Friday, July 3, 2015

Scattered Across the Pacific

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.

(1)USNI, “Dunford: Marines Must Fundamentally Rethink Deployment Strategies, Training”, Megan Eckstein,


  1. "There is no need for Marines anywhere near Australia."

    Darwin is only about 1,000 miles from Indonesia - which is the worlds most populace muslim state. There has has been some pretty bad stuff going on there since 9/11.

    1. And Australia should not rely on a 1,000 US Marines for its national security. It should be able to meet its own security needs. The only security such marines give is a false sense of security.

      As an island nation Australia is perfectly situated to have a strong sea-control force, and being located in a semi-important strategic location has good opportunities to enter into security agreements.

      Furthermore if Australia is concerned about the threat of their neigbours, which they should be, then they should do something about it! Particularly before their GDP approaches half of the USAs by 2030. Indonesia is well known to have a history of agression on their neighbours, and has many human rights issues with numerous attrocities on the 'wrong groups' of peoples.

    2. stupid australian assumption... the indonesian have to capability to invade australia... yet the same fantasy kept brought up by australian warmongers to drum up fears of foreign invasion , while the public conveniently led away from the truth , that australian goverment already sold australia to the american goverment..

  2. Populace = populous.

  3. They appear to be there to mostly "show the flag" more than anything else.

    I don't think that a small number of lightly armed infantry is going to do much in the event of a serious crisis.

    1. And also to waste money on offshore basing, and give americas 'friends' a false-sense of security so they don't put any effort into their own security.

      The whole USMC is deeply flawed anyway IMO, the expeditionairy forces are so small and so lightly armed, how are they suppose to survive a modern war against a peer-level adversary that logically outnumbers, outguns, and out armours them?

      And that is assuming the USN can get them to the 'peer level' adversary, unharmed, likely their will be ship losses in a peer-level war. Its basically the equivalent of attempting to recreate the light brigade, and it's charge in the Crimean War.

      Do we really expect Humvees to survive against Arabic, Indian, Chinese or European tanks? Or AAVs to survive against modern >40mm armed, IFVs, self propelled mortars and artillery with DPICM munitions, wheeled tank destroyers, or missile armed vehicle destroyers?

    2. I would agree with you. It's a big waste of money. It also encourages saber rattling from foreign leaders.

      The USMC is basically a light infantry force with some air-mobile and amphibious abilities that would not be able to do much against a heavily armed opponent.

      If they attempt a serious amphibious landing against a well armed enemy, they will repeat the Dieppe Raid - assuming they even make it ashore.

      I think that to an extent, the Marines have become a force that has perpetuated itself. There seems to be a huge effort at PR and "appearances over reality". Granted these problems are widespread throughout the Pentagon, but it's the Marines that seem to be the most pervasive here.

    3. Alt said, "I would agree with you. It's a big waste of money. It also encourages saber rattling from foreign leaders."

      Alt, that last sentence is a fascinating statement and worthy of a post (or book!) of its own. A pretty good argument can be made that the current administration's foreign policy of restraint and inaction have actually encouraged foreign aggression (Putin, China, Iran, and NK have all made pretty aggressive moves over the last several years). Further, a reasonable argument can be made that US "might" makes for a calming influence on world events. History has demonstrated this in many instances (deterrence, if you will).

      What do you think?

    4. When I said "sabre rattling", the sabre rattling meant in the case of nations like like Anonymous pointed, who have a false sense of security now and who are more militant, which in turn increases the risk of war.

      I actually think the exact opposite in terms of US foreign policy. I think that it's excessively militant and that the US does not "calm" the world, quite the opposite.

      The reason why is because of the way the bases have been set up, they often anger the local populations. It's often not for the benefit of Americans either, but rather corporate America, whose interests are often different from the American people. An example would be the defense spending - I suppose it's profitable to build ships all the time and not maintain them. Something beneficial would be less exotic new technologies for ship building, and a greater emphasis on keeping the existing fleet top tier.

