Friday, September 9, 2016

Another Marine Aviation Acquisition?

What has gotten into the Marine Corps?  They’re being led by lunatics intent on remaking them into a mini-Air Force.  The latest is this report from Breaking Defense website about yet another new aircraft that the Corps wants.

“It’s an unmanned tiltrotor designed to give the Marines a drone that can do everything the Air Force’s armed MQ-9 Reaper does – and more. Especially taking off and landing from ships or from land where there’s no runway.

“I think there is a big need for a UAS [unmanned aerial system] that can go aboard the sea base,” Davis [Lt. Gen. Jon “Dog” Davis, Marine deputy commandant for aviation] told me in an interview last week. “General Neller says he doesn’t need a Reaper, but he needs a Reaper-like capability that can go from the sea base.” Gen. Robert Neller is the Marine Corps commandant.” (1)

Do the Marines really need to duplicate yet another Air Force capability?  Yes, a vertical takeoff and landing capability sounds nice on paper but haven’t we already given the Marines gigantic carriers that UAVs could operate from?  Do we really need to start another acquisition program that duplicates the mission of a Reaper?  Is this really the best use of the Marine’s limited budget?

“The desire for a Marine Corps Group 5 UAS is outlined in the official Marine Aviation Plan 2016, which labels the concept the MUX, a tortured acronym standing for “MAGTF Unmanned Expedition Capabilities,” the acronym within an acronym MAGTF standing for Marine Air Ground Task Force.

“The Marine Corps requires a UAS that is network-enabled, digitally interoperable, and built to execute responsive, persistent, lethal, and adaptive full-spectrum operations,” the document says. “The concept of employment will be shipboard and expeditionary.”

The Aviation Plan says that the MUX would be “a multi-sensor, electronic warfare” aircraft with “strike capability at ranges complementary to MV-22 and F-35,” referring to the Marine Corps version of the Osprey and the new Joint Strike Fighter. Such a shipboard compatible armed drone, the plan adds, will give Marine commanders “flexible, persistent and lethal reach.” (1)

Multi-sensor, electronic warfare, strike aircraft?  That’s a lot more than a simple recon drone!  What do the Marines need this thing to do?

“Such a drone, he [Davis] said, could be “your picket. It could be out there protecting the ship, protecting the fleet, giving us the deep view out there of the battle space when I don’t have manned platforms up.” (1)

Protecting the fleet???  Now the Marines are branching out into fleet AAW and ASuW?  Have they got their core mission down so well and have so much extra budget that they can expand into Navy missions?

I’m not going to bother describing this aircraft in detail.  The more important takeaways from this are:

  • Who’s running the Corps?  Clearly, the ground component has been relegated to an afterthought.  The Marines are shedding tanks, artillery, and heavy equipment while aviation assets are being promoted and prioritized.  Aviation rules the Corps.

  • What’s the mission?  Once upon a time, the Marines were our 911 force with a specialization in amphibious assault.  Now, by their own choice, the Marines are an expeditionary third air force with little high end combat power and what they have is rapidly shrinking.  What do they offer that is not redundant with the Army or Air Force and can’t be done better by the Army or Air Force?  Note the priorities – they’re not ground related.  Where’s the same zeal for tanks, artillery, combat engineering vehicles, amphibious assault vehicles, landing craft, electronic warfare, mobile anti-air vehicles, etc. that the Corps is showing for aviation assets?  Where’s the enthusiasm for ground combat?  Do the Marines think the next war will be a neat, clean, digital, affair where no one gets hurt and is conducted from afar using remote control and everyone gets to go home and have dinner every night after the day’s sortie is done?  The Corps has lost sight of the mission.

Finally, here is a disturbing quote from the article.

“I sense a lot of desire from the traditional ground component of the Marine Corps to support special operations, much like the U.S. Army Rangers. Having a higher-tier UAS is part of that.” (1)

If that is at all reflective of reality, the Marines have truly lost their way.  Supporting special ops is not their core mission.  Has the Corps really forgotten why they exist?  It would appear so.  This is very disappointing.

(1)Breaking Defense website, “EXCLUSIVE: Meet Bell’s V-247, Armed Tiltrotor Drone For Marines”, Richard Whittle, 29-Aug-2016,


  1. I wonder what else they have cooking.

    It does seem like they are impacting other services. A large percentage of the F-35 problems can be attributed to the lift fan in the F-35.

