The Marine Corps may be approaching a steady-state end strength of 182,000 troops, but that doesn't necessarily mean personnel cutbacks are over.
Marine Commandant Gen. Robert Neller said Thursday that the Corps may consider scaling back its infantry population or operational forces -- with an emphasis on cutting from the most junior ranks -- in order to create space for an increase in its cyberwarfare community.
Speaking at an Atlantic Council event in Washington, D.C., Neller said he was looking hard at tradeoffs as the Marine Corps sought to develop well-trained, mature cyber warriors.
"I'm willing to take risk in the units we have now," he said. "Once we determine what are the capabilities we need and what are the types of Marines we need to do that, you know, those are not going to be [privates first class] and lance corporals over time."
The Corps, he said, had two options: to ask for an end strength increase after several years of drawing down, or restructure existing forces for a new mission. Neller said he would probably know how many cyber Marines the Corps needed by this summer, and then it would take an unspecified period of time to realize that growth.
In a fragmentary order Neller published in January, he called for growth in information operations and electronic warfare as well as cyberwarfare, giving the Marine Corps a fall 2017 deadline to complete the expansion.
"It takes 22 years to grow a colonel. So if we have to take structure, we'll probably take it from the more junior Marines, because those are the more easy to ... we can replace them," he said. "To grow a cyber Marine is a two-year pipeline, and we're in the process of growing our cyber capability. And the course that they have to go through has got a high attrition rate, so we've got to remission those people. So that's part of this talent management."
Neller said he was also looking to take advantage of existing cyber talent in the Marine Corps Reserve community as a way to stretch resources and training dollars even further.
"The advantage in the Reserves is they have a civilian life and they do this for real," he said. "So now we're going out, trying to find out who they are, how to get them involved in this stuff, because now we've skipped 5,10,15 years of development because somebody owns a cyber protection company and we put them right in there."