Saturday, March 7, 2020

Marine's New Top Priorities: Maternity Leave and Sea Denial

The new Marine Corps Commandant, Gen. David Berger, is off to a mystifying start to his tenure.  He began with a guidance document that basically said that the Marines were going to dump conventional amphibious ships in favor of small, distributed ships and that legacy systems would be eliminated to fund modernization.  No details were offered and the military community has been expectantly waiting for more information.  His guidance document offered some welcome focus on the threat of China even if some of his solutions were questionable.  As we wait for details to emerge about his new combat focus, the Commandant has made some downright baffling public statements about his priorities. 

Gen. Berger has prioritized family leave for Marines with proposals for up to a year’s leave for new mothers (1) as well as,

Furthering gender integration in job fields previously closed to women, expanding maternity leave and raising the intellectual bar for infantry troops are among the Marine Corps’ priorities, the service’s top officer said.(2)

Is this really a priority?  Not only does it have nothing to do with combat but it will clearly hurt our combat capabilities.  It also raises a host of questions.  Will new mothers be counted as combat ready troops in the Marine’s table of manning?   Will returning mothers, fresh off a year of leave and the exhaustion of infant rearing be instantly combat ready?  Of course they won’t so what good are they?  Will returning mothers have to undergo some type of refresher boot camp to get back into shape and regain their combat skills (I can’t type that without laughing but …) – essentially amounting to even more time off in terms of being a combat asset?  The Commandant wants to give female/mother Marines what amounts to a year and a half to two years off to have a child and return to combat readiness?  If a female Marine wants to have multiple children are we really going to pay them to have several years off to do the family thing?  Theoretically, a female could have several paid years off (and highly restricted duty when back) to raise a family, all on the Marine’s dime and without ever serving on a deployment or being combat capable.  Isn’t that called welfare?  Since when did the Marine Corps become a kiddie day care center or a social experimentation program?  Who’s going to fill the female’s vacated billets?  Who’s going to deploy in place of the females?  Yeah, that would be the men.  I don’t see any resentment happening because of this.

The Few, The Proud, The Mommy Welfare Group

Additional priority items include (4):
  • Exempting pregnant Marines from “standing at parade rest or attention for longer than 15 minutes”
  • Increased gender integration
  • Increasing enlistment test scores

The few, the proud, the out of shape exhausted mothers!  The Chinese are trembling in fear.

Continuing the befuddlement, the Commandant is now stating that the Marine’s top ground forces priority is sea denial which he envisions accomplishing by placing small units with anti-ship missiles on distributed islands or land.

The Marine Corps is all in on fielding mobile anti-ship missiles in the Pacific to challenge China’s growing Navy, declaring it in written testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee’s seapower subcommittee to be its highest ground modernization priority.

“A ground-based anti-ship missile capability will provide anti-ship fires from land as part of an integrated naval anti-surface warfare campaign,” the written testimony reads. “This forward-deployed and survivable capability will enhance the lethality of our naval forces and will help to deny our adversaries the use of key maritime terrain.” (3) [emphasis added]

The Marine’s ground mission is sea control?????

The Marines, who should be concentrating on figuring out how to get an amphibious combat vehicle from 50 miles offshore to the beach, who should be working to rediscover their amphibious assault capability, who should be taking on the core mission of port seizure (my opinion, not the Marine’s), who should be frantically working on mobile anti-aircraft/anti-cruise missile capability, who should be reversing their trend of shedding tanks and artillery, who should be emphasizing ground force lethality, are now going to switch to sea denial as their new top priority?  Isn’t that the Navy’s mission?  Have the Marines solved all their problems and have so much extra budget that they can now take on a Navy responsibility?

I’m sorry but sea denial is about dead last on my list of priorities for the Marines – just ahead of maternity leave.

So, setting aside my stunned disbelief, how do the Marines see this sea denial working?

The Marines are looking at not just one but two anti-ship systems:  one is based on a remote control version of the HIMARS vehicle (why remote control?  what does that gain us if the troops are there anyway?) firing a Kongsberg Naval Strike Missile and the other is an anti-ship version of Tomahawk which would be launched from an, as yet, unknown platform.  Okay, let’s look a bit closer at this concept.

What’s the overall concept?  According to the Marines,

The Marine Corps’ concept of operations, as outlined by Berger in last year’s planning guidance,   the Marines want to be able to spread their forces in small groups around islands in the Pacific and deny freedom of maneuver to the Chinese fleet. (3)

Has anyone wargamed this with even a small dose of reality?  How are we going to infiltrate Chinese controlled areas and land HIMARS vehicles, missiles, men, and supplies without being seen?  You don’t transport HIMARS vehicles and Tomahawk launchers on combat canoes.  They’ll have to be transported on amphibious or cargo ships of some kind.  Won’t the Chinese kind of … you know … see that?  Or, is this more of the military’s ever-growing tendency to assume that the enemy will cooperate in their own destruction?

