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Spending outlook: Marine Corps procurement forecast clouded by bleak budget projections.

The prospect of tighter defense budgets is arriving at a time when the Marine Corps is struggling to repair and replace equipment lost or damaged in recent fighting, and to restore its combat readiness.

"If we get involved in another major operation any time soon, we could have a severe problem," said Brig. Gen. Raymond C. Fox, assistant deputy commandant for programs and resources.

The rebuilding process will cost about $12 billion and take at least two years. The Corps has asked for $6 billion to get started in 2007.

To get a clearer idea of what kinds of equipment and personnel the Corps will need a decade from now, Commandant Gen. Michael Hagee has commissioned a "capabilities assessment" that is scheduled to be completed this summer.

This is "a time of urgency" for the service, said Lt. Gen. Richard S. Kramlich, deputy commandant for installations and logistics. "We have a lot of irons in the fire right now," he told an industry conference in Baltimore, Md.

Equipment buys in the near term, officials told contractors, will focus on technologies to defeat improvised explosive devices and on protective systems for troops and vehicles.

The Marine Corps Systems Command has established a counter IED technology directorate at its headquarters in Quantico, Va. Current technologies are "only marginally effective," according to a Congressional Research Service study published in February.

Concerned about providing useful information to the enemy, the Marines declined to be specific about what they're working on. "We're keeping public discussions very generic," said Maj. Gen. William D. Catto, who heads the Marine Corps Systems Command.

The Marines are seeking a second-generation counter IED jammer that will be more effective in blocking the signals of radio-controlled explosives than current models, said Lt. Gen. James N. Mattis, deputy commandant for combat development and integration, in testimony on Capitol Hill.

Funding for Marine counter IED projects has nearly tripled from $105 million in 2005 to $290 million in 2006.

Body armor remains a top priority in the Corps' procurement plans.

Officials declined to provide dollar amounts, but Daniel M. Fitzgerald, infantry combat equipment program manager, said the service will continue to buy armor vests fitted with ceramic plates that can block 7.62 mm rounds. To protect under the arms, the Marines are fielding additional inserts that fit along the sides. As of March, the service had issued nearly 26,000 of a planned 33,000.

"Torso protection is now as good as it's going to get," said George W. Solhan, deputy chief of naval research. Efforts now are focusing on reducing body armor weight. The vest with just two inserts weighs 30 pounds. To protect the entire body minus the head would increase that weight to 90 pounds--approximately the same weight as a medieval knight's metal armor--and that's "tactically impractical," Solhan noted.

The most difficult areas to protect are the head, face and neck, he added. For this reason, the Office of Naval Research and the Marines are collaborating with the Army's Natick Soldier Center and Canada's defense establishment in an effort to develop a next-generation helmet--the Marine advanced combat head-borne system--that would include a transparent visor, plus protection for the nose, mouth, neck and throat.

Approximately $27.3 million will be spent on the expeditionary fire support system in 2007, up from $18.1 million in 2006, while spending for the internally transportable vehicle will increase to increase to $4 million in 2007, up slightly from $3.6 million in 2006.

The Marines are preparing to decide this month whether to proceed into low-rate initial production with the internally transportable vehicle and the expeditionary fire support system, said program manager John Garner. These systems are being designed to fit inside the V-22 Osprey.

The humvee, currently the Marines' standard ground vehicle, is too wide for the Osprey, Garner said. "Right now, the only thing that can fit inside an V-22 is an infantry man and what he can carry on his back."

Garner dismissed charges that the ITV is merely an updated version of the World War II Jeep. "The ITV looks like a Jeep, but it's not a Jeep," he said. The EFSS consists of a prime-mover vehicle similar to an ITV, a 120 mm towed rifle mortar, an ammunition-supply vehicle and an ammunition trailer carrying up to 36 rounds.

"The number one issue right now is armor," Garner said. "Every pound of armor is a pound less of ammunition and fuel that the V-22 can carry."

Once production begins, the Marines plan to buy 66 EFSS and 546 ITVs.

Recognizing that their two decade-old light armored vehicles will remain with them for another 20 years, the Marines have decided to modernize them. "We're going to upgrade them to the next-generation armor that can withstand 14.5 mm rounds," Catto said. "They'll have the same level of protection as the Army's Stryker."

The Marines' light armored vehicle is getting $153 million in upgrades in 2006, another $82 million in the 2006 supplemental and yet another $34 million in 2007.

Several of the improvements are responses to needs discovered during the fighting in Iraq, said Col. John Bryant, the LAV program manager. These include automatic fire suppression, add-on armor, a second-generation suspension system and an electric turret drive.

