We surely don’t need the 1942 Marine Corps the Lieutenant Colonel accurately describes, a force that is roughly equivalent to the Jordanian Army albeit with about a third of the armor (tanks and armored trucks LAVS) that the Jordanians have. Today’s Marine Corps, like the U.S. Army’s XVIII Airborne Corps is a light infantry force already dependent on air strikes for survival, let alone effectiveness. What this officer describes is an even less-capable and less-relevant force.
by America’s colonial wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, this officer thinks
maneuver is impossible, that concentrations of force on any scale
larger than a squad are
all impossible. This is worse than misleading. It’s wrong. Army and
Marine Forces need to build self-contained combat forces designed for
high mobility with armored protection and accurate, devastating
firepower, but these formations need not come in WW II configuration.
Putting Marines on ten speed bikes with digital radios and laser
designators is not a solution inside today’s lethal battlespace. In
fact, the easiest target to find and kill is a dismounted, unprotected
human being. SEA DRAGON in 1997 demonstrated both the vulnerability of
his concept, as well as, its ineffectiveness. The officer should go back
and study the findings.
Static forces like the ones he
advocates are easy to identify, target and destroy. During the Kosovo
Air Campaign, it was the Yugoslav Army’s mobility that kept it intact
and ensured it would not be simply decimated from
the air as so much of the Iraqi Army was in 1991. In 78 days of
incessant air strikes by the best air force in the world, the Yugoslavs
only lost 13 of more than 300 tanks! Thermal blankets reduced thermal
signatures when stopped, and armored forces moved constantly making
targeting extremely difficult. When integrated with competent air
defenses (Yugoslav Air Defense were never degraded below 83 percent
effectiveness) these forces remained in a state of readiness to repel
any ground assault.
What planet is this man on? In a
real war with a real enemy equipped with air defenses, air forces,
armies and some modicum of coastal naval defense, small teams of
Marines, along with SOF, SEALS and other theoretically stealthy forces
in smaller than squad strength will end up being arrested or simply
executed on the spot as the SEALS in Panama that Panamanian Forces
were in 1989.
Field Marshal Slim raged against the
stupidity of the Chindits, brave men who were either killed or ruined
physically in a series of pinprick raids behind Japanese lines that
changed nothing on the ground. Even Hitler was appalled by the terrible
casualties his paratrooper sustained in their airborne assault on
Crete, a victory that cost more than it was worth.
there is a need for what former CMC, General David M. Shoup called a
“Light Strike Force” that goes ashore to seize key points ashore for
brief periods, a force that can conduct punitive raids and protect U.S.
citizens. The question is how to equip this force--a force arguably
smaller than today’s MC.
Americans should appreciate what SOF
along with their extreme limitations, but we should increasingly rage
against the kind of foolish non-sense outlined in this article.
March 26, 2013
Can The Marines Survive?
If America's amphibious force doesn't adapt, it'll be dead in the water.
By Lt. Col. Lloyd Freeman
one day in 1965, a large sortie of U.S. Air Force F-105s dropped over
600 750-pound bombs on the Thanh Hoa Bridge, just 70 kilometers south of
Hanoi. The result was the loss of five U.S. aircraft and a complete
failure to destroy the bridge. Amazingly, the bridge would withstand
over 800 more sorties from U.S. aircraft in the next seven years and
receive the moniker "The Dragon's Jaw" because of its seeming
indestructability and the nearby air defenses that stymied U.S. forces.
Finally, in 1972, a
sortie of F-4Ds carrying the new Paveway laser-guided bomb destroyed
the Thanh Hoa Bridge.
Although not obvious at the time, the
advent of the Paveway marked the beginning of a dramatic transformation
in U.S. military technology that would change warfare forever. The
revolution in precision munitions that began then has so accelerated in
recent years that enemy forces can no longer operate in formations and
in mass. They simply present too big a target.That, in turn, means that
the days of U.S. corps, divisions, and brigades maneuvering on a battlefield with tanks, artillery, and motorized/mechanized infantry are numbered.
