April 10, 2006
Corps is seeking $12B to ease burden on gear
Service may use next year’s funds early to reset force

By Christian Lowe
Times staff writer

Practically every Marine has seen them in the combat zone: Humvees twisted into blasted metal heaps, helicopters damaged beyond repair, amtracs and light armored vehicles split in half.

The violent insurgency and the fight against terrorists worldwide have taken a heavy toll on Marine equipment. More than 600 vehicles have been destroyed in Iraq alone, and nearly 30 aircraft have been lost in combat worldwide.

The war also has forced the Corps to take a serious look at what gear Marine units really need for a fight that often mixes police work with humanitarian assistance and full-fledged combat operations.

A May 2005 Marine study showed, for example, that logistics units need .50-caliber machine guns, bases need power generators due to unreliable electricity in Iraq, and company-size units require the kind of communications gear usually allocated to battalion staffs.

So the Corps is asking Congress for nearly $12 billion to buy a host of vehicles, aircraft, electronics and personal equipment to reset the active-duty and Reserve force to prewar levels and to boost the gear in some units to match the demands of an unconventional campaign.

Top budget officials said they can spend the money over the next two years to get Marine units back to fighting strength. The money would also be used to re-equip units in the rear that have had to forfeit their vehicles and weapons to bolster the increasing need of units in the field.

“If the war were to end, we would have not only reset the force but actually ... we would have set it,” said Gen. Robert Magnus, assistant commandant of the Marine Corps.

“We’re buying the right kind of equipment not to get us back to 9/11 but to get us forward,” he said.

So get ready to retire that beat-up Humvee and say hello to more machine guns and radios.

Emergency bills

Corps officials have requested $5.1 billion from Congress in the emergency wartime supplemental bill submitted in February to buy more up-armored M1114 Humvees, night-vision equipment and radios. The other $6.6 billion will be requested in next year’s supplemental.

More than three-quarters of the $11.7 billion reset bill is devoted to ground equipment — “about the equivalent of six years of normal budgets for war-fighting investment,” Magnus said. Nearly $3 billion of the request is for aviation equipment and replacements for the 28 aircraft lost in the field since Sept. 11, 2001.

But some of the items will take a while to procure, so expect most of the high-end items to show up in “between two and four years, depending on the piece of equipment,” Magnus said.

That’s why Marine budget officials are asking for the reset money over two years.

“There are some limitations on how quickly we can execute that [funding],” said the Corps’ top budget official, Lt. Gen. Emerson Gardner, at a March 29 hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee’s seapower subcommittee. “Most of those limitations come from the size of the industrial base. We’re confident that we can execute that amount of money in about two years’ time.”

However, Gardner said that the Corps could spend an additional $1.4 billion this year if authorized, primarily to purchase MV-22 Ospreys to replace the four CH-46E Sea Knight helicopters lost in battle. The money had been planned for next year’s supplemental request.

“For the first time, we’re able to purchase replacement aircraft for those,” he said.

That would essentially be an advance on the $6.6 billion in reset funds he plans to ask for in a fiscal 2007 supplemental request next year.

“When we replace this gear, we’re replacing it with what we need for the next fight,” he said.

The drive for new gear has been nearly two years in the making. In 2004, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld ordered the services to examine war losses and come up with a list of gear they’d need for replacements. In May 2005, the Corps’ inspector general’s office concluded a study that showed deployed units were eating through equipment at higher than anticipated rates, cutting a Humvee’s life from 14 years to four, for example.

That study, combined with another study completed this year that listed gear requirements for units in Iraq, led to the Corps’ plea for reset funds.

“If we didn’t get this infusion of money, we would be effectively starting to rapidly hollow out the force,” Magnus said.