  2. Those expensive drones crash a lot too. The USAF lost at least 20 in 2015. I think they are ~$20 million each.

    For some reason Marine Generals want to do everything, and are cutting back ground forces to man all these new units. There are examples in this list of things the Corps can cut to restore four infantry battalions.

    For example:

    After World War II, the Marine Corps got sucked into providing manpower for the NSA. This grew into the Marine Cryptologic Battalion with companies based at non-Marine Corps bases in Colorado, Georgia, Texas, Hawaii and Maryland. It makes no sense to recruit and train Marines, only to assign them to CONUS non-combat office tasks that don't directly support Marine units. There are 3200 Marines in signals intelligence, which does not include another 5000 Marines in intelligence. The number of SigInt Marines exceed those in the tank/AAV field! While many are assigned to Marine Radio Battalions, a thousand of these Marines not part of MAGTFs, but work at desks in support "joint" commands, and most should be eliminated.

    In 2009, the Marine Corps embraced the cyber fad and created a Cyber Command that provides manpower for a new joint command in Maryland. This has grown to over a 800 expensively trained Marines and continues to expand despite force cuts! While the cyber threat is real in the open Internet and threatens national systems, MAGTFs use closed systems. Even at fixed installations, the Marine Corps uses the Department of Navy intranet system. In a recent study about national defense priorities, officers noted that it makes no sense for all four services to devote manpower to a national Cyber Command, and certainly not the Marine Corps. At the very most, the Corps might have a hundred Marines attached to the Navy Cyber command to gain knowledge that "may" be useful to MEF commanders.

    And this:

    The U.S. Government has 17 intelligence agencies and Marine Corps Intelligence is one of the newest. The Marines were happy to play a small role as part the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) until 2000 when the Corps formed is own Marine Corps Intelligence Department in Washington DC. In 2002, the Corps formed a separate Marine Corps Intelligence Activity in Quantico VA, while a National Maritime Intelligence-Integration Office appeared nearby with the ONI. Meanwhile, each regional joint Combatant Command has its own large Intel section, as well as each MAGTF. There are now 5000 Marines with an Intelligence MOS and another 3200 Marines in Signals Intelligence, with thousands more civilians in support positions.

    Despite all this Intel, the end result is often poor. As Marines raced to Baghdad in 2003, the commander of the 1st Marine Division, General James Mattis, reported that he never had intelligence about enemy forces to his front. As the Marine Corps downsizes, it needs to restructure intelligence with a goal of eliminating duplication and freeing non-MAGTF intel manpower equal to an infantry battalion of Marines. This would still leave more Intel Marines than before 9-11.

  3. I agree 110%. I would venture that their aircraft acquisitions over the past 20 years have eaten well over 50% of the entire DoD aviation acquisition R&D combined.

    It is ridiculous- Their Bell-Boing, HASC chairman in the bag, LM F-35B, and USMC lobby is so strong and efficient it just sucks in more than its fair share.... V-22, F-35B, H-53K upgrades to the Cobra, C-130J...Some hi-priced "gimmick" aircraft...Visualize all that national treasure just for a force of 187,000 as set by law without it's own doctors and dentists.....They are as joint as they need to be in their eyes...Go figure. Perhaps we should "S-can" the USAF, US Army and make the Navy just a subordinate to the USMC. The Marines have branched out quite a bit since their days as "Bullocks" aboard ships as naval infantry and sharpshooters from the masts...

    No politician can say no to them, the Navy wimps roll over for them and their appetite is voracious.

  4. The Marine Corps that gave me a chance when no one else would is gone. I am unsure what is going on in HQMC but they need to get their heads out of their backsides and realize what they are doing.
    They need to read "First to Fight" by LtGen Krulak and think of the words "The Marine Corps only exists because America WANTS a Marine Corps." When we become redundant, of what use are we?

  5. As a Retired Marine that worked on F-4Js I am appalled at the lack of cost awareness in the USMC these days. Gone are the days of backing out of the F-14 program because it was too costly to operate and upgrading to F-4Ss.

    I can understand USMC Acquisition being out of control, there are few to no folks at Systems Command that have any experience other than their present tour. I know because I told the Chief of Staff that back in 1992 (boy was he not happy).