      In some regards, I think it'd be cheaper to stay at home and to train aggressively at home rather than to deploy lightly armed forces all over the world of limited utility in a serious conflict. The extra money could be spent on training, maintenance, and neglected domestic priorities.

      It makes little sense to spend when the US itself is facing serious internal challenges. Living standards for the average American have been in decline in terms of job security, wages, and other basic human needs.

  4. Its not just that these a small units scattered in foreign countries but since they are in foreign countries those countries will have veto rights over what those Marines do

    Just like the other idea that is floating about, to put Marines on foreign warships or even merchant ships, this will complicate the use of the units since the foreign country will have veto rights over its use

    One of the great things about a USN amphibious unit is that it is independent of other countries veto, so you can sit them 13 miles off someone’s coast and don’t have to worry about trying to coordinate allies into supporting the operation.

    Just look at Afghanistan, where a long standing alliance was split by each country having its own rules of engagement and the ability to veto or change operations. What happens when you have a thousand US marines on Italian amphibious ships and Italy has a change of government and decides that they can’t afford to pay for operating those ships?

    1. And how would the USMC fair against even a very poor, relatively small country with a airforce and army like, say pakistan or egypt, or syria pre-war if it had upgraded its airforce to 4th gen fighters?

      If you were to dump the entire USMC on the coast of pakistan, with every ship it had, and everything that it could fit on those ship, and a realistic proportion of the USN that could be spared. Say one or two, carrier task forces, and a mix of destroyers, cruisers, SSGNs and a few strategic bombers based in foreign countries.


      When Pakistan utilises patrol planes, awacs, missile boats, coastal batteries, submarines, and launches attacks on the naval forces with 4th gen planes that match the USN forces in numbers and quality. When their country has an integrated air defense system, and they station say the equivelant of say 1,250 T72s on the border, a long with mechanized infantry and artillery. And fill their costal cities with tens of thousands of conscripts, and professional military personal organized into hunter-killer teams and armed with top-attacking ATGMs....

      At every stage it is going to be a nightmare, it really isn't that hard for a 2nd world country to maintain an airforce that can give one or two US carriers a run for their money, and at that stage you are really in for a big fight just to get to the beaches, and if you can make it to the beaches, the best locations (given predictable objectives) are probably mined, possibly defended by artillery and anti-tank forces.

      Then, past that you have to slug it out, against a formations that are heavily focused on tanks. Then fight them in the cities, which are ideal for anti-vehicle squads, and sniper warfare, and require enormous amounts of man power to clear out... Properly.. House by, house, room by room...
      So it probably isn't that feasible, the USMC are simply just not built to fight that sort of conflict, and pakistan is not even a peer-level adversary, its just a 2nd world nation that makes some effort to maintain an airforce and navy. The USMC probably evenoutspends pakistan.

      The USMC is simply too lightly armed, and it's ships don't carry enough forces to fight an entire army. And as I said, it needs to get there first...

    2. Anon, I think you're grossly oversimplifying a very complex scenario (setting aside the question of why it would even happen). For example, the US Air Force would be involved and the combined US airpower would fairly quickly establish aerial control which would allow close air support for troops on the ground and deny the same to the enemy. Enemy troops and tanks operating under US-controlled airspace would be at a severe disadvantage.

      Having said that, you make an excellent point (or series of points) about the progress and difficulties inherent in an assault against reasonably competent enemy that is willing to fight. I agree completely with your closing statement even if the logic you used to get there might be suspect.

      Arguably, the US' major advantage is airpower, to include not only aircraft but cruise missiles. How would you factor that in to your overall assessment?

      Good comment.

    3. From where, such a conflict could happen anywhere, in this case your very lucky, you could maybe base fighters in the UAE but that is a long flight, requiring an awful lot of tankers. Because it is so far away, by the time the fighters get their to help out (in about 1 1/2 hrs), the Pakistani fighters have completed their sortie against the US task force.

      Furthermore much of the flight is along the coastline of pakistan, so a big air campaign and a continous pressence will be required to protect the convoy of tankers. And that is assuming the UAE will allow basing of USAF forces to deal with their nuclear armed sunni neighbour.

