Conway Wants His Marines To Start Shedding Weight

How do you squeeze two Marine Expeditionary Brigades onto 33 amphibious ships when in reality they require 38? You make them shed the weight they gained over the past seven years fighting on Iraq’s IED strewn battlefields, said Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Conway yesterday in an editorial board with

Lifting two full MEBs with their mounds of equipment, up-armored vehicles and aircraft requires 38 amphibious ships; the current shipbuilding plan gives the Marines 33. Conway wants a return to the days when the Marines weren’t viewed as a second land army and is determined to shoehorn two MEBs onto those 33 amphibs.

Today’s Marine battalions are much heavier than the battalions Conway took cross the Kuwait border into Iraq in 2003, “heavier because we’re defending against IEDs, heavier because with a large vehicle comes a large weapons station, heavier because we’re carrying so much more communications equipment.” Marine platoons conducting distributed operations today in Afghanistan have as much communications gear typically found in a battalion, he said.

Where will the weight savings come from? He’s looking at vehicles as the main culprits in overloading his Marines, singling out the massive MRAPs and the planned Army-Marine Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV) program.

The original JLTV concept was to produce a light vehicle, but now the Army is looking at a 20,000 pound plus version. That won’t cut it, Conway said, he wants a vehicle closer in weight to the 8,000 pound Humvee, and is trying to get “light” back in as a key performance parameters for the JLTV.

“We want to shift the mentality a little bit and say heavy is not always better when you’re trying to be fast and austere.” Industry says they’re still at least five years from building a composite armored vehicle with the same protection as steel armor, he said.

One vehicle the Marines really like is called the Small Combat Tactical Vehicle Capsule (SCTVC), it’s a bolt-on armored capsule that fits onto the existing Humvee chassis, giving it MRAP level protection from IEDs and mine blasts. The Marines have awarded Textron a contract for 3 Humvee test vehicles, and Conway said it performed well in early blast testing and could end up as an alternative for the JLTV.

A recent post over at the Navy centric Information Dissemination blog illustrated the Marine’s weight gain problems. According to Lt. Col. Roger Galbraith, Marine units have so many more vehicles that even if the Marines were to get the 38 amphibs ships they want, they would still be forced to leave vehicles behind.

To make his point, he provided the following illustration:

Old Vehicle: M151 Jeep: 3,000 lbs.
Currents ships designed around: M998 Soft-door HMMWV: 5,000 lbs
Currently used on the ground: Up-Armored HMMWV: 7,600 lbs
Future vehicle, Joint Light? Tactical Vehicle: 22,000 lbs

— Greg

  • Brandon

    Finally a Marine that is back to the way it used to be. They need to get out of this second land army stuff. They did there job as amphib. assault quite well let the army do what we do best (if that even exists).

  • Benson

    Any reason why we’re not building the needed five ships? It’s not like Congress has a problem throwing around money we don’t have. Might as well invest it in the Marines.

    • TMB

      The Navy as a whole has been having problems with its ship building programs. Take a look at the LCS blogs.

      • Jim Cravey

        If the Navy would award shipbuilding contracts based off of quality/production costs/overrides/and past performance instead of awarding contracts to MSR/ABR holders ie Grumman New Orleans for a good example just because the man-hour rate is cheap and the area needs work has never worked and never will..Good Example..USS-San Antonio-LPH-17 statred at Avondale Shipyars-New Orleans..Cost overuns were more than the basic award and the ship is still as “screwed up as “Hogan’s Goat”..

  • Top V

    And of the 33 ships, the new America class gave up the well deck, so even less vehicle and cargo storage. Way to go Navy.

    • Moose

      Ground vehicle storage you are correct, however America does not loose cargo capacity. It is still able to move cargo via helicopter, and sports 146,000 cubic feet of cargo/ammo storage.

  • William C.

    Indeed, the USMC needs to me more than a “second land army” however that involves getting the EFV or some AAVP7A1 replacement on track.

