>> 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.
What if… the US economy remains flat and unemployment rates climb because technology has replaced humans in labor-intensive fields? A typical rifle squad may consist of all college graduates in the future and the only difference between an E-1 and O-1 is the training path selected by the Marine Corps. How does the Marine Corps maximize personnel and prevent underutilization of the talent entrusted to them by American society? Harvesting civilian knowledge and skills may become as important as making Marines.
What if… the line between Marine officers and enlisted Marines is erased or significantly blurred? Many retired military officers and scholars alike note the problems with the antiquated military personnel system. Many often compare changes in the private sector to changes that should occur in the military, chief among them is closing the gap between the roles of officers and enlisted. How can the Marine Corps close this gap? Should all future officers serve as enlisted for a period, then attend college and finally to officer training? Will 25 different ranks in the Marine Corps still be necessary to distinguish levels of authority or should the rank structure be compressed?
What if… the 18 year-old private becomes obsolete in infantry units? Given the missions being considered by the Marine Corps and the emphasis placed on smaller more independent units, should Marine Corps Infantry become more elite? Should an enlisted Marine first be assigned to a support unit for their initial enlistment, then compete for a slot in the infantry in order to reenlist? This would create a more mature and highly specialized infantry but it would also create problems with leadership roles if everyone in a unit was an NCO or above. Could changes in the compensation system facilitate a more agile organization with qualified personnel filling billets at different echelons or type of units? Consider what an oval vice pyramid enlisted force structure would look like. Could a Corporal in a line unit find himself as a Lance Corporal in a more high-end unit with no loss of compensation?
What if… semi-autonomous unmanned weapon systems become fully integrated into small units? How will future technology change leadership roles? Integrating and controlling technology may become as important, if not more so, than leading (human) Marines. If so, how does leadership development models change?
What if… the lethality and non-lethality of a small unit increases significantly? A decade from now it is possible infantry units will increase both lethal and non-lethal force capability at the squad level. This will be caused by advances in nano-explosive technology, directed energy weapons and lasers, and electro-magnetic weapons. How would increased capabilities alter the size of a typical rifle company and officer/enlisted ratios?
What if… genetic or performance enhancing technology become accepted on the modern battlefield? The concept of creating super-“soldiers” (using super with Marine seems a bit redundant) through genetic, robotic or medical enhancement is currently being hotly debated. How does the Marine Corps contend with civilian integration after conflict? Does the Marine Corps simply escort these military-modified super humans to the front gate and turn them loose on society? Or is Marine for life a future reality?
Service purists will resist any change and argue that the Marine Corps has adapted throughout its history without any significant changes in the enlisted personnel structure. A generation of Marine Corps leaders is now faced with a host of challenges that heretofore it has not had to consider. However, the Corporals of today will be the Sergeants Major of 2025 and they must start to consider these issues now so they will be able to effectively shape the future enlisted structure in the future.