Marine Corps Divesting To Meet The Future Threat
by U.S. Marine Corps Matt Gonzales, Systems Command
December 1, 2021
The Marine Corps has begun a multiyear process of divesting legacy equipment to increase force readiness, resiliency, mobility and lethality to support the future operating environment around the globe.
A U.S. Marine Corps Hercules M88 recovery vehicle disembarks from the 1st Tank Battalion ramp on a tow truck for the last time at Twentynine Palms, California on July 28, 2020. As a part of Force Design 2030, the Hercules M88 recovery vehicles are being divested from the Marine Corps in an effort to accelerate modernization and realign capabilities, units and personnel to higher priority areas. (U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Justin Evans)
In his 2019 planning guidance, Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. David Berger stated that the Corps must invest in the affordable and plentiful at the expense of the exquisite and few when conceiving the future amphibious portion of the fleet.
According to Berger, achieving this vision requires divesting certain equipment, such as tanks and other aging systems, in order to accelerate modernization efforts and realign capabilities, units and personnel to higher-priority areas.
“We must first divest of legacy programs in order to generate the resources needed to invest in future capabilities,” Berger stated in Force Design 2030.
As the Marine Corps’ acquisition command, Marine Corps Systems Command plays a critical role in the disposal of ground capabilities. MCSC senior leaders and other personnel have begun developing detailed plans divesting specific gear not relevant for a future naval fight.
“Our commandant believes in the importance of divesting certain systems to fund the next generation of weapons,” said Deborah Olson, MCSC’s former program manager for Engineering Systems. “This will ultimately make us more competitive against our peer and near-peer threats.”
A Multiyear Effort
MCSC began large-scale divestment efforts in late 2019 when the Marine Requirements Oversight Council released a decision memorandum ordering the divestment of equipment in certain areas around the globe.
Upon the memo’s issue, divesting legacy capabilities became a major effort for all stakeholders involved, including MCSC, Headquarters Marine Corps Installations and Logistics, Combat Development and Integration, the various Marine Forces, and Marine Corps Logistics Command.
MCSC’s Logistics Combat Element Systems portfolio acted diligently and quickly. Olson established a divestment-focused Integrated Product Team headed by logistic management specialist Anthony Baltes. The IPT includes a subject matter expert, an equipment specialist and others as needed.
After hundreds of hours of meetings and coordination efforts, Olson’s team oversaw the divestment of more than 5,500 pieces of equipment valued at $494 million in 2020. This gear included everything from water and fuel systems to floodlights and countermobility capabilities.
“In the past, as the Marine Corps was building large, forward-operating bases in Iraq and Afghanistan, the demand for our gear increased,” Olson said in an episode of MCSC’s new podcast, “Equipping the Corps.” “But as the Corps shifted, we saw the drawdown from that. As a result, we began divesting of equipment because we had too much of it.”
In 2019, MCSC’s Command Element Systems portfolio began similar efforts with the divestment of the AN/TPS-59—a lightweight radar that provides long-range surveillance and ground-control intercept capability in a tactically mobile environment.
Col. Robert Bailey, the portfolio manager for CES at MCSC, said the Corps selected AN/TPS-59 for divestment because the system did not align with the pacing, evolving threat on a potential Indo-Pacific battlefield.
“Everything we are doing is important, but not everything can be the top priority,” said Bailey. “It’s a matter of objectively prioritizing what we are doing while always making sure we consider first what the Marines are trying to get done tactically.”
Force redesign efforts will require MCSC to divest some larger, legacy systems such as the M1150 Assault Breacher Vehicle and some materiel handling equipment. MCSC has also begun divesting of units that oversaw the heavier equipment.
MCSC is in the process of divesting the M1A1 Tank, M88A2 Recovery Vehicle and Armored Vehicle Launched Bridge. The Corps has begun transferring those systems to the U.S. Army for use in the modernization of their heavy armor capability.
The Marine Corps had more than 450 tanks prior to the deactivation of the tank battalions. To date, MCSC has transferred more than 400 tanks to the Army. The remaining tanks in the Marine Corps inventory are afloat globally on Maritime Prepositioning Ships and are scheduled for transfer to the Army over the next few years.
