The deputy commandant for programs and resources of the Marine Corps, Lt. Gen. Gary Thomas, says that budget sequestration has cut into the Corps’ readiness for combat, with less than half of their aircraft ready to fly. General Thomas said that number should be 75 percent, meaning the Marines’ ability to meet challenges is severely restricted.
The service’s goal is to have 75 percent of its aircraft on the flight line ready to go, a number he called “reasonable” since routine maintenance will always take some aircraft out of commission.
But the actual number now is just 45 percent, mostly due to aircraft exceeding their planned service life, Thomas said. The statistic seemed to shock Rep. Michael Turner, R-Ohio, chairman of the House Armed Services Tactical Air and Land Subcommittee.
“I’m sorry, can we go back for a second,” Turner said. “That’s pretty abysmal. To have that be closing the gap, we must have been in dire straits.”
Thomas also said the service has identified a capability gap when it comes to keeping forces safe in vehicles.
“If you look at some of our current vehicles, they no longer are adequate for the types of threats that they face in terms of protecting our Marines,” Thomas said.
Oshkosh Defense is building a new Joint Light Tactical Vehicle for the Marines that Thomas said will help better protect troops from current threats.
Other capability gaps include counting an emerging threat from drones, and coping with a fleet of amphibious vehicles that is 40 years old, Thomas said.
Republican leaders were warned back in 2011 when sequestration became part of the budget deal that the mandated budget cuts would decimate the readiness of our armed forces. Essentially, every dollar cut from discretionary spending would be matched by a dollar cut from the defense budget. It was a terrible deal considering the result.
President Trump’s promise to raise defense spending should help, but it will take several years to recoup the losses incurred since 2011:
President Trump has proposed a $603 billion defense budget in fiscal 2018 to help fill some of these gaps and improve readiness across the military, but many lawmakers on Capitol Hill have said that number is not high enough. Instead they are pushing for the $640 billion topline championed by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas.
“While we cannot repair all of the damage done as a result of sequestration in a single year, we can and should do more than this level of funding will provide,” Turner said. “For national security reasons, we cannot afford to wait until 2019 to begin to rebuild our military.”
In the meantime, the Marine Corps—the sharp end of the stick of American foreign policy—will be forced to go into combat severely hampered by a lack of readiness. You won’t hear them complain about it; that’s not their way. But it’s possible that some Marines may die during combat because Congress refused to give them what they needed.