Marine Corps returning to its roots – TTG

"The 2018 National Defense Strategy redirected the Marine Corps’ mission focus from countering violent extremists in the Middle East to great power/peer-level competition, with special emphasis on the Indo-Pacific. Such a profound shift in missions, from inland to littoral, and from non-state actor to peer competitor, necessarily requires substantial adjustments in how we organize, train, and equip our Corps. A return to our historic role in the maritime littoral will also demand greater integration with the Navy and a reaffirmation of that strategic partnership.
As a consequence, we must transform our traditional models for organizing, training, and equipping the force to meet new desired ends, and do so in full partnership with the Navy." (Department of the Navy)


This is the lead paragraph of “Force Design 2030” laying out the USMC Commandant’s guidance for transforming the Corps from a land force competing with US Army missions to an integral part of the US Navy focused on littorial operations. It is a long overdue return to the Corps’ original mission and focus much like the Pacific island hopping campaign of World War II.

 The majority of the articles dealing with this are focusing on the decision to jettison the three Abrams tank battalions. The Marines will also drop three infantry battalions and exchange most of its tube artillery for rocket artillery (perhaps MLRS) as well as a good chunk of its vertical lift capability and even some of its assault amphibian capabilities. They also plan to greatly increase the UAV capability and reduce the manpower of the remaining 21 active infantry battalions by 200. In conjunction with the Navy, the Marines are planning for smaller, lower signature and more affordable amphibious assault ships even mentioning an LST sized ship.

As important as these changes will be, the more important change is in how the Marines intend to fight. Rather than the standard two up, one back, high-diddle-diddle, straight up the middle approach, the Commandant says his Marines must be capable of distributed operations. I first read of these distributed operations about 25 years ago when the Marines conducted a field exercise with an infantry battalion operating as small independent units over a wide battlefield. The results of the exercise impressed USMC leadership. General Michael Hagee, then Marine Commandant, defined it thusly. “Distributed operations is the coordinated interdependent action by dispersed small units that are task organized for the mission, throughout the breadth and depth of the battlespace, ordered and connected within an operational design focused on a common aim,  and with increased access to functional support.” 

Small units operating independently is not new. Companies, platoons and even squads operating independently is something widely practiced in the Army and probably in the Marines as well. The difference lies in a high degree of inter-coordination among these independent units along with a high degree of coordination with supporting fires. Every rifle squad must be capable of also functioning as scout-snipers and an ANGLICO team. In addition, Marines will have to know how to set up, operate and secure unsupported FAARPs and temporary MLRS firing points. That’s a lot to ask of a jarhead. SOF practice these things. Jarheads don’t. Nor do grunts. To this end, General David Berger, the current Commandant of Marines, calls for a complete revamping of current entry level and advanced infantry training programs to meet the demands of distributed operation. Although he doesn’t mention it, this doctrinal change will call for an equally far reaching revamping of Marine officer training. 

These changes are a tall order. At least they won’t be wasting their time trying to compete to be another Army. They may end up being a much smaller Corps than envisioned in “Force Design 2030.” That’s not a bad thing if they become a littorial force capable of distributed operations.

BTW, the painting above is the "Attack on Derna" by Charles Waterhouse. It shows Lieutenant Presley O'Bannon and his Marines attacking Derna. What the Marines don't tell you is that the attack was led by US Army Captain William Eaton. Eaton was also the US Consul at Tunis. With little support and fewer resources, Eaton raised an army of Arab tribesman and Greek mercenaries. He attacked and took Derna with the help of Lieutenant O'Bannon's Marines. I like to think of Eaton as a forerunner of the Green Berets. DOL 


This entry was posted in The Military Art, TTG. Bookmark the permalink.

36 Responses to Marine Corps returning to its roots – TTG

  1. turcopolier says:

    IMO the return to greater integration with the US Navy and an emphasis on support of littoral operations can only be a good thing for the USMC. The US presently has four big ground forces; the US Army, the USMC, the ARNG and SOF. That is way too many.

  2. JoeC100 says:

    As a former Marine, I agree that pulling back from competing with the Army is long overdue. However this sounds to me very much like the time I spent as FO with D 1/5 working out of An Hoa, southeast of Danang in 1969. Our battalion’s companies were always operating dispersed – with one exception for a couple of days that was a battalion operation, but with all three companies moving independently to the target area. My company’s operations typically involved mostly platoon operations during the day and spending the night in a company position with OPs and KT’s outside the lines. At the company level we had all the artillery support we needed and a zoomie to manage air support. Platoon commanders were capable of calling in artillery fires and 81 mortars during the few times we were near enough to the battalion HQ.
    So this looks to me mostly like coming back home, but with dramatically enabled capabilities provided by modern technology.