Honestly, this sounds like some top drawer, high quality, fantasy thinking.

Marine Corps requirements and development chief Lt. Gen. Eric Smith told reporters last year during the Expeditionary Warfare Conference that the Marines want to fight on ground of their choosing and then maneuver before forces can concentrate against them.

“They are mobile and small, they are not looking to grab a piece of ground and sit on it,” Smith said of his Marine units. “I’m not looking to block a strait permanently. I’m looking to maneuver. The German concept is ‘Schwerpunkt,’ which is applying the appropriate amount of pressure and force at the time and place of your choosing to get maximum effect.”

So, we’re disbursing small units on scattered islands and they’re somehow going to ‘maneuver before the enemy can concentrate against them’?  Uh … they’re on small islands.  How much maneuvering can they do? 

Maybe the Marines think they can maneuver to another island?  Again, how will we get large cargo ships to these remote, scattered islands to re-embark the Marines and move them to another island without being seen?

Seriously, if we can sail cargo ships (and escorts? now we’re talking large task forces – won’t those be noticed?) with utter stealth and impunity all around the enemy-controlled waters, we don’t need to use Marines to control the sea, we can just send Burkes to sail up next to the oblivious enemy ships and board them.

Wait, there’s more …

Smith describes a concept where the U.S. fleet can herd Chinese ships into a contested area where the Marines can do damage from the shore.

“So, if I’m maneuvering in support of the fleet commander in a contested, confined space, through the mobility I bring in air and with surface connectors I can get to a point and block or strike something that has been herded into a contested space – something that has been herded into that space by the fleet commander.” (3)

Again, the degree of willing cooperation and the assumed utter cluelessness of the enemy is staggering.  We’re going to set up these magic, hidden anti-ship units and the Chinese are going to allow us to ‘herd’ them into range?  Again, if we have sufficient naval force to ‘herd’ the Chinese navy then we really don’t need a few more Marine anti-ship missiles, do we?

Here’s the takeaways from this:

How do we transport large vehicles to these small, remote islands and lands without being detected?

How do we find targets that are beyond the horizon?  Are we going to build airstrips and operate long range UAVs on these small islands all without being detected?  Or, maybe we’ll use the regional network that ties all the non-survivable surveillance assets together in one ginormous, real time tactical picture?

Without long range surveillance and targeting, the effective area is limited to the horizon which is 12-15 miles from shore.

A small unit’s single launcher with one to a few missiles is of absolutely no tactical significance.  Will we land large numbers of launchers and missiles (along with reload equipment)?  If so, again, how will we conduct these large scale landings and operations without being detected?

This Commandant is all over the map.  China is his number one threat and priority and yet his first actions have to do with maternity leave????  His top ground priority is sea denial?  This guy is not giving me warm, fuzzy feelings about his grasp of the issues facing the Marines.


(1) website, “Marines' New Top Officer Wants to Give New Moms a Full Year Off”, Gina Harkins, 17-Jul-2019,

(2)Stars and Stripes website, “Women in more job fields, added maternity leave on top Marine’s priority list”, Immanuel Johnson, 24-Feb-2020,

(3)Defense News website, “To combat the China threat, US Marine Corps declares ship-killing missile systems its top priority”, David B. Larter, 5-Mar-2020,

(4)Marine Corps Times website, “These Are The 21 Internal Memo Items The Top Marine Wants To Immediately Change”, Philip Athey, 4-Mar-2020,


  1. Can women enlist when they are pregnant? If not, why not? Its not like we expect them to do anything any ways.

  2. I read about the Marine's push for antiship capabilities and wondered why they werent more concerned with being able to do their standard missions first... Last I heard, Marine's paychecks still said "Dept of the Navy" up top. I think its time someone on the Navy side reminded them of that and gets them refocused on mastering tasks at hand before trying to take on someone elses. The Commandant is not impressing me...
    As far as all the maternity leave nonsense, maybe that's how they're "buying" new recruits to make quota(???) When are we going to drop all the feel good social experiment crap and go back to building a force thats focused on destroying stuff and killing people??? Unbelievable.....

    1. "As far as all the maternity leave nonsense, maybe that's how they're "buying" new recruits to make quota"

      The Marines never had trouble meeting quotes before. Their age old advertising was always, we're too tough for you so don't even bother trying to enlist. That ensured that only the toughest enlisted - those that wanted the challenge. Now, with women and all the other garbage, the Marines are just another mixed gender policing organization. They've lost what made them unique. If you're trying to "buy" women, you're shopping for the wrong product.

