Can We Afford A Marine Corps?
SUBJECT AREA National Security
Title: Can We Afford A Marine Corps?
Author: Major J. T. Boggs, Jr., United States Marine Corps
Thesis: Do we need a Marine Corps? Can we afford a Marine
Background: With the end of the Cold War and the quick
victory in the Gulf War, the nation is turning its attention
to a troubling economic picture. Specifically, in the area
of defense the nation wonders--what is needed, and what can
be afforded? In this respect, the thesis question must be
asked and answered. A study of the elements of military
strategy indicates a need for a force which is capable of
responding to various missions ranging from combat to
humanitarian. A study of the Federal Budget, and its
complementary Historical Tables, indicates that the Marine
Corps, to include its air wing, does not exceed 4% of the
Defense Budget (the Defense Budget being 20% of the Federal
Budget). Finally, a limited review of the public opinion of
Marines indicates the people of the United States are in
favor of keeping a Marine Corps.
Recommendation: The nation can ill-afford to be without a
force with the Marine Corps' capabilities at the Marine
CAN WE AFFORD A MARINE CORPS?
Thesis: Do we need a Marine Corps? Can we afford a Marine
I. Elements of military strategy
II. The Federal Budget
A. Congressional Budget Office forecast
B. Gramm-Rudman impact
C. National Defense Budget
III. Defense on the cheap
A. How much does the Corps cost?
B. How does the Corps spend its allocated monies?
IV. Public opinion
A. Does the public want a Marine Corps?
CAN WE AFFORD A MARINE CORPS?
Peace in our time! With the end of the Cold War and
the quick victory in the Gulf, that old cliche seems real.
And so, our nation turns its eyes to more pressing matters
at home, matters such as the recession, the unemployment
rate and balancing the budget. The Balanced Budget Act,
commonly known as the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings Act (enacted in
1988), requires a deficit of no more than $64 billion in
1991 and a balanced budget in 1993. The Department of
Defense (DOD) has been directed by Congress to cut spending
by $19 billion. Recognizing the requirement to cut its
spending, the DOD, as well as the Marine Corps, is faced
with serious decisions which will have both long and short
term impact. To date, the most notable decision has been
to cut current end strength numbers. (The Marine Corps
spends approximately 70% of its budget on manpower,
according to the National Defense Authorization Act for
Fiscal Year 1991.)
The Congress, according to almost daily news accounts,
is not satisfied with the current levels of savings the DOD
has been tasked with producing. Congress and the people of
the United States are questioning DOD
expenditures. What do we need? What can we afford? Two
other inevitable, hard questions have yet to be asked, but
need to be answered. Do we need a Marine Corps? Can we
afford a Marine Corps? By examining the elements of military
strategy, the federal budget, the actual expenditures of the
Marine Corps and public opinion, the answers becomes readily
ELEMENTS OF MILITARY STRATEGY
The elements of military strategy drive the need for a
specific force. They take into account the expected
employment, development, deployment and coordination of the
Employment considers where and against whom our U.S.
armed forces will be expected to fight. Admittedly, the
threat of heavily mechanized Soviet forces attacking on the
plains and flanks of Europe no longer exists. Further, the
peripheral threat of North Korea attacking South Korea,
without the backing of a strong Soviet Union, is unlikely.
However, peace is far from real in the Middle East (civil
war), West Africa (civil war), and Haiti (coup), and quite
possibly, peace is only temporary in Southwest Asia. The
power vacuum created by the collapse of Soviet communism has
given rise to ethnic violence on the southern flank of
Europe. Our allies on the northern flank of the North
Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in Northern Europe have
real concerns about their security. Strategically, they
control the Soviets' Northern and Baltic Fleets access to
the North Atlantic. Additionally, the never ending flow of
illicit drugs from Central America, South America and the
Far East is a direct assault against the United States.
Clearly, our need to fight a mechanized, European-style war
has changed; however, the need for the ability to react to a
multitude of unrelated crises around the world remains.
