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The Corps

Reports are that the next commandant of the Marine Corps will be career aviator Gen. James Amos; a surprise pick, many thought Joint Forces Command’s Gen. James Mattis had it locked (RUMINT says Mattis’ opposition to repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell sunk him).

If named as the next CMC, Amos will be taking over a service that faces a roles and missions crisis. A crisis you say? Balderdash! Well, if you don’t believe me, take a look at what Defense Secretary Robert Gates said before an Army audience at Ft. Leavenworth last month:

“I am in the process of interviewing potential replacements as commandant of the Marine Corps. And the first question that I am asking each of them is, what is your vision for the future of the Marine Corps?… since the Marines have essentially, both in Iraq and Afghanistan, played the role of second land Army, what differentiates them from the Army? And what is their mission going forward that makes them unique?”

So what is Amos’ vision for the Marine Corps? He provided some answers in a speech at the Naval War College annual strategy forum in Newport R.I. earlier this month, a write up of which was provided to Defense Tech by an anonymous participant:

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Here’s a story I wrote up for DOD Buzz today:

As Defense Secretary Robert Gates said earlier this month at the Eisenhower Luncheon, “it’s a simple matter of math.” While it would be the prudent way to go to keep the force structure at current levels, being that we are a nation in a pair of wars, he said, there is the problem of budgetary realities. “It is highly unlikely that we will achieve the real growth rates necessary to sustain the current force structure.”

To pay troops and buy new weapons, savings must be found inside the defense budget, Gates said, proposing a version of the McKinsey consultants approach: cutting overhead costs, which typically means redundant management; to convert unneeded “tail” to “tooth.”

Yet, Pentagon sources tell DOD Buzz that planners aren’t just looking at cutting tail, serious cuts in tooth are also being considered. Specifically, cutting Army and Marine force levels back to where they were before Gates boosted the land forces in early 2007 by 92,000; 65,000 additional soldiers and 27,000 more Marines.

The plan would be to slowly ramp down the boots starting by fiscal year 2014, eventually getting the Marines back to 180,000 total and the Army to 482,000. That plan is, of course, contingent on the continued withdrawal of troops from Iraq and at least some reduction in Afghanistan troop levels.

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Earlier this week, we ran a story on the Marine’s Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle that questioned the swimming amphibian’s utility, arguing that it was a niche capability. Our resident maritime warfare expert, Craig Hooper, disagrees; but saving the EFV will require the Corps rethink how the vehicle will be used.

By Craig Hooper
Defense Tech Naval Weapons and Warfare Analyst

If the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle (EFV) proves reliable and meets current performance goals, it has a chance to enter the American arsenal. But the EFV’s chances would get even better if the Marines decoupled the EFV from “Operational Maneuver From The Sea” (OMFTS).

In 2008, after a year of fighting with Marines serving on the U.S. Naval Institute Editorial Board, Proceedings published my essay on the EFV (you can read it here). In the article, I suggested that, to survive, the EFV forgo OMFTS to focus on the beachhead and the wetter side of the littorals.

But it’ll be tough. First, the Marine Corps must acknowledge that, in the case of heavy amphibious armor, the goals of “Operational Maneuver From The Sea” need to be dialed back. Let OMFTS goals for amphibious armor evolve…or die.

Look. Ever since Cold War-era Marines were tasked to take the Kola Peninsula, the OMFTS strategy and the EFV Program have been locked in a mutually-constraining strategic straitjacket. The relationship is stifling innovation. Instead, let’s acknowledge that heavy armored vehicles just can’t be built to reliably handle both sustained land operations and contested amphibious landings–and move on.

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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 Military​.com.

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.

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