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US House Armed Services Committee

Prepared Statement Of

GENERAL MICHAEL J. WILLIAMS

UNITED STATES MARINE CORPS

ASSISTANT COMMANDANT OF THE MARINE CORPS

26 June 2001

           

INTRODUCTION

Chairman Weldon, Congressman Ortiz, and distinguished members of the Committee, it is my privilege to report on the state of readiness of your Marine Corps. On behalf of Marines and their families, I want to thank the Committee for its continued support.   Your efforts reveal not only a commitment to ensuring the common defense, but also a genuine concern for the welfare of our Marines and their families.

Today, we are approximately 212,000 strong, with 172,600 Marines in the active forces and 39,558 Marines in the Reserves. We are ready to execute the National Military Strategy as the Nation's "Force in Readiness."   The Marine Corps maintains a global, expeditionary perspective.   We focus on our role - to be the Nation's premier expeditionary force; prepared to respond across the spectrum of conflict from humanitarian missions to Major Theater War.   Marines train to be first on the scene, first to help, first to quell disturbances, and first to fight. To us, these are enduring roles, regardless of the tactical, operational, or strategic clime and place.  

Now, more than ever, these enduring roles exist in an international security landscape that challenges us to maintain a conscious Force Protection posture at all times. Our awareness is high, our training is on target, and our Antiterrorist and Force Protection efforts are robust both at home and abroad.

In addition to heightened Force Protection, we are revolutionizing our approach to operations in the 21st Century. We are moving beyond the traditional amphibious assault operations that we have conducted throughout our history. Our goal now is advanced, expeditionary operations from land and sea to both deter and respond to crises.   A prime example of these attributes is resident within our medium weight Marine Expeditionary Brigade (MEB). Nearly ten years ago, in light of pressing manpower considerations, we deactivated our six standing brigade command elements.   Last year, we reestablished three Marine Expeditionary Brigades by embedding their staffs within our Marine Expeditionary Force headquarters. These units are now actively operating. The 1st MEB recently participated in NATIVE FURY, a humanitarian assistance operation in Kenya, and 2d MEB completed a Maritime Prepositioning Squadron offload exercise, DYNAMIC MIX, in Greece.  

The versatility of the MEB is emblematic of the unique scalability of our Marine Air-Ground Task Forces.   In size and capability, these brigades are midway between our Marine Expeditionary Units and our Marine Expeditionary Forces.   Furthermore, our MEBs can either deploy as an amphibious forcible entry capability or be airlifted into a theater of operations and join up with Maritime Prepositioning Forces.   

Our commitment to prepare for the future is reflected in Marine Corps Strategy 21, which lays out the Corps' aim to enhance the strategic agility, operational reach, and tactical flexibility of our Marine Air-Ground Task Forces. My intent today is to quantify the state of the Marine Corps Four Pillars of Readiness: Marines and their families, legacy systems, infrastructure, and modernization.    I should note, however, that the programs I will discuss and their associated funding levels may change as a result of the Secretary's on-going strategy review.   The Administration will determine final Fiscal Year 2002 and outyear funding levels in conjunction with this review.    I ask that you consider my comments in that light. Overall, our budget has ensured the current readiness of our Marine Corps. Constrained toplines have forced us to fund near-term readiness at the expense of equipment modernization and investment in infrastructure.   However, this year, we, as well as the other Services, are in urgent need of additional FY 2001 funding to cover unforeseen, "must-pay" bills which are primarily externally driven (e.g., increases to military pay and entitlements and health care, along with dramatic increases in the cost of utilities and flying hours).   As the Commandant stated in response to a letter from Congressman Skelton earlier this month, we have thus far, avoided curtailing operations by deferring maintenance of our infrastructure to pay utility bills and procurement of ground equipment in the event we were forced to absorb Defense Health and entitlement bills.   Our infrastructure and equipment modernization accounts have consistently been the bill-payers for near-term readiness, and we can no longer afford to defer investment in these areas.   The requirements identified in Secretary Rumsfeld's Supplemental Funding Request, when coupled with those identified in our FY 2001 Omnibus Reprogramming Request, will allow us to restore what we have "borrowed" from our real property maintenance account, remove from "hold" most of the ground modernization funding, provide adequate resources for our Flying Hour Program, and continue training and operations as planned. We would appreciate your support in approving both of these requests. Receipt of funds in early July will preclude curtailment of operations and greatly relieve some of our most urgent problems.  With that said, let me tell you about your Corps.