  3. Peter VE says:

    Now if we could just bring the Navy back to basic seamanship first, I would feel more confident about my daughter (a Marine) being assigned to shipboard duty.

  4. Leith says:

    Tripoli is a rats nest once again. But my recommendation is to stay the hell away from there.
    I recall as a young boy in a Saturday triple feature matinee seeing ‘Tripoli’. Only ten cents, they made their money selling popcorn, jujubes, and malted milk balls. Of course Hollywood had to put their own spin on it and I’m sure it had no reflection on reality. Looking it up I see it was filmed at Palm Springs and also starred John Payne as O’Bannon and Maureen O’Hara (who stole my eight year old heart}. There is a free version on youtube:

  5. Fred says:

    Peter VE,
    The navy officer corps seems to be rallying around the carrier commander who put publicity first in his ‘conern’ for his sailors and they busily trying to see that the carrier group commander and CIC Pacific Fleet don’t get canned for letting that ship visit Vietnam in March. Why there hell was that scheduled? Meanwhile the fleet is busy doing sailor protection in NYC becuase we sure wouldn’t want to treat actual patients on a hospital ship or risk sailors getting infected. Why are they their, PR?
    Perhaps firing the CNO and having Cuomo, De Basio and the Deputy CNO at today’s Covid briefing to explain the ability of EMS first responders to do basic triage to determine if they could take patients to the USNS Comfort before going to a hospital might be useful. I think the other flag officers might get the message.

  6. scott s. says:

    Haven’t seen anything yet about Marines being assigned to shipboard duty and it did seem to me that they had become allergic to seawater. They talk about adding an anti-ship capability which would be a new dimension in command and control. They also seem to be greatly reducing their air arm which is surprising to me.
    Meanwhile CO of the TR got canned after sending out his email blast. I thought his letter/memo was a bit odd, considering there is an embarked Carrier Strike Group commander and staff (CSG NINE). Ship COs do have a certain latitude, but not that much. The implication in the letter was no one in the chain of command gave a “hoot” about the crew. I found his recommendation to put every one ashore kind of unworkable. Sure you could put the air wing and other cargo ashore (do the folks on Guam really want that?) but ships company, not so much. Certainly no vacation for the Reactor Officer nor Chief Engineer.

  7. turcopolier says:

    IMO the USMC will continue to deploy aboard amphibious ships ship in units of reinforced battalions from FMF as it has long done. What will end is the ambition to be a land mass army. Perhaps sea going marines may again begin being assigned to ship’s companies, maybe.

  8. nightsticker says:

    Great post, as usual.
    NAVMAC 2890 “Small Wars Manual” was
    published in 1940.[Your post inspired me
    to dig my copy out!] One can discern the roots
    of “distributed” ‘independent small unit”
    operations for the USMC there. As a Lt in Force Recon
    in RVN I participated in “Stingray” operations
    which were a later part of the legacy.Berger is a graduate
    of NROTC Tulane; the URL below will lead to a quick read
    about him.
    Semper Fi

  9. Eric Newhill says:

    The army is going to have to learn how to become an expeditionary force to fill the gap that the Marines long have performed well in. It will be like training a three legged elephant to become a sleek agile cheetah. Until the army can adapt, if ever, the Marines will remain in the expanded mission as they have since WW1. I can already imagine all the DoD geeks deperately computer modeling new army TOEs, etc. Good luck.
    That said, I don’t think Naval infantry should be fighting on mountain tops in land locked countries.

  10. CK says:

    It is time for the Marines to transition to a space based force, to hell with planetary limited island hopping let alone literal littoral steaming; asteroid hopping and space ship to spaceship boarding and capture that is the future and the future is almost here. From the halls of Montezuma to the shores of Ganymede …
    It is not 1805, I cannot see a use for the USMC that is not already covered adequately by the other branches of the US military. Inertia I can understand, a desire to keep something around just in case we can find a use for it, not throwing out the dead baby with the contaminated bath water, a reverence for a vaguely remembered yesterday. Other than being the guards at US embassies ( a job that could be done by USAF, USA, USN, or USCG
    troops or outsourced to Blackwater of Eric Prince) what else is the USMC useful for?

