USNI News website has an article about Marine Commandant Dunford suggesting that the Marines must fundamentally shift the way they operate in response to their new preference for force disaggregation across the Pacific (1). The Marines are looking to put small forces in several locations: Japan, Okinawa, South Korea, Guam, and Australia. These would all be elements of the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF) and would result in the MEF being scattered across the Pacific.
As suggested in the article, two questions come to mind.
1. What useful purpose can small packets of Marines serve?
2. How can the overall force be reaggregated when the need arises?
While small packets can offer some benefit for non-combat or very low end peacetime operations such as embassy evacuations or humanitarian assistance, you have to wonder if that benefit justifies both the cost of multiple bases and the breaking up of a coherent force.
Further, these disaggregated forces presumably have little or no heavy equipment with them. How will they marry up their equipment? What kind of relevant training can they do while disaggregated without their equipment?
Consider the basing of Marines in Australia. There is no need for Marines anywhere near Australia. I guess they’re closer to China if that ever became a need but that type of need would not materialize overnight and an extra thousand lightly equipped Marines wouldn’t make much difference anyway.
More important is the issue of re-aggregating. Part of the rationale for disaggregating the force is the supposed lack of amphibious vessels. I don’t believe that claim but we’ll accept it at face value for the sake of this discussion. So, if we haven’t got enough ships to keep the force together and afloat, how will we transport those Marines when we need to re-aggregate them, presumably to face a Chinese or N. Korean threat? A fleet of JHSVs (which haven’t got the numbers or the range), tugs, barges, or small commercial ships would not only be a slow, logistical challenge but would be defenseless if any enemy opted to contest the movement.
The entire disaggregation movement appears to be an attempt to claim a piece of the Pacific Pivot budget pie more than an operationally useful deployment of forces. There are highly useful missions for the Marines within the context of the Pacific Pivot and AirSea Battle but it’s not scattering small packets of Marines across several thousand miles of Pacific ocean.