Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Commandant Berger - Lunatic or Visionary?

Recently ascended Marine Corps Commandant Berger has issued some documents that state that he is going to radically change the Marine Corps’ path away from its traditional mode of operation.  Instead of massed combat power and amphibious assaults, Berger envisions small, dispersed units operating from forward bases and engaged in aviation and sea control.  We’ve discussed the details in a previous post (see, “Commandant’sGuidance”).

To briefly review some of the key points from the Commandant’s Guidance document, the Commandant …

  • has made clear that he is willing to eliminate legacy assets to achieve his modernization goals.
  • is advocating abandoning the long standing 38-ship amphibious fleet and 2 MEB lift requirement.
  • has made clear his intention to control and influence more of the naval side of things by assigning more Marine Corps forces to the Fleet and putting Marine Corps experts in the fleet Maritime Operations Centers.
  • recognizes that China is our main threat.
  • recognizes that our forward deployed forces lack the combat capability to deter our enemies and persist in a contested environment.
  • advocates for an extensive role in land based, forward deployed, sea control.
  • desires affordable and numerous amphibious vessels over a few exquisite, large amphibious ships.
  • wishes to explore absorbing traditional Navy functions such as coastal / riverine forces, naval construction forces, and mine countermeasure forces.
  • sees expeditionary bases as a foundation of future war.
  • strongly advocates dispersal of forces (distributed operations).
  • will eliminate all Marine Corps wargaming efforts except for the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory. (1, p.18)

Here’s the problem with all this: it’s one man’s opinion and it’s an opinion that is not backed up by much experience (the concepts, not his personal service record) or experimentation and he’s brooking no professional disagreement or diversity of thought.  It’s his way or the highway and alternative thinkers are not welcome.

If he’s correct about his vision and path then he’ll drag the Marines into a better future in one, sudden convulsion.  On the other hand, if he’s wrong he’ll set the Marines back for decades to come.

So, which is it?  Is he right or wrong?

Well, there’s only two ways to know.  One, is to have a war and see if he was right.  Two, is to conduct extensive wargame experimentation before implementation.  The problem with the first way, war, is obvious – if he’s wrong, it will be too late to change.  The problem with the second way is that he has already decided to fully commit without supporting evidence and experimentation and the experimentation he’s going to conduct is, without a doubt, going to be pre-determined.  He’s basically stated that.  He’s already determined that the experimentation will support his vision and all that’s left is to tweak the ‘how to implement’ issues around the periphery.

In short, the Commandant is Adm. Rickover but with even more power.  He has the vision and everyone else can shut up and join him or leave the service.

There is much to like about the Commandant’s vision but there is also much to question.  As a general statement, I like his recognition of the current problems.  He has a much clearer grasp of the problems than any of his predecessors.  What I have trouble with is his general solution which is to embrace distributed, penny packet, expeditionary forces.  It is very difficult to see how scattered, small units and fantasy expeditionary bases are going to defeat a peer enemy.  Honestly, it seems like this is a budget grab and an attempt to remain relevant in a Chinese/Pacific war.

Let’s look a bit closer at a few of the specific issues that are questionable.

I don’t have any particular problem in abandoning the traditional big deck, amphibious fleet since I’ve stated repeatedly that I don’t see any strategic or operational need for amphibious assaults in any reasonable scenario.  While I agree with the movement away from large amphibious fleets, I completely disagree with where the Marine’s redirected emphasis seems to be going which is towards distributed, small units.  I’ve repeatedly posted about the folly of small units in a peer war so I won’t belabor it further, here.

Berger wants to eliminate legacy systems that have little or no “demand signal”. (1, p.15)  The flaw in this logic is that many (most?) high end, peer war systems have no “demand signal” outside of actual war.  A system or asset may be of no use in the peacetime, low threat operations and conflicts we typically engage in but might be critically important in a high end, peer war.  To eliminate those systems based on lack of ‘demand signal’ is potentially foolhardy and shortsighted.

There is a strong sense that Berger will ruthlessly eliminate any alternative thinking or disagreement.  For example, the elimination of all forms of wargaming other than the single Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory is troubling in that it certainly seems as if the intention is to stifle alternative thinking, experimentation , and dissent.  This single, strictly controlled wargame effort suggests that outcomes will be pre-ordained to support his theories and philosophies.

He essentially says that all communications must strictly adhere to his published decrees.  As he flatly states,

We must communicate with precision and consistency, based on a common focus and a unified message. (1)

I interpret this to mean that no alternative thinking or discussion will be allowed.  While I recognize the importance of unity and focus of effort, there is a very fine line between unity and suppression of thought.  If Berger’s approach is wrong, who will speak out? 

The Commandant has made clear that he is intent on injecting the Marines into the Navy’s business.  The Marines have recently been telling the Navy how to design ships, what type of ships are needed, and how to fight and it appears that Berger intends to not only continue this trend but formalize it by inserting Marine officers into the Navy command structure where and when he can.  The only thing more disturbing than this trend is the Navy’s apparent acquiescence to it.  Further, Berger’s comments about absorbing Navy functions into the Corps is worrisome in the extreme and, again, smacks of empire building.

Berger strongly supports forward, dispersed, expeditionary forces and bases.  This is a very questionable approach, as we’ve discussed in previous posts.  This concerns me more than anything else because it is the foundation of how the Marines will structure their forces and how they will fight.  If this is wrong – and I believe it is – then the entire Marine Corps is wrong.  This ties back to the wargaming and free discussion, both of which appear as if they will be rigidly controlled and regulated.  Without any alternative thinking, erroneous approaches become impossible to correct and this is the path I fear the Marines are headed down.

To summarize and repeat, there is much to like about the Commandant’s guidance but also much to be concerned about.  If Berger is right, the Marines have a bright future but if he is wrong the Marines are in for decades of problems and irrelevancy in a war.  The check and balance on this kind of revolutionary change in approach should be free and open wargaming and discussion but Berger seems determined to eliminate any dissenting voices.  This is extremely worrisome.



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(1)“Commandant’s Planning Guidance, 38th Commandant of the Marine Corps”, General David H. Berger, Issued July 2019

72 comments:

  1. Is it possible that Berger wants the Marines to do more "Navy stuff" because he knows the Navy is completely failing at its job and won't wake up anytime soon?

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    Replies
    1. Perhaps, however, one can make a very good argument (and I've done it on this blog) that the Marines are completely failing at their job and won't wake up anytime soon. That being the case, wouldn't the Commandant be better to stick to fixing his own house before he tries to tell the rest of the Armed Forces how to do their jobs?

      Just a very brief list of Marine problems:

      -They have no mobile anti-air capability
      -They have no viable means to get ashore from 50 miles out as their own doctrine calls for
      -They have no initial assault armor/tanks
      -They've forgotten how to conduct amphibious assaults
      -Their new ACV is barely an improvement over the WWII LVT

      That's a pretty good list of problems that Berger should be focusing on before he starts fixing the Navy.

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    2. Can I add to your list - my points are for high end warfare, not budget wasting expeditions against illiterate goat herders…

       Outdated division/regimental structure that does not match up well with more flexible brigade structures adopted by allies and adversaries around the world - that is everybody else.
       Blind dogged adherence to conventional infantry centric warfare concepts disproven in WWI, even though allies and adversaries around the world - that is everybody else, have long embraced maneuver warfare. Seriously the bulk of German, Russian, Taiwanese, Japanese, etc. infantry is *mechanized/motorized infantry*, not conventional infantry. Competent infantry units can be created from scratch in 3-6 months, if we are trying to support NATO, Taiwan, Japan, India, etc. with infantry instead of powerful mechanized forces, then we have failed from conception.
       Failure to embrace joint warfare, e.g. insistence on inflexible, and inefficient fire support concepts like demanding dedicated air and artillery support. Why exactly does the USMC need a 3rd air force?
       100% operational deficiencies in artillery due to a rigid insistence on towed artillery that will be located and annihilated by enemy counterbattery fire within 30 seconds of firing their first round.
       Continuing to provide embassy guards instead of securing USN installations. It is great duty, but: 1) U.S. embassy security is a responsibility of the host nation (The DoS RSO is responsible for the ambassador and mission personnel) 2) most U.S. embassies do not have marine guards, and 3) when embassies are assigned marines the grunts work for the RSO…

      Just a start!