  11. turcopolier says:

    The Army has always done most of the expeditionary work. The army has also done most of the fighting in US history. Revolutionary War, Mexican War, War of 1812, Civil War, WW1, WW2, etc. The Army has also done more and far bigger landings than the marines. Overlord? No marines there. Lingayan Gulf 1944, etc? The US has a US Space Force. If there is a viable mission for USMC, they are wise to take it.

  12. JoeC100 says:

    Nightsticker –
    Did you by chance overlap with Jack Holly in Force Recon? I got to know him pretty well spending a month on Hill 200 before he left 1st Recon Battalion.

  13. nightsticker says:

    I do not remember the name.
    Of course it was a long time ago..

  14. English Outsider says:

    TTG – I’ll be sorry to see the end of the Harriers. Sentimental reasons. Apart from the bombing run they were the only aircraft that could be used in the Falklands. But I think they were due to go anyway.

  15. CK says:

    About that Navy Captain, he blackmailed the chain of command. My ship is more important than the fleet. It worked this time and he paid this time. Fortunately, the Nany might have nipped this in the bud by removing him immediately. Had they not the rot would have infected the rest of the ships captains and the blackmail would know no end.
    So he “looked out for his men”, and to hell with the rest of the fleet.

  16. English Outsider,
    I also liked the Harriers. My experience with them was with Nr. 1 Squadron at RAF Wittering rather than with our Marines. My good friend, frat brother and best man was doing an exchange tour with the RAF while I was at RAF Sculthorpe during a Flintlock exercise. I visited my old friend at Wittering and got up close to a Harrier. I was amazed at the simplicity of the flight controls that allowed it to hover. I met the squadron commander who admired my kit. I remember his words. “Glad to meet you. Larry [my friend] says you’d like to up in the T-bird. [2 seat Harrier trainer] You look about my size. You can borrow my G-suit.” I did get that ride and it was a hoot. We navigated by paper maps and compass. No avionics. There were souvenirs of the Falklands throughout the base and in the main hanger. An RAF Regiment officer showed me how they integrated a number of captured AA guns into the base defense. I read a lot of the squadrons battle reports and noticed almost every flight mission was changed enroute. The fog of war.
    A word on the kit. This was the new Gortex jacket and polypropylene under jacket we were developing in 10th Group for our Army. Our group commander, Colonel Dick Potter sent our entire shipment of this new experimental gear to the Brits for the Falkland War. Some of his SAS friends told him that “kit” saved a lot of lives in the Falklands.

  17. CK says:

    @The Colonel:
    It would be wise for the Marines to accept any duties offered to them. My question is, Is it wise to offer them anything?
    To keep them around out of sentiment seems foolish and wasteful ( neither of which ever stopped a government agency from living long past its use by date ). When was the last time the Marines boarded and captured an enemy vessel, when was the last beach stormed and a beachhead established, against opposition, for others to follow on and hold ground? The USMC today is about as relevant as the US Revenue Cutter Service was by 1914.

  18. turcopolier says:

    IMO there is a mission for USMC as a naval landing force for small operations in a littoral campaign. I had forgotten that the marines captured the beaches at Normandy, Southern France and Sicily so that the Army could come ashore in comfort and hold the ground USMC had captured. (irony)

  19. Fred says:

    Given the email security and command decisons of Captain Couragous of the USS Roosevelt we might want a new rotation of marine detachments across the fleet so we do get a ginned up Spithead mutiny. Do you think they actually had Covid19 test kits while cities like NYC, Detroit, New Orleans and mutliple states don’t have them and that if true telegraphing that to everyone was a good idea?

  20. Lord Curzon says:

    There’s a lot of overlap here with the way the Royal Marines are taking the Future Commando Force, which should see completion by the end of 2023.

  21. CK says:

    What is a littoral zone campaign? It is not brown water/riverine, the last of those was the Mekong and it was fought with Monitors and tiny gunboats. It certainly isn’t blue water and grand battles ala Leyte Gulf or Jutland. I tried to find a definition of littoral that made sense militarily, the best I could find is: That part of the shore between the Spring High Tide highest level and the spring low tide lowest level. In less flowery words, comfortable beaches.
    So the USMC is just the ticket for invading Madagascar or Socotra but not staying too long.
    As an aside, it appears the USN does not have a use/repurpose for the two Littoral Combat ships that it built early this century, the USN now want upgraded frigates for more high intensity combat.

  22. turcopolier says:

    A brigade of US 9th Division was mounted on transports for the Riverine Force. OK Call it a maritime campaign.

  23. harry says:

    Fascinating stuff for a civilian like me.

  24. turcopolier says:

    BTW, Kerry’s little Swift boats were not part of the Riverine Force.

