The Marine Corps owes much of its good position to faithful service in Iraq and Afghanistan and, as usual, good public relations. The American people are justifiably shy of waging long-term land wars, but do not seem to associate the Marine Corps with those endeavors – even though the service has participated in every one. The service has successfully portrayed itself as a forward-deployed, quick-reaction force that is not designed to be a second land army. It has maintained currency as an amphibious force while not limiting itself solely to that mission. In fact, the Corps is looking forward not just to a return to the missions it performed before 9/11, but also to a significant increase in missions. The service is currently setting up reaction forces for EUCOM and AFRICOM, PACOM, and SOUTHCOM independent of ongoing Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) rotations as well as expanding security cooperation efforts around the globe. While the other services seem to be fighting their budget battles with new concepts and new papers about their strategic contributions, the Marine Corps seems to be focusing on getting back to being a forward-deployed force in readiness. The Corps’ budget will certainly shrink, but it also has an opportunity to increase its relevance.
But, it's mismanagement of the EFV program and the danger of the F-35B's high cost balance things out.
On the acquisitions side, the Marine Corps still has a serious problem caused by the cancellation of the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle. While HQMC has already begun a program to acquire a replacement, the requirements are not very different from the EFV and the cost may well be just as harsh in 2020 as it was in 2011 when the EFV was cancelled. It is unlikely that the Department of Defense will accept another run at developing a new system that produces another massively expensive vehicle. The current Assault Amphibious Vehicle (AAV), procured in 1972, is 41 years old and has been upgraded twice. It cannot last forever. To be sure, it has been decades since direct amphibious assaults have been the preferred method of entry and the Marine Corps has other effective assets to perform the mission . But, in the event that an opposed amphibious landing becomes necessary, the lack of a modern, armored ship-to-shore connector may become the single point of failure for joint expeditionary operations. This is an issue not just for the Marine Corps. Historically, the Army has been called upon to conduct amphibious assaults as much or more than the Marine Corps, and if troops cannot gain a lodgment ashore, there is little need for Navy and Air Force efforts to overcome A2/AD systems. When discussing maneuver and movement, the Joint Operational Access Concept makes no distinction between Army and Marine forces. Gaining and Maintaining Access, an Army and Marine Corps concept, lists “amphibious ships and surface connectors” as “must possess” capabilities to conduct opposed and unopposed landings. Thus, a replacement for the AAV is a problem for, and should be seen as an investment for, the joint force as a whole.
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