Friday, May 31, 2013

Back to the Future Part One

This post is part of a series that will continue over the course of the next few months. The series will look at the future of the Marine Corps after the end of Operating Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. It was inspired by Robert Kosloski’s article in the Naval War College Review, “Marching Towards the Sweet Spot: Options for the Marine Corps in a Time of Austerity,” (Available Here) Mr. Kosloski has also written for this blog. It will include guest posts and posts by Gazette blog authors. This series is being organized by Capt Jonathan Rue, USMCR, who writes at Gunpowder and Lead and the Guardian, and Capt Brett Friedman, USMC, who writes here and at Grand Blog Tarkin.

As mentioned above, this series of posts will look at the future of the Marine Corps, specifically some of the points brought up by Mr. Kosloski in his article. The most interesting section of the article, in my opinion, is the section on restructuring the operating forces. I wrote about this as well on this very blog in January of 2012. The next month, Paul Stokes did too. More recently, Capt Joseph Mazzara has looked at how small the Marine Corps might get, here and here. In the article, Kosloski quotes then Undersecretary of the Navy Robert Work:

By layering standing MAGTF headquarters over their old organizational structures, the Marines paid a heavy price in staff overhead. In 1989, for example, there were headquarters for Atlantic and Pacific Marine forces, three large MEFs, six MEBs [Marine Expeditionary Brigades], and seven MEUs. These were in addition to the three Division, Wing, and three Force Service Support Group headquarters, giving the Corps a total of 50 higher unit headquarters!

While higher headquarters staffs play a vital role, they are not so vital that their duplication is an efficient use of resources. This is especially true for a service that claims to be the “leanest and meanest” of the four. It is understandable how this bifurcated structure came about. It was easier to sell the MAGTF to senior leaders when the legacy organizations would remain. Now though, we use those legacy organizations as a crutch. We may fight as MAGTFs, but we don’t train as them outside of predeployment training and we certainly don’t administer ourselves as MAGTFs. When units are not in rotation for a MEU, they slough off the “MAGTFery” skin and revert to legacy organizations. This flies in the face of our claim that we train how we fight: we don’t. The legacy higher headquarters structures are only necessary to support a training environment that clashes with the Marine Corps preferred combat organization.

The debate over whether the Marine Corps should look at a significant effort at restructuring may well be academic. The future fiscal environment will more than likely force the Marine Corps to improve its structure, whether it wants to or not. This will require more than the sclerotic Force Structure Review Group and the Force Organization Review Group spawned by the former’s failure. Cutting and improving an organization as large as the Marine Corps simultaneously cannot be done in pieces and parts. Rather, the whole organization must be assessed and evaluated based on lessons learned. Such a review would look more like the Hogaboom Report than the FSRG- an ad hoc group of voluntold Marines and civilians.

The MAGTF has proven itself in modern warfare, there is little reason to believe that legacy organizations- holdovers from Napoleonic warfare - are best suited for the training and administration tasks that have fallen to them when not part of a MAGTF. We even use legacy warfighting organization for units in the supporting forces like TECOM and MCCDC (an issue I’ll be taking on in a future print article). Whether Kosloski’s proposal for vertical and horizontal realignment is the best for the future of the Marine Corps is a discussion worth having. However, it seems clear that the Marine Corps is long overdue for a change. The MAGTF is, along with the fire team, a uniquely Marine Corps contribution to how military force is organized. Now that is has a decades-long track record, it’s high time to abandon the vestigial organizations still present.