      GAB

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    3. "Can I add to your list …"

      I guess the Commandant has his hands full ! Which begs the question, why is he trying to expand into the Navy's realm? The only obvious answer is budget grabbing. Perhaps you have an alternate theory?

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    4. No crystal balls here, but if the Corps wants to be relevant in a high intensity conflict it probably ought to think how it can fight in a world filled with tank and motor rifle brigades (or the equivalent). Time to reconsider Tukhachevsky, JFC Fuller, Guderian et al..

      GAB

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    5. Here's an alternate theory:

      He realises the USMC has no serious role to play in a (near) peer war. He also realises that at this point it is pointless to try and remedy that. But he can't say it out loud. So he needs to find a new niche for the marines.

      I think he's deliberately moving the USMC further away from a force capable of peer warfare. I believe he's going to let the other branches bother about war against a peer opponent while he's setting up the marines to fight the 'other' kinds of wars, like the ones the US is currently fighting or involved in.

      Those wars require mostly smaller groups of combat troops, typically of a 'special operator' kind, supported by some regular type forces. I wouldn't be surprised if he wants to absorb all those roles and make the USMC the de-facto force and command structure to fight those wars.

      You've wondered before in earlier posts what marines were doing in places like Syria. What if that is exactly the kind of future he sees for the USMC?

      R.

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    6. GAB said,

      "Outdated division/regimental structure that does not match up well with more flexible brigade structures adopted by allies and adversaries around the world - that is everybody else."

      Operationally, the Marine MEU isn't that far from what the Russians are doing with their Battalion Tactical Groups (BTGs). Only replace heavy reliance on artillery and MLRS with airpower.

      They probably could recover significant personnel if they ditch the division, but the Army started down this path and has walked it back a bit.

      " Blind dogged adherence to conventional infantry centric warfare concepts disproven in WWI, even though allies and adversaries around the world - that is everybody else, have long embraced maneuver warfare. Seriously the bulk of German, Russian, Taiwanese, Japanese, etc. infantry is *mechanized/motorized infantry*, not conventional infantry. "

      The MAGTF is a hybrid. It has some "mechanize-able" and some leg/airmobile infantry. I think this fits well with the perceived missions of the MEU, even if it doesn't work as well when used in MCOs as a surrogate Army force (e.g. OIF).

      Looking to an MCO in the Pacific, would fully mechanized units really be the right way to go? I'm thinking of Pacific island warfare. Some islands are more conducive to mechanized combat than others. Honestly, tracked vehicles may be preferable in many areas, due to difficult terrain and heavy vegetation.

      " Failure to embrace joint warfare, e.g. insistence on inflexible, and inefficient fire support concepts like demanding dedicated air and artillery support. Why exactly does the USMC need a 3rd air force?"

      I sympathize with this idea. As a general rule, don't penny packet airpower. On the other hand, going back to the MEU/MAGTF CONOPS, I do see value in having organic airpower when the MEU operates independently.

      " 100% operational deficiencies in artillery due to a rigid insistence on towed artillery that will be located and annihilated by enemy counterbattery fire within 30 seconds of firing their first round."

      This also appears to be the result of the MAGTF's hybridization between mechanized and leg/airmobile infantry. M777s are movable by V-22 or CH-53.

      It would be nice to have a long-range 105mm artillery turret (e.g. the LAV III G7 demonstrator) for the ACV that could swim ashore and move with the assault element. A simpler, shorter range 120mm mortar may be in the cards.

      ---------------

      Maybe the Marines should just leave operations above battalion to the Army.

      The Army could convert a few IBCTs into fully mechanized, amphibious, ACV-equipped BCTs, that could still be used like a "heavy" SBCT. Let them worry about the major amphibious assault. Bulk lift could come from cheap n cheerful LSTs, or commercial conversions that support launch and recovery of ACVs (modified JHSV?).

      Delete
    7. Anon2November 14, 2019 at 5:46 AM

      GAB said,

      Anon2: "… the Marine MEU isn't that far from what the Russians are doing with their Battalion Tactical Groups (BTGs).”

      No – the Russians (and Chinese) remain wedded to Tank and motor rifle brigades for the regular army formations. BTGs are unique formations for the Ukraine – even then, the BTGs have heavier AFV components than deployed with a MEU; look to CSIS, the Potomac Institute and other current (post 2010) sources.

      Anon2: "The MAGTF is a hybrid…”

      Marines do not train to operate in combined arms teams and cannot perform the mechanized infantry role. The USMC remains wedded to vertical envelopment and infantry centric warfare, in fact, it has systematically divested itself of armor, SP artillery compared to the Vietnam era Corps.

      “Looking to an MCO in the Pacific, would fully mechanized units really be the right way to go?”

      The Chinese, Japanese and Taiwanese armies have little conventional infantry as a percentage of their force; a pretty good indication of what they see as the way ahead.

      Anon2: "I do see value in having organic airpower…”

      Confusing organization with operational concept.

      Anon2: "M777s are movable by V-22 or CH-53.”

      The effectiveness of counterbattery radar, the profusion of counterbattery weapons (BM-21, 9K58, etc.), and datalinks means that friendly artillery must move, immediately after firing a mission or be subject to destructive counterbattery fire (shoot and scoot) – towed systems, even supported by aircraft, cannot move for some time after firing, are vulnerable. Conventional mortars are even more vulnerable – anyone who has dug out a mortar base plate gets this.

      Anon2: “It would be nice to have a long-range 105mm artillery turret (e.g. the LAV III G7 demonstrator) for the ACV that could swim ashore and move with the assault element. A simpler, shorter range 120mm mortar may be in the cards.”

      These systems, while useful, are grossly inadequate compared to the firepower available to a tank or motor rifle brigade. The venerable 2S1 outranged NATO 105mm systems and the modern Russian 2S35 52mm systems similarly outrange their western counterparts and have advanced submunition capabilities not in western arsenals.

      GAB

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    8. "Here's an alternate theory:"

      That's a fascinating perspective. Of course, if it was true, it's the kind of thing that should be decided and implemented from and through the SecDef, not a unilateral decision by one guy in one service since, if true, it hugely impacts the entire military and the country.

      Still, it's plausible. I don't think that's what he's doing, at least not intentionally, but the end result may be the same regardless of intent.

      Really nice comment and some really good alternate thinking on your part. I look forward to more comments from you!

      Delete
    9. GAB said,

      "These systems, while useful, are grossly inadequate compared to the firepower available to a tank or motor rifle brigade. The venerable 2S1 outranged NATO 105mm systems and the modern Russian 2S35 52mm systems similarly outrange their western counterparts and have advanced submunition capabilities not in western arsenals."

      The 105mm Denel G7 demonstrated a range of 30km with base bleed projectiles. That's better than the 2S1. Obviously long-barrel 155mm guns fire further, but one could create an extended range 105mm round (VLAP, RA, missile).

      I suggested 105mm because I have a feeling a 155mm SPH turret on an amphibious ACV might be too much.

      Also, with the trend away from DPICM, smaller 105mm guns may prove valuable for their HE.

      Plus, the MAGTF also has access to HIMARs, which soon could have 150km-200km GMLRS-ER and 500km LRPF.