  25. CK says:

    @ The Colonel.
    and all others interested in Riverine/Brown water warfare
    Available as .pdf file.

  26. CK,
    The definition you found is the marine ecology definition. The military definition encompasses a larger area without scientifically specific borders. Along the coastline is about as specific as it gets. Think of seaports and coastal landmasses overlooking straits as part of the littoral. The battle of Narvik was a classic littoral operation. German mountain troops came ashore from 10 destroyers to seize the port. A series of naval battles in the fjords followed by allied amphibious landings and ensuing land battles. The battle of Derna, illustrated above, is another classic example. Willian Easton’s assault on the coastal fortress of Derna was supported by three warships of the US Navy’s Mediterranean squadron.

  27. Leith says:

    DoD Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms defines littoral as consisting of two segments of the “operational” environment: seaward (the area from the open ocean to the shore that must be controlled to support operations ashore) and landward (the area inland from the shore that can be sup-ported and defended directly from the sea)the US Naval Weapons Center.
    An expansion of that term for the seaward segment can be found in the below article published by the Naval War College Review. Scroll down to the section titled ‘Defining the Term’. It can extend to the entire continental shelf, which is typically anywhere from 200 to 500 nautical miles. Or be an extremely small area in enclosed seas or around archipelagos.

  28. Upstate NY'er says:

    How about assigning Marines to Navy base security once again?
    It took a local Sheriff’s SWAT to take down the shooter at the Pensacola NAS.

  29. Upstate NY'er says:

    “BTW, Kerry’s little Swift boats were not part of the Riverine Force.”
    The Army had their own little “Navy” in VN?

  30. turcopolier says:

    In the Mekong Riverine Force the US Navy provided the transports, monitors and landing craft and the Army provided the afloat troops. The troops lived on the ships. This arrangement lasted for a couple of years. USMC was all way up north maybe 500 miles away.

  31. CK says:

    So the definition of littoral is mission creep.
    Where there was once the coast artillery there is now the mobile silkworm, the Russian Bastion P, and a lot of others.
    That the Norse did not protect Narvik is to their shame.
    @Leith: Thank you for the link.

  32. Upstate NY'er says:

    What is a Marine Expeditionary Force vs. a Marine Division?
    What is an MEU vs. a regiment or battalion?

  33. English Outsider says:

    TTG – a great insight into how it was at that time. The politicians may duck and swerve and the High Commands worry about priorities and the big picture as they will, but those countless acts of assistance at operational level seen at that time cement a relationship like nothing else.
    And there was a lot of it. The memoirs of those who flew those crazy but ultimately valuable missions from Ascension detail the similar open-handed generosity of the American forces based there. So elsewhere. The wave of petty-minded anti-Americanism sweeping across so much of Europe takes no account of such relationships built up between the people on the ground – the relationships that really matter and that endure whatever the politicians get up to.
    Eagerly awaiting your next report. Last thing I heard was that Erdogan was busy replacing the local administrations in Eastern Turkey with appointees. Great time for those games. And could he be more overtly supporting the Jihadists in Idlib?

  34. Leith says:

    Mission creep? Maybe in a good sense, based on weapon technology advances being factored into missions. The littoral at Derna was no further out than the one half nautical mile gun range of Commodore Roger’s 12-pounder long guns. Even WW2 era battleships could bombard strike enemy land defenses from over 15 nm offshore. Whereas today the littoral of today is over a thousand times that of Derna.

  35. Upstate NY’er,
    There are three active and one reserve Marine divisions composed of infantry regiments and other battalions, all ground units. The Marines don’t fight as divisions. They fight as Marine Air-Ground Task Forces (MAGTF). The biggest MAGTF is the Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF) consisting of a Marine division, a Marine air wing and a support group. The smallest MAGTF is the Marine expeditionary unit (MEU) built around an infantry battalion with supporting units.
    I only know this stuff because my father’s a jarhead. He enlisted in late 1944 when he was not quite 17. The recruiter told him they needed a lot of Marines for the invasion of Japan. Luckily the war ended before that happened. He got out before Korea kicked off. He wanted to stay but his future SWMBO wasn’t having it. His younger brother and my mother’s brother were both at Chosin.

  36. Leith says:

    Upstate –
    Just an air/ground task force. MEU used to be an inf bn reinforced with an arty battery, LAV company, eng/tank/recon platoons, AmTracs, rotary wing transport & gunships, a Harrier jump jet detachment, beefed up comms, and a logistics combat support element.
    I have no clue as to what their composition is now.

Comments are closed.