Marines: Blind And Deaf In Future Wars
SUBJECT AREA - Intelligence
Title: Marines: Blind and Deaf in Future Wars
Author: Major Cletis R. Davis, United States Marine Corps
Thesis: The Marine Corps past and current restructuring of
reconnaissance units threaten the Corps tactical
intelligence collection capability.
Background: Past and present restructuring have
significantly reduced the Marine Corps reconnaissance
capability. The amphibious reconnaissance capability has
been reduced in the Force Reconnaissance Company as a result
of acquiring the direct action mission. Available
reconnaissance teams have been reduced by 60%. The division
reconnaissance battalion is in the process of being
converted to cavalry. The new force structure for a 159K
Marine Corps will establish a reconnaissance company in each
infantry regiment and a light armored reconnaissance company
in each combined arms regiment. However, the Corps loses
stealthy reconnaissance units and gains scouts and light
cavalry. The reconnaissance units are being reorganized to
fight Desert Storm rather than engage in amphibious
operations and low intensity conflict, the most likely
Recommendation: The direct action mission should be dropped
from the Force Reconnaissance mission, and the
Reconnaissance Battalions should not be converted to Light
Armored Reconnaissance Battalions.
THESIS: The United States Marine Corps is about to become
deaf and blind in Amphibious and Low Intensity Conflict
Operations due to the paucity of trained and available
I. Intelligence Requirements
D. USMC Intelligence Requirements
E. USMC Reconnaissance Units
1. Force Reconnaissance Company
2. Reconnaissance Battalion
3. Surveillance and Target Acquisition Platoon
II. Evolution of Amphibious Reconnaissance
C. Unit Capabilities
2. Battalion Reconnaissance
C. High Intensity Conflicts
D. Low Intensity Conflicts
IV. Future War
B. The Transition of War?
V. Future Capabilities
B. Force Reconnaissance Direct Action
C. Light Armored Reconnaissance Company, Combined Arms
VI. Capabilities vs Requirements
A. Desert Storm
B. Amphibious Operations
C. Low Intensity Conflict
D. Status Quo
Maneuver warfare is the current Marine Corps
warfighting philosophy. This philosophy permeates the ethos
of the Corps. The concepts of surfaces, gaps, mission type
orders, and intent, etc., are all pervasive. Rifle squad
leaders and senior acquisition specialist are expected to
maneuver in space and time to accomplish their missions.
Key to the philosophy are bold, audacious, decisive
commanders who understand their superior commander's intent.
These commanders in turn provide their subordinates with a
well articulated intent as a framework for future decisions.
By executing the decision cycle more rapidly than the enemy,
Marine commanders create a faster tempo. This tempo over
time slows and ultimately deprives the enemy of the
capability to react, hastening his defeat. (2:68-77)
Central to valid and rapid decisions at the strategic,
operational and tactical levels is intelligence and
information. Strategic and operational decision makers
require operational and combat intelligence, primarily
obtained through national intelligence assets. (3:2-1,2-2)
Tactical intelligence is required for the conduct and
planning of the immediate battle or engagement. Tactical
intelligence and information are obtained from national
assets and the commander's own reconnaissance and
surveillance units. The immediate requirement and
application of tactical intelligence and information
requires the commander to use organic reconnaissance and
surveillance assets primarily. The tactical commander wants
to know, what is on the other side of the hill," berm,
river etc. The maneuver war concept of reconnaissance pull
directly relates to the commanders use of tactical
intelligence and information.
The Marine Corps has both conventional and unique
requirements for ground reconnaissance and surveillance. The
tactical Marine Ground Air Ground Task Force (MAFTF)
commander typically has three ground reconnaissance units to
conduct ground and amphibious reconnaissance in addition to
infantry units that conduct close combat reconnaissance.
Surveillance and Target Acquisition (STA) platoons in the
infantry battalions conduct ground surveillance and close
reconnaissance for the battalion. The Reconnaissance
Battalion of the Marine Division conducts distant ground
reconnaissance and limited amphibious reconnaissance in
support of the division. The Force Reconnaissance Company
(FORECON) of the Surveillance, Reconnaissance and
Intelligence group conducts pre-amphibious assault and deep
post assault reconnaissance. (7:10-1,10-2)
The Force Reconnaissance Company is the forerunner of
all other reconnaissance units in the Marine Corps. The
genealogy for amphibious reconnaissance dates to 1906 when
Major Dion Williams, USMC authored the, Naval
Reconnaissance, Instructions for the Reconnaissance of Bays,
Harbors and Adjacent Country. The doctrine was subsequently
refined and exercised via the fleet landing exercises off
Puerto Rico during the 1930's. By 1942 an Observer Group was
established to evaluate the doctrine and specialized
equipment. This Observer Group later became the Amphibious
Reconnaissance Company, predecessor of all FORECONs today.
The initial specific amphibious reconnaissance missions have
changed very little to this day. Those missions were as
(1) To determine characteristics of beaches available for landing,
and report same to commander at sea.
(a) By hydrographic reconnaissance of water near
the shore line.
(b) By examining terrain in immediate vicinity of beach.
(c) By noting beach defenses--wire, mines and, other
obstacles; troops in immediate vicinity; other defenses.
(2) To report landmarks for assisting in locating landing beaches.
(3) To mark beaches and landing points during landing.