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    10. "MAGTF also has access to HIMARs"

      For established, well supplied, ground combat, yes. For amphibious assault scenarios, how does the HIMARS (or tanks or any other heavy equipment) get ashore in time to be useful? This is the weakness of the Marine assault concept. They have tanks and artillery and heavy equipment but no way to get them ashore until the assault site is secured at which point they don't really need them!

      Doctrinally, both the Navy and Marines have ruled out LCACs for use until the assault site is secured and 'safe'. LCACs are relegated to follow on supply.

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    11. "105mm Denel G7"

      Fascinating vehicle. I'm not a land combat person so I took some time to read about it. Sounds like an effective weapon. Thanks for the reference.

      Delete
    12. "For established, well supplied, ground combat, yes. For amphibious assault scenarios, how does the HIMARS (or tanks or any other heavy equipment) get ashore in time to be useful? "

      HIMARS can fire from the decks of amphibious ships or other vessels, before going ashore.

      It's not something that would go in the initial waves anyway.

      Delete
    13. Anon2: “Looking to an MCO in the Pacific, would fully mechanized units really be the right way to go?”
      GAB: "The Chinese, Japanese and Taiwanese armies have little conventional infantry as a percentage of their force; a pretty good indication of what they see as the way ahead."

      China has a mainland Army. Japan and Taiwan have large islands.

      We have a pretty large Army with a significant percentage of it mechanized. Do the Marines need to replicate this?

      Anon2: "I do see value in having organic airpower…”
      GAB: "Confusing organization with operational concept."

      Is it? The operating concept of flexible, dispersed, forward-deployed ESGs benefits from having fighter aircraft in their organization.

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    14. "HIMARS can fire from the decks of amphibious ships"

      Not in any effective way. The single test that was done was performed under perfect conditions of flat calm sea and almost no ship movement (little or no wake visible indicating the ship was stationary or moving at just a couple knots). Aside from the statement that the rocket hit the target, I have no idea what that means in terms of actual accuracy. Military definitions of 'hit the target' during tests are not exactly what you and I would always consider hitting the target. I've seen no indication what type of rocket was used (M26/M30). A guided rocket could, indeed, hit a target from a ship if the initial target GPS coordinates are known. Of course, this is often not the case in combat.

      HIMARS fires 6 rockets or 1 ATACMS. The rockets, depending on type, have a range of 20-30 miles or so which, compared to the Navy's doctrine of 25-50 miles standoff puts the HIMARS out of range or just barely in. ATACMS, of course, has sufficient range.

      Reloads are a problem. A one-time firing of 6 rockets or 1 ATACMS borders on pointless in combat. What's required to be effective in combat is sustained firing. There is no provision for sustained firing on a ship. While one could, theoretically, load up a ship's flight deck with reloads and the requisite equipment, this would render the flight deck out of operation for helos which, given the Marine's dependence on helos for transport and resupply, would be a major problem.

      I just don't see this as being any more than a PR stunt. Unless we want to devote an amphibious ship to nothing but this, I don't see any practical, effective combat use for this.

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    15. GMLRS-ER will soon reach at least 93 miles, possibly up to 124 miles.

      Guidance of all weapons makes ship movements less of a problem, but, granted there are still limits.

      Do we even fire non-guided MLRS rockets anymore?

      Using a commercial vessel sidesteps the problem of taking up flight deck space.

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    16. "Using a commercial vessel sidesteps the problem of taking up flight deck space."

      And there's the key! Instead of trying to cobble together some ad hoc, limited effectiveness solution with lots of drawbacks, let's assemble a custom made solution. It doesn't have to (absolutely shouldn't be!) a typical gold-plated Navy solution. It can be just what you suggested - a cheap, commercial ship with open, flat deck space. Add a magazine for LOTS of rounds and an elevator system (not the Fords!) of some sort to move the rounds to the deck and you've got a pretty good solution. Even better would be to turn the HIMARS launcher mechanism into a trainable box launcher like the old ASROC or Sea Sparrow and have an automated reload capability. That would cost a bit more money but you'd get hugely improved speed and efficiency.

      "Do we even fire non-guided MLRS rockets anymore?"

      I have no idea. You'd have to ask a land combat guy. However, the guided rounds are GPS/INS and no one expects GPS to function in a peer war so we'll be firing only semi-guided rounds using INS. I have no idea how accurate INS is over 20+ mile distances.

      "GMLRS-ER will soon reach at least 93 miles, possibly up to 124 miles. "

      I don't follow Army matters so I have no idea whether that's an accurate statement or not but I would remind you about all the "soon" claims the Navy has made for the LCS, Zumwalt, AGS/LRLAP, EMALS, AAG, weapon elevators, and on and on. Maybe that weapon will work as claimed and maybe it won't. Most weapon claims don't pan out, at least not initially. So, take it with a huge grain of salt.

      Specifically, recall the Navy's AGS/LRLAP rocket: 70-100 miles with nanometer precision. Except that, in addition to costing a million dollars apiece, it didn't come anywhere near the range or accuracy that was claimed. The LRLAP was cancelled partly for cost but also because it simply couldn't do what was claimed.

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    17. On my alternate theory, I see I left out a single word in my previous comment which is fairly important: hypothetical.

      "I think he's deliberately moving the USMC further away from a force capable of peer warfare. I believe he's going to let the other branches bother about HYPOTHETICAL war against a peer opponent while he's setting up the marines to fight the 'other' kinds of wars, like the ones the US is currently fighting or involved in."

      Peer wars are hypothetical, maybe one will come along, maybe not, while the small wars are here and unlikely to go away soon. They are close to a certainty, and you need a different kind of force to fight those compared to peer warfare.

      The marines originated to perform a very specific form of warfare. Most of the elements associated with it (large scale amphibious landings for example) have become obsolete. Given that the marines have always been a niche force, and one that's now looking for a raison d'etre, it makes sense in an existential way that they're looking for a new niche, a new legitimacy.

      If one is willing to concede that the USMC is no longer capable to perform its original role, and that the original role itself has become obsolete, then by default so has the USMC. Unless they find a new role, and not just any role, but one large enough to justify their current budget slice, and preferably an even bigger one.

      My personal expertise is in organisational theory and I can tell you that just about all organisations (>99.9%) share the same two goals, irrespective of mission statements or formal goals.

      First, they all want to survive (the organisation, which is NOT the same as the people in it!). Second, they want to grow (in power, as that allows the organisation to have greater control over its environment and thereby increase their chance of survival).

      Everything else is secondary.

      So the organisation that is the USMC will be looking for ways to survive (which usually isn't consciously or directly controlled by any single person or group of individuals in an organisation, it just happens in all of them) and to find ways to make that more likely, in an environment where their old niche is obsolete, and where people are starting to take notice of that fact.

      I think Berger realises that the USMC is facing an existential crisis and that his decision making is to a large degree determined (subconsciously perhaps) by organisational survival instincts.

      R.

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    18. "Most weapon claims don't pan out, at least not initially. So, take it with a huge grain of salt."

      The initial test reached 70 miles. The second test is expected to reach 86 miles.

      https://www.army.mil/article/207357/tail_controlled_rocket_demonstrates_near_vertical_impact_at_extended_range

      I believe all they did was move the control surfaces from the nose to the tail.

      This is not a wunder-weapon like AGS/LRLAP.

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    19. "I believe he's going to let the other branches bother about HYPOTHETICAL war against a peer opponent"

      An interesting extension of your original comment.

      A few things about 'hypothetical':

      1. It's not hypothetical. Historically, it's inevitable with 100% certainty. What's different is the frequency. Peer wars are less frequent than the lesser wars but they occur with absolute 100% certainty.

      2. With the first point in mind, the main responsibility of the military is to defend our country in peer wars. Fighting lesser wars, while sometimes necessary (far too often, the degree of necessity is highly debatable!), is a subset of the main responsibility. Each service, therefore, has as its main responsibility, to be prepared to fight a peer war.

