seven infantry battalions for a full-strength three-division Marine Corps with 27 infantry battalions. This can be accomplished by cutting overhead with these steps:

3000 - Streamline and Integrate Marine Logistics Groups 

This can be accomplished by eliminating unneeded headquarters, tailoring units for specific missions, and eliminating excess equipment, as explained in detail here. That plan eliminates 4000 positions, which includes Marines involved in maintaining excess equipment at depots. The 2010 downsizing plan mentions cuts in logistics groups with no specifics, so this proposal assumes some 1000 of these positions are civilian or have already been eliminated. 

1800 - T2P2 Marines Eliminated for a 175,000-man Force

In 2012 when around 200,000 Marines were on active duty, the Marines calculated that T2P2 amounted to 31,680 Marines tied up as Trainees, Transients (PCS moves), Patients, and Prisoners (15.84% of the force). A second phase to downsize the Corps from 186,800 to 175,000 automatically sheds another 1800 Marines from T2P2.

1500 - Downsize Cryptologic and Cyber Desktop Marines

After World War II, the Marine Corps got sucked into providing manpower for the NSA. This grew into the Marine Cryptologic Battalion with companies based at non-Marine Corps bases in Colorado, Georgia, Texas, Hawaii and Maryland. It makes no sense to recruit and train Marines, only to assign them to CONUS non-combat office tasks that don't directly support Marine units. There are 3200 Marines in signals intelligence, which does not include another 5000 Marines in intelligence. The number of SigInt Marines exceed those in the tank/AAV field! While many are assigned to Marine Radio Battalions, a thousand of these Marines not part of MAGTFs, but work at desks in support "joint" commands, and most should be eliminated.

In 2009, the Marine Corps embraced the cyber fad and created a Cyber Command that provides manpower for a new joint command in Maryland. This has grown to over a 800 expensively trained Marines and continues to expand despite force cuts! While the cyber threat is real in the open Internet and threatens national systems, MAGTFs use closed systems. Even at fixed installations, the Marine Corps uses the Department of Navy intranet system.  In a recent study about national defense priorities, officers noted that it makes no sense for all four services to devote manpower to a national Cyber Command, and certainly not the Marine Corps. At the very most, the Corps might have a hundred Marines attached to the Navy Cyber command to gain knowledge that "may" be useful to MEF commanders. 

1200 - Close Camp Kinser and MCAS Futenma  

This is detailed in "The Okinawa Solution." Former Marine Commandant James Jones has long supported to idea of closing MCAS Futenma with no replacement and moving some Marine aircraft to Kadena and the rest elsewhere in Asia. Camp Kinser should close as promised back in 2006 and the excess equipment stored there removed, while munitions shift to Guam. Should war somehow occur with China, most of that equipment, munitions, and MCAS Futenma would be destroyed by Chinese missiles and airpower within 24 hours, and no transport ships would enter that kill zone to embark equipment or Marines. Finally, as the Corps sheds some 100 aircraft from its inventory, closing one airbase makes sense.

1200 - Eliminate Infantry Regiment Headquarter Companies

A division or MEB headquarters can control its infantry battalions without a large regimental headquarters layer of command. The Marine Corps is steeped in tradition and will not eliminate "regiments" unless command sections remain embedded in each division headquarters. The regiment commander can continue his role as advisor to the division commander and writer of performance evaluations for battalion commanders. Converting the seven active duty headquarters that require 184 Marines each into five-man command sections (below) cuts fat and saves manpower. 


   INFANTRY REGIMENT COMMAND SECTION x 3 (Table of Equipment - two comm equipped HMMWVs)


      ADJUTANT CAPT 0180 

      ADMIN CLERK SGT 0151

      DRIVER/RTO CPL 2531

      DRIVER/RTO CPL 2531

While some career officers may be shocked by this idea, regiment commanders would learn their staff were more a burden than a help. They will be free to command without the need to continually address regimental headquarters staff problems. Note that when the 1st Marine Division advanced to Baghdad, General Mattis left his division headquarters behind and was most effective following frontline units and commanding from his HMMWV.

900 - Downsize the III MEF Command Element to a MEB

The Marines have three large three-star commands for the Pacific; I MEF at Camp Pendleton CA, III MEF on Okinawa (commanding a MEB), and MARFORPAC in Hawaii (commanding everything and therefore nothing). 3rd MEB HQ should assume command on Okinawa because there is only a MEB-size force there, and III MEF eliminated, or preserved in name by "dual hatting" the three-star General in Hawaii. The Intel, Radio, and Comm battalions on Okinawa can shrink to companies to support 3rd MEB.

