The New Marine Corps Commandant?

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 11 months ago

From Greg Jaffe at The Washington Post:

In a major break with tradition, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates is planning to recommend that the president select a career aviator as the next commandant of the Marine Corps, a military official said Monday night.

If nominated and confirmed, Gen. James F. Amos would be the first Marine commandant with a background as a jet pilot — at a time when the Corps is fighting a ground-dominated war in Afghanistan — and his selection reasserts Gates’s willingness to shake up established service bureaucracies.

Amos, who is the service’s assistant commandant, would also become the first Marine general promoted from that position to the Corps’ top job. He served in Iraq in the early days of that conflict, but he has not led troops in Afghanistan. He has relatively less experience in waging counterinsurgency warfare than other candidates considered for the job.

Gates has said that, in selecting the commandant, he wanted someone who would help the Marine Corps chart a course beyond the current wars. In both Iraq and Afghanistan, the Marine Corps has taken on the role of a second land Army and moved away from its amphibious roots.

Gates has expressed particular concern about how the Marines would continue to attack from the sea as increasingly lethal cruise missiles push Navy ships farther from the coastline.

“What differentiates [the Marine Corps] from the Army?” Gates asked in a speech this year. “We will always have a Marine Corps. But the question is, how do you define the mission post-Iraq, post-Afghanistan? And that’s the intellectual effort that I think the next commandant has to undertake.”

Amos has developed a reputation among Marines as an innovative thinker about future combat, said military officials. As the Corps’ assistant commandant, he has also been a passionate advocate for finding additional resources to treat Marines diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury.

In choosing Amos for commandant, Gates passed over Gen. James N. Mattis, who is widely considered one of the military’s best minds when it comes to waging war on insurgents.

Commandant Conway’s push towards the classical view of ship to shore operations to perform forcible entry is well known for its reliance on sea-based vehicles, and my opposition to this is well documented.

I do not now and have never advocated that the Marine Corps jettison completely their notion of littoral readiness and expeditionary warfare capabilities, but I have strongly advocated more support for the missions we have at hand.

Finally, it occurs to me that the debate is unnecessary.  While Conway has famously said that the Corps is getting too heavy, his program relies on the extremely heavy Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle, that behemoth that is being designed and tested because we want forcible entry capabilities – against who, I frankly don’t know.

If it is a failing state or near failing state, no one needs the capabilities of the EFV.  If it is a legitimate near peer enemy or second world state, then the casualties sustained from an actual land invasion would be enormous.  Giving the enemy a chance to mine a beach, build bunkers, arm its army with missiles, and deploy air power, an infantry battalion would be dead within minutes.  1000 Marines – dead, along with the sinking of an Amphibious Assault Dock and its associated EFVs.

No one has yet given me a legitimate enemy who needs to be attacked by an EFV.  On the other hand, I have strongly recommended the retooling of the expeditionary concept to rely much more heavily on air power and the air-ground task force concept.  It would save money, create a lighter and more mobile Marine Corps (with Amphibious Assault Docks ferrying around more helicopters rather than LCACs), and better enable the Marines to perform multiple missions.  I have also recommended an entirely new generation of Marine Corps helicopters.

There is no end to those who continue to press for this concept, both inside and outside the Corps.

“The United States’ Marine Corps has been conducting amphibious operations for 200 years. It’s a unique capability and there is no analytical basis for arguing that capability won’t be needed in the future,” said Loren Thompson, a defense analyst for the Lexington Institute. “Everyone we are likely to fight in the future is going to be close to the sea … like Iran, like North Korea, like Vietnam, like almost any place you can mention other than Afghanistan.”  And he added: “If the EFV is canceled, many marines will die in the future for lack of an adequate vehicle.”

This is simply a scare-tactic, and it plays both ends against the middle.  If we do ship to shore operations in sea-based vehicles, whether LCACs, the older Amphibious Assault Vehicles, or the newer and much more expensive EFVs, many Marines will die – period.  There is no vehicle adequate to defend against shore to ship missiles, mined beaches, and emplaced artillery.  Exactly why the U.S. Marine Corps believes we would actually be attacking a near-peer nation-state with tactics that parallel the landings in the South Pacific is an enigma.  Thousands of Marine would perish in such a foolish assault.

Does this mean that ship to shore operations are finished?  Not hardly.  As I have argued repeatedly, the initial assault must be preceded by massive use of air power, with the assault being done via air.  Is the Phrog really finished, or should we leave in place a helicopter from which Marines can fast rope (they can’t fast rope from the deck of a V-22 Osprey)?  Or, as I have recommended, should the Marines be investing in a new fleet of helicopters, both transport and attack?  Once the beachhead has been taken and the area secured, the Navy can transport the heavier vehicles to shore under the protection of the Marines.