      With the above thoughts in mind, Berger is betraying his trust and responsibility IF your theory is correct. Now, a valid argument could be made that a dedicated, lower threat force should be fielded to deal with the less conflicts but, at the risk of repeating myself, that is a decision that should be made at a much higher level than Berger and should be made with the understanding and agreement of all the services.

      Also, if Berger is positioning the Marines to be the less conflict force, why does he need F-35s which are very much a high end asset? To be fair, he wasn't the one who decided to acquire F-35s and he hasn't been in power long enough to drastically reshape the Corps, yet.

      We'll see what weapon systems he emphasizes and which he eliminates. That will tell us whether he's positioning for a less conflict role or just budget grabbing.

      Again, excellent comment.

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    20. "It's not hypothetical. Historically, it's inevitable with 100% certainty. What's different is the frequency. Peer wars are less frequent than the lesser wars but they occur with absolute 100% certainty."

      True, but how long has it been since there has been a real peer war between major powers? Given the destructive power and the vulnerability of modern societies such a war has become effectively suicidal. MAD is no longer limited to nuclear exchanges. To be clear, when I say suicidal, I don't mean the utter destruction and death of all, or even a majority of the people. I'm talking about suicide for the existing modern society. Just imagine what would happen to a modern society if they have little or no electricity for a few weeks or months.

      You can argue that unless both sides are willing to engage in only limited war and are willing to accept a limited victory if one side yields, peer to peer war will likely escalate to an existential war where entire societies as we now know them will cease to exist.

      So even if such a war will take place at some point, the odds of it happening soon are low (because MAD), while the odds of small wars taking place in the near future (or continuing to take place) are close to 100%.

      In my theory, the USMC needs to justify its continued existence in the SHORT run, and reestablishing peer to peer war capability doesn't do that. Optimising for small wars does.

      "2. With the first point in mind, the main responsibility of the military is to defend our country"

      Yes, but that is not its first goal. It is a distant third goal.
      Its first goal is its own survival and the second is to become more powerful. This also applies to different groups within the armed forces that see and define themselves as separate organisations.

      They typically rationalise this through the argument that if they don't fulfil goals one and two they can't succeed in goal three. The problem is that they will fulfil the first two goals even at the expense of goal three (defending the country). A good example is the never ending budget wars in the Pentagon. As technology changes so does the relevancy of legacy military systems, but acknowledging so will affect the existing budget balances between the branches. They are all afraid it will negatively affect their branch (and strengthen others) and that they'll lose a portion of their cut so they all desperately hold on to outdated ideas and concepts (which is different from technological innovations) to justify existing budget slices. Budget fears originate in the organisational survival instincts of the different branches and it paralyses (to some degree at least) them, reducing their ability to defend their country.

      If defending the country truly was their first goal, why do they have these ridiculous budget wars all the time? The answer is, it isn't.

      "why does he need F-35s which are very much a high end asset?"

      It's not as much about the assets he wants or keeps but the roles he envisions for them. The small wars still rely on massive (but highly concentrated) firepower. Having some assets capable of that 'in house' would make sense if he's setting the marines up as to take the lead in small wars.

      I think the relevant questions you need to ask yourself are these:

      1. Is the USMC capable of fulfilling its original role?
      2. If not, can they reacquire that capability?
      3. Are they currently relevant in another role as part of peer warfare?
      4. Do the actual capabilities they have now, either in peer warfare or small wars, justify their current budget?

      If the answer to all of those is no, the USMC has a huge existential problem which leads to the next questions

      5. is there a new role that makes them relevant as part of the US armed forces (not necessarily against peers)
      6. if not, what's the point of keeping them (as a separate branch)?

      R.

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    21. “Russian indirect fire capabilities today are superior to those of the United States. Comparing conventional artillery systems, the Russians not only outrange the United States, but can also fire at a greater rate. The capability gap between American and Russian rocket artillery is smaller than between conventional artillery, but Russian advantages in range and types of munitions outweigh the U.S. precision advantage.” CSIS report - https://www.csis.org/analysis/army-modernization-imperative


      Anon2: "Also, with the trend away from DPICM, smaller 105mm guns may prove valuable for their HE.”

      1. Stop with the 105mm, almost every army on the globe has standardized on tube artillery in 15cm (155mm or 152mm) caliber for good reasons. 105mm is far below that standard and is generally reserved for airborne and airmobile forces.

      2. There is no trend away from cluster munitions in Russia or China: these nations have advanced the technology substantially beyond U.S./NATO systems, which are still based in Cold War technology from the 1980s.

      3. Base bleed reduces the amount of HE and therefore fragmentation effect. BTW Russian 2S35 152mm systems have 80km range – the Russians play the base bleed/rocket assisted projectile game too, and to better effect.

      4. 155mm projectiles are significantly more destructive than 105mm projectiles. An M760 105mm HE projectile has about 2 kg of explosive, An M795155mm HE projectile has about 10 kg of explosive (~10 times more). 15cm systems are likewise *much* more effective at carrying submunitions.

      Anon2: “Plus, the MAGTF also has access to HIMARs, which soon could have 150km-200km GMLRS-ER and 500km LRPF.”

      1. MEUs and MEBs are *not* organized, nor are they logistically capable of effectively employing MLRS /HIMARS effectively in high intensity combat. Wasting $500-$750K per round on goat herders sure, but MEUS and MEBs lack the targeting assets necessary to fire 150km behind the FEBA, and they cannot control artillery batallion level fires.

      2. LRLPF are development systems; the Russians, Chinese, and NKoreans have fielded successions of longer ranged systems for decades in 220mm 300mm, and larger systems.

      GAB

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    22. GAB, my concern was trying to fit a 155mm on an ACV in a swimmable configuration.

      It may be doable, with some restrictions. BAE did build the M777 Portee using a Supacat, though this design is less SPH and more a semi-integrated, towed gun.

      There was also NLOS-C, which put a 155mm gun on a 27t chassis. This might have significant CoG problems on a swimming vehicle though.

      Of course if swimming isn't a requirement, the Marines could just use the latest M109A7.

      BTW, I would take the 2S35's 80km range with a grain of salt. This requires a specialized guided munition that I seriously doubt the Russians have fielded in any quantity. Most often, they will still use unguided munitions, with a ~40km max range.



      Delete
    23. R said, "6. if not, what's the point of keeping them (as a separate branch)?"

      The Marines have always been in a state of existential crisis. The problem is, there really isn't a great rationale for them to be a separate service. This was always more of a political decision.

      They really should be part of the Army.

      Delete
    24. Anon2: “I would take the 2S35's 80km range with a grain of salt. This requires a specialized guided munition that I seriously doubt the Russians have fielded in any quantity. Most often, they will still use unguided munitions, with a ~40km max range.”

      Believe what you want, the Russians are many things but not stupid; they place a premium on the artillery, and have demonstrated superiority quantity and quality of individual weapon systems (but not always key supporting communications, application of fire, and organization) since WWII.

      GAB

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    25. If the Ukraine reports and lessons are to be believed, the Russians have demonstrated an impressive ability to shorten the lag time between target detection (often comm signal location and/or drones) and artillery impact on target. I wonder how we are at that?

      Delete
    26. CNO, I recall a USA general briefing claiming that the army had executed actual counter-battery fire missions where U.S. artillery had rounds in flight before the Iraqis or Taliban rounds impacted their target.

      Obviously, there are a lot of variables at play, and I can recall a few personal instances in Iraq where there was zero warning before AQI rounds impacted.

      All of this highlights the need for self-propelled artillery, and logistics vehicles, that can fire and move as soon as the round clears the barrel. Towed artillery can literally bury itself and takes too long to move. We should question the survivability of large caliber mortars that are not self-propelled.