  • @Earlydawn

    Why are MRAPs being factored into the long-term plans for MAGTF transportation and organization, when they aren’t even a permanent part of the force structure?

    That aside, once everything is said and done, assign the “stand-by” portion of MRAPs to the Army, and leave the rest in the depots until we need them. They are a contingency vehicle, not a first choice.

    • TMB

      I’m sure there’s plenty of warehouse space in South Korea, Germany, and Kuwait for all those MRAPs the Corps no longer wants to play with. As you said, they’re not front-line first week of the war vehicles to begin with.

  • Byron Skinner

    Good Morning Folks,

    Me thinks the story here isn’t about a lighter MRAP’s or what ever vehicles the Marines will have in the future but five more ships. If the Marines are allowed to maintain their current force level (220,000?), and not be RIF’ed then they should get the needed transport.

    The choices are rather simple adjust the size of the Corps to the available equipment (ships and vehicles) or buy the equipment to fit the size of the Corps.

    If the Marines are to be reduced back to 180,000 or even down to future “light force” of 150,000 as some scuttlebutt is saying, then I think this discussion should be put off until the future size of the USMC is determined, its future mission defined and what equipment the Marines will require.

    Any reduction is size of the Corps would obliviously change the requirements for sea transport of personal, equipment, and logistics as well as reducing the sizes of Regiments, battalions and Companies.

    I would think that with the current debates as to future missions going on that the MRAP and the JLTV’s might not be what the Marines end up with. Both of these vehicles seem to be more Army centric and not really what the Marines are looking for unless they are to become an adjunct to the Army.

    Byron Skinner

    • FormerDirtDart

      Byron, again you show you don’t have a clue about what you are babbling about. A reduction of the overall MC end strength would not reduce the sizes of regiments, battalions or companies. It would reduce the overall number of them. And, the MC would still have the requirement to float two MEB’s in 33 ships.
      The problem is not in the number of Marines, but with the gear they bring with them.

    • ohwilleke

      There is no reason why the U.S. Marines can’t simply have a smaller proportion of their force afloat at any one time. Marines no longer provide significant shipboard security, and are now located in the Department of Navy primarily as a historical accident. Some of the heaviest Marine service in recent history has been in landlocked Afghanistan and nearly landlocked Iraq (where the British and not the Americans were responsible for coastal Iraq for most of the engagement).

      The Marines are now defined largely as elite light military force now with integral air support, not as ship based soldiers. The main need for Marines on ships is no longer to mount major invasions from the sea, it is to take on selective, small scale military and disaster aid missions off third world countries we don’t plan on taking over.

  • brant

    If the Marines don’t want to be seen as a second land Army then they need to stop trying to do Army missions just so they can have a seat at the table during the current war. If they want to play in the Afghan sandbox, that means kitting up for it. If they don’t want to kit up, go play somewhere else. Pretty simple, really…

    • Bob

      Amen to that. Maybe the Marines need to determine who, or what they are. Afghanistan doesn’t even have a coast line. So, why are they there?

      • sgt of marines

        because the marines do it better

    • @Earlydawn

      I don’t think you guys are being realistic about this. How much worse off would the Army be if the Marines weren’t available to pull rotations in the sandbox? Makes absolutely no sense to keep them out on the boats with nothing to do.

      Don’t think of it as Army = land forces and Marines = amphibious forces, think of it as Army = Defense and slow, sustainable offense, and Marines = fast-moving, easily-deployable shock troops.

      • chaos0xomega

        The only reason the army needs the marines “in the sandbox” is because the army doesn’t have enough personnel to do it on their own. if we increase the authorized strength of the army to compensate for this, and decrease the size of the marine corps/shed some of their ill-fitting equipment to free up the funds needed for this, we can return to a pretty good balance (which to me seems to be more economical as well).