Our surveillance capabilities allow us to sense everything on the
battlefield. Any sizable vehicle formation, or single vehicle for that
matter, can be destroyed with the click of a button half a world away. On today's battlefield, movement means death.
lively debate is taking place within the
Pentagon these days over how to adapt to this new reality. The Air
Force and the Navy have come up with a new concept called Air-Sea
Battle, which focuses on integrating naval and air forces to defeat
adversaries with precision weapons backed by robust intelligence,
surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) assets. Simply put, the Air Force
and the Navy are embracing new technology and have come to understand
that with an integrated approach they should be able to defeat an enemy
that is hundreds, perhaps thousands of miles away.
the marines -- and the Army -- are still trained in infantry tactics
that would be recognizable to a World War II vet, organized to fight big
land battles with heavy tanks and armored personnel carriers. There's
an elephant walking around the Pentagon these days and everyone is
trying to ignore it. No one wants to talk about the fact that land
forces, as currently organized, are becoming increasingly
irrelevant. This is not to say that there is no use for ground troops.
They are needed, but in future conflicts they will only play a secondary
role. Land forces will no longer win wars. Computers, missiles, planes,
and drones will. If the marines want to survive, we're going to have to
adapt -- and fast.
Struggling for Relevance
marines are a door-kicking service, designed to breach enemy territory
and establish an [amphibious] entry point for the Army's strategic land
capability. [EDITOR: Army has its own door-kicking forces for airborne
entry points: Rangers and Paratroopers] But the U.S. military's
development of unmanned aircraft, combined with stealth technology and
unmatched ISR capability, makes it almost impossible for an enemy today
to significantly impede the landing of U.S. forces on a beach or at a
port. Forcible entry no longer requires landing forces -- it takes
precision strikes, coordinated by special operations
forces as needed. But if the door is going to be kicked in by a cruise
missile, an unmanned aircraft, or other platform delivering precision
munitions, why does the Marine Corps insist on maintaining such a
large amphibious forcible entry capability based around the same marine
who stormed ashore at Tarawa? Because to argue that the United
States does not need an [amphibious] forcible-entry force would be to
question the very necessity of having a Marine Corps. Unfortunately,
that is the question the Corps must now answer.
The marines could
have pushed for change 10 years ago. Following the 9/11 attacks,
then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld approached the marine
commandant and asked if the marines could take on a special operations
role within the Department of Defense. For the secretary, it seemed
logical. The Marine Corps is designed to operate independently when
necessary; it can sustain itself with a well-oiled logistics
organization, and it even has its own air wings. At the time, most
special operations forces resided in the Army and in Navy Special
Warfare and there was an emerging shortage of operators. The Corps could
have filled the gap in special forces that existed right after 9/11.
Marine Corps leadership balked at this proposition. A compromise with
Rumsfeld did lead to the creation of Marine Special Operations Command,
which now operates under U.S. Special Operations Command, but it was
slow to get off the ground and has had trouble establishing credibility
within the special operations community. The Marine Corps then focused
on fighting the Iraq and Afghanistan wars for the next 10 years. With
Iraq over and Afghanistan drawing to a close planners can now focus
again on what the United States will need in a possible unlimited war.
But the Marine Corps -- and the Army -- have been caught flat-footed,
unable to truly grasp the superiority of U.S.
technology and how ground forces must adapt to harness its potential.
So what should the Marine Corps do?
it needs to recognize that future wars will be very different.
Firepower will be brought to bear by unmanned surveillance aircraft and
by small, highly trained teams. These teams will be fast, exceptionally
physically fit, able to operate independently, but also able to operate
with larger forces when necessary. Teams will be inserted by parachute,
landing zone, or over the horizon from the sea. They will be backed up
by a robust logistics tail and continuous, round-the-clock air support
that provides security to compensate for their small size. Air support
will consist of fixed-wing assets at sea, national assets based around
the world, and fleets of unmanned aircraft that constantly surveil each
team and the area in which they operate. That means teams are unlikely
to be surprised or ambushed, and when threats are identified,
they can be quickly neutralized by precision munitions launched from
drones, manned aircraft, and ships. The teams will be able to conduct
precision operations and a variety of raids, or hundreds of operators
can be employed in coordination with each other during high-intensity
In short, the future of warfare is in special
operations, and the Pentagon will need a lot more operators. The future
of the Marine Corps is as a special operations force that functions in a
sustained combat mode.
