Commadant has unveiled a bold new plan for the Marine Corps that could put an end to swirling debate that the service is trying to be everything to everyone. Instead the guidance states "We will build one force -- optimized for naval expeditionary warfare in contested spaces, purpose-built to facilitate sea denial and assured access in support of the fleets.
"That single purpose-built future force will be applied against other challenges across the globe; however, we will not seek to hedge or balance our investments to account for those contingencies."
The coming decade, the guidance provides that the force, is going to be characterized by conflict, crisis and rapid change. The future operating environment will put "heavy demands" on the nation's sea services, and Marines need to be prepared for what's to come.
"Marines cannot be passive passengers en route to the amphibious objective area. As long-range precision stand-off weapons improve and diffuse along the world's littorals, Marines must contribute to the fight alongside our Navy shipmates from the moment we embark."
The fight alongside the Navy fleet will continue when Marines are ashore. And Marines are going to need to train up on how they can best support that kind of fight.
In new strategic guidance, the Commadant states “Together, the Navy-Marine Corps Team must enable the joint force to partner, persist, and operate forward wherever and whenever we are called to do so. To meet these requirements, we must redesign our force.
The new Marine Corps Commandant has issued a startlingly blunt new set of orders to his commanders in a new guidance document, calling for a complete overhaul of the core amphibious mission of the Marines and how they operate once they hit shore, setting a new course for the Corps, scrapping old capabilities.
The sweeping critique of the Marine amphibious strategy called the current approach of moving Marines ashore aboard slow, small amphibious vehicles and helicopters an “impractical and unreasonable” plan that has been wedged within a force that “is not organized, trained, or equipped to support the naval force” in high-end combat.
“The ability to project and maneuver from strategic distances will likely be detected and contested from the point of embarkation during a major contingency,” the new document states, while declaring the Corps must be able to quickly move and scatter forces ashore to avoid the proliferation of precision strike capabilities.
The document states“It would be illogical to continue to concentrate our forces on a few large ships. The adversary will quickly recognize that striking while concentrated aboard shis is the preferred option. We need to change this calculus with a new fleet design of smaller, more lethal, and more risk-worthy platforms.”
The decades-old idea that Marines could punch their way ashore from amphibious ships parked dozens of miles offshore has been hijacked by reality. “We must change,” “we must divest of legacy capabilities that do not meet our future requirements, regardless of their past operational efficacy.”
The guidance states there is “no piece of equipment program that defines us. … Likewise, we are not defined by any particular organizing construct — the Marine Air-Ground Task Force cannot be our only solution for all crises.”
In other words, it’s time to train and change.
The Marine Corps wants to completely rewrite the playbook when it comes to amphibious warfare. It seeks to counter the growing A2/AD threat by proliferating platforms and increasing reliance on long-range fires and unmanned systems to penetrate enemy defenses.
Marine landing forces will employ a combination of extremely sophisticated air capabilities, centered on the F-35B and MV-22 and fast-moving ground units equipped with new platforms, like the Amphibious Combat Vehicle, to conduct long-range, mobile operations.
“We need a force capable of denying freedom of naval maneuver to deter our adversaries; or, as necessary, a Corps capable of exploiting, penetrating, and degrading advanced adversary defenses in all domains in support of Naval and Joint Force operations.
In what could follow from the Commadants, new guidance, a promising strategy is the concept of placing long range weapons systems within Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations EABO, Marines would create an anti-access envelope, within which enemy ships and aircraft would find it difficult and hopefully impossible to operate. Many critics said “EABO,” was another of those ideas that “briefed well” but whose limitations would only be exposed in war.
For decades the Marine Corps has rightfully espoused maneuver warfare as the core of all of its warfighting concepts. Well, scattering battalions across thousands of miles of ocean appeared, on its face, to be the opposite of maneuver.
