The tradeoffs required for the Marine Corps to cope with stringent budget caps over the past several years have come at the expense of efforts to upgrade its training ranges to handle new operational challenges, senior officials from the service told the House Armed Services’ Readiness Subcommittee last month.
“In recognition of the currently constrained fiscal environment, the Marine Corps has been required to sacrifice further range modernization for the sustainment and recapitalization of existing capacities and capabilities,” Maj. Gen. Charles Hudson, commander of Marine Corps Installations Command and assistant deputy commandant for installations and logistics, said during a Dec. 3 hearing on the impact of reducing funding for infrastructure and installation support.
“This means that we are unable to adequately address the required training enhancements associated with new and emerging operational requirements,” Hudson said.
There are some exceptions, however. He cited Congress’ support for expanding the service’s largest and most capable range at Twentynine Palms, Calif. That effort will allow the Marine Corps to exercise a three-maneuver battalion, a Marine expeditionary brigade and a live-fire training environment.
Lawmakers also approved funding to expand the Townsend Bombing Range in Georgia, which will allow personnel on the East Coast to train with precision-guided munitions used by the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
Maj. Gen. Brian Beaudreault, commanding general of 2nd Marine Division, told the panel the major “training gap” for troops under his command is range modernization.
In many cases, a diminished level of funding for infrastructure requires units to travel to other installations to prepare them to be “ready to fight and operate across the full range of military operations,” Beaudreault said.
“So that requires me to often go off of installation in places like Twentynine Palms, places like Fort Stewart, Fort Bragg, A.P. Hill, Fort Pickett, where I can ensure that the force that I’m deploying forward can meet every one of its demands,” he stated.
Without sufficient funding to upgrade its ranges, the service’s training resources are unable to keep up with the requirements of its newest aircraft.
“For example, with the MV-22 we now fly twice as far and twice as fast as legacy helicopters. The Joint Strike Fighter is going to have new weapons systems that … dwarf the capabilities of legacy aircraft today,” Col. Chris Pappas III, commanding officer at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C., told the panel.
“And they’re putting a great deal of pressure upon our range space that were perfectly acceptable in legacy airframes. … So that is a bigger challenge I think we’re going to have to look at to meet future training challenges,” Pappas said.
Learn more about how states and communities can help installations upgrade their range infrastructure at next month’s Installation Innovation Forum 2016. A special focus of the conference will be understanding defense infrastructure and how it impacts an installation’s military value. The conference will be held from Feb. 29-March 2 in Charleston, S.C. More details about the conference program and location are available on the conference website.