Marine Corps Commandant and Colonel Gentile Agree

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 2 months ago

Friend of The Captain’s Journal Colonel Gian Gentile is well known for his arguments that the traditional warfighting skills should not be allowed to atrophy.  He strikes back at those who simplistically claim that this means turning the clock back a quarter century or more.

Arguing for rebuilding the Army’s capacity for conventional operations does not mean taking the Service back to 1986 in order to recreate the old Soviet Union so we can prepare to fight World War II all over again in the Fulda Gap. Such accusations have become the standard—and wrongheaded—critique that purveyors of counterinsurgency dogma like to throw at anybody who argues for a renewed focus on conventional capabilities. The Army does need to transform from its antiquated Cold War structure toward one that can deal with the security challenges of the new millennium and one focused primarily on fighting as its core competency (italics mine).

U.S. Marine Corps Commandant Conway apparently agrees, at least as it pertains to skills he sees being at risk to atrophy.

The Marine Corps hopes to give Marines 14 months at home after deployments by mid-2010, Corps Commandant Gen. James Conway said Thursday.

Currently, Marines spend seven months deployed and seven months home, but that could change now that the Corps has grown to 202,000 ahead of schedule, and with almost all Marines expected to leave Iraq next spring, Conway said.

“That’s going to be very helpful, we think, for our families,” he said. “We think that young Marines who maybe haven’t had a chance to meet someone are going to be afforded that opportunity.”

Marines will also use that extra time to train for amphibious landings and to fight conventional wars, two types of skill-sets that have deteriorated as the Corps has focused on counterinsurgency, he said.

“We believe very strongly in this capacity of the Marine Air Ground Task Force,” Conway said. Its core competency is maneuvering under its own fires and rolling up on an enemy just as the smoke lifts. We used to do 10 of those [exercises] a year at Twentynine Palms. Today we do none.”

The importance of Marines getting back to their traditional warfighting skills is underscored by current tensions on the Korean peninsula, he said.

If a conflict broke out, Marines would likely be called upon to launch amphibious operations, he said.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates implied in April that amphibious landings might be a thing of the past, noting that the Corps’ last major landing was in 1950.

Asked about Gates’ comments later that month, Conway said the Corps had launched amphibious operations since then, most notably when Marines helped to evacuate U.S. citizens from Lebanon in 2006.

Conway quickly added Thursday that the Corps would be able to do the job eventually.

“But I’m simply arguing we can do it better when we’re trained to it, and that’s the value of this 1:2 deployment to dwell: to give us the opportunity to give those young Marines more time with the families and more time to, again, relax at home, but also to get on these training fields and get back some of these core competencies that have withered over time,” he said.

Analysis & Commentary

It’s very difficult to imagine a near-peer or even a nuclear-armed state (whether near-peer or not) settling for massive human casualties in a conventional war without invoking the nuclear option (which is not quite the same thing as saying that it’s hard to imagine a conventional campaign in the future).  Contrary to what many think, the best use for nuclear weapons is not using them – it is in creating a situation in which they don’t have to be used.

There is also no question that while counterinsurgency involves the application of soft power, it also includes quite conventional warfighting skills at times (as these two videos show).  We have discussed the Taliban tactic of massing troops against smaller units of U.S. forces, up to and including half-Battalion size engagements.  The lessons learned from one such engagement with a Marine Force Recon company was to remember the tactics taught in School of Infantry, because they will be used in such fights.

Involvement in counterinsurgency campaigns has brought U.S. forces to the point of being the most combat experienced fighters on earth, contrary to the example of the appalling performance turned in by the Russian troops against the Georgian Army (an Army, by the way, which had come back from Iraq with recent experience).

It is also very difficult to imagine that the Marine Corps will ever launch another large scale amphibious assault involving high numbers of casualties.  Other ways will be found – and should be found – leading us to recommend replacement of the EFV and the notion of sea-based assault with more air power and delivery aboard Amphibious Assault Docks.

Either way, talk of amphibious assaults clouds the main point, and it is one on which both Colonel Gentile and the Commandant have settled.  We must not let our warfighting skills atrophy.  With the Commandant, The Captain’s Journal also believes very strongly in the concept of the Air Ground Task Force, as well as teaching all Marines to perform squad rushes and other conventional tactics as well as the room clearing and constabulary operations more focused on counterinsurgency.

Quite obviously, if the Marines are not performing these field exercies and maneuvers, then it’s high time to get back to them.  This is equally true for the Army.  One need not posit the near-peer conflict in order to see the usefulness of warfighting skills if these very tactics are being used in the counterinsurgency campaigns in which we are now engaged.


You are currently reading "Marine Corps Commandant and Colonel Gentile Agree", entry #3105 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Col. Gian Gentile,Marine Corps,War & Warfare and was published June 14th, 2009 by Herschel Smith.

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