If a major war erupts, the Corps can deploy I MEF from Camp Pendleton, or deploy 3rd MEB from Okinawa and grow that into III MEF using MARFORPAC staff and reservists as additional combat units arrive from the reserves or the East coast. This eliminates the unrealistic plan to spend billions of dollars to move III MEF staff into new facilities on Guam.

800 - Downsize the II MEF Command Element to a MEB

The Marine Corps agreed to consolidate its two major east coast headquarters by merging its large II MEF three-star command element into an outdated three-star MARFOR "component" headquarters in Norfolk. This resulted in moving 90 Marines to Norfolk, but no real downsizing other than two General officer slots. The II MEF headquarters website remained unchanged because the decision was later reversed

The II MEF command element (designed to command a 50,000-man force) remains at Camp Lejeune to command a MEB size force, and includes the 8th Communications Bn, 2nd Intelligence Bn, and 2nd Radio Bn. II MEF should be deactivated and its support battalions downsized to companies under the 2nd MEB Hq, plus elements permanently part of the MEU Hqs. Units in the USMCR could quickly reconstitute the II MEF Hq if that is ever required. 

800 - Eliminate LAR Headquarters and Integrate LAVs

LAVs provide valuable support to Marine Corps units, but there is no need to organize them into battalions. There may be times in long-range, big war operations where a battalion of 100 LAVs moving as a unit is useful. But since Corps normally employs LAVs as part of smaller MAGTFs, LAVs should operate at the platoon level supporting other units as "Light Armor Reconnaissance." In big wars, integrating them into tank battalions is more effective anyway. 

The Corps should permanently add a platoon of LAV-25s to the weapons company in each infantry battalion, as is standard in MEUs. An LAV-25 platoon should also be added to each tank company to provide needed reconnaissance and organic infantry support. This would retain the same number of LAVs in the Corps while eliminating some 600 Marines from LAR headquarters overhead. An LAV mortar platoon can provide each tank battalion with needed organic indirect fire support, while the LAV-AT versions replace their HMMWV-TOW. Eliminating those from the tank battalions and their scout platoons (by adding an LAV scout platoon to each tank company) results in another 200 positions eliminated. 

800 - Rethink ANGLICO/Recon/MARSOC

As the Marine Special Operations Command exploded in size, many Marines began to consider what this article addresses: MarSOC and Recon: Does the Corps need both? Perhaps Marine Recon should downsize? Or, perhaps the MarSOC idea should disappear as the entire Marine Corps returns to its special operations roots? While Marines Generals struggle to explain how the Marine Corps is unique from the Army, the top priority has been to copy the Army's Special Operations force?

Another option is to eliminate ANGLICO units. A MarSOC Company with its 14-man teams can perform the ANGLICO mission, yet the 2010 FSR expanded both MarSOC and ANGLICO! Or maybe replace a recon company in each recon battalion with an ANGLICO? There is much overlap and redundancy among MarSOC, Recon, and ANGLICO that was ignored during the growth in force structure, and ignored by the 2010 FSR. These units need a redundancy review to define roles to shed at least 800 positions, which would still leave twice the number of these expensively trained Marines compared to a decade ago.

700 - Cut Recruiting Command Overhead 

The Marine Corps Recruiting Command has approximately 3700 recruiters operating out of 60 Recruiting Stations, 574 Recruiting Sub-Stations, and 70 Officer Selection Sites, and employ hundreds of civilian staffers. While the Corps has begun to trim the number of recruiters, the officer and civilian overhead remains untouched. Recruiting is easier nowadays since Marines earn much more while good job opportunities in the civilian world have shrunk. This has allowed all the armed services to keep raising the bar to enlistment to a point where most healthy high school graduates are turned away

Recruiting bureaucracies are fighting this reality with a public campaign to protect themselves from reductions. Despite spin, the Corps has more qualified recruits than it accepts, so much less manpower is required to sign up fewer Marines. Most savings are possible by cutting overhead by closing a dozen Recruiting Stations (led by a Major and staff) and two District Headquarters (led by a Colonel and staff).