Development of military force considers what needs to
be done and where it needs to be done. Certainly, the
continued development of a large, heavily mechanized force,
without the Soviet threat to Europe, is unwarranted. In
view of the nation's economic troubles and the directed
budget cuts, the armed forces can ill-afford the luxury of
redundancy. To be sure, the Army's light infantry
battalions are capable of crisis response. This, of course,
would indicate that the U.S. can cut down on the end
strength of the Marine Corps, or do away with the Marine
Corps, cutting redundancy. However, what needs to be done
and where it needs to be done may range from evacuating
non-combatants, in both a permissive and non-permissive
environment in West Africa, to assisting in reestablishing
the lawful democratic government in Haiti, to showing the
flag on NATO's northern flank. The Marine Corps is already
well-suited for carrying out each of these missions. Its
ability to arrive quickly, execute immediately, and depart
quickly via amphibious shipping is time proven. Further,
the Marine Corps' capability for forced entry, coupled with
the ability to leave an area under pressure, may prove
invaluable. Although Army light infantry battalions are
capable of forced entry, according to Army FM 71-100,
Division Operations, they are developed to be employed in
conjunction with heavy forces, and by design not capable of
Deployment is driven by employment. It considers move-
ment of the force, the design of the force (size, equipment
characteristics, lift capability), time required,
vulnerability and flexibility. Critics of current U.S.
force structure have argued that forward based, integrated
ground, air, naval, and amphibious units (ashore or afloat)
are no longer required as a result of the break-up of the
Soviet Union. In light of the Balanced Budget Act, the
decision to close overseas military installations seems
wise. The capability of the Army's light infantry
battalions to respond to crises rapidly via air assets
offers an additional savings by allowing cuts to Marine
manpower and the need for amphibious lift. However, the
deployment of Army light infantry does not allow for
flexibility nor sustainability. As seen in the Gulf War,
the Combat Service Support (CSS) required to give the Army's
light infantry sufficient staying power took weeks to get in
country. Heavy-lift air assets, as well as very expensive
commercial shipping, were required to accomplish the CSS
buildup. On the other hand, the Marines' initial units came
complete with their Table of Organization, its corresponding
Table of Equipment and its CSS from the sea (Navy amphibious
Coordination considers a balance of the previously
discussed elements of military strategy as applied to the
worst-case scenario versus most likely case scenario.
Indeed, the worst case, war with the Soviet Union, is
unlikely. The most likely case is crisis response within
the Third World, e.g., Middle East or West Africa.
Logically, the need for a large, heavily mechanized armed
force, needing close coordination of its employment,
development and deployment, is no longer required. The
Marine Corps, however, gives the nation the ability to
employ and deploy a viable fighting organization capable of
various missions anywhere in the world. And so, the
question of "need" is addressed, but can we afford a Marine
In order to fully understand the cost of the Marine
Corps we need to have some understanding of the budget. Next
to the daily new briefs on the Iraqi nuclear shell game, the
most news worthy item in the mass media has been the national
debt. Specifically, reducing it!
The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) forecasted that
the economy will grow by almost two percent in 1990* and
slightly faster this year, avoiding a recession without
boosting inflation over this period.1
*CBO estimated that the Federal Budget would fall from
$152 billion in fiscal year 1989 to $138 billion in 1990.
Over the next few years, no further progress in reducing the
deficit can be expected under current budgetary policies.
The Balanced Budget Act, commonly known as the Gramm-Rudman-
Hollings Act, requires a deficit of $64 billion in 1991 and a
balanced budget in 1993. Without spending cuts or tax
increases, the deficit in 1993 is likely to remain as high as
it currently is.
In 1990, the government was projected to spend $1,205
billion, an increase of about 5 1/2 percent over the previous
year. Under current policies outlays continue growing at
about the same rate. Outlays are projected to reach $1,555
billion in 1995. Total outlays are growing faster than
inflation, but less rapidly than the gross national
* Interestingly, the CBO figures are still estimates vice
actual cost at the time of this writing.
Federal spending (our tax dollars) is outlayed in five
major categories: 3
1989 1990 1991
National Defense 304 297 307
Discretionary Spending 191 205 219
Entitlements and Other
Mandatory Spending 544 584 624
Net Interest 169 180 185
Offsetting Receipts -64 -60 -60
TOTAL 1143 1205 1275
* All figures are billions of dollars
National Defense accounts for 20% of the Federal
Budget. It is dominated by activities of the Department of
Defense, but also includes defense-related functions of
agencies not within the Department of Defense. Two examples
are the Department of Energy's Nuclear Weapons Programs and
the intelligence agencies. The total budget authority for
defense programs in 1990 was about $302 billion and outlays
were about $297 billion. 4
The defense budget covers the myriad of activities
reflected in the 1990 Department of Defense Appropriation
Bill. Of the $302 billion authorized in the bill, the
largest amounts were, and still are, for military personnel
(manpower), approximately $79 billion; operation and
maintenance (O&M), approximately $87 billion, and
procurement, approximately $83 billion. Another $37 billion
is for research and development. 5
Recognizing the requirements to cut spending to balance
the budget, the Department of Defense (DOD), as well as the
Marine Corps, is faced with serious long and short term
issues. Most notable, what will be the end strength numbers
for the year 2000? How will DOD meet its mandated $19
billion cut in funding (to date, DOD has cut 1 billion)?
