Without 2011 spending bill, deployed Marines would not get missiles, rockets

The lack of a 2011 defense spending bill will have a “significant” effect on the Marine Corps, leaving them unable to buy munitions for the Afghanistan war and build new housing, said Commandant Gen. James Amos.

Congress has yet to pass a full defense spending measure for 2011, managing so far only a continuing resolution that expires March 4. The House is wrangling with a year-long CR that contains a defense bill, but that measure likely would be dead on arrival in the Senate.

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Without full 2011 funding, the Marines are ready to put off planned Hellfire missile and rocket purchases, the commandant told The Hill during a breakfast with reporters sponsored by the Center for Media and Security.

“And those are things that are being used in Afghanistan today,” he said.

The situation has left Pentagon officials locked in at 2010 spending levels, scrambling to find ways to get monies funneled to high-priority and pressing projects. Pentagon and service officials also have been telling lawmakers action is needed because the current continuing resolution — and potentially the year-long one — leaves them with little flexibility to shift monies among accounts.

“We just don’t have much margin on that,” Amos said.

Defense officials say they already have had to put off a submarine purchase and have suspended long-term contracting at bases, and expect to skip a laundry list of needed maintenance on planes, helicopters, ships and vehicles.

The situation has become so troubling for the military that the four service chiefs, led by Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Michael Mullen and Vice Chairman Gen. James Cartwright, this week sent congressional leaders a rare “24-star letter” pleading for action on a full 2011 defense bill.

The commandant told reporters he was on Capitol Hill “until late last night” meeting with lawmakers.

Lawmakers including House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) and Senate Armed Services Committee members Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Jack Reed (D-R.I.) are pressing their chamber leaders to do a DoD bill soon.

Amos said the Marine Corps also will be forced to put off construction on 13 housing facilities for single Marines — lodging for about six battalions' worth.

In the meantime, with defense budgets expected to level off or shrink over the next few years, Amos said he is pushing his service back toward being “the frugal service.”

For decades, the Marines — the smallest of the four services — were experts at getting the most out of an annual budget.

But over the last half-decade, with the Pentagon flush with post-9/11 cash, “if you needed it, you got it,” Amos said.

He has directed his top subordinates to “start thinking about what we need versus what we want,” vowing “close scrutiny of everything we buy.”

The service’s recent scrub of its books as part of Defense Secretary Robert Gates’s efficiencies effort turned up $3.1 billion “in things we could probably live without,” Amos said.

Service officials took a large chunk of those projected savings and set the dollars aside to buy equipment that will be stationed at Marine Corps bases around the United States. After nearly 10 years at war, the service is 30 percent low on what the military calls “home-stationed equipment.”

“If we typically have 10 vehicles [at a base], right now we have seven,” Amos told reporters. Over the next few years, the Marines will re-build this fleet “in case the nation needs us to go do something.”

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