The Future of the Marine Corps

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 2 months ago

Greg Grant writing at DefenseTech weighs in on a subject near to our hearts.

As I read the news reports, and this post at Tom Rick’s blog on the future of the Marine Corps, I recalled a recent conversation with some department of the Navy types who expressed just how bad the relationship is between the sea services. Like most troubled relationships, the soured feelings revolve around money, or the lack thereof.

The Marines want to maintain a robust amphibious assault, enough to lift two Marine Expeditionary Brigades, and get them ashore via their Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle (EFV) armored amphibian. The Navy wants capital ships and intends to cut maritime prepositioning force ships, possibly amphibs and the EFV. A real battle is brewing and it’s bound to get ugly as budget realities sink in.

The long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have turned the Marines into a much smaller and more poorly equipped version of the Army. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has made it clear he thinks the U.S. has too much amphibious assault insurance. Few defense watchers believe Marine numbers won’t come down in the near future; the question is will they go lower than the pre-2007 175,000 level.

Given all that, it was a bit amusing to hear Undersecretary of the Navy Bob Work declare at a forum at CSIS recently that “the future of the Marine Corps is bright.”

Robert Haddick makes the point that the Marines have made the obvious choice to lose around 27,000 Marines from the force in favor of pressing forward with the expensive EFV and the balance of its vision.  They are apparently already resigned to it, and instead of saving the size of the Marines, leadership is sacrificing bodies on the altar of large scale amphibious assault landings against near-peer states, something I find remarkably creepy.

I haven’t advocated against the idea of forcible entry capabilities, but rather, the specific version of it being pressed by current leadership.

… the tactical capabilities of the EFV are not at issue.  It’s the place that it occupies in the strategic plan.  I still reject the Commandant’s dilemma, i.e., that we fund the EFV or the Marines become obsolete.  This is the thinking of outdated, mid-20th century, South Pacific strategy, not that of the 21st century.  The U.S. Marines will always be needed, but the paradigm must be retooled.  It must be.  All Marine Corps readers, listen to me, and listen to me well.

I continue to pose the following questions to the strategic thinkers in the Marine Corps.  Where are we going to invade?  What country, or what failed state?  What are the tactical capabilities of this country or failed state, and why do we need floating tanks?  Does this state have shore to ship missiles?  Have you thought much about a fighting vehicle that has all of the capabilities of the EFV (MK44 cannon, stabilized turret, etc.) but without the need for flotation?  Why can’t troops come ashore via air delivery (e.g., fast-roping) rather than sitting in a floating tank?

I have proposed that the U.S. Marines transport behind enemy lines and take the beach head, thus allowing the Navy to deliver more land-based vehicles to the campaign rather than the Marines fighting their way on shore through a hail of missile and artillery fire and water borne mines, and in response, we get the stuck record of the current argument:  “Give us the EFV or we cease to exist.”

Sorry, I don’t buy it.  Do better.

And to date no one has explained to me why the Marine Corps needs this particular vision.  But while Tom Ricks doesn’t weigh in with any particular view, one commenter has the right idea.

Here is how the Corps can keep 40 amphibs.

Cut MEU-ARG steaming days in half. The Navy thinks amphibs are surface combatants (they are run by SWOs) so they want to steam and maneuver for no real reason, which burns up billions in fuel. Deployed MEUs should sit in port most of the time, and just steam from port to port unless they are doing a landing. No more sailing in circles for fun.

Cut amphib crews in half. Less time at sea allows cutting stuff like ship stores, barbers, ect. Use the bored Marines to pick up much of the load, like mess duty, helo refueling, and other stuff.

Save the Navy manpower by merging the Navy Beach Groups with Marine Logistics groups.

Scrap the three old Admiral pleasure ships, the ampib “command ships” that have no value.

Cancel the LHA-R, just build more proven LHDs

Get the failed V-22s off the ships and deploy with more CH-53s and UH-1s. The V-22s are destroying the decks with their engine heat, the Navy has complained, but the Marines don’t care. Same problem with the F-35 JSF, cancel that turd. Buy practical FA-18Fs instead.

Commenters (such as at Ricks’ blog) and bloggers (me) are making more sense than the Marine Corps leadership at the present.  I don’t like the push to save money at the expense of the military, but this is about more than money.  We ought to be spending it on the right things.  I am still not convinced that we are.



  • Josh

    Haddick has it right. He addresses the two biggest concerns I had upon reading the title: 1) forcible injection of bodies, and 2) delivery of vehicles and supplies to a beachhead once defnenses are overthrown. I’m not sure his example of troop deployment (fast roping off of helicopters) is feasible for any force of size, but the Marines should be looking for other methods, of which the Osprey or an Airborne qualified force are both good examples.

    I wouldn’t count on never having to invade a near-peer state again, but in the event that’s necessitated, we should maintain the capabilities and rediness needed to facilitate a retool of production lines, supply lines, logistics protocol and combat training.

    The point is, no agency or group should operate in a vacuum. We should have good enough human intelligence assets to warn us of impending scenarios and give the DoD the lead-time to execute a retooling of MEFs.

    I believe in “modern warfare”, but it does’nt look like a video game.

  • scott s.

    Recently we had the Marine take-down of Somali pirates. I think there needs to be discussion of platoon to company – sized units that would be more or less permanent parts of a combatant ship’s force. Not just sitting in port waiting for something to happen but out at sea engaged in the full range of naval missions.

    As far as future capabilities, it seems to me that fighting another Iraq or Afghanistan with “the Army you have rather than the Army you would like to have” entails much less risk than facing a near-peer with the wrong Army.

  • http://umc-unofficiallaymanopenforum.ning.com/ Warbucks

    We are just seeing the introduction of beam weapons and beam weapon delivery systems as well as beam weapon defensive systems. Before we can conclude what is or is not effective we need to consider the pro’s and con’s of these offensive and defensive weapon systems. http://tinyurl.com/2gy4m3e . There is a great example of a defensive beam system in a video clip on the Trophy defensive array posted as the first video on this page http://tinyurl.com/22npth4.

    These beam weapon systems need to be evaluated as to their applicability. When they can be used they seem to be game changers. Just a thought.

  • Pingback: The Captain's Journal » Marine Corps to Secretary Gates: We’re Relevant!


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This article is filed under the category(s) Expeditionary Warfare,Marine Corps and was published September 12th, 2010 by Herschel Smith.

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