 Marines and their families -- our foremost pillar of readiness -- are grateful for the Committee's work to support our programs, improve health care, and provide increased compensation for their service.     We have met our recruiting goals for more than five and a half years, and are successful because of your help and the hard work of our dedicated recruiting force.   Our recruiters make the crucial difference in a population marked by a low propensity to enlist in military service; a current and future recruiting concern that we cannot afford to overlook.   The rising costs of recruiting are also a concern. However, with your continued help and the devotion of our recruiters, we will continue to attract quality young men and women to fill our ranks.

Retention is on track, thanks, in part, to the pay raises and incentives previously authorized by this Committee. The Marine Corps continues to closely monitor retention issues and concerns, particularly in some of the harder to retain technical Military Occupational Specialties (MOSs).   Enlisted career force requirements present our greatest retention challenges, particularly our mid-grade noncommissioned officers. The Selective Reenlistment Bonus Program remains our single most powerful tool to influence enlisted retention behavior and meet MOS retention challenges. To date, we have reenlisted 96% of our First Term Alignment Program goal for this fiscal year.   Though we must still work hard to overcome the challenges of reenlisting and retaining Marines with specialty skills, more junior officers are electing to remain beyond their initial obligation; and as well, we are achieving our enlisted retention goals.

Many Marines are choosing to stay on active duty, despite alluring opportunities in the civilian world and the higher personnel tempo that resulted from previous force structure reductions and increased operational commitments. However, despite our retention successes, we still have shortages in some highly technical specialties; such as intelligence, data communications experts, and air command and control technicians.   Overall officer retention remains stable, but we continue to experience higher than average attrition in some skill areas among mid-grade officers, to include Administration, Command and Control, Intelligence, Combat Engineers, and Public Affairs. We remain guardedly optimistic about our stabilized fixed wing aviation attrition.

  Recent increases in pay and allowances have helped our Marines and their families.    However, due to the increasing costs of basics, such as rent, utilities and fuel,   pay and Basic Allowance for Housing for our Marines will have to be revisited to maintain a reasonable quality of life. Further, we need to provide and maintain those essential support systems that benefit and protect Marines and their families, especially accessible, responsive health care.   We are extremely thankful to the Congress, Mr. Chairman, for enactment of much needed improvements to the TRICARE system in the last session, both for active duty personnel and our retired veterans.   These changes were much needed, and we expect them to make a significant difference in retention and morale.

     One final issue affecting the first pillar of readiness is the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR).    Although the last QDR led to tangible improvements, it also resulted in a reduction in our end strength that essentially removed the warfighting "shock

absorber" of the Marine Corps.   As a result there remains little flexibility in meeting the personnel demands inherent in a robust operational tempo.   In order to improve our near-term readiness, we have made significant internal adjustments over the past two years.    Through reduction in attrition of our first term Marines, internal management efficiencies, outsourcing, and privatization, we will eventually return approximately 3,000 Marines to the operating forces. We are also utilizing numerous best business practices to make our operations both efficient and effective and now have the largest Activity-Based Costing/Management program in the Department of Defense.   

            Our second pillar of readiness, legacy systems, represents the equipment we will fight with today - our near term readiness. These systems are currently ready due to the hard work of our Marines and the assistance of Congress in providing additional resources for maintenance and spare parts. The cost, however, of keeping this equipment ready continues to climb. In a constrained environment, maintaining the readiness of aging equipment competes with monies that would otherwise be spent on modernization.   I believe we have reached the point where we can no longer afford to pour scarce resources into maintaining aging legacy systems at the expense of modernizing the force.