    But in regard to needing your own support folks (whether it is intel, cyber, etc.), unfortunately there is a reality of not getting support across service lines. No one looks after another fighting force because it will cut into their budget, manning, assets, etc.

    Historically this has been shown also, MacArthur, Marshall, Almond, etc. have wanted to get rid of the Marines since WWI. SO if your FRIENDS are waiting for you to fail, how much rope are you gonna give them?

    As a taxpaying citizen I wish we could get past the petty service rivalries but that takes mature big picture folks at the top and apparently the promotion system doesn't select those kind of folks.

    1. You didn't explicitly say this but your comment suggests that you support the Marine's large scale push into aviation or, at least, don't terribly object.

      Your rationale is the certainty of support that it provides against the backdrop of historical failures in support. One cannot argue against the desirability of internal support, be it aviation, cyber, armor, shipping, or whatever. In theory.

      In theory, however, that would result in the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines all having their own air force, ground element, armor, cyber, intel, etc. Taken to its logical conclusion, we would wind up with four identical, duplicate services. I'm sure I don't need to write about the staggering expense and inefficiencies inherent in that approach.

      The sane approach, which is what we've done, is to break the capabilities up into separate branches: an air force, a navy, an army, and a ?marine corps?. There is no duplication (well, not a staggering amount of duplication) and costs are greatly reduced (well, a little bit reduced). The risk is lack of cross-service support when needed.

      The even saner approach is a single military which doesn't distinguish between service branches and simply maintains a single armed force with whatever equipment is required and the single force fights as one and cross-service support is never an issue. We've tried such an approach in bits and pieces (the Joint Chiefs, for example) but never committed to it.

      So, given the reality, the Marine's push into aviation is neither warranted (we have an Air Force that is tasked to provide support) nor economically feasible. The Marines need to concentrate on their core mission which they are steadily abandoning. If they abandon their core mission, one has to ask why we need them.

      So, with all that said, longwindedly, do you really support still more aviation for the Marines at the expense of tanks, artillery, combat engineering vehicles, landing craft/AAVs, etc. that are needed for their core mission but which are being neglected and deleted?

      Good discussion comment and nice historical perspective.

    2. Like many members of my family I am retired Navy from a family almost 50-50 Navy and Marines back to the turn of the last century.

      It seems the budget wars in this de facto post conflict era(due to the drop off in Iraq and Afghanistan) have gotten out of hand.

      General Conway when CMC (if I have the name correctly) noted the Marines needed to return to being Soldiers from the Sea. One would think the Marines would be working to increase the Navy's and their Amphibious Assault capability given the A2AD problems that even smaller countries will sooner or later acquire, and to replace lost funding having been de facto wasted on these senseless interventions and protracted occupations with which we seem to get ourselves involved.

      I know at least one Marine (Naval) Aviator who just retired and he didn't seem to be concerned about the Air Wing's current Capability. Apparently, as he and another told me their VMF squadrons routinely deploy on CVA's.

      As you know, the Marines Air / Ground Support capability combined with their Battalions makes them a rather powerful force for their size. Most Army Infantry types I know would love to have an integrated Army Air Support Capability similar to the Marines rather than rely on the Air Force. There is something about having a common operational understanding that produces a level of proficiency not otherwise available.

      I can understand using a drone for picket missions -- if that is what the 0300's want (not my area of expertise) with sufficient loiter time, but the range of an F-35 -- maybe for intelligence gathering.

      I don't believe in the same "unique" and independent type operating mission being preformed by each or multiple branches of the service. For instance, if the Army Special Forces is so under staffed they require assistance from the Marines or Seals -- the budgets and force sizes are out of balance. But for intelligence gathering, each branch will have its individual needs, and it is natural that they do not want to rely on another branch to schedule support for them based on their assessment of priorities.

      Given the proper budgets, deployments, ships, and Marine Amphibious capability I have always believed that the Navy Marine Corps Team provides this Nation with a rather unique Military force allow it to quickly react with substantial force whenever and potentially where ever. I would hate to see that capability watered down -- as it appears it has been due to this Administration's budgets and the fascinations of the Flags and Generals with seeming useless and unnecessary toys.