        You said it yourself, the Marines are fast-moving, easily-deployable shock troops… why are they being loaded up with all this heavy slow moving difficult to deploy equipment? Why are they going on patrols and performing defensive actions? That is not what the marine corps is about, they could be much better utilized performing other duties. That doesn’t mean keeping them out of the sandbox full-time, they should be brought in when we conduct offensives into taliban/insurgent dominated areas, but otherwise they SHOULD be kept on the boats (and again, they probably should see a RIF).

        • ohwilleke

          Rather than seeing Marines as “fast-moving, easily-deployable shock troops,” it would be more fruitful to think of them as elite light troops, of a piece with the Army’s paratroopers but a bit heavier. Light troops make sense in wars when your opponents don’t have aircraft, ships, submarines, tanks, armored personnel carriers, self-propelled artillery, or heavy fortifications.

          Marines also make sense in the places we have put them because they have put more thought and effort into counterinsurgency doctrine than the Army which lurched heavily towards Cold War armored battles and away from counterinsurgency in the wake of Vietnam.

      • brant

        My point is not should/shouldn’t be there. The marines are helping take a huge strain off the Army. My point is that if the good general doesn’t want them weighed down like a second land army, then he needs to quit acting like one.

  • @YankeeSailor

    I understand the general’s concerns, but I’d ask him the same question I’d ask my fellow contributor at Information Dissemination: The Corps may want to shed that weight, but do they expect the enemy to shed their tactic of using IEDs to accomodated the Marines’ goals?

    The cost of returning to light vehicles is higher casualties. Period.

  • kristian

    Conway seems to exist in his own world, divorced from the reality of what his Marines will face, regardless of where they go. IEDs are not new and they certainly are not going away. Our enemy has refined the technique to an art and the knowledge of emplacement and manufacture will only spread. There is not any coastal environment that the Marines will operate in anywhere in the world where the ability to move troops and equipment by ground will be extremely constricted and bottled necked by available roads. It is just the nature of coastal terrain. Vertical lift gives the Marines some ability to avoid these bottle necks but it is not the be all and end all as the Marines just don’t have enough lift to move whole battalions and their equipment nor keep them supplied once they arrive on scene. Also, not all environments will be as permissive as current ops are and vertical lift is extremely vunerable to ground fire and SAM threat.

  • stephen russell

    The Corp can Fwd position vehicles from RoRo ships or use older LST types for Cargo use only.
    Combine missions & staff?
    Equip share.
    Combine Logistics, Intelligence, Security with US Army forces.
    Downsize non essential equip.
    Make vehicles anti IED at shore bases prior deployment.
    Expand LCACV.

    Revive any Amphib Reserve ships for role.
    Rethink MEU for Today vs the 1990s.

  • Chuck

    Marines are a fighting organization, they are not nation builders or pysops types that can take the long term look at the local population. Marines are designed and trained to take objectives by force, maintain the positions and move on when the “holding force” arrives. Doesn’t matter if it is litoral or not. High speed, hard hitting, no compromise. According to the Al-quaida and Taliban, it isn’t a good idea to tangle with the Marines unless you are interested in cashing in on the 72 Virgins.

    • ohwilleke

      The Marines are what the President needs them to be.

      If the President needs nation builders and pysops, then the Marines need to be ready to do that. If the Marines can do that better than the alternatives available to the President, then the President is making a good choice.

      • b b

        OhWilleke ..this is a bogus response to Chuck’s post. Obviously all elements of the U.S. Armed Forces are “What the President needs them to be”. However, it is the responsibility of Combatant Commanders and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to advise the President on how to best utilized the individual services. Following your logic it would seem reasonable that the President exercise his authority to direct the U.S. Navy to conduct a major land battle.

        The Marine Corps provides the President with unique capabilities, which have been forgotten during OIF/OEF. If the Marine Corps continues to be required to augment traditional Army missions, when the need arises for the unique capabilities the Marine Corps will be improperly equipped. Gen. Conway is attempting to hold true to the Marine Corps saying “be ready when the nation is least ready.”

