Friday, April 26, 2013

The Enlisted Marine of 2025

By Robert Kozloski

>> Robert Kozloski is a program analyst for the Department of the Navy.  The views expressed here are his alone and do not represent those of the Departments of the Navy or Defense.

The Marine Corps is facing a host of challenges and must contend with the current fiscal pressure on all of DoD while trying to innovate after a decade of war.  It will likely have to reduce its endstrength while adapting to a new threat environment. These challenges should force the Marine Corps to reconsider some fundamental premises today that will help it effectively adapt to the operational environment ten to twenty years from now.

The Marine Corps must intellectually challenge some basic organizational issues. The fundamental structure of the Marine Corps today is based on a model that was effective during the legendary amphibious assaults of World War II and the epic battles in Korea, where high casualty rates, limited communications, and massing of firepower were primary concerns. Is the same organizational structure, particularly the use of enlisted Marines, right for the Marine Corps of 2025 and beyond?

While amphibious operations will be the cornerstone of the Marine Corps for the foreseeable future, the Marine Corps could also find itself in a host of other missions and roles: full integration into special operations, distributed operations, partnership building, military to military training, and even integration with federal law enforcement units to counter transnational threats. Will the Marine Corps use the same rifle company construct for an opposed beach landing as it does for training a foreign military unit? Will the right personnel be in the right units?

Below are a few “what-if” challenges that should stimulate debate among Marines at all levels on the use of the greatest strength of the Marine Corps, the enlisted Marine, over the next several decades.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

End Strength 100k: Fixed-Wing Air

Airplane Graveyard, Davis-Monthan Air Force Base outside Tucson, AZ
Please keep in mind that my last article about dropping tanks and other such 'heavy' things was not a recommendation that I think the Marine Corps needs to take under serious consideration. Just as today I am not suggesting we drop all of our fixed wing aircraft tomorrow. This series is more of an intellectual exercise about a hypothetical forced necessity, a modified form of the "What now Lieutenant?" question.  If Congress provides a manpower cap of approximately 100,000, the new question becomes "what now General (and General staffs)?"  I believe this is a useful exercise, and one that could be helpful in putting into perspective the difference between absolute necessity (infantry Marines) and nice-to-haves in the Marine Corps (tanks?).
Company Grade, ground combat officers get a lot of time thinking at the Platoon to Battalion level, or at least they should.  By the time officers have an opportunity to be  Battalion Commanders, or serve on Regimental staffs,  how much time have they devoted to thinking about the bigger picture, and fighting that Battalion, or fighting that Regiment in a conventional (or even unconventional) manner?  You learn to be a Company Commander, and an Operations Officer at EWS. You learn something about operations and the bigger picture at Command & Staff College. What about the time in between?  I suggest intellectual exercises like these, thinking several levels higher, can help develop your mind into that 2,000 year old mind of TBS lore.
Malcolm Gladwell in his pop-science book Outliers, discussed the magical "10,000 hour rule" to achieve expertise. Most officers by the time they progress to the rank of senior field grade, and those few who make General, have all likely had more than 10,000 hours “pushing paper.” We all understand route sheets, the need for them, and the need of knowing Naval Letter Correspondence, all of this being important and necessary.  On the other hand, how many hours do we spend reading, discussing, and dwelling on the kinds of tactical, operational or leadership decisions necessary and critical to any operational, or headquarters command billet? These things are just as important. I’ve known not a few Marine officers with an admiration and fascination for The Last Stand of Fox Company.  All Marine officers embrace the magnificent efforts of individuals performing astounding feats of courage in battle, like John Basilone, or Brian Chontosh.  The missing piece in the Marine Corps seems at times a cultural appreciation for decisions at the strategic and operational level, the two levels of decision-making that stretch from the Battalion, sometimes the Company, up through highest levels of combatant and headquarters commands.
My suggestion here is less "this is what the Marine Corps should do," and more "this is an exercise in strategic thinking."  If you disagree on anything, please let me know, the comments are below.
In our fictional scenario, Congress has set the cap for the Marine Corps at 100k. What force structure do we keep? What do we get rid of? The incredible capability and importance of our MEUs and what they provide the Nation in terms of both power projection, and placing armed forces in close proximity to trouble spots in the world, trouble spots that are in some way involved in national security interests, is undeniably our most important contribution. How do we streamline our overall force to maintain this capability without diminishing its "capability"?  First, we would need to emphasize some operational  capabilities over others, for example maybe artillery over LAR (or the other way around), while also dropping those warfighting capabilities that might not fit with a more streamlined organizational structure and mission set, i.e. the consideration to drop tanks and/or  most fixed wing aviation.
The Marine Corps does "not" do strategic bombing.  Marine aviation exists to support the ground combat element. What does that mean in the main? Close air support.  At 100k, we should keep the transport and attack helicopters, and keep the Ospreys.  On the other hand, serious consideration should be given to the possibility of dropping the fixed wing platforms, and potentially replacing them with unmanned systems.  Phase out the fast movers, phase in the drones?  

Unmanned platforms generally have longer times on station, are certainly cheaper to purchase, have a smaller footprint, and over time the training pipeline for UAV pilots will be much cheaper. They also take up less space, and if they don't already fly off of an amphibious ship, they should. This approach would ultimately eliminate the cost of fixed wing training, fixed wing sorties, and fixed wing maintenance, while still maintaining the Marine Corps capability of “fixed-wing” CAS and very possibly improving our overall battlefield surveillance.