After Drawdown, Marines Propose Investments in Aircraft, Training

U.S. Marines from Special-Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force Crisis Response board an MV-22B Osprey at Moron Air Base, Spain, May 13, 2014. (ALEXANDER HILL/U.S. MARINE CORPS)
U.S. Marines from Special-Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force Crisis Response board an MV-22B Osprey at Moron Air Base, Spain, May 13, 2014. (ALEXANDER HILL/U.S. MARINE CORPS)

Drawdown days are officially over for the Marine Corps. The service's fiscal 2017 budget request would keep the active-duty force at a steady state of 182,000 troops, a number projected to remain constant until fiscal 2021.

The Marines' base budget request of $23.4 billion represents a $169 million increase over the previous year, with an additional $1.6 billion in overseas contingency operations funding earmarked for operations and maintenance, personnel and procurement.

The spending plan calls for a significant investment in Marine Corps aircraft.

The service plans to buy its first two CH-53K King Stallion heavy-lift replacement helicopters at a cost of $437 million as it continues to invest heavily in development for the airframe. The aircraft, which will replace the Marines' workhorse CH-53E Super Stallion helicopters, is expected to reach initial operational capability by fiscal 2019. By 2021, the Corps plans to purchase 40 of the choppers.

The Marines will complete a five-year procurement contract for MV-22B Ospreys next year, with plans to buy another 16 of the tiltrotor aircraft. The service also wants to purchase 16 more F-35B Joint Strike Fighters as it prepares to deploy a first squadron of the fifth-generation fighters to Japan in early 2017. The budget includes funding for 24 new AH-1Z Venom helicopters, which replace AH-1W Super Cobras first introduced in 1986.

Ground vehicle procurement will also get a boost.

As part of a joint program with the Army, the Corps plans to buy 192 Joint Light Tactical Vehicles at a total cost of $113 million, up from 118 of the Humvee replacements in 2016. As development of the Marines' amphibious combat vehicle continues, the service plans to spend about $159 million to manufacture and deliver 32 test vehicles for the future armored personnel carrier.

With special purpose Marine air-ground task force crisis response units in the Middle East, Europe and Africa in a constant state of high demand, the budget request also includes full funding for pre-deployment training and a plus-up in spending on ammunition.

According to budget documents, the spending plan includes funding for up to 10 infantry battalions, 4.5 artillery battalions, five logistics battalions and 30 aircraft squadrons to participate in the Marines' integrated training exercise program at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, California. It also budgets for two infantry battalions to participate in mountain training at the Corps' mountain warfare center in California.

Overall, the Marine Corps will spend $195 million on ammunition in fiscal 2017, up from $146 million this year. Some mainstay weapons systems will also see an increase in funding, including the high mobility artillery rocket system, which will see funding more than doubled from $16 to $34 million; and upgrades for the AAV7A1 assault amphibious vehicle, funded at $74 million, up from $21 million this year.

Stateside, the Marines are investing in a few big-ticket building and renovation projects, including a $30 million recruit barracks and reconditioning center for Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, South Carolina; $18 million worth of range safety improvements for Camp Lejeune, North Carolina; and $110 million to repair and improve a block of 36 family housing units at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan.

-- Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at Follow her on Twitter at @HopeSeck.

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