Marines Double HIMARS Spending, Get Manpower Boost in Budget Request

U.S. Marines with Task Force Southwest launch a rocket from a High Mobility Artillery Rocket System toward a Taliban target in Sangin district, Afghanistan during Operation Maiwand Nine, Dec. 8, 2017. (U.S. Marine Corps/Sgt. Lucas Hopkins)
U.S. Marines with Task Force Southwest launch a rocket from a High Mobility Artillery Rocket System toward a Taliban target in Sangin district, Afghanistan during Operation Maiwand Nine, Dec. 8, 2017. (U.S. Marine Corps/Sgt. Lucas Hopkins)

As a second rotation of Marine advisers begins work in Helmand province, Afghanistan, and other units continue to fight ISIS in the Middle East, a new budget request features a significant increase in big guns and artillery rockets -- as well as a plus-up of some 1,100 Marines.

The Marine Corps baseline budget request for fiscal 2019 is $27.6 billion, up from $26.3 billion the previous year. On top of that is another $1.3 billion in OCO funding, a figure that is staying steady from 2018.

There are some significant procurement outlays as the Marine Corps makes big investments in its CH-53K King Stallion, slated to replace the CH-53E Super Stallion heavy lift helicopter in coming years, and continues to pursue the amphibious combat vehicle 1.1.

The budget calls for eight CH-53K aircraft ahead of the helicopter's planned initial operational capability date in 2019.

There are also plans to buy 30 amphibious combat vehicles, up from 26 last year. Plans call for the Marine Corps to select a single maker for its ACV 1.1 this year, choosing between BAE Systems and SAIC.

The service is also investing heavily in the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle, set to replace the Humvee for both the Army and Marine Corps. As research and development continue, the service is set to buy 1,642 of the vehicles, up from just 527 last year.

Among the most eye-catching planned buys, however, are in ground weapons systems. The served plans to buy $47 million in 155mm towed howitzers in the coming fiscal year, up from $20 million in Fiscal 2018 and $3 million the previous year.

The annual spending high mobility artillery rocket systems, or HIMARS, is set to more than double, with a planned investment of $134 million, up from $60 million in Fiscal 2018 and $31 million the year before.

The big HIMARS buy is due to the Marine Corps' plan to reactivate 5th Battalion, 10th Marines, as a HIMARS unit, Rear Adm. Brian Luther, deputy assistant secretary of the Navy for budget, told reporters in a briefing Monday afternoon.

The battalion, which then operated 155mm howitzers, was formally retired in 2012 following a final 2010 deployment to Afghanistan as combat operations drew down.

The budget request, Luther said, "supports reactivation of [5/10] as a HIMARS rocket battalion and supports acquisition of HIMARS systems, support rocket equipment for the new battalion, and an associated increase with the total munitions requirements for rockets."

The Marine Corps is leaning hard into its long-range rocket and artillery capabilities, seeking to gain greater range and targeting capability with its existing systems.

Last October, the service fired a guided rocket from a HIMARS system aboard an amphibious ship in a first-ever test of the system's ability to destroy a target on land from a distance of roughly 43 miles. The test was a success.

Officials have since told Military.com they plan to conduct additional experiments with HIMARS and other long-range fires in range and capabilities tests.

Since late last year, HIMARS have also been employed in Helmand province, Afghanistan as an additional defense system at the disposal of the roughly 300-Marine advisory element now assisting local forces in pushing back the Taliban.

As for Marine Corps howitzers, their moment in the sun came near Raqqa, Syria in 2017. One Marine Corps general bragged that the element of several hundred Marines from 1st Battalion, 10th Marines "killed more ISIS than anyone" during a combat deployment of most of a year. The unit also reportedly burned out two howitzer barrels due to firing so many artillery rounds against the enemy.

As to the 1,100 Marines the service plans to add in Fiscal 2019, Marine Corps officials have indicated they want to use that end strength increase to continue growth of specialized fields, including cyber warfare and information operations.

Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller has said he's working to grow these communities and develop incentives to keep Marines in these roles, once they're fully trained and equipped.

"We are far and away the youngest force, far and away the lowest number of officers to enlisted. The Marine Corps of the future, we're going to get a little bit older. It takes longer to grow these people," Neller said. "So there's a business side ... We've got a way ahead of us here."

-- Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at hope.seck@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @HopeSeck.

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