The new commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps is demanding sweeping changes in how the elite military branch conducts operations, warning that the decades-old approach of Marines being “passive passengers” dropped on shore by large amphibious ships has become “impractical and unreasonable” in the 21st century.
In a sweeping, 26-page document laying out his vision, Gen. David H. Berger, commandant of the Marine Corps, scrapped the core notion that the Marines will continue to be transported aboard 38 dedicated amphibious assault ships en route to war zones. Such an approach has been foundational to the mission of the Marines dating back to World War II.
Gen. Berger said the dynamics of warfare have changed dramatically. The Corps, he said, has struggled to adjust its approach to remain the irreplaceable force it has always been.
“We should take pride in our force and recent operational successes, but the current force is not organized, trained or equipped to support the naval force — operating in contested maritime spaces, facilitating sea control or executing distributed maritime operations,” he said. “We must change.”
Gen. Berger specifically mentioned China in his critique of the Corps and suggested that an Iwo Jima-style invasion by sea is no longer viable — or realistic.
“Visions of a massed naval armada nine nautical miles off-shore in the South China Sea preparing to launch the landing force are impractical and unreasonable,” he said in his guidance to the Corps after taking the helm last month.
Moving Marines on large naval ships and then having them storm the shores worked in years past, Gen. Berger said, but is simply no longer an option given today’s military technology. He called on leaders inside the Corps to identify new ways of battling the enemy, even though that means abandoning decades of tradition and doctrine.
“We must accept the realities created by the proliferation of precision long-range fires, mines and other smart-weapons, and seek innovative ways to overcome those threat capabilities,” he said. “I encourage experimentation with lethal long-range unmanned systems capable of traveling 200 nautical miles, penetrating into the adversary enemy threat ring, and crossing the shoreline — causing the adversary to allocate resources to eliminate the threat, create dilemmas and further create opportunities for fleet maneuver.”
The Marines can no longer “be passive passengers en route to the amphibious objective area,” he said.
The stunning comments underscore the central challenge of the Marine Corps in the evolving future of warfare. Some military observers say the Corps has struggled to remain fully relevant as traditional large-scale battles make way for smaller, often asymmetrical conflicts.
Analysts argue that an overhaul is long overdue, and they praised Gen. Berger for having the courage to challenge the very core of the Marines.
“I have read and written a lot of government documents. The Commandant’s Planning Guidance for the Marine Corps is one of the best defense documents I have read in a long time,” said Chris Brose, former staff director for the Senate Armed Services Committee and now the head of strategy at Anduril Industries. “The blood of sacred cows is all over this thing.”
“Gen. Berger’s sweeping critique of his own service is as rare as it is admirable,” he tweeted recently.
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