What the heck is going on with the Marine Corps? This is a Navy blog and I don’t follow the Marine Corp to the same degree but recent Marine Corps news is disturbing, to say the least. I listened to a presentation by MGen. Frank McKenzie speaking at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and it was eye-opening. This is a bit long but has some stunning revelations. It's worth the time to read this.
The General opened by stating that the Corps was directed to develop a “new” Corps in response to budget pressures and the need to implement a 20% overall cut with a target of FY17. The new Corps will have an end force of around 174,000 with a deploy:dwell of 1:2 (example, 7 months deployed and 14 months home) in order to meet demands with the available resources and will be focused on forward presence and crisis response as opposed to heavy combat. The Corps will become lighter and more mobile. McKenzie noted that the other services target 1:3 dwell.
He identified two programs that he views as vital to the Corps moving forward. The Marines want to protect the JSF, at all costs, and the amphibious combat vehicle (ACV) but noted that Corps needs significant time, still, to define what that vehicle will be. Really? How many years have the Marines been working on AAV upgrades, the EFV, and similar options? -and they still don’t know what they want?
He further noted that the new force will have reduced numbers of artillery and tanks and be more focused on crisis response and humanitarian assistance and disaster response (HA/DR). Huh?!! The Corps is deemphasizing combat? Who’s in charge of this movement? I know Commandant Amos is unpopular in many circles but this is almost criminal.
The new structure will be structured around:
3 MEBs - east coast, west coast,
21 Infantry Battalions
When asked about the apparent imbalance between air, ground, and logistics as evidenced by the MV-22 and JSF garnering the vast majority of budgets for the last several years, McKenzie opined that the balance is just fine and that the air component is the number one priority in order to maintain a proper balance. This stunned me until he offered a further comment later in the session. Read on and you’ll see what I mean.
McKenzie stated that the Marines are not in the business of conducting opposed beach landings. How he reconciles this statement with his characterization of the ACV as the number two acquisition priority is unclear.
Questioned about the Navy’s amphibious lift capacity, he responded that the Marines are very happy with the Navy’s amphibious force structure. Really? An already understrength force that’s going to continue to shrink is cause for happiness?
Questioned about the Marines role in ASB, he responded by saying that the best way the Marines could fit into the ASB would be as an “expeditionary air force operating [the JSF] from a dispersed basing structure”. This is an eye-opening statement that assumes the enemy will allow the establishment of air bases and ignores the short range nature of the F-35B as far as potential contributions to an overall military effort. This “plan” seems optimistic in the extreme. He went on to suggest that the Marines would establish far more bases than an enemy could detect and deal with. He neglected to describe how the Marines would supply the logistical support necessary to operate numerous dispersed bases requiring highly technical maintenance, parts, and support. This statement would seem to provide the rationale behind the Marines single-minded focus on air power. Apparently, the Marines are transitioning from an amphibious land combat force to an expeditionary air force that is merely transported by ship to their expeditionary bases. This is an absolutely stunning change in direction for the Corps. Either that, or I really haven’t been paying close enough attention.
Questioned in more detail about the new force structure, he stated that in order to fit within the budget limitations the decision was made to predominantly take capabilities away from the high end combat forces in favor of emphasizing presence and crisis response. This is really disturbing.
Regarding the ACV, McKenzie stated that the Marines did not want to build the “son of EFV”. Fair enough but if the EFV was that bad, why was it pursued in the first place? Has something changed so drastically as to render the EFV concept so unsuited, now? Again, this speaks to very poor leadership decisions then, now, or both. Speaking further, he noted that the ACV would spend 90% of its life on land, driving Marines around as a sort of armored personnel carrier while still being required to fill the amphibious landing transport role. That statement leads one to wonder if this is, perhaps, too much to ask of a single vehicle? The moderator noted that the ACV has been three years in conceptual development with no end in sight. Again, this bespeaks a degree of indecision uncharacteristic of Marines.
Marines have always been noted among the services for their candor, outspokenness, disregard for politics, and single-minded focus on warfighting. This presentation exhibited none of those characteristics. This was the kind of generic, politicized mumble that routinely comes from the other services. What happened to the Marines?
Here’s the link if you wish to listen to the presentation. It lasts just under an hour.