    3. CNO;

      I don't like the present USMC drive to acquire aircraft that are not affordable to operate and do not perform. That is not just a USMC problem but all services.

      As for partitioning of responsibilities, I do not think it is as clear nor complete as you imply.

      All of the services have their own space, logistics, transportation, cyber, intel, recon vehicles etc. Why if cooperation works so well does the Navy need a satellite of its own? Why if the Global hawk is around do theater commanders want the U-2/SR71? Short answer, if it doesn't belong to the commander it is a promise that can not be there due to OTHER priorities.

      The greater good of the Nation or Combat Commander is not always the driving force. How many historical examples do we need to see before we understand that it is gains in force structure, manning, dollars, etc. that are often more important that the mission. SecNav Lehman was chastised by DepSecDef Thayer for getting 2 carriers when the Army and Air Force needed to build up also. Dereliction of Duty also shows the service political machinations that did not support the war effort.

      If the big 3 can't get along (there is an interesting book advocating abolishing the Air Force BTW) and agree to support the other services forces then what is the smallest to do?

    4. The partitioning of responsibilities is exactly as clear as I stated. In theory. The reality, as you note, is that there is a good deal of duplication of capabilities, some of it moderately justified and much of it not.

      It's one thing to duplicate capabilities that are local and immediate, such as the Marine's CAS, but quite another to duplicate regional assets that provide no immediate benefit to the Marines, such as the large UAV which is the subject of this post.

  6. I think this stems from the fact that in WW2 US Army was tasked with winning the Atlantic war and the US Marines the Pacific one.
    Once that division was instilled, it seems that the Marines have been embracing that ethos. Fight an entire font on their own.
    I've never understood why the worlds 3rd largest air force was the USMCAF. USAF and USNAF being 1 and 2, i can understand. This third one never did. Couple that with the fact that after the 10 USN nuclear carriers, the worlds 10 largest flat tops are USMC ships. Talk about mission creep.
    If you had a functioning MC that had workable assault craft in spades i'd understand some sort of branching out, but despite all their efforts, the marines can't get anything better than a very short range beach assault wheeled vehicle thats no better than what most of the worlds armies field for river crossings.
    Unless the marines think that all their future assaults will be by air, i simply dont understand their spending.

    1. First, they are "Navy" Amphibious Ships that carry Marine Landing Teams, and funded through and crewed and maintained by the Navy. Second, we (the Navy) have had Amphibious Ships that appear to be Carriers at initial glance since the LPH's of 50+ years ago -- actually the original LPH's were converted straight Deck Carriers.

      The current one's are not true Aircraft Carriers. They lack catapults, can carry only about a half dozen VSTOL (if that is the correct acronym) type Aircraft (harriers or F-35B's) and their necessary compliment of helicopters. The majority of Marine Corps Fighter / Attack Squadrons that deploy (have to) do so as part of an Air Group on a CVA.

      The problem isn't that the Marines utilize too many LPH type Amphibious Ships (to use an old term), it's that given the absurdly low budgets of the Obama Presidency the Navy lacks the needed number of Amphibious and other type Ships to continually deploy the number of afloat Marine Expeditionary Forces that should be on station (at sea) in the various parts of the world.

      The Marines primary mission is to provide sea based (short duration) intervention forces capable of being inserted into a troubled area requiring U.S. Military presence and while there to sustain their presence.

      What the Nay needs is the budget for an adequate number of Amphibious Ships of the various types the Corps decides it wants and the budget for the necessary supporting ships such as CVA's and Destroyer type ships as necessary to provide the Marine Ground Forces (Infantry, etc.) ashore their required NGFS and Close Air Support (generally from their own VMFA Squadrons), etc.

      So what if the after USAAF, USN Aviation, the Marine Corps had the third largest Air Component in World War II. It's a bit of humor -- think about it for a minute.

    2. Cliff, be careful about budget claims. Recent budgets have not been absurdly low. Quite the opposite. They've been absurdly high. We are currently spending more than we ever have. Here's some historical DoD total budget figures inflation adjusted to 2011 dollars. The data is readily available in an Internet search.

      1960 $350B
      1970 $480B
      1980 $400B
      1990 $500B
      2000 $380B
      2010 $700B
      2016 $610B

      You can see we're spending more than during the Reagan buildup years! The DoD has plenty of money. The problem is they're not using it wisely.