What programs/installations will be cut? How much foreign
aid and to whom? Can we afford duplication of effort
amongst the services? Can we afford a Marine Corps?
DEFENSE ON THE CHEAP
In answering the question, "can we afford a Marine
Corps," we need to recall that our DOD budget is $302
billion. Of that $302 billion, the Marine Corps costs the
taxpayer $9 billion or 3 percent of the DOD budget in
1990. 6 Further, over the past ten years, while the Marine
Corps has cost as little as $7.28 billion in 1980, and as
much as 10.65 billion in 1983, it has never significantly
exceeding the three percent of the total DOD authorization.
The Department of Defense Appropriation Bill, 1990, budgeted
for the Marine Corps to expend approximately $14 billion on
manpower alone. The Corps spent $5.9 billion. 7
On the surface, the easy answer to the relatively
inexpensiveness of the Corps is its size. After all, it is
approximately one-third the size of the Army. This does
account for a lack of "overhead" spending, fewer barracks,
fewer facilities, etc. Particularly noteworthy is the
Corps' freedom from funding maintenance and operations of
medical facilities and medical manpower issues, such as
incentive pay for nurse anesthetists which all other
services face. 8
Most notable is the money saved on research and
development (R&D). The Corps saves hundred of thousands of
dollars in this area by sharing the expense of R&D on
numerous new developments with sister services, e.g., the
Advanced Anti-tank Weapons System-Medium and the Pedestal
Mounted Stinger, were both developed in conjunction with the
U.S. Army. The few items under R&D where costs are not
shared by a sister service are unique to the amphibious
nature of the Corps, e.g., the Advanced Amphibious Assault
Vehicle and the V-22 Osprey, Tilt Rotor Air Plane, each of
which provides the Corps the ability to enhance its ship-to-
shore movement. 9
The most significant factor in the low cost of the
Marine Corps is its ability to stay focused on its mission.
The Corps makes no effort to become another Army or Air
Force. The Table of Organization and its corresponding
Table of Equipment revolves solely on its ability to come
from the sea. Simply put, if it doesn't fit on ship it,
doesn't go! Carried further, if it doesn't fit on ship, it
During an interview with Lieutenant Colonel (LtCol)
Herkenham the Marine Corps Recruit Depot (MCRD), Parris
Island (PI) Comptroller, he pointed out that the Marine
Corps treats its budget dollars as a family would treat its
personal finances. The Corps does this, he points out, by
"keeping things simple, buying only what is needed,
maintaining Spartan standards wherever possible (as seen in
any Marine Officers Club), and playing by the rules."
The Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps in a
recent address to the Corps' Comptrollers said: "The
solutions to meeting what needs to be done does not
include: Give us more money."
In Lieutenant General Krulak's book "First to Fight", a
story from the 1930 era of the Corps finds the Army and Navy
issuing enlisted men underdrawers with three buttons, the
Marines' version manufactured at their Quartermaster Depot in
Philadelphia, had only two because it was said to be a penny
The Marine Corps has demonstrated
its ability to do it on the cheap. But, the question
remains-what of public opinion?
DO WE NEED A MARINE CORPS?
The United States does not need a
Marine Corps mainly because she has a fine
modern Army and a vigorous Air Force. Her
Army fights on the ground--on any kind of
ground--and does it well. Her Air Force
fights in the air and does it well too.
Marines are designed to fight on the ground
and in the air just like the Army and Air
Force, and have no corner on skill in
The Marines claim to have a mystical
competence in landing operations, but they
really don't. There are thousands of
soldiers who have been carefully trained
and thoroughly drilled in amphibious
matters too, and they can do anything
Marines can do. And Marines aviators have
no corner on tactical air operations in
support of the infantry either. Our Air
Force has done a lot of it, and can do it
The above comment is an excerpt from a letter of
Lieutenant General Victor B. Krulak in response to the
question from then Commandant of the Marine Corps, General
Randolph McC. Pate. The question? Why does the United
States need a Marine Corps? Technically, Lieutenant General
Krulak proves clearly that the United States does not need a
Technically, it can probably be proven that the country
does not need a U.S. Senate. After all, there are over 400
some odd Representatives ready, willing and able to do all
the legislating needed. Technically, it can probably be
proven that we don't need women's suffrage. The elective
processes would produce the same results whether women voted
or not. These things, paraphrased from General Krulak's
fine work, exist because the people of the United States
want it that way.
