For now, I was thinking about doing something topical, though hopefully not too politically divisive. In the final presidential debate this past Monday night, one of the topics discussed was military spending, with Romney advocating for increased defense spending and Obama pressing his view that it is unnecessary. Romney's contention is that in an increasingly unstable world, with the U.S. apparently stuck in the role of world police, our military needs to be even larger, stronger, and better equipped. Obama in turn spoke to a change in the nature of modern warfare and emphasized the efficient use of resources to obtain the maximum capabilities at the least cost.
This reminded me of the make-do attitude prevalent throughout the Marine Corps. Almost from the beginning of its creation, the Marine Corps has been a target for critics as unnecessary, outdated, or redundant. As a result, Marines get far less funding than other branches, often relying on Army 'hand-me-down' equipment and vehicles. I found these charts to help make my point:
First, we have a breakdown of the composition of the military by branch:
A little bit out of date, but if anything, the size of the Marine Corps has decreased since 2007. I believe the figures I heard recently were drawing down the total end-strength of the active-duty and reserve component of the USMC from roughly 220,000 to 190,000 Marines, roughly. I think the other branches may have had force reductions recently as well, but the ratio is probably the same.
Now, here is a breakdown of military spending by branch; notice that the Marine Corps funding comes from the portion allotted to the Navy:
A quick division problem shows us that the Marine Corps' $24.9 Billion makes up a paltry 4.8% of the $515.4 Billion in total military spending. So, while the Marines make up 14% of our total armed forces, they receive less than 5% of the money. How does that work out? Because Marines pride themselves on doing more with less. I mentioned army-hand-down equipment: The M1A1 Abrams tank was the deadliest and most survivable tank the world had ever seen when it first came into use by the U.S. Army, though the Marines didn't get them until a few years later. Since then, a newer version, the M1A2, has replaced the older version in the Army. Not so for the Marines, who have inherited the old army tanks. And, rather than buy brand new M1A2 tanks from the manufacturer, the Marines did an extensive maintenance overhaul to keep their tanks in top form (known as 'Service Life Extension Program', or SLEP).
More recently, I saw the Commandant of the Marine Corps (their top man and representative to the Joint Chiefs of Staff) talking about prioritizing new Marine Corps spending in light of reduced budgets, around the time of the debt-ceiling debacle. During my time in the 'Corps, the hot new vehicle in development was the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle, a replacement for the aging fleet of amtracks. Even though this new vehicle was the stated number one ground-combat priority, the Commandant voluntarily recommended that the program be cancelled. While there was pressure to reduce all military spending, since the EFV program was the Marine's highest priority, they could have kept it. But, it was already starting to run over-budget, and the Commandant instead opted to put off developing a new amphibious assault vehicle while in the meantime the current amtracks, you guessed it, got a service-life extension re-fit.
If the Marines, the Few and the Proud, can get so much done with so little...if they can be so few, and get fewer dollars still, yet remain proud...maybe the rest of the military could try as well?