      Of course, there are other ways to express the military spending (percent of GDP, for example, or per capita) that can try to make it look like we're not spending as much as we are but the raw dollars, inflation adjusted, are at record highs.

      The Navy does not need more money. Look through the archives. I've done posts on the staggering amount of money the Navy has, and is, wasting on highly questionable programs.

    3. Cliff
      I said nothing of marine air core in WW2.
      Im talking about today. September, 2016.
      The worlds 3rd largest airforce is the US Marine Air force.
      China and Russia come in well after the marines by aircraft fielded. China may pass the marines soon, but they've a while to go before catching the Navy and actual airforce.
      I know what the marine assault ships are. And, even with their limited capacity to host strike air craft vs a CVN, they're still larger, and field more naval aviation than anyone else's flat tops. Sorry mate. Thats just a fact.
      The marines also still haven't managed to build a beach assault craft. They're still running 40 year old machinery. Spending on another type of drone, which does ELINT, EW, strike, etc, just seems like another spend the marines shouldn't be doing.
      my 2 cents.

  7. The job of the Marine Corps, as instilled in me by Senior Drill Instructor Sgt. Sanky, was to locate, close with and destroy the enemy by fire and maneuver, or repel the enemy assault by fire and close combat.

    Granted this is the guiding principle of Marine Infantry, none the less, it should be the guidon that all Marine Corps decisions are measured against. It needs to be asked; does the action we propose enhance or take away from this basic tenet?

    If it doesn't, perhaps our chosen course of action should be revised.

    1. The job, as you and your DI have defined it is a bit simplistic. Well suited for recruit training but not applicable, as stated, in a force structure acquisition reference.

      As stated, it suggests that the Marines should acquire their own navy, air force, submarines, satellites, intel, balllistic missiles, and so forth. In other words, acquire all the capabilities that all the other service branches possess because all those capabilities may be needed to close with and destroy. The fiscal reallity, as I'm sure you know, is that the Marines and the country can't afford to duplicate all the military capabilities we possess for the Marine's benefit. We have separate services so that each can specialize and be available to support each other as needed. Or so the story goes. I know you know all this so forgive me for belaboring the obvious.

      The question, as posted, is whether duplicating an existing Air Force capability is a wise use of funding given all the other needs of the Corps?

    2. You also bring up the vital question of what the Marine Corps' job really is. At the low level (troops in contact), your DI's statement is fine. At the larger strategic and operational level the Marine's job is, or should be, to be the first responder to a crisis (military, not humanitarian) and the "seizer" of footholds for subsequent follow on forces. Thus, the Marines should be focused on immediate, high end intervention (requires armor and heavy artillery) and seizure of ports and landing areas. The Marines seem to have lost sight of that primary mission in favor of some sort of expeditionary air force, light infantry group to do ... well, I don't really know what they think they'll do.

      What do you think? Have the Marines lost sight of their primiary mission and do you think I've correctly summarized the primary role?

    3. Honestly, it is the guy on the ground with a rifle that responds to crisis, and seizes footholds. Every other capability from air, to armor, to support is but a tool to support the Infantry. With all due respect to your armor background, you can't seize shit with a tank. Sure you can blow it up and kill it, but you aren't going to keep it without a rifleman. The same applies to air, arty and support.

      I'm not suggesting that infantry is the end all be all (actually I am, ;), but at the end of the day, the job of any combined arms effort is to occupy terrain.

      To locate close with and destroy does sound like a recruiting slogan, but it also rings true going back to the beginning of time. Unless modern war is a new animal, it still applies today and will tomorrow against a peer adversary. The Corps used to be about winning battles, not wars.

      After tanks and air have kicked in the door for infantry to seize territory, we still need to repulse a counterattack. I have been under the impression this is what the Marine Corps does or at least was supposed to do.

      I agree that we need to get back to basics. This means reevaluating what programs we spend money on.

      I'm not sure how the F-35 fits in other than it serves as a replacement airframe for the harrier. Tiltrotor drones don't make sense, nor does a fancy missile truck Hercules.

      Programs like the 53K and the v22 make sense because they are evolutionary enhancements to old airframes that are worn out. The cobra upgrades also fall into this category.

      I rant....


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