Plans to grow the force may be on the back-burner in 2018.
In the opening months of the Trump administration, top Marine officials talked a lot about a yearlong force structure review that recommended the Corps grow to at least 194,000 active-duty Marines.
That signaled a big jump from last year’s force of about 184,000 Marines.
Corps officials said at the time that the new Marines should be assigned to jobs that need more people, such as counter-drone and air defense, information operations and anti-ship and sea control capabilities.
But those plans have faded in recent months, partly because Defense Secretary James Mattis has made restoring readiness his No. 1 priority.
“The ‘near fight’ is readiness. We still have an eye on potential growth, but readiness remains our immediate and determined focus of effort,” said Lt. Col. Eric Dent, spokesman for Commandant Gen. Robert Neller.
The Marines are stuck with aging and obsolete equipment, shortages of spare parts and other problems caused by Congress’ inability to pass a spending bill on time. As a result, pilots are not getting needed flying hours, and the next generation of weapons systems remain far off.
This year’s budget bumped end strength up about 1,000 Marines, to a new force level of 185,000.
Mattis has told the Marine Corps to make the force it has as lethal as possible, so plans to grow beyond 185,000 are on hold as the Corps fixes the damage done to readiness by 16 years of war combined with budget chaos.
“Our focus is on readiness and shoring up those capabilities we think we don’t have enough of, such as cyber,” Dent told Marine Corps Times.