Although the ground equipment readiness rates of our operating forces and Prepositioned assets remain relatively high, our primary equipment and weapons systems in the ground combat element are reaching or exceeding there programmed service lives.   We have taken maximum advantage of Service Life Extension Programs, which enable us to marginally improve the reliability and availability of our legacy systems, but these programs cannot fulfill our modernization needs.   Our reliance on aging equipment negatively impacts our capabilities in many ways: the buildup of combat power ashore is delayed and more predictable, our ability to conduct in-stride breaching of mines and obstacles is limited, and the range of our artillery must keep pace with the improved mobility of our forces and the defensive technologies available to potential enemies.   Additionally, the countless hours of maintenance on our aging ground systems directly impacts the quality of life of our Marines.

            Our aviation equipment is facing a similar situation.   Many of our aircraft are approaching block obsolescence. In fact, the majority of our primary rotary-wing airframes are over twenty-five years old.   The majority of our key aviation equipment is older than the Marines who use it.   Our KC-130Fs are 19 years past planned retirement. When our first KC-130F rolled off the assembly line, President Kennedy was beginning his first year as the Commander-in-Chief, thus underscoring the importance of the KC-130J. Similarly our CH-46Es and CH-53Ds are more than thirty years old, and the average age of our CH-53Es is 12 years.    Some of our younger pilots are flying the exact same aircraft that their fathers flew.

            For this and other reasons, continued aviation modernization is a critical path that should be accelerated at every opportunity. Currently, we are seeing an associated decrease in the reliability and maintainability of aircraft components. Recent studies demonstrate that demands for aviation spares are increasing as our aviation fleet ages.   The challenges associated with unanticipated parts failures on older aircraft, diminishing manufacturing sources, and long delays in delivery for these parts all place demands on readiness.   Modernization programs will ultimately relieve the strain being placed on these older airframes, but the spares investment for existing programs cannot be compromised.

In addition to ground and aviation equipment concerns, today's Navy-Marine Corps team relies on amphibious ships that are reaching the end of their service lives. The good news is that the remedy is in sight.   The LPD-17 class ship will replace four aging classes of ships and provide increased capabilities and greater amphibious lift.   As our LHAs reach the end of their service lives in another decade, we should improve the capabilities of our big deck amphibious ships by using the LHD-8 as a transition ship to an LHA replacement.

Our third readiness pillar, infrastructure, is so significant to our overall readiness that the Commandant of the Marine Corps refers to it as the Fifth Element of the Marine Air Ground Task Force.   Our bases and stations are the platforms from which we project expeditionary power by deploying and sustaining Marine Air Ground Task Forces.  They must provide facilities and a high standard of quality of life for our Marines and their families. We recruit Marines, but we retain families.   We have a long-range plan that will guide the strategy for our infrastructure through the year 2020.   Our intent is to have an infrastructure that minimizes redundancy, maximizes efficiency, is cost-effective, environmentally sound, and capable of supporting the weapons systems and operational concepts we are developing.

Our supporting infrastructure - water and sewage systems, bridges, and roads - is antiquated and decaying. There is a "quiet crisis" looming across our bases and stations. We must improve our military construction replacement rate, revitalize family housing, and reduce the backlog of maintenance and repair of our existing facilities. For years, we maintained our current readiness at the expense of infrastructure and a lack of modernization; this is a practice that we can ill afford to continue.    

