Gen. James Amos, commandant of the Marine Corps, testifies Wednesday about the effects of budget cuts before the House Armed Services Committee in Washington. (Colin Kelly / Staff)
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A “minimum acceptable” force of 174,000 will leave the Marine Corps able to respond to only one contingency and force the service to slash combat arms and aviation units, the commandant told a congressional panel Wednesday morning.
During a House Armed Services Committee hearing about the realities of sequestration, Gen. Jim Amos discussed the details of the brutal trade-offs he said were necessary to maintain support of operational commitments with reduced funding levels. Among the realities that an end strength of 174,000 Marines would entail would be a one-to-two peacetime dwell time for active-duty troops, and 11 fewer combat arms battalions and 14 fewer aviation squadrons.
These unit cuts represent twice as many unit cuts as the force “right-sizing” figures projected following the 2011 Force Structure Review, which planned a way for the Marine Corps to slim down from 202,000 to 186,000 personnel. Those documents forecast a Corps with seven fewer squadrons and six fewer combat arms battalions.
Leading up the the hearing, Amos released an opinion piece in which, for the first time, he called for a force of 174,000 in the wake of sequestration cuts, rather than the previously recommended 186,800. On Wednesday, he said the new number was a result of an internal review examining what was possible with the current budget.
With 174K, Amos said, “Marines who join the Corps during that period would likely go from the drill field to the battlefield.”
He said the one-to-two dwelltime model — two months at home for every one month deployed — was historic and a significant departure from the one-to-three dwelltime that had been planned for troops following the war in Afghanistan.
“That’s unprecedented in a time of peace,” Amos said.
While Amos said he believes 174,000 is the minimum Marine Corps force that could support a war, he left the door open to a lower figure if Defense Department budget cuts continue, a possible acknowledgment of Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s August remark that the Marine Corps could shrink to “between 150,000 and 175,000” with budget cuts.
“At the end of the day, we’ll go as low as I guess Congress is willing to pay for,” he said.