600 - Eliminate Artillery Regiment Headquarter Batteries

The Marine Corps has an artillery regiment as part of each combat division. Each has an unneeded 365-man regimental headquarters battery with its own Napoleonic staff section. These units serve no real purpose and should be broken up to eliminate around 200 Marines from each battery. Around 160 Marines in these headquarters provide real support in the form of truck drivers and firefinder radar operators. These elements can be attached to artillery battalions, which is already a common practice to support MEU deployments. While the MAGTF or Division G-3 coordinates artillery support, a five-man artillery regiment command second (identical to the infantry regiment command section described above) can become part of each division headquarters.

400 - Move OCS and drop NROTC

Marine Corps Officer Candidate School (OCS) is the most cost effective method of commissioning officers. Nevertheless, it can be more efficient in two ways. First, end the PLC Jr / PLC Sr option, where candidates attended two six-week summer camps rather than a single ten week camp, as offered with the OCC program, and ironically the PLC Combined option. Two extra weeks are needed for a second round of in-processing and out-processing and require twice the travel costs. Establishing a standard ten-week OCS program eliminates a lot of waste.

Prior to the drawdown, OCS screened some 2500 candidates a year. Eliminating PLC Jr/Sr duplication (along with a smaller Marine Corps) lowers that to around 1800. Each of the Marine Corps "enlisted" Recruit Depots can train over 20,000 Marines a year, and now operate well below capacity. Either can easily handle the OCS load, especially with the drawdown in enlisted recruits. OCS screening and recruit training are different, but most is the same, and require the exact same facilities and staff. A much smaller OCS staff can operate from either recruit depot to screen some 1800 officer candidates a year at a much lower cost.

Finally, it makes no sense to assign over 100 Marines to civilian universities at part of the Navy's NROTC program to commission just 200 officers a year, who the Marine Corps requires six-weeks at OCS anyway. The Marine Corps has far more qualified applicants for OCC and PLC than it accepts, and NROTC participants are welcome to attend a standard 10-week program. The Marines need 200 fewer new officers for a smaller force anyway, so cutting NROTC is a simple solution.

300 - Eliminate the Third FAST Company

A third 300-man Marine "Charlie" FAST company was created after 9-11 to enhance security at naval bases. The new eastward deployed UDP battalion organized into smaller task forces more than compensates for a loss of rotating one fewer FAST platoon to the Mediterranean/Middle East region.

300 - Eliminate Half of Marine Corps Field Bands

Military bands are an old tradition whose value has fallen ever since recorded music appeared. Marines are not cheap draftees anymore. The cost and questionable value of bands has attracted the attention of the media, and Congress demanded cuts. Although the Marine Corps eliminated two in 2012, it doesn't need 1000 Marines in ten field bands and the two huge special bands in Washington DC. Five field bands can be eliminated:

1. Merge the 1st MarDiv and 3rd MAW bands into an I MEF band.

2. Merge the III MEF band into the Marine Corps Pacific Band in Hawaii.

3. Eliminate the Marine Forces Reserve band. This is the reserves only active unit and is located in New Orleans where no active Marine units exist.

4. Eliminate the Quantico Band. There are no combat units at Quantico and OCS should move. The two ceremonial bands in DC can dispatch musicians when support is needed.

5. Merge the 2nd MarDiv and 2nd MAW bands into a Marine Corps Atlantic Band.


Most Marines agree with cutting this overhead rather than slashing more combat units. Unfortunately, it is much easier for Generals to cross off combat units rather than deal with the political and bureaucratic outrage caused by cutting entrenched support elements, full of senior officers and career civilian employees. I doubt that any Marine (or citizen) thinks that an active duty force of 175,000 Marines cannot assign 24,300 Marines for the legally required three division/27 infantry battalion Marine Corps. If any reductions listed above are not viable, what else should be eliminated? 

Add Seven Infantry Battalions with 6500 Marines

The cuts listed above eliminate 14,300 active duty positions. This provides 11,600 additional cuts required for a 175,000 man force since the 2010 FSR plan is for just 186,600 active duty Marines. The 2010 FSR eliminated three infantry battalions, so another 2700 positions are detailed for elimination to restore the 9th Marines with its three battalions. Eliminating these 14,300 headquarters and support positions to add seven infantry battalions allows for a full-strength three-division Marine Corps with 27 infantry battalions as the core of 175,000 active duty Marines. Hopefully, the next Commandant will direct his 2015 Force Structure Review to only cut non-combat units and restore seven infantry battalions.

                                                 Carlton Meyer


Follow-on Article

A Lean Marine Corps of 160K - where to cut another 15,000

drawdown downsize