  • czech_6

    Park the USMC under Dept of Army, not Dept of Navy. LOL.

    Army gets fixed wing CAS, the Corps gets logistics.

  • leesea

    To me as a former gator freighter driver and sealifter, this is all about transportation. The Marines have been gettting larger and heavier tactical equipment since WW2, I don’t think that will change any time soon. The Navy keeps building fewer and more expensive amphibs to lift the Marines, that should change but won’t while senior Marines over-spec their sealift rqmts.

    The solution is NOT as Bryon says “The choices are rather simple adjust the size of the Corps to the available equipment (ships and vehicles) or buy the equipment to fit the size of the Corps.”

    The solution is to buy more hulls that are less expensive by many factors of cost. That type exists today in the form of the MPF but the Marines keep asking for more ships for forcible entry (which is very debatable a justification?). The solution is USE what is already in the USN inventory.

    Answer the question: should the USN buy more ships built like gussied up WW2 amphibs, or should the Navy buy more ships which are affordable and support future missions of the Marine Corps.

    We all know what is the affordable answer, but the Marines seem to wishing for better? Such exquisite ships will never be bought in enough numbers to support worldwide deployments

  • Mike

    It is not just the Marines that are pulling traditional Army duties. All three (four if you count the coast guard) having been taking jobs the Army doesn’t have the manpower or the capability to do. Washington’s do more with less sometimes puts everybody between a rock and a hardplace. Everybody has taken it on the chin when it comes to their equipment and manning this past decade. The crystal balls are rapidly becoming cracked as the warplanners try to meet projected needs, missions and political allowances in what the can ask Congess for.

  • Mastro

    Why doesn’t Conway buy a lot of scooters and give the Marines MicroUzis?

    Sorry about the weight`- but some heft is needed unless you plan to attack some lost world where the natives only have machetes.

    Now- they all have IEDS and Ak’s

  • ohwilleke

    Shipping heavy military vehicles and equipment by big slow boats makes sense. Shipping Marines cruise ship style by big slow boats with complete dormatory facilities for every Marine who will operate those military vehicles and that military equipment doesn’t. The Marines should strip out quarters for troops in favor of space for their gear.

    The status quo turns brigades of Marines into tempting targets en route, when they could be flown in when the ships arrive at their destinations. Marines no longer fight on the sea itself, and if they are fighting on land, they ought to be able to have barracks for a substantial share of their force on land. Amphibious operations (for which their are very few modern precedents) would be short. While it may make sense to have ships that have specialized facilities like hospitals available for Marines fighting on land, it doesn’t make sense to build a fleet premised on housing large contingents of Marines entirely on ships for a prolonged period of time.

    • DennisBuller

      While I respect your reasoning and agree with much of the logic, you are missing a point; a big part of having Marines on the ships and ready to go is to park them off the coast as a show of force.
      Plus, what if there are no nearby large airports to land the solders? Even then, getting the solders and equipment together would take time and sets up a very predictable pattern that could be taken advantage of…..

  • Mike

    I agree with the logic as well but as a former Marine and employee of Gen Conway when he was a 2 star at 1mardiv I have some concerns…

    Without the Marines on ship off the coast where would the war(s) be? Marines were designed to be a rapidly deployed force not to be a long term stationary force… Take FAST company as an example…

    First to go last to know…

    I do agree cutting weight where needed (armor) is not a good idea at all but Marines have always got the green weenie when it comes to equiptment… Ship life suks as is it is but it is a good thing to have readily equiped Marines on ship at all times… Maybe that is why our ship never get hijacked???

  • Paul

    Typical of Marine Corps leadership….thinking of those pesky, practical and future war fighting requirements, rather than hemming and hawing over which of a bazillion camo patterns they’re gonna use……..or who’s gonna wear what color beret. Yep, typical. Semper Fi.

  • Ryan

    Why not take some of the Army’s budget and apply it to the Marines? It’s not like they put it to good use. Oorah?