      I know the Marines are under pressure to be just another government equal opportunity social experiment but our supposed best fighting force SHOULDN'T necessarily be a reflection of society at large - AT LEAST I HOPE NOT!!!! They should be a reflection of our toughest, meanest part of society and, by definition, that's not going to be a uniform cross section of society.

      Congress, and America, fails to understand that combat is not the place for equal opportunity. Combat is the place for meritocracy, meaning only the best.

    2. Is SOCOM now getting the best light infantry candidates ?
      With 70k troops, SOCOM is now bigger than the Corps
      was during a large portion of its recent history.

    3. our supposed best fighting force SHOULDN'T necessarily be a reflection of society at large - AT LEAST I HOPE NOT!!!!

      Actually historically our armed forces were a pretty good reflection of our society at large minus the women. Prior to WWII we were an agrarian society. Most of the toughness was built in.

    4. "minus the women."

      That's what I'm referring to.

  3. I don't mind the maternity leave off the cuff but it should be very regulated.

    I guess I know all too many female PhD scientists and the simple fact is none even thought about a kid until thy were 32-35 years old. That is they did undergrad work, PhD and some industry time and a post doc and got a research position then finely felt thay could have a kid.

    If you are just in for 6 years I think I would say implanted birth control as part of joining. For a lifer the plan is fine but should wait till you are ~30 for the option (or put in 6+ years). Lot's of professionals do the Marines should as well.

    err sorry for a re post due to edits.

  4. Hmm, so we don't want big ships and big tanks, we will be spotted....BUT we are OK with firing ASMs from a small island at Chinese ships and nothing will happen because we are the USMC?!?

    Does it sounds about right?

    Where are all these fantastic little islands, strategically placed that China hasn't discovered yet and never will?!?

  5. From Reference 1: In the future, he added, the Marine Corps "will consider up to one year leaves-of-absence for mothers to remain with their children before returning to full duty to complete their service obligations."

    The way I read this, the leave-of-absence is without pay and it doesn't count as part of their service obligation.

    1. I didn't read it that way but it could be. We'll have to wait and see what details emerge. For instance, if it's leave without pay does that mean that medical/dental coverage is terminated? Are mothers-on-leave exempted from emergency call up? And a thousand other questions - all because the Marines have lost sight of combat as their focus.

    2. Current policy is to grant 6 weeks of Military Covalence Leave (MCL) following birth which can be extended for medical reasons. Primary Caregivers and Secondary Caregivers are allowed 42 days and 14 days on non-chargable leave. I take all that all to mean time off with pay and benefits.

      I used this Navy link for the above.

      In the civilian world, FMLA allows a qualified employee to take 12 weeks of unpaid leave. I'm not sure if benefits always continue.

      Anything above current policy seems excessive to me. In addition to the questions you raised, how is this fair to other marines and sailors who don'tget pregnant? And, I can imagine that quite a few will abuse the system as well.

    3. Except CNO I think you are missing the fact the USMC is an employer. Not A WW2 draft agency fighting the good fight and with first dibs on the best candidates. Nor does it want to be a Vietnam era draft incredibly poorly run system.

      Unemployment is very low. And the USMC does not exactly want dregs. Do you really want alternative sentencing to fill the ranks that did not work out so in the past. Gang members looking for training?

      A voluntarily military that is mostly not fighting WW2 on a day over day basis is going to have deal if it wants high quality people. But like I said above simplely demand you are on mandatory birth control for a first enlistment or up until say 30. At that age I would assume you are just dealing with career people and frankly the whole US should provide maternity leave for. We do sorta want encourage replacing ourselves otherwise nobody is going to around to man the nursing home.

    4. "going to have deal if it wants high quality people."

      I disagree. I don't think the military wants the type of people who are swayed by enticements. By definition, they're serving for the wrong reasons and when it comes time to fight, they won't be motivated. We saw exactly that with the Iranian riverine boat capture incident.

      We want people who join for more abstract reasons like service, loyalty, patriotism, challenge, etc. I don't think it's a coincidence that the military's need to compete for recruits has coincided with the lowering of their standards and their movement away from fighting organizations to social employers.

      The Marines, for example, never had a problem recruiting and they did it by advertising that they didn't really want you because you weren't tough enough. Now, they've removed the challenge (by integrating women, mothers, and all the other social issues) and they're just another employer instead of the toughest branch of the military.

