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Marines prefer JLTV over recapped Humvee

Despite looming threats of deeper defense cuts -- and uncertainty about whether the program itself will survive -- the Marine Corps would rather buy new Joint Light Tactical Vehicles than modernize the vehicles it has now, our distinguished colleague Matt Cox reports.

Here's the dispatch he filed from Wednesday's House Armed Services land forces subcommittee hearing:

Lawmakers pressed Marine acquisition officials to explain why the service isn’t considering the Army’s Humvee recapitalization plan, an effort designed to beef up existing Humvees with cost-saving improvements so they can better cope with the modern battlefield.

“We are in a budgetary situation right now where everyone is looking to pinch pennies,” said Pennsylvania Democratic Rep. Mark Critz. “The move from the Humvee to the JLTV program -- I’m trying to understand what the Marine Corps’ plan is. I have heard in some of the reporting that the recapping of the Humvee is about half the price of building new.”

The Marine Corps' Program Executive Officer for Land Systems, William Taylor, said he didn’t buy that estimate.

“I would respectfully disagree that that Humvee recap would equate to about half the cost,” he said. “Our best estimates of what it would take to overcome the engineering deficiencies to provide a durable Humvee range somewhere between $240,000 and $260,000, so at that cost you are bumping up against a cost of a new vehicle that would provide much more capability.”

Aside from its fleet of Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles, the Marines have a trimmed-down fleet of about 18,600 Humvees and other tactical vehicles, said Brig. Gen. Daniel O'Donohue, director of the Capabilities Development Directorate, Combat Development & Integration.

The Marines plan to replace about 5,500 of those Humvees with new vehicles, he said.

“These are the ones that shoot, move and communicate forward; they have the most demanding profile,” O’Donohue said. “And these are the ones that we are looking at for the JLTV.”

MRAPs will likely be placed in war reserve for when they are needed, Marine officials said.

“We have cast a post-OEF Marine Corps which is not for extended campaigns ashore but to be a crisis response force,” O’Donohue said. “The MRAP was a substitute in a high IED threat but isn’t applicable for where we might go otherwise.”

As for the remainder of Humvees, O’Donohue said the Corps will maintain the fleet and modernize them in the late 2020s.

-- Matthew Cox

Very interesting stuff -- did you catch that bit about how O'Donohue says the Corps of tomorrow will be a "crisis response force" that won't need heavy vehicles? This dovetails with the vision of at least two consecutive commandants, who have said they want the Marines to be a "two-fisted fighter" and a "middle-weight force," not the "second land Army" it became across the 2000s.

But the Marines' acquisitions have a way to go before everything is in place: The Corps still needs the F-35B for fast-jet air support; it needs its new amphibious vehicle so it can get troops ashore; and it needs JLTVs and other vehicles light enough and trim enough to ride aboard Navy amphibious ships. Some or all of these things could be up in the air going into the big crunch.

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