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First wave of defense budget cuts unlikely to greatly affect SD

This year marks the celebratory centennial of Marine Corps aviation, but it also marks a tough year for the defense industry as it braces for $489 billion in budget cuts over the next decade.

Lt. Gen. Terry Robling, deputy commandant for aviation, gave a preview of what those cuts could mean for the Marine Corps and San Diego economy at San Diego Military Advisory Council’s monthly breakfast Wednesday inside the Naval Mine and Anti-Submarine Warfare Command on Harbor Drive.

Since President Barack Obama won’t release the budget until Feb. 13, a week later than expected, Robling couldn’t yet disclose details on slashed spending for the DOD’s Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps services.

“It’s not pretty. We had to take some big cuts and in this budget you will see,” Robling said.

The first five-year wave of $259 billion in cuts won’t affect San Diego’s Marine Corps presence, he said.

“All those units and aircraft in Miramar will remain intact,” he said.

The DOD’s total effect on the economy is $18.3 billion a year in San Diego, and the Marine Corps at Miramar alone is $663 million a year.

“I don’t expect that to change too much,” he said.

In the few years after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the Marine Corps grew to 202,000 strong. The Marines are now expected to adjust to cost constrictions outlined in the budget and resize down to 182,000.

“What we came up with was the most capable Marine Corps the nation could afford at this time,” he said.

For the past decade, the Marine Corps has strategized to reduce its fleet from 13 types of aircraft to about six or seven, he said, while keeping the same number of aircraft.

“We were halfway through that transition when the budget hit,” he said. The plan is to replace older models over the next decade with new Lockheed Martin (NYSE: LMT) aircraft.

“If a squadron gets cut, you do reduce a number of pilots needed to fly those airplanes,” he said.

It won’t be any harder to become a pilot, he explains, but there will be fewer slots to vye for.

The defense industry is praying that sequestration doesn’t take place, which means every single line item in the budget would be cut by 20 percent.

“That will be extremely, extremely painful,” he said. “I think our Congress and the executive branch are working hard to make sure that doesn’t happen.”

Following the speech, one audience member asked jokingly if his signature nickname, Terry “Guts” Robling, would be changed to “Cuts.”

In September 2009, Robling assumed command of the III Marine Expeditionary Force and Marine Corps Bases Japan until transferring to Headquarters Marine Corps in Janurary 2011 as deputy commandant for aviation.

“You go to Washington and get stuck with lots of names,” he responded.

Despite the negative mood surrounding the impending cuts, he said the future of Marine Corps aviation on its 100th anniversary looks bright.

“I tell the young guys the budget cuts are tough, but every brand-new pilot coming out of the Marine Corps right now will fly almost a brand-new aircraft, with better training systems than they’ve ever had and a very capable Marine Corps aviation base,” he said.

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San Diego Military Advisory Council

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San Diego Military Advisory Council Executive(s):

John Nersesian

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Larry Blumberg

  • Executive Director

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