      GAB

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  2. "-They have no mobile anti-air capability"

    They really should invest in the NASAMS system it seems a good gap filler between a MANPAD and nothing. A lot of the other list items can maybe be ignored because the plan seems to be abandoning contested Assaults anyway. But those isolated outposts are going to need more than a case of Stingers no matter if you storm the beaches or set them up ahead of time.

    ---

    "will eliminate all Marine Corps wargaming efforts except for the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory"

    Seems like an awful ideal in any possible case. Games can't cost that much and are a vital and critical tool.

    "wishes to explore absorbing traditional Navy functions such as coastal / riverine forces, naval construction forces, and mine countermeasure forces."

    Could work or be a budget grab. Considering how much the navy hates those roles it might good. If the USMC was committed to the jobs and backed that with well run spending and training they certainly could not do worse.

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  3. The elimination of wargaming seems odd, even slightly bizarre!! Whats the purpose here? To save money?? At what level is this meant?? What are the Marines going to do day to day?? Just PT?? Is all training just classroom time now? How do we teach and train and learn if not by doing???

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  4. Maybe this "dispersed light force" mentality is a realization/reaction to the fact that the amphibious assault misssion is dead?? Between the far-offshore doctrine, lack of NGFS, the Corps' shedding of armor, the serious potential lack of the Navys ability to properly support such an operation, and a sprinkling of Guadalcanal syndrome, this seems like a headstrong effort of one man to keep the Corps relevant...

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  5. "even slightly bizarre!!"

    or potentially suicidal. Since Midway is at the Cinema Its hard to not consider that the Japanese failure or at least very not an easy fight was heavy predicted by the planning wargames. Games Yamamoto continually edited or altered until his more less utterly stupid steaming failure of a plan came out successful.

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    1. Which plan? The one for Midway?
      There's a couple of points to be made.

      1. His plan did not factor in a crucial factor - the US had cracked all the Japanese encryption codes and were forewarned. His plan was to essentially draw the US Pacific Fleet into a trap to defend Midway. Because Nimitz actually knew what Yamamoto was planning, he flipped the script and created a trap for the Japanese fleet. His plan was based on the false but understandable assumption that all his moves weren't being read by his enemies.

      2. Midway was a fairly close run thing. It turned on a few crucial decisions made by Nagumo, and by his failure to preform appropriate recon. He didn't send enough scout flights out prior to the battle, which ran against basic Japanese naval doctrine at the time. He also made the decision to launch counter strikes at exactly the wrong time (more forgivable given the situation, it was a tough call and he made the wrong one).

      If a Nagumo had made a couple of different decisions, the battle could have been very different.

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  6. Gen. Berger is afraid if big-amphib goes away, CNO (and AF folks) gonna take that money and split it between them. So his method is to ask the Navy to scoot over and make some room for the Marines as additional Navy. It's a budget fight.

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  7. Off-topic but interesting. More F-35 ALIS drama...

    https://www.defensenews.com/naval/2019/11/14/the-pentagons-plan-to-save-the-f-35s-automated-logistics-system-is-hitting-roadblocks-over-proprietary-data-rights/fbclid=IwAR1b42Z8jwwCMsfYiKheVQ1VfKSehNpR4y5-5k5SAcgp47vzSj0OkMr_c3M

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  8. ESGs routinely split up sometimes even among different CoComs. When real wars pop up Marines right as Regimental Combat Teams anyway. It makes sense for the Marines to seek new concepts.

    MEUs don't have much of a place in peer wars anyway.

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  9. Starting with their misemployment in I Corps in Vietnam, the Marines have morphed—or been morphed—into more of a permanent, ground holding and occupying force. It seems to me that they are better focused as an in-and-out, quick strike force—go in, take over an area, turn it over to the army to hold if necessary, and move on. That requires some amphib ships as well as other platforms for smaller forces—smaller surface combatants, submarines, aircraft, helos.

    The Royal Marines were facing extinction for budgetary reasons, and they reinvented themselves as a commando special forces unit. That worked pretty well in the Falklands. I could see something like that making sense for our Marines.

    Chuck Schumer, among others, has written about the need for a much larger special forces component, and his book sort of hints that maybe it should go up to 150,000. Perhaps it would make sense to consolidate that in the USMC. Let the army and the air force focus on conventional warfare and make the Marines the primary asymmetric, special forces, and commando force. Keep the SEALs and Green Berets, but coordinate them with the USMC for operations. We need a much better strategic and tactical approach to asymmetric warfare. Let the Marines develop that. They, along with Andrew Higgins, did a pretty good job of developing our approach to amphibious warfare a few decades ago.

    Obviously, none of this should happen until the concepts have been fleshed out, tested virtually in war games, and tested with boots on the ground execution. The apparent closed-mindedness of Commandant Berger is very disturbing, but I think at least some of his bullet points would be part of the kind of Marine Corps that I am envisioning here.

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    1. CDR, I am a retired SEAL officer and I am not following your argument; you seem to be advocating for the USMC to take over SOCOM’s responsibilities without identifying the specific issue with SOCOM, which works really well by the way.

      This smacks of screwing up a working SOCOM, just to give the marines a reason for the USMC to exist. This akin to breaking up the Navy and handing its role of to the USCG and border patrol, only worse because you are going to effectively disrupt all of the services and law enforcement and the intelligence community.

      Remember that SOCOM was created because the services repeatedly screwed up, particularly the USMC (Desert One, the Mayaguez fiasco, etc.); why should the nation return any control of SOCOM function to the USMC?

      You seem to ignore the USAF role in SOCOM, which is huge, but often overlooked by people who do not understand what SOCOM is and how its components actually function. The USMC cannot perform any of the USAF functions, which include RDT&E – it would take a generation to recreate this in the Marines, while depriving the nation of deep air insertion and extraction of SOCOM *and* other National Special Mission Units.

      SOF do not grow on trees – they come from the conventional forces; as General Pete Schoomaker emphatically stated, the USA was not large enough to support more green beanies, a larger Delta, a bigger TF 160, or more Rangers without either weakening the Army, or reducing the quality of USASOC.

      I totally agree with General Schoomaker and note that you cannot just recruit more bodies off the street, or throw more money at SOCOM to create more SOF. The issue with more SOF is rooted in insufficient capacity in the intelligence community, and to many conventional force mission being pushed onto SOCOM.

      GAB

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    2. GAB

      I don't have a problem with how SOCOM works, and I don't claim this is the only answer. I'm floating ideas, and I appreciate your comments. What I'm trying to do is to separate the conventional force missions from SOCOM missions. The Marines' problems with SOCOM missions in the past have largely been that they were trying to be conventional forces while trying to do SOCOM things.

      Desert One had no chance from the start. Te result we got was probably the most fortunate possible outcome. I call that a planning issue, or maybe a direction from the top issue, not an execution one. I also think the Mayaguez incident suffered from too much intervention from the top. That is based on conversations with participants.

      I am not proposing ending any Army, Navy, or Air Force SOCOM components. I am trying to come up with a way to make SOCOM forces more independent and get rid of the pushing of conventional force missions upon them. I also think we need more numbers dedicated to the special operations area. If my idea is a bad one, perhaps you have a better way to do it.

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    3. @CDR Chip: "Desert One had no chance from the start."
      The ground assault plan for Operation Eagle Claw was very good and feasible, the problem was the conventional force aviation support.

      @CDR Chip: “ I am trying to come up with a way to make SOCOM forces more independent and get rid of the pushing of conventional force missions upon them. I also think we need more numbers dedicated to the special operations area.”

      I think we actually need to trim the size of SOCOM: I am more concerned about the lack of NSMs for the intelligence community, some of which are being filled by SOF, a role that active duty military should have limited play in for many reasons.

