GENERAL RICHARD I. NEAL
FORMER ASSISTANT COMMANDANT OF THE MARINE CORPS
UNITED STATES MARINE CORPS (RETIRED)
HOUSE NATIONAL SECURITY COMMITTEE
ON 7 OCTOBER 1998
STATE OF U.S. MILITARY FORCES AND THEIR ABILITY TO
EXECUTE THE NATIONAL MILITARY STRATEGY
Mr. Chairman, Members of the House National Security Committee, let me begin by thanking you for the opportunity to appear here today to talk about the readiness of your Marine Corps. Your continued support over the years is not only deeply appreciated, it has also been instrumental in preserving our ability to respond to the Nation's "911" call. Your Marines are grateful for all you have done for them. They thank you and I thank you.
In talking about the readiness of the Marine Corps, I want to be as direct and succinct as possible. I want to do this not only in the interest of time, but because I think the subject we will discuss today is of such importance that I want to engage you in a frank and open dialogue about the readiness of the Marine Corps; not only today's readiness, but tomorrow's as well. With that in mind, let me state that your Marine Corps of today remains ready to execute the strategy of shape, prepare, and respond, today! We are ready today, but in order to maintain readiness under the current budgetary shortfall and those of previous years, we are effectively mortgaging the readiness of tomorrow's Marine Corps. This should not come as a surprise, myself and the Commandant have testified to this over the past three and a half years.
Simply put, our present defense budget does not adequately meet the requirement's of today's Marine Corps. Our current readiness has been won on the backs of Marines working longer and longer hours to maintain older equipment. The solution is simple, we must modernize. There has been a lot of discussion and criticism charging the service's with maintaining a focus on the cold war and major theater warfare. Please let me remind you - the Marine Corps was never a cold war force. Our responsibilities to the littoral areas of northern Europe never equated to the large buildup necessary for the other services. During the draw down we made some very hard decisions. The Force Structure Review and the Quadrennial Defense Review caused us to take a hard look at our structure and our equipment. We took the reduction in people, sacrificed air defense, chose to forgo upgrades and modifications to old technology in order to prepare for the future with leap ahead technology. In short, we did not take the easy way out. Our procurement priorities make this clear as we forge ahead to field the first V-22s in order to replace the CH-46 and CH-53D. The AAAV and lightweight 155 howitzer are two other examples of modern technology needing your continuing support in order for us to maintain the Marine Corps you know. These are not cold war strategy weapons but ones that enhance our flexibility to fight across the spectrum of warfare. Our Commandant has stressed the need to be ready for future battles not just the Desert Storms of tomorrow but the more likely battles that will be more like "sons of Chechnya".
Today, there are over twenty three thousand Marines forward-deployed, away from home and loved ones. These Marines are performing the very functions envisioned by the members of the 82d Congress, which focused the Marine Corps on being the Nation's "versatile, expeditionary force in readiness...ready to suppress or contain international disturbances short of war...most ready when the Nation is least ready." In addition, we have complied with Secretary Cohen's Defense Planning Guidance, in which he stated that "maintaining the readiness and sustainability of U.S. forces is the number one priority of the Department of Defense." However, without raising the top line on the defense budget, the price of maintaining this degree of readiness, given our aging equipment and increasing operational demands, has been paid for out of our modernization, base infrastructure and quality of life accounts. Because we continue to short change these important programs, readiness is becoming increasingly difficult-and increasingly expensive-to maintain. Whether referring to transport aircraft or ground combat assets, most of our equipment is out-dated.
I am greatly concerned that the current debate over readiness not miss the central point. If we choose to focus solely on the symptoms of degraded readiness today and pour money into our Operation and Maintenance (O&M) accounts, we will be applying a series of band-aid-like "quick fixes" at the expense of modernization. The difficulties we are now experiencing stem from a problem that will only get bigger and cut deeper into the readiness of the force in the 2000-2010 time frame-a lack of funding for modernization. The time to fix this problem is now, while we are, as the Commandant proclaims, at a "strategic inflection point"-a time when emerging technologies, if exploited, will fundamentally alter and substantially increase our warfighting capability. Simply adopting new, improved technology that remains oriented toward winning yesterday's fight, however, will not win tomorrow's. We must leverage "leap ahead" technologies such as the MV-22, JSF, LPD-17, LHD-8, Improved Landing Craft Air Cushion and sea-based sustained logistics platforms, in order to guarantee a warfighting edge well into the next century. These technologies will give us that guarantee while minimizing expenditures on procuring evolutionary technologies and maintaining old systems that do not promise a significant advantage on tomorrow's battlefield.
For more than seven years now, we have sacrificed our procurement accounts to help fund the growing cost of current readiness. The future of Marine Corps aviation-and therefore our ability to field expeditionary, combined arms task forces-is inextricably linked to the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program. The Short Take-Off and Vertical Landing (STOVL) variant of this aircraft will provide the Marine Corps with a superior performance, stealthy, state- of-the-art technology, multi-mission jet aircraft that can operate with full mission loads from amphibious class ships or austere expeditionary fields. Accelerating programs such as the MV- 22 Osprey and the JSF-platforms which promise full utility on tomorrow's diverse battlefield-are a crucial element of our modernization efforts.
In addition to investing in technology, we must continue to invest in our people. They are our most important asset. Through great effort, our recruiters have successfully "met mission" for thirty-nine consecutive months, exceeding every DoD and Marine Corps recruiting goal in the process. Although we are presently successful in our recruiting efforts, our manpower outlook is not completely promising. The increasing demands we are placing on our Marines and their families, coupled with our Nations's lucrative, private sector economy, are beginning to threaten our retention efforts. While I wholeheartedly support the recent 3.6 percent pay increase for FY 1999, I believe we must further address the civilian-military pay gap, now estimated at 14 percent, as well as the degradation of military retirement pensions and health benefits, the deterioration of military housing, and the psychological impact of working extremely long hours to accomplish a mission with scant resources. I do not think that providing more in the way of pay, benefits and housing should be thought of as a way of saying "thank you" for a job well done. This is also not so much an issue of fairness, although that is definitely an element. This is an issue of national security. The future of our Marine Corps will be determined by the people it recruits and retains. If the issues I just mentioned are not adequately addressed, it will greatly affect our ability to recruit and retain the quality of Marine the people of this Nation have always expected and demanded!
The bottom line is that we are ready today, but our readiness has come at the expense of investment in our modernization, infrastructure and quality of life accounts. We must stay focused on our warfighting capability in the 21st Century and avoid the temptation to pour resources into our legacy equipment and weapons systems as a one-time fix in FY 1999. There is no one out there who can beat us. Now is the time to put our money toward the future-toward tomorrow's threat. If history tells us anything, it is not a question of whether there will be a future requirement to put the Nation's forces on the battlefield, but when. We must be funded at sufficient levels to maintain our supremacy while modernizing to prepare for the next battle. We must also have the funds to ensure our Marines have an adequate quality of life.