      Anyway the point I am making is I don't think it is clear cut that the USMC can even get to the shore in a realistic conflict, against a 2nd rate opponent, let alone face the tank and artillery heavy formations that the 2nd world countries tend to favour.


      But if the USN could achieve complete air supperiority they would engage in a prolonged air-bombing campaign, destroy much of the pakistani army equipment, degrade their ability to function as a conventional force. The USMC would secure costal positions, airports, or use expeditionairy airports. Much of the heavy fighting would probably take place there. From there USMC air power and USAF would flood in. The USMC would push north, under very heavy air-support.

      Furthermore the USN would probably (if they were smart) initiate their campaign with many hundreds of cruise missiles as part of their first assault, in conjunction with the air campaign which would tie up the Pakistani airforce and prevent them from intercepting such missiles.

      The missile attack would do so much damage to pakistani military and civil infrastructure, in violation to the UN convention on genocide (Which prohibits such attacks designed to remove what is needed for society and therefore government to function), that it would mean pakistan would cease to exist as a functioning nation state.

      So I think if the USN can achieve air-supremacy, the light brigade concept may be viable, as at that stage you are basically operating in a 'coin' role, with the exception of a few holdovers from the last regime.

      Saying that though, ISIS seems to still be able to carry out a large variety of operations, and the bombing campaign in serbia did not overly degrade the Serbian army. And I don't think it is prudent for US ground forces to rely on the airforces to do their ground fighting...

    4. Anon, as I said, I largely agree with your statement concerning the inability of the Marines to conduct an assault against any moderate or better defense. That said, you might want to review how the US conducts "wars" in recent history. Air power (to include cruise missiles) is the cornerstone of US military actions. Any assault would be preceded by extensive strikes against enemy command and control nodes, air defense sites, and enemy airbases. Thus, your scenarios of the Marines going up against armor, or US air going up against enemy air in a "one on one" battle, and so forth, miss the reality of how the US conducts assaults. So, again, I'll say that I agree with your conclusion but not your supporting logic. To be fair, the second half of your comment seems to recognize the role and impact of airpower.

      ISIS is able to carry out its actions because the US is not even partially engaged. We conduct a few sorties and plink pickup trucks to look like we're doing something but we're actually doing nothing worthwhile. Serbia was, again, a live fire exercise conducted as a PR campaign to appease world opinion. It was not an "all in" combat with the full resources of the military. The best example of how the US fights when it is "all in" was Desert Storm. Most other recent conflicts have been half-measures carried out for questionable reasons.

  5. The answer to all these issues can be read here:

    which includes:

    "American deployments to the Western Pacific are frozen in Cold War era assumptions of absolute American air and naval superiority. Given China's growing power and America's economic stagnation, the U.S. military must adopt a defensive posture in the Western Pacific. The Pentagon recently announced that it will shift naval forces to the Pacific as part of a highly publicized "Asian pivot." The Cold War 50-50 allotment is to adjust to 60% of forces in the Pacific and 40% in the Atlantic.

    However, rising procurement and manpower costs will force a continued reduction in American combat forces, even if budgets remain frozen at today's post-World War II highs. This "Asia pivot" means that American force structure in the Pacific will remain unchanged, while those at Atlantic bases decline some 20%. Meanwhile, China's military power is expected to quadruple with technology equal to that of the USA.

    The U.S. military must stop pretending that our forces in the Western Pacific are capable of major offensive operations and organize them to defend Pacific island chains."

  6. Everyone knows this, but they can't adjust. I'm talking about right now, at the moment, the Chinese have far more combat power ready to fight in WestPac than the USA.The USA would need nearly a year to marshal all its CONUS forces and shift them toward WestPac to fight. Meanwhile, the Chinese will sink and destroy anything in range. There are only around 4000 combat Marines in WestPac, the rest are all base and headquarters people.They aren't going to intervene anywhere in WestPac.

  7. In a lot of ways it reminds me of the way the marines were deployed prior to WW2, except with less fortification.


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