The United States has understandably focused on the tremendous human costs of the war in Iraq, yet there are other costs that must be addressed as well. Earlier this year the Center for American Progress and the Lexington Institute compiled a report examining the impact of the war in Iraq on Army equipment. This report does the same for the Marine Corps, the other service that has borne the brunt of the occupation.

Over the past three years the Marine Corps has maintained 40 percent of its ground equipment, 50 percent of its communications equipment, and 20 percent of its aviation assets in Iraq. This equipment is used at as much as nine times its planned rate, abused by a harsh environment, and depleted due to losses in combat. To maintain acceptable readiness levels, the Marines have been taking equipment from non-deployed units and drawing down Maritime Prepositioned stocks, including equipment stored in Europe, thus limiting their ability to respond to contingencies outside of Iraq.

Resetting and recovering the force will be expensive. The cost of restoring the Marines’ ground and aviation equipment to its pre-Iraq level, as of the summer of 2006, will require $12 billion plus an additional $5 billion for each year the Marines remain in Iraq.

Recovery will also not be easy. The Marine Corps, like the Army, must incorporate the lessons of Iraq into its future procurement plans while upgrading its forces. The Marines may prefer expeditionary operations to acting as an occupying force, but urban counter-insurgency and peacekeeping operations will more likely be the rule rather than the exception in the future.

Near-term recommendations. In order to ensure that the Marines’ equipment readiness fully recovers from operations in Iraq, six near-term steps are needed.

  • Congress should fully fund the Marine Corps’ request for $6.6 billion reset funding in fiscal year 2007, and should provide approximately $5 billion for reset for each additional year the Marine Corps maintains a major presence in Iraq.
  • Congress should provide additional resources to cover the procurement and depot maintenance items contained in the Marines’ $2.5 billion in unfunded requirements for FY 2007.
  • Once the deployed forces depart Iraq, Congress should continue funding reset for at least two years to assure full resolution of all war-related equipment problems.
  • The Marines should cease deferring recapitalization of aging equipment and request a level of reset funding consistent with fully revitalizing the force for future challenges.
  • The Department of Defense should conduct and submit to Congress a comprehensive review of new equipment needed for the active and reserve components of the Marine Corps to recover fully from deployments to Iraq and to meet future commitments at home and abroad.
  • The Department of Defense and Congress should fund the reset program through the normal budget process and not through supplemental budgets, as has been the case since the beginning of operations in Iraq. The Congressional Research Service aptly notes that the requests in the supplemental budget may overlap with the baseline budget since both involve the procurement of new equipment. Furthermore, “since war funding is not subject to budget resolution constraints, it is in the interest of both the DOD and defense advocates in Congress to maximize the costs covered in war appropriations.” Circumventing the regular budget process makes “it difficult for Congress to gauge whether the amounts requested by DOD are too high, too low, or about right.”2 For instance, four CH-46E Sea Knight helicopters have been destroyed due to combat operations and the Marines have requested funds to replace them with new MV-22s Ospreys. While it is appropriate for this to be considered war funding, the Marines were planning on purchasing new MV-22s anyway to replace the Vietnam era helicopter.

Long-term recommendations. The war in Iraq has taught the Marine Corps invaluable lessons about which capacities it must bolster over the long term. In order to assure that the Marines can cope with the diverse challenges they will face in the years after U.S. forces depart Iraq, five long-term steps are essential.

  • Unless the defense topline budget is changed, the Marines should receive an increase in their share of the Navy budget from 14 percent to 17 percent and their overall share of the defense budget should increase from 4 percent to 5 percent.
  • The Marines should join the Army in producing and funding a comprehensive plan for the continuous enhancement of heavy armored vehicles, such as the Abrams main bat tle tank and Bradley infantry fighting vehicle. The Marines should consider purchasing Stryker Armored Vehicles in addition to the Light Armored Vehicle (LAV). The Ma rines should also continue funding the Medium Tactical Vehicle Replacement (MTVR) and the Logistics Vehicle Systems Replacement (LVSR) to complete the replacement of its Cold War medium and heavy truck fleet, while identifying funding requirements for long term sustainment of the High-Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle (Humvee).
  • The Marines should consider purchasing MH-60 Knight Hawk and H-92 Super Hawk helicopters to bridge the gap between the time the CH-46E Sea Knight and CH-53E Super Stallion helicopters wear out and the MV-22 Ospreys reach full operational status. This will also enable the Marines to hedge against the possibility that purchasing all of the planned 360 Ospreys will become unaffordable.
  • Congress must fund Marine Corps procurement at a steady rate of $3.0 billion per year (in constant FY 06 dollars).
  • The Marines need a new Armored Personnel Carrier (APC) to replace the Amphibi ous Assault Vehicle (AAV), but it is not clear that the service can fill all of its future needs with the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle (EFV) given the system’s high cost. The Marines should seriously consider cutting back the number of EFVs that they plan to purchase from 1000 to between 600 and 700 vehicles. The Marines should instead consider purchasing a mix of EFVs and LAV II vehicles or other similar APCs. While these vehicles are not amphibious, the likelihood of the Marines storming heavily forti fied beaches on the scale of WWII remains remote. Instead, the Marines should main tain a sizeable portion of the legacy AAV fleet as a strategic reserve in case there is a need to undertake a substantial amphibious operation.

Read the full report:

Also from the Center for American Progress:

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Max Bergmann

Former Senior Fellow

Lawrence J. Korb

Senior Fellow