WASHINGTON — A bipartisan group of 14 lawmakers are urging the top congressional defense appropriators to fully fund a wide swath of Marine Corps Force Design 2030 budget request priorities, a sign that the overarching, and sometimes controversial effort, will persevere even after Gen. David Berger leaves the Pentagon.
“Bottom line, Marine Corps Force Design initiatives have been informed and directed by hard threat data across multiple administrations to accelerate modernization to meet the challenges of the 21st century environment,” reads the May 15 letter [PDF] sent to the top Democrats and Republicans on the House and Senate appropriations subcommittees on defense and signed by lawmakers that sit on both the House and Senate Armed Services Committees.
“In prior years, the Commandant of the Marine Corps [Berger] made difficult investment and divestment decisions that were a departure from institutional and doctrinal norms. Many of these necessary changes were openly challenged. However, we should commend the Marine Corps on its willingness to make difficult decisions for the nation’s strategic advantage and security,” the letter continues.
The letter’s authors credit the Marine Corps with effectively saving “more than $15.8 billion” since early 2020 through the internal budget cuts it has made to fund the changes for Force Design 2030, a wide-ranging project led by Berger to slim down and re-outfit the service’s capabilities for a future fight.
For the purposes of the Pentagon’s budget, the Armed Services Committees are collectively known as “authorizers” because their key legislation, the “National Defense Authorization Act,” grants the Defense Department legal permission to use the funding the bill outlines. But it is the appropriations committees who decide how much money the Pentagon receives from the Treasury Department.
This dynamic means any rifts in policy between authorizers and appropriators will take center stage when lawmakers bring their work to the House or Senate floors, as it did in 2018 when staunch, last-minute opposition from top appropriators killed a push by authorizers to grant a $1 billion boost in submarine spending.
House authorizers were set to begin drafting their annual legislation last week, but the process was postponed given the state of ongoing negotiations between the White House and top congressional leaders over the national debt ceiling.
The new letter by authorizers this week gets into gritty detail on the Marine Corps programs it sees as crucial to Force Design 2030. Lawmakers reference the heavy-lift helicopter CH-53K King Stallion, the Amphibious Combat Vehicle, the Navy/Marine Corps Expeditionary Ship Interdiction System and the Ground/Air Task-Oriented Radar as a few examples. They also cite Force Design’s changes to unit structure, such as the relatively new Marine Littoral Regiment, and warfighting concepts like “stand-in forces” and “Expeditionary Advanced Basing Operations.”
The letter also acknowledges the topic that has been central for the Marine Corps since the fiscal 2024 budget was unveiled in March: amphibious ships — or a lack thereof. The president’s latest budget request does not seek funding for a new amphibious ships which led the service to adding it to the annual unfunded priorities list.
“Additionally, these capabilities cannot be successfully deployed without the expedited implementation of a 31-minimum fleet of amphibious ships and the Landing Ship Medium,” lawmakers wrote.
In general, while some former military officials vehemently disagree with Berger’s plan for the Marine Corps, he’s gotten high marks publicly from lawmakers during hearings for his efforts on Force Design 2030, despite the public challenges the letter referenced. But the full-throated support from lawmakers is particularly notable this year because Berger is set to exit the Pentagon in the coming months.
After that, it will be left on lawmakers, as well as Berger’s not-yet-named replacement and whoever the new Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is, to decide whether to continue pursuing the current commandant’s keystone initiative.