Marines leader: 8,000 troops will go if sequester persists into next fiscal year

The Marine Corps could lose 8,000 troops and two of its key next-generation weapons systems if Congress cannot prevent budget cuts under sequestration from extending into the next fiscal year.

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Possible troops cuts and reductions to the service's F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and Joint Light Combat Vehicle acquisitions will help pay the Corps’s share of the sequestration bill, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Amos told reporters on Wednesday.

The Marine Corps is already drawing down to a 182,000-man total force from about 202,000 in order to pay its share of the 10-year cut of $487 billion to the Pentagon's coffers under the 2011 Budget Control Act.

On Tuesday, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno said his service is drawing down to 490,000 troops, from its current level of 541,000, to pay for the budget cuts.

The services and the Pentagon are also facing an additional $500 billion in cuts under the White House's sequestration plan.

If the Marines are forced to cut an additional 8,000 troops, due to sequestration, "there is risk," Amos said.

The Army is already considering a 100,000-man cut to its active duty force if sequestration continues into fiscal 2014, Odierno said on Tuesday.

Those possible troop cuts means there would be "no elasticity" in the force if the Marines lose more personnel to sequestration, according to Amos.

Should the United States ends up in another war like Afghanistan or Iraq, the Marines and Army would be forced into constant deployments with no chance for troops to come back home between combat tours, he said.

"If we go to war, we are going to go and come home [only] when it is over," Amos added.

Service leaders know roughly where the 8,000 Marines would be pulled from, should sequestration continue, but the four-star general declined to provide specifics pending Defense Secretary Chuck HagelCharles (Chuck) Timothy HagelOvernight Defense: Latest on historic Korea summit | Trump says 'many people' interested in VA job | Pompeo thinks Trump likely to leave Iran deal Should Mike Pompeo be confirmed? Intel chief: Federal debt poses 'dire threat' to national security MORE's review of the plan.

Amos said service leaders anticipate troop reductions across the board, from Marine infantry and air combat units to "logistics battalions" that support those frontline units.

On the weapons side, Amos said the looming troops cuts tied to sequestration would force the Corps into "proportional cuts" to their planned purchases of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

With less Marine Corps pilots within the service's ranks, the service simply would not need as many F-35 jets in the arsenal, Amos explained.

The Marine Corps version of the jet, dubbed the B variant, has experienced the most difficulty in the F-35 testing and development phase.

Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates put the F-35B, “on probation” and threatened to cancel it unless its cost and schedule problems were fixed within two years.

Late last year, Gates’s successor, Leon Panetta, officially took the Marine Corps plane off probation. Recent reports, however, claim the program, considered the most expensive acquisition project in Pentagon history, is already $150 billion over budget.

The same fiscal squeeze from sequestration will also force the Corps to put "on the chopping block" their portion of the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle program, Amos said.

The program is a joint Army and Marine Corps effort to build a replacement for the venerable Humvee combat truck.

As designed, the truck will fill the gap between the Humvee and the larger Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicle (MRAP), presaging the eventual phasing-out of the Humvee for the Army and Marine Corps.

Defense giant Lockheed Martin, along with Humvee maker AM General and MRAP prime contractor Oshkosh are the three industry firms vying to build the tactical vehicle.

But skyrocketing cost estimates and ever-changing development deadlines have put the vehicle squarely in the crosshairs of Marine Corps budget officials.

For his part, Amos said he has told defense firms working the program to "get the cost down or else I am not going to buy it."

With the added pressure of sequestration, "it is questionable" whether the new combat truck will survive the Corps’ budget belt tightening, the four-star general added.

Amos said the Corps was willing to let the tactical vehicle fall by the wayside "before I mortgage" service dollars toward the program, at the expense of other pressing requirements.

"I am not gonna die in a ditch for it," Amos added, regarding combat truck's uncertain future.