The bigger question is this: does this appointment mean that Commandant Conway’s vision is being amended to one that is more air-based, as I have recommended?  Does the Pentagon read The Captain’s Journal?

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  • Warbucks

    You’ll have to take that last question with you to the grave Herschel because to receive a “Yes, of course we read you,” would destroy the value of your liberated mind by tainting you and thus your opinions and their consequential power and influence, with loss of total independence.

    Being officially ignored in such important matters, may be the highest form of flattery.

  • James Harris

    Some thoughts, and my $.02 B4 Taxes:

    We live on a planet that is mostly water.

    Most people live within 100 miles of the sea, and/or river valleys with rivers that flow into the seas.

    Most of our commerce is over the sea and otherwise on water.

    Much of our wealth comes from the sea.

    We are an island nation in much the same sense as the British or Japanese — just a bigger island.

    Therefore, even against peer adversaries, we must be able to control the seas (and the air) and force entry to land near the sea if we are to protect our interests.

    Blanket statements that an assault against the beach of a peer adversary will be suicide are over simplified. That might indeed be the case, if somebody is stupid. But then if leadership is stupid, it might not matter anyway — that can undo any strategy.

    Whether or not an assault against any adversary’s “beach,” or shoreline or interior of anykind, is suicide depends on many factors, such as:

    — Does the enemy know which beach? Which shoreline? Which interior facility? The Brits. surprised the Argentines in the Falklands, in part, because they assaulted a less defended area — not the area expected according to “American” or NATO doctrine. A competent and capable amphibious force at sea may be strategically more effective than the same force actually committed, since the enemy may feel forced to defend everywhere. Once the force is committed to a specific target, the ambiguity may be gone — though, even then it may last (even after the allies landed at Normandy, the Germans continued to believe that the “main blow” would fall at Calai). But, the threat must be credible.

    — Any enemy may not even know where the amphib or other force is at, or even that it exists. Examples: The Japanese at Pearl Harbor; the Americans in N. Africa, MacArthur at Inchon, etc. Modern technology enables our enemies; but also us — we need to be more innovative and better thinkers, is all.

    The same modern tech that might annihilate an amphib force might also garrantee it’s success. And for the U.S. B-52’s, etc., are still marvelous machines. Other great machines, regrettably (e.g., battleships), we’ve already thrown away without replacement. But inspite of such myopia, we can still make a “beach” (or whatever) a very unsafe place to be, especially if we have surprised it.

    I’ve no particular objection to a more airborne amphib force; but historically this is harder and more expensive to do. Therefore, LVTs/EFVs, LCACs, or even some ideas from WWII are still good — like the old Landing Ship Dock. Again, force survival is a matter of good intel., proper planning, deception, doing the unexpected, and being capable of a full range of options.

    Blanket statements that future war will be this, or it will be that, or we’ll never see Iwo again, etc., are based on faulty assumptions. If there is any conclusion to be drawn from history, it is: Change is constant, you can’t assume that current trends will continue, you can’t see that far into the dark, and everything is cyclical — or what goes around comes around.

    The smart thing is to not cut defense but make it as robust as ever — with all the capabilities.

    But, I’m afraid we’ll let this great capability wane, due to complacency and other agendas.

  • Warbucks

    And not to over look the possibility that if the Iron Mountain Report (just Google it) is fully implemented and the Marines are turned over to UN Command to put down “civil disturbances” by national patriots in the US against globalized powers placed under UN Forces, these amphibian landing craft will be just the ticket to subdue Orange County and Gulf Coast patriot pockets of resistance up through the Central US States.

    Other than invading ourselves, to put down patriots with guns and thin-out the domestic population for the New World Order, there is no good strategic reason to have such equipment on the scale proposed. The money is better spent elsewhere. On this matter I agree with The Captain’s assessment, with or without the addition of the New World Order.

    I would not presume to associate the highest integrity of analysis always presented by The Captain by implication in any way to my lower, base motivational tour of a thesis associated with civil insurrection, that is totally and only my imagination running loose on a few cups of coffee early in the morning. The hundreds of camps now in place across the US near transportation routes for civil disturbance internment and our re-education away from liberty and free will to conformance and group subjugation is totally an imaginary, fictitious, hypothetical “what-if?” thinking on my part only. Sorry.

    However, I do agree agree with the Captain that the investment dollars are better spend on other equipment.

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This article is filed under the category(s) Expeditionary Warfare,Marine Corps and was published June 15th, 2010 by Herschel Smith.

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