Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Identity Crisis

For a months now, there has been something of a discussion about the role of the US Army going forward after the end of OEF and the budget cuts that will accompany it. First, strategic theorist Antulio Echevarria wrote this piece. Then, in a widely discussed article on Foreign Policy, Douglas Ollivant defended the Army’s importance to the nation and went so far as to shoehorn in the Marine Corps in a misguided attempt to bolster his argument. Although Ollivant’s point about the Army stands, better analysis can be found here and in the latest Military Review. In this article, Lukas Milveski looks at the utility of landpower in the context of a landpower, airpower, and seapower framework. The Army’s seeming identity crisis is so acute that last week General Odierno, Chief of Staff of the Army,said that there is much “angst” in the Army and announced his intention to establish an Office of Strategic Landpower. Since AirSea Battle involves the airpower and seapower component and proponents claim that the concept will guide future Air Force and Navy operations, we seem to have our bases covered for the coming budget fights.

Except where does that leave the Marine Corps? I’ve already mentioned Ollivant’s use of the Marine Corps as a rhetorical device, but the actual Army seems to agree as the Marine Corps will participate in the Office of Strategic Landpower along with SOCOM. But does that make sense? We are mostly dependent on the Navy after all. The Marine Corps falls under the Dept of the Navy and the Navy’s budget, not to mention the money the Navy provides out of its own slice for things like Marine aviation. Additionally, Navy personnel serve in Marine units and we depend on the Navy for transportation and are logistically tied to the sea even after reaching the beach, at least until Army theater logistics operations are in place. Additionally, the Marine Corps has been very vocal about returning to its naval roots. Those roots probably do not grow in an office focused on landpower. While it is true that an opposed amphibious assault has not occurred in US history since Inchon, it is still an important capability. While the Navy and Marine Corps may be likely budgetary allies, they seem to be at odds. AirSea Battle was developed without Marine Corps input. Since the Army and the Marine Corps have taken the lion’s share of budget cuts so far, and the Army is looking for a counterweight to the USAF/USN alliance, they find themselves on the same side. Enlisting the Marine Corps in defining the future of landpower is a smart move for the Army. The Army’s two greatest foes have been Nazi Germany and the Marine Corps Propaganda Machine.  

But this doesn't answer the theoretical question. Is the Marine Corps landpower, seapower, or even airpower? Obviously we’re a mixture of all three, and those that understand how we operate know the value of that, but have we articulated it? The AirSea Battle office and the Office of Strategic Landpower will be influential in the coming years, and the Marine Corps’ equivalent, the Ellis Group, may have its hands full explaining the value of an amphibious force. The group’s centerpiece concept, single naval battle, is sound but it speaks more to the integration of the Marine Corps and the Navy than to how the Marine Corps itself will operate in the future. The Navy may in fact not be interested in further integration. Both General Conway and General Amos have called for a Marine Corps return to the sea, but has the Navy? Perhaps the Ellis Group should look at how the Marine Corps fits into a landpower, seapower, airpower triad rather than focusing on solely the naval aspects.

In conclusion, both the Air Force and the Navy seem to be reaching for a new vision with AirSea Battle. The Army seems to be going through a bit of an identity crisis as well as the perceived threat from AirSea Battle. The Marine Corps is lucky given that we know well our mission and our basic structure is codified in law. However, we are the smallest service. Allies are good to have but no one will advocate for us like we will. As our three bigger sisters clamor for their slice of the budget, it will be difficult for the Marine Corps to explain its vision. The continuing confusion about just what kind of service it is, as evidenced by Ollivant's claim, means that we have more work to do whether our budget drops or not. 


  1. The U.S. Coast Guard is the smallest service regardless of whether they fall under DoD or HLS.

    It’s a shame that the Army has to try and defend itself (budget wise) these days since they have carried the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan on their backs by virtue of their 12 & 15 month deployments which are more than double the other services.

    1. So the Army sent their soldiers for longer periods of time than the other services, but the other services were still in Iraq and Afghanistan that whole time so saying the Army carried the wars because of longer unit deployments doesn't make much sense.

  2. In the late 1980s one of my international officers at the US Army Command and General Staff College said, "I'll NEVER understand your military--not only does your navy have an army, but your navy's army has an airforce."