Once placed, it would take a huge effort to reconsolidate all the separated pieces of a Marine expeditionary force into a formation with sufficient fire and maneuver capacity to win a stand-up fight with a peer-state military. Critics maintained EABO seemed to make a hash of Marine Corps claims to be a maneuver-based force.
In short, by adopting EABO as its foundational warfighting, the Marine Corps was apparently turning its units into sitting ducks.
While the answer to the question – “What does the Navy provide the Marine Corps?” is readily identifiable – operational and strategic mobility, and assured access; the same cannot be said for the follow-on question, “What does the Marine Corps provide the Navy and the Joint Force?”
Traditionally, the answer has been power projection forces from the sea, and/or forces for sustained operations ashore in support of a traditional naval campaign. We should ask ourselves – what do the Fleet Commanders want from the Marine Corps, and what does the Navy need from the Marine Corps?
.It seemed obvious to many that operational and strategic mobility throughout this vast expanses like the Pacific can only be accomplished by naval forces. Land mobility is of little value in a theater where all maneuver is held hostage to the Navy’s ability to control the sea lanes, and where land maneuver space is always at a premium. To grasp the vital core of EABO concept of maneuver must be expanded to encompass the entire joint force over the enormous expanses of the Pacific theater.
Navy’s sea-control task is hugely eased if Marine Corps is able to establish and defend key maritime terrain on which are emplaced fires-complexes capable of engaging ships and aircraft 500 or more miles away. Just one such location relieves the Navy of the responsibility of controlling a circle of the ocean with a diameter of 1,000 miles. Even as few as a half-dozen such locations could make large swathes of the Pacific Ocean off limits to adversaries serving as a huge deterrent effect on strategic calculations.of adversaries.
It is time for the United States to stop worrying about how to penetrate anti-access/area-denial systems, and force them to worry about how they will get past American systems. By adopting EABO as its foundational strategic concept in the Pacific, the U.S. Marine Corps could ensure that time would be on its side in any future conflict.
Other strategists claim that we could forgo the uncertainties of an EABO concept, which would have to be implemented in the adversaries backyard, by implementing a strategy of horizontal escalation, which aims to geographically expand a conflict by attacking valuable targets that lie outside of the central theater. While such a strategic concept might have some deterrence value, it betrays a huge strategic naiveté if one supposes it will work once a conflict erupts.
Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations EABO is not a stand-alone concept that would leave Marine units stranded and fighting for their lives on isolated islands. Rather, the Marine Corps and Navy are working to integrate their various weapons systems – existing and projected – into a mutually supporting fires complex, employing missiles and long-range artillery fires to dominate the maritime domain.
Under such a construct, a naval force would be able to conduct operations while sheltering under a land-based anti-access umbrella. That same naval force would also be able to add its defensive weaponry to help protect the Marine fires-complexes. This mutually supporting firepower would hugely increase the survivability of both land and naval forces.
To accomplish all of this, the Marine Corps is resetting its mindset to better integrate itself with naval forces with the aim of truly becoming an extension of the Fleet. In doing so, the Marines will help ensure that the Navy retains its freedom of maneuver throughout the Pacific.
EABO is still only a concept, and much work needs to be done. For one, the Marine Corps still needs to develop and acquire the long-range missiles and other fire systems required to implement the concept. Also, as with any emerging operational concept, extensive experimentation is still required to refine the organizational structures, weapons systems, and logistics that will make EABO execution possible in contested spaces.
As the Marine Corps continues to examine this concept, it should not ignore the fact that for EABO to be effective, most of the Corps forward fires-complexes will have to be established within or adjacent to regions in an enemy’s own backyard. As such, Marines will have to endure a vicious military reaction that could last days, weeks, or months. Surviving and operating in such an environment will challenge the Corps in ways it has not experienced in at least two generations.
Still, this not an insurmountable problem, and the Marine Corps is looking to accelerate EABO solutions for fighting on the doorstep of a peer competitor. No one expects any of this to be easy, and the commandant’s guidance recognizes that there are many challenges to overcome before this concept become doctrine.