WASHINGTON — A group of high-ranking House lawmakers are pressing to restore funds cut in the proposed fiscal 2021 defense spending bills for Marine Corps efforts to develop long-range precision fires capabilities.
The cuts would derail the Marine Corps’ plans to field ground-based, anti-ship missile and long-range, precision fires capabilities needed urgently in the Indo-Pacific theater.
Wisconsin Republican Rep. Michael Gallagher, a House Armed Services Committee member with outspoken views on China, and House Republican Conference Chair Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., lead a list of 10 members of Congress who signed a letter addressed to House and Senate Appropriations Committee leadership, and obtained by Defense News, urging the conference committee working to finalize the FY21 Defense Appropriations Act to reconsider cuts to the Marines’ LRPF programs.
Rep. Robert Wittman, R-Virginia, who is the ranking member on the HASC Seapower and Projection Forces subcommittee, and Rep. Vicky Hartzler, R-Missouri, who serves as the ranking member on the HASC Tactical Air and Land Forces subcommittee, also signed the Dec. 14 letter.
“As you work to finalize the Defense Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year (FY) 2021, we write to express our deep concern regarding significant reductions to Marine Corps Long Range Precision Fire (LRPF) capabilities contained in both the House and Senate Defense Appropriations bills,” they write. “These capabilities are at the heart of the Commandant’s Planning Guidance, which calls for a revolutionary shift in the Marine Corps’ mission from amphibious forcible entry to sea denial in contested littorals.”
The commandant, according to the members, has emphasized that ground-based LRPF with no less than 350 nautical mile ranges is what is required to be properly postured and to properly defend against an adversary like China in the Pacific region.
“Possession of such capabilities is not only an operational imperative based on the threat, but one that will increase options to commanders, and should radically alter our forward posture once fully realized,” according to the commandant.
To accomplish LRPF goals, the Marines have asked for funding in the FY21 defense budget request to develop launchers for a Ground-Based Anti-Ship Missile (GBASM) and LRPF and to procure associated long-lead missiles.
The budget request asks for $64 million for GBASM, $75 million for long-range fires and $125 million for long-lead missiles procurement.
The House version of the appropriations bill cuts the long-range fires development effort by $25 million and halves the missile procurement to $62.5 million. The Senate version completely cuts missile procurement and cuts GBASM development down to just $15 million “effectively stopping the development of this critical capability,” the letter reads.
The House and Senate have justified the cuts, the letter points out, by citing “unjustified new start,” “concurrency,” “program adjustment,” “early to need,” and “excess to need,” according to the letter.
“Plainly, this could not be further from the truth,” the members of Congress write, pointing to a test conducted this past September where Marines landed with High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) on le Shima in Japan and conducted a simulated precision-guided firing mission as evidence of the importance of such a ground-launched capability.
The Marine Corps is moving quickly on these efforts and plans to field an operational battery by FY23. “That requires the continued launcher development and missile procurement in FY21 to account for the missile long-lead times of approximately 24 months,” the lawmakers argue.
Cutting the funding “would significantly disrupt” the program’s schedule and delay fielding of the capability until FY24 “at the earliest,” they write.
“The People’s Liberation Army does not need to wait until FY24 to deploy this capability,” the lawmakers state. “It has an arsenal of thousands of similar missiles that are targeted at our ships, airfields and ports. This arsenal puts the United States on the wrong side of the cost curve. Simply put, our missiles, factoring in the cost of the plane or ship that deploys them, are far more expensive than theirs. This is a recipe for disaster both in war and in peacetime competition.”
The group of lawmakers add that deploying such capability organic to the Marine Corps increases deterrence posture against China and improves regional security while providing a “persistent, credible threat” to China that would force its investment in expensive defensive systems.
The capabilities would be a “relatively inexpensive augmentation” to air and maritime strike platforms — claimed to be more fiscally sustainable than ships or planes — and would create a “multi-domain targeting dilemma” for the Chinese, they argue.
While the Army has made LRPF its top modernization priority, some argue that it’s beneficial for both the Army and Marine Corps to prioritize LPRF and that it is far from duplicative, but rather complementary, especially when considering different combatant command perspectives.
It has been argued that the Army should take the lead in the European theater where long-range fires play a critical role in deterring Russian aggression in Eastern Europe, and the Marine Corps is better suited to fill the gap in the INDO-PACOM area of operation due to its expeditionary footprint that would be required to field and resupply ground-based missiles across the first and second island chains.
“Long-range precision fires are essential to realizing the revolutionary changes required by Commandant’s Planning Guidance and Force Design. In order to compete in the Indo-Pacific, we need these critical capabilities in the field yesterday. Congress must act with urgency to support the Marine Corps in developing and fielding these fires,” Gallagher told Defense News in a Dec. 15 statement.
Jen Judson is the land warfare reporter for Defense News. She has covered defense in the Washington area for 10 years. She was previously a reporter at Politico and Inside Defense. She won the National Press Club's best analytical reporting award in 2014 and was named the Defense Media Awards' best young defense journalist in 2018.