Together with the challenges just described, we must be vigilant to protect our bases and stations against the many forms of encroachment that threaten to curtail our operations. Urban growth and development near our installations inevitably require coordination and compromise with many elements of the civilian sector on issues such as land, sea, and air usage, environmental stewardship, and frequency spectrum management.   Accordingly, we work diligently to remain good neighbors and to accommodate the demands of adjoining communities without degrading training and the mission effectiveness of our bases and stations.   However, encroachment issues already dominate the agenda in some areas, and we anticipate that these issues will multiply in the years ahead.   Encroachment is simply the manifestation of the competition for precious limited resources. We must recognize that some of the interests involved are mutually exclusive.   A decision to build a civilian access road on one of our bases, or to protect a species, may close or preclude a training range; a decision to share airspace may restrict operations; a decision to share a frequency may preclude the use of a technology.   Because of the potential impacts, some of these decisions should be made at the national level.   We need your support to ensure that the debate on encroachment is informed, and the impacts controlled.  

Finally, I would like to address our fourth pillar - modernization. As is often the case, there is bad and good news.   The bad news is that modernization, like infrastructure, has long been a billpayer for current readiness. Dramatic increases in operational requirements, coupled with topline constraints over the last several years forced very difficult decisions in striking the proper balance between near-term and future readiness.   During the latter years of the nineties, Marine Corps ground and aviation equipment funding was below "steady state" requirements.   I want to express my gratitude to members of this Committee for your assistance in moving us in the right direction for returning to the appropriate sustainment level.   However, we still have a way to go in order to recover from the cumulative effect of the procurement recess we experienced in the 1990s.

The good news is that we have identified the direction we need to go and the equipment we need to implement our strategy.    The replacement of the 17,000-vehicle fleet of HMMWVs with the HMMWV A-2 and the replacement of the 5-ton medium truck family with the Medium Tactical Vehicle Replacement (MTVR) are crucial steps in our effort to modernize our ground mobility.   The planned vehicle replacements for these two aging families of vehicles will begin to lower the maintenance costs and associated readiness challenges.   Acquisition of other major replacement systems such as the Advanced Amphibious Assault Vehicle (AAAV), the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS), and the lightweight 155mm howitzer are also part of the solution. Work still remains to identify successors for other items of our aging equipment, to include individual and crew-served weapons.   Lethality and the ability to maneuver our forces remain cornerstone requirements for the ground combat element.

  We also have a viable, balanced plan to field new and improved aviation platforms: Joint Strike Fighter, KC-130J, AH-1Z/UH-1Y, and the MV-22.   Just as with our ground equipment, the pace at which we field these platforms is the critical issue.   Our success in keeping Marine Corps aircraft safe and operational is due to a constant and tremendous maintenance effort.   While the grounding of many of our aircraft in the past was primarily due to flight safety issues, increasing maintenance challenges influence our level of readiness. Since 1995, the direct maintenance man-hours per hour of flight increased by 16% and our "cannibalization" rate increased by 24%. During the same time period, the full mission capable rate, though still within acceptable parameters, decreased by almost 17% across the force.   These statistics represent data for all Marine Corps aircraft and are indicative of our aging fleet.    The burden of maintaining readiness at acceptable levels has been borne on the backs of our Marines. Readiness sustainment programs such as Program Related Engineering - which identifies necessary component improvements before incidents occur - have been under-funded for so many years that we have had to rely primarily on vigilance in maintenance from our Marines to ensure safety of aircraft.   The longer we defer the acquisition of new weapons systems, the more critical it becomes to fund programs needed to maintain and reduce associated risks of aging legacy systems.  

Despite the many challenges that confront us, the Marine Corps, drawing upon its two hundred and twenty-six years of expeditionary tradition, is primed for the future.   We constantly evolve our warfighting capability through the continuous development of new tactics, doctrine, and equipment.   With your help, we are on a modernization track that, in 2008, will result in the initial convergence of a number of major programs. If realized, this will profoundly modernize the Corps and dramatically enhance our strategic agility, operational reach, and tactical flexibility.   Our commitment to innovation and experimentation will ensure we are ready on every occasion the Nation calls.   

With your continued invaluable support, we will maintain the high level of readiness that the American people expect from their Corps of Marines.  Thank you for the opportunity to present testimony on this important issue.



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