The people of this nation do not understand Maritime
Prepositioning or the organization of Marine Air Ground Task
Forces. But what they do understand and believe about the
Marine Corps is eminently more important than technical
Lieutenant General Krulak points out three basic
beliefs the tax paying public has about its Marine Corps.
First, that when trouble comes to our country, there will be
Marines, somewhere, who, through hard work, have made and
kept themselves ready to do something useful about it, and
do it at once. They picture Marines as "individual
components of a lean, serious and professional
organization." During a Gulf War television interview of
American troops in Saudi Arabia, the interviewer posed a
question to a ground deployed member of each of the
services: What do you need? The soldier responded that it
was very hot, uncomfortable and that he could use some air
conditioning. The airman questioned, responded similarly
and added that he could use some cold sodas. The Marine
questioned said he needed nothing! The interviewer in
amazement posed the question again and again received a
nothing needed response. A look of concern then entered
the Marine eyes. He looked up and said, "Well, I could use an
extra magazine! They only issued me six and I could use an
extra magazine to carry more ammo!" How else would a Marine
Second, the American people believe that when the
Marines go to war, they invariably turn in a performance
that is dramatically and decisively successful, not most of
the time, but always. News headlines during the Desert War
such as "Marines Outrun Obstacles" and "US Says Marines Are
Ready" are testimony of the public's convictions in this
regard. 11 The mere association of the word "MARINES" with
a crisis is an automatic source of encouragement and
Third, the American people believe that the Marine
Corps as an institution is good for the manhood of our
country. Further, that the Marines are masters of a form of
unfailing alchemy which converts unoriented youths into
proud, self-reliant, stable citizens, citizens into whose
hands the nation's affairs may safely be entrusted. 12
The people of the United States want a Marine Corps.
During the Desert War alone literally thousands of newspaper
articles and briefs were generated expressing appreciation
and testifying to the need for a continued force in
A short two years ago the threat to our national security
came from the Soviet Union and its bloc of Eastern European
nations. The military strategy to counter this threat focused on
containing those nations emphasizing a heavily mechanized
continental force deployed to conduct a massive air-land battle
over the plains of Central Europe. This mission, of course, fell
on the capable shoulders of the U.S. Army and Air Force.
As this paper is being written, peace continues to break out
all over Central Europe. Further, a new and considerably more
dangerous threat is coming from Third World nations. The varied
nature of the problems in the Middle East, West Africa and South
America reinforce the need for a Marine Corps.
Unlike its sister services, the Marine Corps can continue to
meet threats to U.S. interests with little change in its basic
way of doing business. The result is a cost effective, fighting
organization capable of accomplishing a myriad of taskings
anywhere in the world.
Do we need a Marine Corps? Yes. Can we afford a Marine
Corps? We cannot afford to be without a Marine Corps.
1. Headquarters Marine Corps, "Reducing the Deficit", p. 2.
2. Ibid., p. 4.
3. Ibid., p. 7.
5.Budget of the United States Government Fiscal Year 1992.
6.Interview with LtCol Herkenham, USMC Comptroller, MCRD,
7.Department of Defense Appropriation Bill, 1990 Calendar
No. 242, p. 14.
8.National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 1990
9.United States Marine Corps, Concepts and Issues, 1992,
pp. 3-4 and 3-5.
10.Krulak, Victor H., "First To Fight", (Annapolis: Naval
Institute Press, 1984), p. XIV.
11.Headquarters Marine Corps, "Desert Storm From the
Battlefield to the Newsroom" pp. 217 and 273.
12.Krulak, p. XV.
13.Headquarters Marine Corps, "Desert Storm From the
Battlefield to the Newsroom", pp. 1-615.
1. Budget of the United States, Fiscal Year 1990.
2. Budget of the United States, Historical Tables Fiscal Year
3. Congress, 101st, 1st Session, Senate, "Department of Defense
Appropriation Bill, 1990", 14 Sep 1989.
4. Congress, 101st, 2nd Session, Senate, "National Defense
Authorization Act For Fiscal Year, 1991", 20 July 1990.
5. Krulak, Victor H. "First To Fight", Annapolis, MD: Naval
Institute Press, 1984.
6. United States Army FM 71-100, "Division Operation"
7. United States Marine Corps, "Concepts and Issues, 1991".
8. United State Marine Corps, "Reducing the Deficit: An Overview",
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