“Our relationships with sister services are critical,” said Anton Stubbs, the assistant portfolio manager for Logistics with MCSC’s Ground Combat Element Systems. “Our partnership with the U.S. Army has expeditiously removed most of the divested heavy armor assets from Marine Corps inventory, reduced storage and disposal costs for the Marine Corps, and has enabled the U.S. Army to use divested assets to modernize their capabilities.”
How Divesting Works
Divesting does not always mean selling or giving away equipment. It is a complex process involving many moving parts.
The process requires deep analyses to determine the best disposition path for a piece of gear, which sometimes requires a set of divestment instructions. As demonstrated by Olson’s team, MCSC forms IPTs to oversee these efforts in some instances.
“This isn’t a big yard sale,” said Olson, who now serves as Joint Project Manager Chemical Biological Radiological and Nuclear Protection at MCSC. “There is a lot that goes into divesting equipment, and many agencies are involved in this process.”
Many divestment options exist. For example, MCSC might consider returning equipment to the Primary Inventory Control Activity, a Department of Defense inventory system, or transferring equipment to international partners and international organizations through Foreign Military Sales.
MCSC could also transfer equipment to sister services such as the Army—a task they have undertaken with tanks, the ABV and bridging capabilities. This allows the Army to retain and expand its capabilities at a reduced cost by eliminating the need to buy additional items.
“It also allows the Corps to cooperate with sister services and have the capability when required, while focusing its resources on the next generation capabilities unique to the Corps,” said Baltes.
The Marine Corps could also send equipment to Marine Corps Logistics Bases in Barstow, California, or Albany, Georgia, for repositioning analyses or long-term storage as needed. MCLB Albany furnishes supplies for Marine Corps forces east of the Mississippi and forces in the Atlantic Fleet. MCLB Barstow supports Marine forces west of the Mississippi and the Pacific Fleet.
MCSC has also used an equipment exchange program involving collaboration with a company that auctions Marine Corps equipment in exchange for credit. The command can use the credits to purchase other items that fit their current needs.
“Divesting is like a tree you’re trying to work down,” said Olson. “You’re looking for a divestment path that provides the maximum return for the DoD and the nation as a whole.”
Olson underscored the importance personnel plays during the divestment process. She said the enthusiastic participation of the IPT was key to developing a sound communication plan for their divestment of thousands of pieces of gear.
Baltes and Olson participated in many divestment meetings, working with subject matter experts and other organizations to determine an appropriate divestment strategy for equipment. They considered many options for each piece of gear, weighing the pros and cons.
Ultimately, the team successfully carried out the mission to support the commandant’s vision. Olson believes these tasks could not have happened without the dedication, commitment and professionalism of all parties involved.
“The Marine Corps is a small organization, so it’s important to have the right people in place to get the job done,” said Olson. “Having complete buy-in from our personnel made a complex process a bit smoother.”
Acquiring New Systems, Supporting Force Design 2030
Moving forward, the Marine Corps plans to invest in systems that support Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations, a concept that involves the employment of light, mobile capabilities for use in temporary locations in a maritime environment.
MCSC has begun researching, developing and acquiring cutting-edge equipment that supports the EABO concept, including modernized infantry weapons and communication gear. These capabilities include tactical tablets to increase battlefield awareness, next-generation water and fuel systems, intelligence capabilities, fires systems, personal protective equipment and more.
“Fielding these new, innovative capabilities will support present and long-term goals that ultimately prepare Marines for combat against an evolving threat at a moment’s notice,” said Bailey.
Divesting to support Force Design 2030 allows MCSC to remove aging capabilities or those that do not directly fulfill the commandant’s vision. It also gives the command the opportunity to communicate with Fleet Marines and inform them that newer equipment may be on the way.
“It is important to have a line of communication with the fleet,” said Olson. “It can be an emotional event for them to lose certain pieces of gear. But it also allows us to demonstrate to them that something else is coming.”
These incoming capabilities will be developed by a team of program analysts, engineers and subject matter experts with a bevy of experiences researching, acquiring and fielding cutting-edge technologies for Marine employment.
The Marine Corps will leverage the expertise of its personnel as the service undergoes large-scale changes to its capabilities. However, Bailey says MCSC’s objective remains consistent: Equip the warfighter with lethal, lifesaving gear.
“Our team of experts work around the clock to support the warfighter,” said Bailey. “Everybody understands the importance of the commandant’s vision and supporting the future Marine. We are working tirelessly to ensure that the Marine Corps remains a capable naval expeditionary force well into the future.”
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