Based on a threat-informed, ten-year time horizon, we are designing a force for naval expeditionary warfare in actively contested spaces. It will be purpose-built to facilitate sea denial and assured access in support of fleet and joint operations.
As we continue to explore design options through wargames supported by independently verifiable analysis, now is a good time to share some of the initial observations and assumptions behind our efforts, the hypotheses we seek to validate, and the preliminary conclusions we have reached on investments and divestments.
Joint force must bend the character of future war such that we regain the competitive advantage. In order to do this, the naval services must innovate to generate favorable asymmetries which present adversaries with critical dilemmas.
This means new concepts and approaches to require the naval services to operate outside our traditional comfort zone and embrace a new cooperative mindset to maximize the reach of American seapower.
How can we integrate and leverage the authorities of the Navy and Marine Corps strategy afloat in partnership with our partners? How do we win the information battle?
Conditions have compelled the naval services to reexamine the fundamental assumptions upon which we have built the current force. Within the Marine Corps, existing processes for force development have too often led to unimaginative results, as we tend to become prisoners of platform-based thinking, seeking incremental improvements in current capabilities and methods.
We are under-invested in Expeditionary airfield capabilities and structure to support manned and unmanned aircraft and other systems from austere, minimally developed locations.
To regain the strategic initiative, the Marines needs new capabilities to fight in new ways to generate new strategic options for future decision-makers.
With this in mind, our force design team made the following assumptions:
First, forward bases and legacy infrastructure within the adversary’s weapons engagement zone are now extremely vulnerable.
Second, large ships and those with large electronic, acoustic, or optical signatures are highly vulnerable within the weapons engagement zone, and to an increasing degree, immediately outside it.
Third, adversary missile and air forces are optimized for the anti-ship fight.
Fourth, while sea control or denial has traditionally been the exclusive domain of afloat naval forces, ground based long-range precision fires and missiles are increasingly capable of affecting maritime operations.
Finally, sub-surface naval capabilities will continue to have a decisive advantage over surface capabilities.
While the Marine Corps must be prepared to operate across the entire spectrum of conflict, its first priority as a naval service ought to be deterrence.
To align the Marine Corps with the National Defense Strategy, we must be trained and equipped as a naval expeditionary force-in-readiness that is prepared to operate inside actively contested maritime spaces in support of fleet operations.
Both joint and initial service-level wargames support this hypothesis, and reinforce the conclusion that naval expeditionary stand-in forces can generate technically disruptive, tactical stand-in engagements that confront aggressor naval forces with an array of low signature, affordable, and risk-worthy platforms and payloads.
Our concepts of Stand-In Forces and Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations are the Marine Corps’ is primary ways to deliver long-range anti-ship fires, operate sensors to cue naval and joint kill-chains, and control key maritime terrain. In concert with naval and air forces operating outside of the weapons engagement zone, these stand-in forces significantly complicate any adversary’s decision-making calculus.
Building the naval expeditionary force of the future will require an honest assessment about the relevance of both current and planned capabilities, organizations, and equipment.
Undertaking such a bold endeavor will not be straightforward. But, the urgency of the challenge before us compels action. We will not allow a failure of imagination to define this period of our collective naval or Marine Corps history.
We will continue to challenge the status quo and continue to ask all the hard questions — regardless of the discomfort they produce. We will continue to rigorously wargame — and at a much-accelerated pace to facilitate learning. We cannot and will not get this wrong.
Initial findings from our force design-related wargames are sharpening our understanding of the investments and divestments required to align the force with the National Defense Strategy.
Marines over- invested in capabilities and capacities purpose-built for traditional sustained operations ashore, including:
1. Surge-layer capacity of reserve component and the current maritime prepositioning force
2. Manned anti-armor ground and aviation platforms
3. Manned ground transportation and associated movement capabilities
4. Traditional towed-artillery that cannot be modified for potential high-velocity projectile use
5. Manned ground reconnaissance
6. Short-range mortar systems lacking necessary precision, range, and lethality
7. Non-lethal small tactical unmanned aircraft systems
8. Excess equipment maintained in administrative storage
9. Exquisite platforms with unsustainable manpower/personnel requirements
10. Vehicles, aircraft, and systems that the service can neither afford to procure or afford to sustain over their anticipated lifespans
Marines Under-invested in naval expeditionary capabilities and capacities that support fleet operations, including:
1. Unmanned lethal, low-cost, long-endurance combat aerial vehicles
2. Unmanned lethal and non-lethal ground and amphibious vehicles
3. Unmanned aerial, ground, surface, and underwater logistics vehicles/vessels
4. Mobile and rapidly deployable rocket artillery and long-range precision-fires to include anti-ship missiles
5. Mobile air defense and counter-precision guided missile systems, to include directed energy systems
6. Loitering munitions
7. Signature management
8. Electronic warfare
9. Offensive mining capabilities
10. Lethal and risk-worthy surface vessels to include large undersea vessels