      The conventionalization of SOF is an issue of restraint, not an issue of too few SOF.

      None of this addresses USMC issues.

      GAB

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    4. Agree that the problem with Eagle Claw was the aviation part. But the aviation part wasn't doable. Suppose you get to Teheran, find the hostages, get them loaded on the helos, all that stuff works perfectly as planned. Then what?

      I think I may have been too imprecise in some of my language and that may have caused some misunderstanding. I'm not advocating getting rid of Green Berets, Rangers, SEALs, or Air Force special forces, or merging them into the USMC. I'm just thinking we need to disaggregate special operations from conventional warfighting.

      I think we need a significant portion of our military to focus on conventional warfighting, but also a dedicated force to handle the unconventional stuff. We have been horrible at asymmetric warfare, at least since Westmoreland tried to fight Vietnam as a conventional engagement. We have Marines in Afghanistan occupying territory and holding ground, when that is not their design or mission. I think we need to get Marines back focused on quick-strike, in-and-out stuff, and leave the long-term territorial occupation to the Army.

      Let the Army and Air Force focus on large-scale conventional wars, and let the Marines do ampib landings, port capture, and asymmetric operations. In taking the lead in those areas, they will have to bring in SEALs and other special forces from time to time.

      My idea is not to get rid of existing special forces, but to get Marines out of doing things that the Army or Air Force should be doing and get them to focus on what they can do best. I think that is where the Commandant is leading. I don't think he has, and I know that I don't have, the details worked out. We need both tabletop exercises and realistic boots on the ground training, to figure out what works and what doesn't. That's why I found the "my way or the highway" tone of the Commandant's comments concerning. I think he is on a good track, but I don't think he knows everything yet.

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    5. @CDR Chip: “I'm just thinking we need to disaggregate special operations from conventional warfighting.”

      You are trying to parse war into canned Spam, that does not work, special operations have been a key part of high intensity warfare since the Illiad (the Trojan horse, Odysseus and Diomedes theft of the palladium, etc.). Examples follow:

      Destruction of Fort Eben-Emael’s guns by a handful of German glider troops disrupted the Belgian, British, and French from defenses on the K-W Line, which in turn led to the retreat of the allied forces all the way to Dunkirk.

      The British paratrooper seizure of the BĂ©nouville and Ranville bridges over the Caen Canal and Orne river, both wired for instant demolition, were key to Normandy invasion.

      GAB

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    6. OK, I'm not trying to parse them, but I am recognizing that there are two--or maybe three--separate skill sets, and I am saying train each specialty in what they do best. Conventional frontal confrontations require one skill set and approach. Asymmetric warfare requires a different concept and skill sets--and based upon our track record, I'm not sure we have figured out what that is. And Special Ops fit with both, in differing ways and degrees. Clearly, Westmoreland screwed up Vietnam by trying to fight it as a conventional land conflict, and I don't know that we have gotten better at it. I am envisioning the Marines to develop the asymmetric niche more than invading the pure Special Ops niche. It seems to be a better fit with the way they have fought historically. In and out, it and run, rather than occupying territory for the long run.

      Your examples clearly indicate that Special Ops can work with conventional warfare. And we have clearly made use of Special Ops in Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq/Syria.

      I see a lot of future combat being asymmetric, against rogue states or irregular terror groups. I think we need to learn how to fight them better.

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    7. "asymmetric, ... I think we need to learn how to fight them better."

      One of the lessons I've taken from observing our actions going back to Vietnam is that it is unproductive to fight the enemy's individual foot soldiers. No matter how many you kill, there are more to take their place.

      You have to strike the head of the snake.

      The perfect example of this was Vietnam. We allowed the head of the snake, the NVietnamese leadership and Hanoi, to live and wage war against us unhindered. We should have, on day one, hit Hanoi and their leadership as hard as possible and continue doing so until there wasn't even a shred of leadership left. No safe havens, no unhindered resupply from the Soviet Union, no capital, no central government. With no supplies and no support the individual soldier will, eventually give up and go back to whatever he was doing before the war.

      Had we gone after Saddam Hussein, instead of invading Iraq, we would have accomplished our goal and saved huge amounts of money. I posted on this exact scenario. There's your asymmetric way to 'fight them better'.

      Identify the center of gravity and destroy it. That's how you deal with any enemy, terrorist or country.

      We know this, we just lack the resolve to do it.

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    8. Not long after the fall of Saddam Hussein, somebody--I think it was Geraldo Rivera, who had just gone over to Fox--did a tour of Saddam's palaces. His objective was to demonstrate the excessive opulence of Saddam's lifestyle. But my reaction was, "OMG, these should have been among the first things destroyed." Later, it looked like maybe we didn't destroy them so that Bremer and the others would have suitable quarters to occupy during the occupation. We were apparently always viewing this as a war of occupation instead of a war to cut off the head of the snake.

      As far as your Vietnam example, perhaps the one thing we did that should have been done years before was mining the harbors. That pretty much stopped any resupply by sea.

      Agree totally with your concept.

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    9. I remember reading about supply dumps of SAMs laying out in the open around Hanoi and we wouldn't attack them. Instead, we allowed the NV to field them and shoot them at our pilots. That's insane.

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    10. The Republican Palace in Baghdad became the US Embassy/CPA/MNF-I HQ because that is where the 2nd brigade 3rd ID halted after a thunder run into Baghdad- total accident!

      It is easy to say "blow them up", but the palaces are property of the Iraqi people, have value to them, and were realistically the only facilities that could be quickly used for coalition administration.

      The original U.S. Embassy in Iraq was outside of the "Green Zone".

      GAB

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    11. "It is easy to say "blow them up", but the palaces are property of the Iraqi people, "

      And everything we blew up in WWII was the property of the German people. That's what war is. If it's worth going to war (and most of our recent excursions are questionable) then you execute it as quickly and decisively as possible and collateral damage is irrelevant. If the Iraqi dictator opts to reside in his people's palace then the destruction is on him. If he's not there then, fine, leave it alone but we have to stop being so afraid of breaking things during war.

      I know you know this so I suspect I'm missing your point or misunderstanding it. Feel free to enlighten me!

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    12. @CNO,

      After 3rd ID cleared out BIAP and made several thunder runs into Baghdad, the Iraqi resistance in Baghdad essentially evaporated; even in WWII there was a limit to the devastation *after* hostilities cease.

      It is also worth remembering that damaging friendly nations is necessary in war. The allies tirelessly pounded occupied France, and particularly the Dutch and Belgians thanks to the stout German defense of the port of Antwerp.

      GAB

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  10. I would expect that Marine Corps would be organized differently, trained differently, and equipped differently from the army or air force, and in fact differently from the Corps today.

    As far as taking over Navy mission areas, I don't quite see how the Corps is equipped to do that, but in several of those cases I'm not how they could screw it up more than the Navy has.

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  11. "The perfect example of this was Vietnam. We allowed the head of the snake, the NVietnamese leadership and Hanoi, to live and wage war against us unhindered. We should have, on day one, hit Hanoi and their leadership as hard as possible and continue doing so until there wasn't even a shred of leadership left..."

    So the justification for waging absolute total war against a state that never attacked the US in defense of the rump leftovers of French colonialism is what again?

    Also we did that in North Korea and it did not work. Unless you wanted to go nuclear on China.

    "Had we gone after Saddam Hussein, instead of invading Iraq, we would have accomplished our goal and saved huge amounts of money. I posted on this exact scenario. There's your asymmetric way to 'fight them better'."

    Better still we could simply have left the fairly inexpensive status quo in place. Spent more to make Kurdistan real and smooth out their inter issues. And kept floating a big paycheck for anyone willing to off Saddam and be the new nice secular bathist dictator of Iraq sans Kurdistan.