    5. Agreed... Its better to come up short on numbers but have the people there for the right reasons that will make them effective Marines (or soldiers, sailors, etc). I think the lowering of standards has brought down the competence, drive, and professionalism that made pride a factor that leveled the playing field against civilian employers, and often surpassed them. Its akin to having a properly outfitted and trained 300 ship fleet vs a poor condition 355. What the military needs is tighter standards and higher expectations in order to reestablish the focused, professional, and most importantly, lethal force.

  6. You don't understand, CNOps, the new Mommy Divisions will effectively disable Chinese military capabilities because they will all die of laughter as soon as they even read about it.

  7. Out of curiosity I checked how many women are actually in the Marine Corps and it seems that it's somewhere around 7-8%.
    Not insignificant sure, but only a fraction of the strength.
    It seems that most fill support and logistics roles.
    I feel like maybe it's not a huge issue if they get some maternity leave.

    1. "I feel like maybe it's not a huge issue if they get some maternity leave."

      And how would you feel if that person going on maternity leave forced you to replace them and go on another extended deployment when you wanted to be home spending some time with your family?

  8. Google map "Taiwan" , then see these islets above and below Taiwan, then imagine digging camouflage sites & cache holes for spares (i.e. missiles and launchers) on Taiwan and these islets, then imagine Corregidor (and not Sands of Iwo Jima) Marines, and the rest is your job- USN/AF has to punch its way in before time runs out.

    1. Sounds like the AF idea to containerize armed drones and secretly preposition them around the Pacific...

  9. As far as the ASM fit for MLRS goes its a good idea. The idea that one or two tiny little launchers on their own is going to take on the world is where they went astray. Taking MLRS and HIMARS and adding anti-ship and anti-air missile capability is useful. But only useful in the context of an updated defense battalion. This is not a small footprint unit. You need to add surveillance assets and other support. Its purpose is to kill passing stray ships and aircraft and to make a real attack expensive. Although large this is an economy of force unit.

  10. The Marines know that there is no way to make a successful amphibious assault from 25-50 miles offshore, but that is the only option the Navy is presenting them. So they are desperately in search of another mission to justify their existence.

    I still think the whole problem is the large and expensive LHAs/LHDs that have replaced conventional smaller and more versatile Gator navy ships. And based on current costs, a conventional amphib squadron would be cheaper. They have concentrated too much cost and capability in one platform, with only one means of connecting ship to shore, instead of spreading the capability and risk. Because of that risk they cannot be brought into harm's way for anything other than an unopposed administrative landing. The Marines can't do their jobs until the Navy finds a way to get them there.

    1. "The Marines can't do their jobs until the Navy finds a way to get them there."

      We can't lay this all on the Navy - not by a long shot! Going back to the 1980's, the Marines - not the Navy - began to develop their over-the-horizon assault concept using the MV-22 and the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle (EFV). The Marines spent decades and untold billions on the EFV before abandoning it. The MV-22 is a disaster in an opposed assault and is utterly incapable of transporting sufficient troops and equipment to make an assault feasible. The Marines also bargained away their battleship support. So, the Marines have done little or nothing to make over-the-horizon assaults viable or to make up close assaults feasible. Admittedly, the timid Navy has done nothing to help but they aren't the source of the problem.

      I'll turn the blame around and say, the Navy can't do their jobs until the Marines find an assault doctrine that's viable.

      As far as 'large and expensive LHAs/LHDs', one would do well to study the WWII troop transport characteristics: dirt cheap (sometimes commercial conversions), small, distributed risk, carried around two dozen landing craft each. Those characteristics would make a good design basis today.

    2. Do you mean something like the Haskell-class APAs? 1,500 troops and their equipment plus the boats to land them? All in less than 7,000 tons displacement empty, less than 15,000 tons fully loaded. No accommodations for female sailors or Marines, no gay disco, etc. Totally unsuitable today! /sarc

    3. I mean, honestly, just because my father served on one as a sailor, how on earth can we recruit sailors and Marines without private staterooms?

  11. Guys and gals, I really think it's time to investigate the water fountains at the Pentagon because this is something they think is viable?!? What the heck are they smoking over there? Again, we are going to have all these secret locations to use that China has never heard of before? Plus, how do they come back and get rearmed? Or just one way mission? That seems pretty expensive and not very practical....

  12. Year maternity leave makes manning easier because you have 6 months warning to find a replacement and swap them in. Now it's a hodgepodge of leave, LIMDU, light duty, etc. A hard cut line makes planning around it easier. Add on a year or two payback, promotion hold, and full duty status on the back end and it would be a net win compared to the system now.

    The warfighting problem is that a 50 mile assault is impossible on its face. As is probably a 200 mile one. Getting small forces that can affect the battle is a net win.


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