At the Report to Industry event during Modern Day Marine aboard Marine Corps Base Quantico in September, a panel of three key figures in Marine Corps acquisition gave a loud and clear message to the hundreds of industry members in the audience: Our budget might be shrinking, but the need for new technologies and equipment is going to stay the same.
The three-person panel at the event consisted of Ariane Whittemore, Assistant Deputy Commandant, Programs and Resources, Headquarters Marine Corps; Bill Taylor, Program Executive Officer Land Systems (PEO LS); and Brigadier General Frank Kelley, Commander, Marine Corps Systems Command (MCSC).
Whittemore led off by saying that the draw down was not unprecedented. Instead, it is a part of a cyclical pattern that dates back to World War II acquisition.
“Whenever there’s a conflict, the budget goes up,” she said. “Afterward, the budget goes down. The decrease on average is about 30 percent. [Commandant of the Marine Corps] General [James] Amos calls it his ‘transition from prosperity to austerity.’ We’re in that transition period now, from a position of relative austerity to austerity.”
She continued, “What that means for all of us is we need to modernize and recapitalize our force at the same time we’re feeling those budget pressures. … We need to have the best Marine Corps this nation can afford.”
Mr. Taylor echoed that sentiment when talking about the future need for vehicles that would be able to deploy from ships and carry troops to shore – vehicles capable of amphibious assault. This program recently came under his control from MCSC. In recent years and even more so in the last few months, the number of programs that PEO LS is responsible for has grown considerably, with MCSC transitioning certain programs that would be similar to others already in the PEO’s portfolio. The result reflects the additional focus on efficiency as budgets continue to get tighter and tighter for the Marine Corps as a whole.
“This is important to note,” he said. “This was General Kelley’s and my vision when a lot of this came back. The net change in workforce in realigning those 20-some-odd programs in the PEO was a net reduction in workforce by about 14 bodies. That all is counterintuitive until you really think about it – you’re able to manage similar programs more efficiently with the workforce you have. So we actually have a net reduction of people because we’re able to be more efficient.”
Kelley talked about how that need to be efficient was going to align with the future needs for the Marine Corps.
He indicated that the Marine Corps was going to be looking toward the Pacific again and that it would always have the need to be expeditionary and amphibious in nature.
“If you can’t fit on a ship, if you can’t get on or off, you are irrelevant,” he said.
He also pointed to modernizing already-existing gear that the Marine Corps has as a possible answer to the smaller projected budgets.
“If you’re not going to go out and buy a lot of new things, learn how to take care of the things that you have,” he said. “And learn how to make them better.”
The panel then fielded questions from those in attendance, ranging from questions on small businesses to the ever-important cost and capability gap.
“It shouldn’t ever be viewed as ‘good enough,’ it should be ‘optimized,’” Taylor said. “Not ‘good enough,’ ‘optimized.’ That involves trade space and utilizing all the tools available to you now, all the models that give you an optimized solution.”