By Chris Stone
Defense Secretary Ashton Carter told local Marines Wednesday that fighting ISIS is foremost but the Corps would most certainly be called on if conflicts arose with North Korea or Russia.“For 25 years, we didn’t have to think that conflict and aggression in Europe was something we had to worry about,” Carter said at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar. “Now with Vladimir Putin’s Russia, I am sorry to say, we do.”
The United States has to deal with “hybrid warfare” and “little green men,” referring to Russian soldiers who fought in Crimea without any insignia on their uniforms.
He also told a Town Hall meeting the service is planning to buy more of the latest F-35 stealth jets to replace aging aircraft, but declined to be drawn into the controversy over drafting women.
Asked about crashes that killed two Marines from Miramar last year, Carter said that aircraft maintenance is a big theme of the 2017 defense budget.
“Older aircraft are expensive to maintain,” Carter said. “One of the ways of dealing with that is to buy their replacements. In the ’17 budget, we are buying more F-35s than we had planned to for the Navy and Marine Corps.”More F-18s are also in the proposed budgets.
Carter was at Miramar for three hours during a West Coast trip that also included visits to Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake and North Island Naval Air Station.
Here he inspected an F-35 on the flight line and talked with Marine pilots about their experience with the new warplane, which is being built for all three services in the most expensive defense program in history.
Carter described the $85 million aircraft as “terrific” and “spectacular,” though it has been the subject of controversy.
The first aircraft to be replaced by the F-35s will be the venerable Harrier because of growing maintenance problems with a jet that dates to the 1960s. The Marines’ version of the F-35 can take off vertically like the Harrier.Calling the proposed 2017 budget a “strategic transition,” Carter said that in addition to replace aircraft, the military must fix a maintenance “shortfall” and invest in combined arms or full spectrum training to support readiness.
He called San Diego troops “the beating heart of readiness in the Marine Corps.”
Carter addressed two hot issues during a Town Hall meeting with Marines: North Korea’s recent threats to launch rockets and the prospect of women registering for the draft.
In reference to the Korean threat, Carter said, “We’re investing a lot in missile defense. We’re increasing both the number and the quality of the ballistic missile interceptors here in the United States that would protect the United States if down the road North Korea succeeds in combining a missile of intercontinental range with a nuclear warhead.”
In addition to modernization of interceptors, the second component to the U.S. response to Koreas is deterrence, he said. “The U.S. forces remain poised to, as the phrase goes, ‘fight tonight.’ to defend Japan and allies as well as the nation’s mainland.
“The Koreans should be deterred because they know the awesome capability that will surely defeat them,” he said.Carter has ordered that all Marine Corps positions be opened to women, but he declined to give his view on including women in the draft, saying that was a question he expected Congress to deal with after consulting constituents.
“It stands to reason that they (Congress) should take this up,” Carter said. “Not my decision to make.”
Carter defended his order to included females in all areas of the military.
Because America has an all-volunteer military service, “for us to have the best in the future, we need to reach into the largest pool of people that we can, and women make up half of our country…I want everyone to be part of my pool.
“It’s very much the right thing to do for force effectiveness.”
He also answered questions about issues ranging from new paternity leave rules to where the next deployment might be.
The military has decided on a 12-week maternity leave, which he called “very generous.” Paternity leave will increase from 11 to 14 days.
“We have to retain personnel, and it is one part of the competitive fight for talent,” he said, adding that the military had to weigh the importance of family time versus readiness.
Chris Jennewein contributed to this report.
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