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    1. "So the justification for waging absolute total war against a state that never attacked the US in defense of the rump leftovers of French colonialism is what again?"

      Did you see a sentence from me, anywhere, justifying Vietnam, or any of the other lesser conflicts we've jumped into?

      Now, if you're asking because you don't know the historical justification, there are many good articles and books on the topic. This is not the blog for political discussions so I won't offer an answer. You can research it on your own.

      Personally, as I've stated many times on this blog, our rationales for the many conflicts we've jumped into has often been quite suspect.

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    2. I was not trying to be political just questioning the ideal that all US wars can be by the ww2 playbook.

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    3. We haven't fought a war since WWII that could be won by the WWII playbook. That hasn't stopped us from trying. Capturing and occupying territory does not win an asymmetric war, nor does body counts. That was Westmoreland's mistake in Vietnam, and we haven't learned. Without putting words into ComNavOps's mouth, I think it would be reasonable to say, "If you're not going for the head of the snake, don't go in at all." We fight too many "limited" wars under rules of engagement (ROE) that pretty much ensure a tie--or, in other words, a quagmire. If it's not worth going in to win, don't go in at all.

      I hope that is not too political, and if it is I apologize. To go further would require some political opinions, so I will stop here.

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    4. "We haven't fought a war since WWII that could be won by the WWII playbook."

      Of course we have.

      We conquered all of Europe and the Pacific and Germany and Japan, specifically. Why would you think we couldn't have conquered NKorea? Other than lack of will, there is no reason we couldn't have. Even the Chinese intervention didn't have to be a show-stopper. We simultaneously fought a two front war against the combined forces of Germany and Japan. China, at that point in time, was no match for us. Their losses were staggering compared to ours. We simply lacked the will to achieve a total victory.

      NVietnam would have been an easy WWII style campaign. A massive amphibious assault aimed at Hanoi, via Haiphong harbor, would have decapitated the leadership and isolated the country from Soviet resupply. The NVietnamese would have either had to stand and fight (and been destroyed) or give up their government, leadership, and supply source. Simultaneously, a massive assault from the South, headed north, would have frozen any possible redirection or reinforcement. This is just classic WWII stuff. We simply lacked the will to achieve a total victory.

      Don't make the mistake of thinking that just because we didn't fight these wars as total war doesn't mean it couldn't be done. They most certainly could have been fought that way and would have resulted in total victory.

      Whether we should have engaged in those wars is a separate, political question and we'll leave that aspect alone.

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    5. As far as the WWII playbook, fighting guerrillas is different from fighting frontal warfare against a regular army. We probably could have done a successful WWII-style campaign of conquest in Vietnam. We could--and arguably did--twice in Iraq and once in Afghanistan. But I wouldn't describe any of those as successful--partly because we didn't fight any of them as total wars and partly because our conceptual strategic approach was wrong.

      Never fight a war that you don't intend to win. If that is too political a statement, I apologize. But I don't think it is politically partisan, because both parties have been willing to ignore and violate it.

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    6. "I wouldn't describe any of those as successful--partly because we didn't fight any of them as total wars"

      You're absolutely correct. We treated them as some kind of semi-war, to be partially fought instead of to be won. The most brilliant strategy in the world won't be successful if you don't fully implement it.

      "Never fight a war that you don't intend to win. If that is too political a statement, I apologize."

      You'd be hard pressed to find a less political statement! That's just military common sense.

      "fighting guerrillas is different from fighting frontal warfare against a regular army."

      Why do you say that? Is it just because that's what we've told ourselves to explain our lack of success? Or, is there really a difference? In both regular war and guerilla war (if there's even a difference) you identify the enemy's center(s) of gravity and you destroy them. Do that and the war is over.

      There's an old saying in sports: make the other team play your game. In war, it's the same. The guerilla wars we've fought, we allowed ourselves to be drawn into their war instead of ours. A major part of that was allowing ourselves to be drawn into a war we didn't intend to win - that we fought for only limited gains and limited reasons. I've already described how the Vietnam war could have been fought and ended in a short period. Korea could have been the same. Instead of fighting the kind of war we were good at, we allowed ourselves to be drawn into wars with ill-defined, limited objectives which then limited our operations and capabilities. Safe havens?????? Really? Is that how you fight a war? Not if you want to win.

      So, why is a guerilla war different?

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    7. "A major part of that was allowing ourselves to be drawn into a war we didn't intend to win - that we fought for only limited gains and limited reasons."

      I think this is the bigger problem. I say again, never fight a war that you don't intend to win. As a corollary, never, ever fight a war that you don't want either side to win. Rather than get political, I'll let the reader draw his/her own conclusions about where that applies.

      The difference I see in guerilla wars is that the other side has no interest in playing by any restrictive rules which we self-impose upon ourselves. I think of traditional European land warfare as being played by some kind of Marquess of Queensbury war rules. Guerrillas don't play by those rules, if they even know what those rules are. I think we need to devote serious attention to determining whether we can actually win a guerrilla war fighting by Geneva Conventions rules. And if we determine that we can't, then what do we do? Push for a change in the rules, back off from getting involved in such conflicts, fight them conventionally and just blow everybody away and hope for the best, what?

      Your idea of killing the head of the snake is a good one, and probably would have worked in Vietnam, which was kind of a transitional conflict. But in Iraq and Afghanistan and Syria, you chop one head off the snake and it grows another one. We end up playing whack-a-mole with snakes. I don't think we've really come up with an effective way to fight that. I think we have proved in Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq that conquering and holding territory doesn’t work, and I don’t think we’re having much luck with “winning hearts and minds,” either.

      Historically, the USA doesn't win wars by outfighting the other side as much by out-logistic-ing them. It's how we won the Civil War. It's how we beat Germany and Japan in WWII. And Reagan pretty much won the Cold War by turning it into a battle of our economy versus the Soviets. It's hard to out-logistic an enemy that can get by on virtually nothing. We need a re-think.

      That’s kind of what I have in mind for the Marine Corps. They are used to fighting with less than state-of-art equipment. They are historically a maneuver warfare outfit. They come in, hit hard, achieve the objective, and then turn it over to the army rather than holding territory. They sort of think like guerrillas now, certainly more than any other branch. So give them the task of figuring out how to do this. They—with the help of Andrew Higgins—did a good job of figuring out how to do amphibious landings, so give them another problem and see what they can do with it.

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    8. "in Iraq and Afghanistan and Syria, you chop one head off the snake and it grows another one."

      Only if we allow it. Consider those examples you cite. Did we go after the ISIS center of gravity(s)? No. We attempted to fight the individual soldiers because we didn't want to cause collateral damage. Well, that only led to more collateral damage and deaths in the long run. How long did we allow ISIS oil convoys through (oil was how they got their money - hey, that sounds like a center of gravity!) because we didn't want to kill the 'civilian' drivers? That just prolonged the conflict and got thousands more civilians killed. I've discussed this before so I won't belabor it. ISIS needed arms (money), staging areas, food sources, etc. - centers of gravity. Either you fight to win and accept the collateral damage or don't fight. In it to win it or don't get in it.

      Afghanistan, same thing. We allowed the Taliban to move to safe haven in Pakistan when they were nearly defeated. They reformed because we wouldn't do what was necessary.

      And so on.

      I have yet to hear why a guerilla war has to be fought differently. Just because guerillas won't follow rules doesn't mean we have to change the way we operate.

      In Vietnam, the VC would have died out from lack of everything if we had eliminated NVietnam/Hanoi/Haiphong and the source of resupply.

      This stuff is really pretty basic unless we make it complicated, as we always seem to do.

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    9. "We attempted to fight the individual soldiers because we didn't want to cause collateral damage."

      That's my point about rules. Unless and until we become willing to accept collateral damage, human shields will be the tactic of choice for the enemy. So what do we do about it?

