Monday, October 2, 2017

Modern Day Marine 2016

In the course of researching other posts, I happened across Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Neller’s speech at the Modern Day Marine Exposition 2016 and it offered some interesting insights into his views of the future combat and the role the Marines will play in it (1).  Here are some of the highlights.  Rather than transcribe long passages, I’ve summarized most of the salient points.  If you want to hear the speech, you can follow the link below.

Neller astutely noted that recent enemies have had very little modern combat capability.  This seems like a “duh” moment but I call it an astute observation because so many people in and out of the military have come to believe that we’ve been fighting actual wars against valid opponents.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Nothing we’ve done the last couple decades has been remotely like a real war.  Sure, there has been the odd firefight but, for the most part, it’s basically been a live fire exercise.  This is not to take anything away from those who served and especially those who gave their lives.  However, there’s no getting around the reality that our opponents, while deadly, offered no real military opposition.  Any success they had was because we foolishly allowed it – but that’s a topic for another time.  Thus, I give Neller credit for recognizing the basic truth about the utter lack of military competency in our recent enemies. 

Neller went on to describe future combat which, according to him, would involve the electromagnetic spectrum, space, complex terrain / urban sprawl, coastal regions, dense population centers, and slums.  This is superficially likely but completely fails to enumerate the fundamental characteristics of future peer combat which include, on our enemy’s part, if not our own,

  • Wanton destruction
  • Profligate use of high explosive and cluster munitions far beyond all pre-war estimates
  • Complete disregard for collateral damage including civilian casualties
  • Focus on explosives over technology
  • Shocking willingness to sacrifice troops to achieve objectives
  • Heavy use of artillery and armored vehicles
  • Military barbarism on a scale we will have trouble believing

Thus, we see that Neller, while recognizing that we haven’t been militarily challenged and therefore need to prepare for more challenging combat, then fails to correctly anticipate what those challenges will actually be!  You can see from his list of future warfare characteristics that he’s still anticipating the kind of nation building, anti-insurgency warfare that we’ve been fighting.  Reread his list of characteristics and you’ll see the complete lack of high end combat references.

He then goes on to describe what he feels are the future domains (I hate buzzwords!) of combat and notes that there are six:

  • Air
  • Sea
  • Land
  • Cyber
  • Space
  • Information (public relations - PR)

Note that he’s added PR to the common domains.  This, yet again, demonstrates that he is fixated on fighting a low end battle and replaying the “hearts and minds” nation building that we’ve been doing for the last couple of decades.  This is all the more baffling given that there is absolutely no evidence that “hearts and minds” works!

Neller devoted a significant portion of his speech to the subject of winning the PR battle in various ways.

His lack of acceptance or recognition of the reality of high end combat can be summed up in this phrase in which he referred to how we will deal with enemies.

“… defeat the enemy, destroy them, if necessary …”

Again, this betrays a mindset that has not recognized and accepted the reality of the sheer brutality of peer warfare.  Destroy them “if necessary”????  That’s the only way to defeat an enemy!

Gen. Neller  - No Grasp of Peer Warfare

Neller referred to Gen. Krulak’s three block war and cited the three blocks as humanitarian assistance, counter insurgency, and training partner nations and added a fourth block, the public affairs officer.  Note that this is a slight modification of Krulak’s concept which contained full combat as one of the blocks.  Again, though, note the utter lack of reference to full combat and destruction of the enemy.  He appears to believe that future peer warfare will be a “hearts and mind” PR exercise with isolated bits of low end combat.

To sum up, Neller correctly recognizes that the US military, and Marines in particular, have not been facing militarily competent opponents and need to begin preparing for more challenging warfare but then goes on to describe an only somewhat higher end combat.  He betrays his utter lack of understanding of what a peer war will really be like.  Thus, the Marines are going to be unprepared for peer combat.  We already see this with the Marine’s and Neller’s focus on light infantry, mobility, and flexibility at the expense of firepower and armor.

We will relearn what peer warfare is like and will pay a bloody bill doing so.


(1) website, Modern Day Marine Exposition 2016, Commandant Gen. Neller speech,


  1. Information and media operations were pretty central to Russian plan of action in Ukraine. I think you misunderstand it's importance as a warfare domain.

    1. Oh I understand its importance. Not only that, I appear to grasp its usage and place in the scheme of military operations better than you!

      Media ops (I like your phrase!) gain in importance as the commitment to force-based victory decreases which means that its importance is inversely related to the combat spectrum - the lower the level of combat is on the spectrum, the more important media ops are. Conversely, the higher the level of combat, the less important the media ops are.

      Consider WWII as the ultimate high end of the combat spectrum. Media ops were relatively unimportant. We weren't, generally speaking, concerned with winning hearts and minds - we were strictly concerned with destroying the Axis military capability in the most violent and permanent manner possible.

      Now, consider Vietnam (or Afg or Iraq) as examples of the low end of the combat spectrum. In those, we weren't (still aren't) trying to achieve military victories by force of arms so media ops (hearts and minds and public opinion) become increasingly important.

      Having established that, let's now look at the place of media ops in military actions. Media ops are a national function. Our country tries to influence (or counter an enemy's influence) events, public perceptions, and international perceptions. As such, media ops function at a national level. The Marines (or Navy or Army or AF) have no business attempting to engage in media ops on their own. Media ops need to be planned and executed at a very high level and tied into national geopolitical goals in an overall coordinated fashion to ensure that a consistent approach is utilized and a consistent message is being broadcast.

      The Marines, of late, have been engaged in trying to become an all-encompassing military force in and of themselves. Hence, their misguided push to become a stand-alone air force, cyber force, land army, and now media operations force. The Marines have run amok in a bid for more and more budget and no one has stopped them. This is just plain inefficient, ineffective, and wrong.

      I'm confident that this explanation utterly negates your glib and inaccurate comment. The next time you think I don't understand something, remind yourself that you're wrong and, if you persist in thinking I don't understand something, try offering a constructive, informative, and educational explanation rather than a simplistic, useless, and unsupported claim that I'm wrong or don't understand something. Then, maybe, your comment will be useful and helpful.


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