Second, the Marine Corps needs to start
thinking in terms of what the military calls "jointness" -- the ability
to operate with other services. The Department of Defense is now joint
through and through, and yet the Marine Corps still prides itself as an
expeditionary force, able to deploy with limited external support. That
has been a strength of the Marine Corps, but today it may be a
liability. One problem is that the Marine Corps does not
own most of the precision weapons platforms that are needed to operate
on future battlefields. It needs to accept that it will have to rely on
its sister services (particularly the Air Force) for ISR and close-air
support to ensure the viability of small teams. Yes, there is probably
some benefit to having a marine pilot supporting marine ground forces,
as we were always told at The Basic School. But is a Navy or Air Force
pilot really unable to adequately support marines on the ground? Just
maintaining the command, control, communications, computers, combat
systems, and intelligence structure that will eventually connect every
marine on the battlefield will require Air Force platforms. The Marine
Corps will not be able to maintain the data connectivity needed to
manage the future battlefield. Instead of fighting jointness, the Corps should articulate how it can be leveraged to make marines even more lethal.
the Corps will
have to completely change its approaches to doctrine, training, and
equipment. Organizing for land battles or amphibious forcible entry is
outdated, because U.S. firepower can obliterate any enemy force that
dares to occupy the battlespace. Quite simply, there will be nothing for
tanks and large troop formations to fight. The future belongs to small
teams who will not be supported by air power and precision munitions, but who will actually support
air power and precision munitions. The doctrine of close-air support
will be reversed, turning into "close-ground support" whereby marines
will be a supporting component in a much larger campaign of missiles and
To operate in small teams that can coordinate a
massive precision-engagement campaign, marines will have to change the
way they fight and train. The ethos of "every marine a rifleman" will shift to "every marine a JTAC," or joint terminal air controller. A
marine or team that cannot communicate on the battlefield will die.
Marines will manage and become experts on dozens of different
communications platforms ensuring double and triple redundancy. The
battlefield of the future will be wired with data pipes bigger than the
Alaskan Pipeline. If commanders today worry about information overload,
they haven't seen anything yet. Every warrior on the battlefield will
have access to the common operating picture, able to call in dozens of
precision strikes from multiple platforms at once. Graduation exercises
at infantry school will be based around scenarios that test the ability
of the individual and team to operate in austere environments under
physically grueling conditions -- while maintaining continuous
communications over several waveforms. The Crucible will look like a day
at the fair.
Organizationally, the marine rifle squad as we know
it today will no longer exist. Each squad will have a
signals intelligence specialist, data and communications specialists,
demolitions experts, one or two corpsmen, a sniper, and two or three
machine gun teams -- only one or two team members may be certified
"JTACs" but all must know how to coordinate the use of precision
munitions and air assets via multiple radio and data waveforms. From the
lowest-ranking member of the team to the general officer leading the
joint task force headquarters, live video feeds will stream
continuously, giving every warfighter a clear, concise picture of the
battlefield. Rarely will the marine of the future use his personal
weapon; "rifleman" will become an antiquated term.
organization and manpower management will all have to be addressed if
the Marine Corps is to conduct a significant re-organization. Marines
operating in small teams will probably require over a year of training,
probably more. A normal four-year enlistment might
not be cost effective. Force structure may have to be reduced in order
to ensure there are enough recruits with the qualifications and physical
abilities to make the cut as operatives in the new elite marine teams.
Suffice it to say, the changes will hit every area of the Corps from
recruiting to training to organization to equipping. The Marine Corps
has been historically infantry-centric; to remain so could mean its
We will never fight another war in the mud.
However, special forces can currently operate only for short periods of
time; they cannot operate in a sustained mode in the face of
significant opposition. The Marine Corps is in a position to fill the
gap that currently exists within the special forces community. The
Marine Corps must recognize the change that is sweeping the U.S.
military and be the trailblazers we have always been when it comes to
innovating and providing the most bang for the nation's buck.
Failure to act could mean increasing irrelevance for a force that has
been one of the United States's most storied and effective fighting
Lt. Col. Lloyd Freeman is a marine infantry
officer and has served three combat tours, two in Iraq and one in
Afghanistan. He currently serves as the Deputy Executive Assistant in
the Expeditionary Warfare Division of the U.S. Navy.