Some versions of the LAV are getting upgrades that are unique to them, Bryant said. For example, the LAV-25, which is armed with a 25 mm chain gun and a 7.62 mm machine gun, is getting an improved thermal sight system to increase its lethality. Raytheon Company is providing the systems for 400 LAV-25s under a 2002 contract worth a potential $105 million. The LAV-25 also is getting an upgraded gun and recoil system to enable it to fire depleted uranium armor-piercing rounds.

The LAV's command and control version will receive upgrades to improve its ability to operate on the move, including digital command, control, communications, computer and intelligence systems, voice command and control nets, and satellite communications.

The Marines plan to add five new companies of LAVs, including 120 new vehicles to be built by General Dynamics Land Systems. The LAV is expected to remain in service until 2024, Bryant said. "Until then, it must remain effective in the face of increasing threat capabilities."

The Corps intends to spend $119 million for infantry weapons in 2006 and another $15 million in 2007. The Marines plan to replace the 15-pound M249 squad automatic weapon--which provides the bulk of the firepower in a four-man fire team--with a lighter version known as the infantry automatic rifle.

Both the SAW and the IAR are magazine-fed 5.56 mm weapons, but the lighter IAR will enhance the automatic rifleman's maneuverability and speed, said Lt. Col. Rick Adams, program manager for infantry weapons.

The Corps and the U.S. Special Operations Command also are looking for a .45 caliber pistol that is available commercially, off the shelf to replace the same-caliber weapon used by special operations-capable Marine expeditionary units, Adams said.

Those units have been using MEUSOC pistols since 1986 as the backup weapon for Marines armed with the 9 mm MP dose-quarters battle weapon. Each one is hand-built for reliability and lethality by specially trained armorers at the rifle team equipment shop in Quantico.

The replacement must be reliable, accurate and ergonomic, Adams said. It also should offer increased capability and versatility, and include such accessories as a laser-aiming module and a family of suppressors.

The Marines want to replace a myriad of small-arms optical systems with a single family of systems, said Jean Beal, program manager for optics and non-lethal systems. The number of optical systems in the Corps' inventory has grown rapidly since the invasion of Iraq, from 115,000 three years ago to 500,000 at most recent count, she said. "I anticipate that number will go above 600,000 before long."

Optics technology refreshes itself every three to five years, but the Marines' inventory is filling up with old equipment, Beal said. "There are tens of thousands of items that I will not be able to maintain," she said. "Some equipment has been out there since 1949."

Spending for the program has fluctuated. It received $82 million in 2006, and $22 million has been requested for 2007. However, $271.5 million has been sought in the 2006 supplemental.

In 2006, Beal said, the service plans to buy a number of optics for scout snipers, including an observation telescope to replace the M49 spotting scope, a medium-range night sight and a night-observation device, plus a weapons tactical light.

During the 2008-2011 timeframe, the Corps plans to conduct research and development for the next generation of optics. It should include day and night systems that digitally fuse multiple capabilities into a small, light, low-powered package, Beal said.

Procurement officials at the conference consistently expressed concerns about funding. Shortfalls already are appearing. The Corps, for example, wants to improve the LAV's ability to combat tanks, mines and close-in, handheld rockets beginning in 2008, Bryant said, but he added, "I don't have any money for future LAV programs right now. I'm begging for it."

Less than 5 percent of the Pentagon's current budget of $440 billion goes to the Marines, Fox said. For 2007, he noted, the Corps has sought $18.2 billion. In coming years, the service's budget is likely to decrease continually. If that happens, he said: "We're going to have a smaller Marine Corps. That's a fact."

With a shrinking budget, the Corps may not even be able to afford the 175,000 troops currently requested for 2007, Fox warned. Any higher figure is dependent on supplemental appropriations, he added. "How long will the supplementals go on? I don't know."

A total of 62 percent of the 2007 budget request will go to pay personnel costs, Fox said. "Manpower eats us alive."

For example, he noted, the Corps will have to pay $30 million a year just to cover hazardous-duty bonuses for members of the Marine Corps Special Operations Command, or MARSOC, that is now taking shape at Camp Lejeune, N.C. "To me, that seems like a lot of money for 2,600 men, but that's what it is."

Only 12 percent of the Marine budget is invested in research, development and acquisition of new equipment, and that's not going to grow, Fox said.

"The Marine Corps will not receive a significant increase in investment dollars in the foreseeable future." That's going to be a problem, he said, because "everything is becoming heavier and more expensive."
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Author:Kennedy, Harold
Publication:National Defense
Date:Jun 1, 2006
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