The Marine Corps is projected to remain a force of 182,000 in coming years, but the four-star assistant commandant of the Marine Corps said new threats may require an increase of 5,000 troops or more.
Gen. John Paxton on Monday told reporters at the Sea Air Space convention near Washington, D.C., that while a force structure review four years ago found the Marine Corps wanted a force of 186,800 to properly execute its role, new threats and tensions may make the "floor" number even higher now.
"That was before Ukraine, before Syria, before South China Sea, before Wikileaks," Paxton said. "To us, 186,800 is about the floor. So the number may [now] be north of there."
Commandant Gen. Robert Neller has said the Corps may cut conventional forces, including infantry troops, to make room for an increase in specialized skill sets such as cyber and electronic warfare. The commanding general of Marine Corps Combat Development Command, Lt. Gen. Robert Walsh, has estimated that these communities need to grow by up to 3,000 troops.
But Paxton said the Corps isn't counting on reducing its community of ground-pounders just yet.
"We haven't taken a cut to conventional forces as a given," he said. "But we'd like to get north of 186,800. We believe that's the number we need to retain the conventional force capability which we need to go into Afghanistan, to do the counter-ISIL fight, to go around the world and also simultaneously develop some of those new skills and capabilities."
While the president's version of the defense budget keeps the Corps at 182,000, Congress may opt to give it at least part of the plus-up officials want to see. Several versions of next year's national defense budget bill include funding for 3,000 additional Marines, enough to pay for the cyber community increase the service hopes to realize.