      I totally agree on in to win, or don't go in. But unfortunately it has become politically attractive to fight wars that we don't intend to win.

      The best move we made in Vietnam was probably mining Haiphong and the other North Vietnamese harbors. We cut off a large portion of their logistics supply. Had we done it years earlier, we would probably have won the war. But we didn't. And we didn't.

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    10. @CDR Chip: "But unfortunately it has become politically attractive to fight wars that we don't intend to win."

      Agreed, but the issue is the electorate failing to impose its collected will on elected officials.

      Politicians are incentivized to support intervention by lobbyist on K-street, while claiming that they are strong on national defense, and/or jobs for the defense industry.

      There is little push-back because the casualty counts are low.

      By comparison, just in the infantry branch, the US Army in the ETO (excludes the Mediterranean and Pacific theaters) suffered some 435,048 casualties, of which 90,636 were KIA, from 1941-1946 (essentially D-Day to end of war). That works out to roughly two (2) infantry battalions destroyed each day of combat with over 267 KIA and over 1,283 wounded. And that is only counting the infantry – the AAC (USAF) lost more men fighting just in the ETO than the USMC lost during the entire war. German and Russian casualties during WWII were far, far worse.

      The USA really does not know war – a very good thing. Let’s not be stupid and only fight when absolutely necessary.

      GAB

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    11. "We attempted to fight the individual soldiers because we didn't want to cause collateral damage."

      Exactly. And that's what I mean by saying we fought WWII-style. Fight their soldiers, conquer territory, and hold it. Except that doesn't work in a guerrilla context. We have to be willing to accept some collateral damage in order to cut off the head of the snake. Otherwise, forget it, come home, and quit killing and maiming our younger generation.

      Wars end one of two ways--you win or you surrender. Fighting without fighting to win is fighting to surrender, and what use is that?

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    12. "And that's what I mean by saying we fought WWII-style. "

      This may be more of a semantics issue than substance and, if so, I apologize but in WWII we didn't fight individual soldiers. We fought a grand strategy that recognized centers of gravity (although we didn't use that term then) and sought to destroy them. So, things like key industrial complexes, oil supply shipping routes, key strategic roads/rails, etc. We fought individual soldiers only when they were an impediment to attacking a center of gravity (which was often!). Our strategy was not to kill fight individual soldiers, it was to attack and destroy centers of gravity.

      Had we been focused on fighting individual soldiers, we would have assaulted every Pacific island instead of island hopping. Why did we island hop? Because it was the fastest, best way to reach the Japanese centers of gravity.

      Similarly, in Europe, we didn't slowly and methodically fight our way soldier by soldier from France to Germany. We used maneuver to threaten centers of gravity and bypass large chunks of enemy forces and/or force them into massive surrender or retreat. Certainly there was a lot of individual fighting that had to occur but it was because the individuals were defending CGs or in the way of our reaching/attacking CGs.

      As I said, maybe just a matter of semantics but it's important to clearly understand what the WWII style of warfare really was. I hope this made it clear.

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    13. @CDR Chip: “That’s kind of what I have in mind for the Marine Corps … They are historically a maneuver warfare outfit. They come in, hit hard, achieve the objective, and then turn it over to the army rather than holding territory.”

      Disagree, the USMC is an infantry-centric organization: infantry is the polar opposite of a maneuver force. USMC artillery is towed, making a key element of any ground force, tactically immobile and vulnerable.

      Helicopters and tilt rotor aviation *might* work as insertion platforms, but will not work as a maneuver enabler on a high intensity war battlefield. Even against a weak Iraqi force, coalition force commanders declined to employ vertical envelopment (helicopters) for fear of disproportionate casualties. See https://navy-matters.blogspot.com/2016/10/the-high-cost-of-ground-attack.html - especially the quote from Thomas White, then Secretary of the Army.

      To become a true ground maneuver force, the Marines need to embrace AFVs suited to sustained high intensity combat, self-propelled artillery, and adopt a completely new doctrine, supported by significant changes in organization and training. Persistent excuses by marines that tanks cost too much, cannot be supported considering the staggering costs of “pet” USMC programs like the F-35, H-53, and V-22.

      GAB

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    14. ComNavOps,

      I think it is an issue of semantics. But the big difference is that we fought WWII to win and Vietnam to tie, maybe. And ties don't exist in war--ultimately you win or you surrender. So in that sense Vietnam was not fought the way WWII was fought.

      Take for example the Ploesti raids, with which I an very familiar because my father flew in them. If we could take out Hitler's only oil refinery, in theory the Wehrmacht would literally be stopped in its tracks and the war would be over. So we threw everything we could at destroying it, and the Nazis threw everything they could at defending it. It was very much a center of gravity. We did nothing similar in in Vietnam until we mined Haiphong and the other North Vietnam harbors, another operation with which I have some personal familiarity. And it put a crimp in the North Vietnamese/Viet Cong supply chain that could very well have won the war had we done it earlier or stayed with it longer.

      So I guess what I see is that in Vietnam we used WWII tactics without WWII strategy.

      GAB

      "Disagree, the USMC is an infantry-centric organization: infantry is the polar opposite of a maneuver force."

      Today, yes, that is what it has become. We already have a bigger one of those in the Army--and arguably three of those counting the Army Reserve and the National Guard. IMO that's why the USMC is having an identity crisis.

      "To become a true ground maneuver force, the Marines need to embrace AFVs suited to sustained high intensity combat, self-propelled artillery, and adopt a completely new doctrine, supported by significant changes in organization and training. Persistent excuses by marines that tanks cost too much, cannot be supported considering the staggering costs of “pet” USMC programs like the F-35, H-53, and V-22."

      This is pretty much exactly what I have in mind. And I think this goes back closer to the Marines' historic roots.

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    15. "To become a true ground maneuver force, the Marines need to "

      I get the sense that the Marines have no interest in GROUND maneuver. Instead, they seem totally focused on SEA maneuver. They think they'll disperse penny-packet units via sea and air lift and that their maneuvering will take the form of daring thrusts deep into the enemy's waters to establish the mythical, secret, expeditionary bases. If that's the case then you can easily understand their indifference, if not outright disdain, towards armor, tanks, self-propelled artillery, etc. - it's just not needed if you're not doing ground maneuver.

      Thus, they've abandoned ground maneuver in favor of sea/air maneuver. That's an idiotic decision, if true, and I've written repeatedly about the folly of such an approach but it's what the Marines seem to be heading toward.

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    16. @CNO: “I get the sense that the Marines have no interest in GROUND maneuver.”

      The Russian Army *absolutely* believes in armored maneuver warfare, and they are more than willing to demonstrate what AFVs can due to infantry…

      It will not be pretty.

      Every time I hear “middle weight force”, “augmentation by heavier units”, or other nonsense from the Corps, I get physically ill. The Marine Corps, as organized and equipped is unsuited for high intensity war against a peer competitor, and is therefore a poor value for the U.S. taxpayer. This is an absolute shame given the quality of individual marines, but fixing it will take a ground swell of effort in Congress that will likely only change in the face of military disaster.

      GAB

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  12. Addition. Why exactly go after Saddam? The US had no particular legal justification or casus belli to do so. And no particular reason to think the outcome would be in thee long run useful to the US.

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    1. This is not a political blog so we'll drop this discussion.

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  13. Eliminating Armor from the Corps is a mistake.

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  14. ....just a guy here who served active and reserves in tank and infantry units and one trip to Iraq.....berger is dead wrong and is putting Mother Green on the road to be an amphibious division of the Army...getting rid of warfighters....infantry, tanks, LAVs so we can fight in the south china sea??....ALL WRONG

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    1. Welcome. Glad to hear from you. From your experience, do you see a role for the Marines in a China war and, if so, what is it? What would the Marines do and what would they need to do it?

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