5 years, 10 months ago
The “Soldiers of the Sea” have been fighting on land for a decade in Iraq and Afghanistan.The Corps’ amphibious troop carrier has just been canceled; its new fighter jet was postponed.
And the Marine Corps itself is finishing up its own review, asking this basic question: What should the Marine Corps look like in the 21st Century?
The Marine Corps has made a name for itself storming beaches: Barbary Coast and Veracruz, Iwo Jima and Inchon.
“For many years now, its core mission has been forcible entry, meaning going ashore in the face of hostile fire to claim enemy beaches and then push inland quickly before defenders regain their balance,” says defense analyst Loren Thompson. He says those days may be over.
That’s because Defense Secretary Robert Gates has done something that pirates in the 19th century and Japanese troops in World War II couldn’t do — he has the Marine Corps reeling.
Gates stopped the Marines from going ahead with their Joint Strike Fighter, a stealthy warplane. And he canceled the Marines’ amphibious troop carrier, known as the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle or EFV.
“The EFV, originally conceived during the Reagan administration, has already consumed more than $3 billion to develop, and will cost another $12 billion to build, all for a fleet with the capacity to put 4,000 troops ashore,” he said.
That’s a lot of money to get a few thousand Marines on the beach. So the Marines will update their decades-old amphibious troop carrier instead.
The cuts and delays to the Marine Corps’ budget are symbolic of a larger debate about the role of the Marine Corps in future warfare. Many potential adversaries have sophisticated long-range missiles that could strike the Marines in their landing craft long before they reach the shores.
So Gates already has said it’s unlikely the Marines will be hitting the beaches like they did at Iwo Jima.
And Thompson says that raises questions about the relevance of the Marines.
“If the Marine Corps is no longer going to do opposed landing on enemy beaches in the face of hostile fire, then its role will be significantly diminished in the future,” he says.
The Marines publicly dismiss talk they’re becoming less relevant, and say that attacking enemy beaches is just one of their jobs. Their senior officer, Gen. James Amos, said recently they’ve been busier than ever.
“Since 9/11, U.S. amphibious forces have responded to crises and contingencies at least 50 times, a response rate more than double during the entire period of the Cold War,” Amos says.
That includes everything, from Marines fighting Taliban fighters 10 years ago, to helping Pakistanis caught up in massive flooding last fall.
The ability for Marines to float offshore and quickly respond offers any president a way to influence events, says retired Marine Gen. Chuck Krulak.
“They can remain over the horizon, they can come on to the horizon and be seen and increase the pressure, or they can come ashore,” he says.
And the Marines’ physical presence, Krulak argues, cannot be replaced by high-tech weapons.
“A B-2 bomber flying at 60,000 feet is not present, it’s nothing more than contrails in the skies,” he says.
The Marines may argue they’re irreplaceable. But Gates has suggested cutting their numbers — not just their weapons. Gates wants to reduce the Corps by some 15,000 to 20,000 in the coming years.
Defense analyst Gordon Adams says that’s a higher proportion than the cuts Gates has called for in the Army.
“My view would be that the Army deserves to be significantly cut rather than the Marine Corps,” Adams says.
Adams worked on Pentagon budgets in the Clinton administration and thinks Gates’ cuts are ill conceived.
“His decisions have by and large been driven largely by technology, costs and efficiency,” Adams says.
But not by strategy, he adds. Adams says the Marines are more agile than the Army and cost less. They can handle a range of missions — everything from delivering humanitarian assistance to training foreign militaries to fighting insurgents.
The Marines have no trouble speaking for themselves. In the coming weeks, they’ll outline to Gates why they’re still relevant.
Regular readers know that I oppose humanitarian missions for the U.S. Marines. Not that I oppose humanitarian missions. I oppose humanitarian missions for the Marines. You don’t design and build the most effective and violent fighting force on earth and send it on humanitarian missions. That we have done that before in recent history is a sign that the Marines are looking for a mission.
And the lack of opposed landing in the grand strategy doesn’t in the least diminish the relevance of the U.S. Marine Corps. Let me tell you what does diminish the relevance of the USMC. Reliance on gadgets, doohickeys and thing-a-ma-bobs. You know – electronically controlled, electrically powered crap that needs heavy generators which then need to be moved by massive flotillas to site by logistics engineers months in advance of operations in order to supply the necessary power – or, crap that needs high tech solar panels to operate in the field because massive generators can’t be moved there.
Lack of ability to get water from their surroundings diminishes the relevance of the USMC.
Goulding, a retired marine, flew over the mountainous Kahukus Training Range twice in a helicopter during the exercise. “There is water everywhere in the Kahukus,” he pointed out, but the marines had to rely on drinking water supplied from the ship.
From backpacking, hiking and camping, I and each of my four children know how to purify water from our surroundings. I and each of my four children know how to climb and rappel. I and each of my four children know how to make decisions on the fly, not waiting on specific commands but relying on broad mission goals to guide our actions. And only one among my four children is a Marine.
Long times to deploy troops diminishes the relevance of the USMC. Reliance on the future needs for large scale amphibious assault landings diminishes the relevance of the USMC. The overly expensive Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle diminishes the relevance of the USMC.
Let me tell you what ensures the relevance of the USMC. Short notice deployments. Pressing responsibility and authority down in the chain of command. Making efficient and effective use of their surroundings. Distributed operations. And again, distributed operations, with reliance on chain of command pressed down in the organization. Training exercises to make sure that the USCM is still capable of forcible entry without long deployments of MEUs assuming that such entry will be called upon against a near peer state. Forcible entry based on another premise than AAV or EFV or LCACs, namely, air-based forcible entry and fast roping. Landing behind the beach head, securing land, and then allowing the Navy to transport heavy equipment while the Marines fight.
Being called upon to secure people, free hostages, raid locations, kill enemy on short notice, and all other manner of short term operations, and being called upon to do this in lieu of SOCOM, and outside the SOCOM chain of command, which has now usurped the authority of the branch chains of command. Less reliance on Force Recon and SOF and SOCOM. Ensuring rifleman skills superior to those of the other branches. At one time in our history, the USMC was the branch capable of projecting power – large and small – on foreign shores at a moment’s notice. Now, SOCOM chain of command and SOF operators have taken this mantle. Admit it. It’s the truth.
The USMC can pound their chest and train for large scale forcible entry, go on large nine months MEUs where there is no enemy to engage and where the President doesn’t call on them to conduct operations, and the USMC can become irrelevant. Or, the USMC can embrace a new vision, a vision other than that of 60-year-old large scale amphibious assault landings with water-borne craft susceptible to land-based rockets.
It’s up to them. I think the Marines are more versatile and capable than the Army, and I choose the later. Let’s see what the Marines choose. They may be readying themselves for 21st century irrelevance.