(4) To determine location, strength, and composition of strength
of troops in landing area.
(5) To take and hold in concealment a prisoner or prisoners and
be prepared to turn them over to Headquarters Landing Force.
(6) To spot observers to report enemy activity by radio or panel.
(7) To determine road net and be prepared to meet and guide
elements of landing force.
(8) To determine practicability of terrain for air landings.
(9) After the beachhead has been established, to contour the sea
floor beginning at the ten foot line and using a ten foot contour
interval in order to expedite the unloading of supplies by locating
most advantageous channels and beaches. (5:6-13)
As previously stated these specific reconnaissance missions
have changed minimally from 1942 until today. FORECON also
conducts deep reconnaissance in support of sustained
operations ashore. The current organization of the FORECON
is 231 total Marines. 70 of those Marines are dedicated to
the traditional mission of ground and amphibious
reconnaissance. 100 or about 60% of the FORECON Marines
available in each Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF) are
dedicated to the direct action mission. (4:7-7,7-8)
The Reconnaissance Battalion of the Marine Division
conducts distant ground reconnaissance for the division
commander. The battalion has some amphibious reconnaissance
capability. However, the battalion's primary mission is
ground reconnaissance that exceeds the capabilities of the
infantry battalions. Both the Reconnaissance Battalion and
FORECON depend on stealth and rapid reporting for mission
accomplishment. Currently, the reconnaissance battalions
have 423 Marines assigned. The Reconnaissance Companies have
320 Marines assigned in total. About 76% of the battalion's
Marines are directly involved in reconnaissance operations.
(4:4-15,4-16) As a result of the downsizing of the
Department of Defense and the concurrent restructuring of
the Marines Corps, the Reconnaissance Battalions are
scheduled to acquire the Light Armored Vehicle (LAV) and be
redesignated as Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalions.
The STA platoons organic to the infantry battalions
possess reconnaissance capabilities commensurate with other
infantry units. The platoon is organized and trained to
conduct surveillance with ground radars. This units most
significant capability is the organic sniper teams. These
teams can also be employed for visual surveillance requiring
stealth. There are currently no planned restructuring
initiatives for the STA platoon.
In addition to the restructuring of the Reconnaissance
Battalion, other restructuring initiatives will affect the
ground reconnaissance assets available in the Marine Corps
in the near future. A Combined Arms Regiments (CAR) will be
organized in two of the Marine divisions. Each CAR will
contain a Light Armored Reconnaissance Company. The
remaining two infantry regiments within the division will
establish reconnaissance companies. (6:17-18)
The MAGTF commander currently has or will have all the
reconnaissance capabilities that have previously been
addressed. However, the world of national defense is no
longer capabilities driven. Capabilities may be significant,
yet may not pertain to the threat. Requirements are threat
driven. Threats are difficult to ascertain today. The world
is now multi-polar. The Soviet Union may no longer be the
primary threat. Russia may not even be in the top three or
four possible opponents who may threaten the United States'
vital or survival interests in the future. What is the
threat, and what are the requirements?
The Marine Corps Long Range Plan 2000-2020 (Draft)
places terrorism at the top of the lists of threats. The
Long Range Plan states that the United States and other
nations will devote considerable political, economic, and
military resources to maintaining a stable world order.
International drug trafficking and narcoterroism also appear
on the list. Both terrorism and narcoterrorism associated
with drug trafficking are predicated to increase
significantly during the remainder of this century and the
beginning of the next. The middle east will continue to be
the launching pad for terrorism. Targets are expected to
change from individuals to the sabotage of infrastructure.
This is a fairly prophetic assessment considering the recent
bombing in New York. Drug trafficking and narcoterroism are
expected to continue in South and Central America. Terrorism
is anticipated to rise in Eastern and Central Europe as
former Soviet and Warsaw Pact sponsored terrorist
organizations seek employment elsewhere or go into business
The regional threat assessment begins with the Middle
East and covers the current issues concerned with the energy
supply, price, and dependence issues. The probability of
interregional conflict is assessed as high. Intraregional
conflicts are also assessed a high probability due the
religious and political instabilities in the region. The
intensity of potential conflict ranges is estimated from low
to high intensity. The potential for U.S. involvement is
appraised to be minimal. Southwest Asia and Asia are the
only other regions which are assessed as having a high
potential for conflict with resultant low to high intensity
conflict. The specifics countries are Iran, Iraq, Pakistan,
India, and the Koreas. (1:2-7-11)
The rest of the world is a fairly safe place. The
potential for the United States to become involved in a
major high intensity conflict is minimal. The most dangerous
threat to our national survival, the Soviet Union, is now
Russia, the CIS, and a lot of small countries from the pre-
World War I world map. The most likely threat, terrorism in
all its various forms is all over the globe. What type of
reconnaissance and surveillance assets does the Marine Corps
require to address the most likely and most dangerous
threats? According, to the Command and Control Concept for
Maneuver Warfare and Over-the-Horizon Operations (1995-2010)
Final Report the Marine Corps will need the following:
2.5.3. Combat Information and Intelligence.
Future C2 systems will provide realtime,
battlefield information and a responsive, secure
communications system to receive information and direct
the activities of units. C2 will be critical to the
success of 0TH operations and the conduct of maneuver
Imagery systems with wideband data links will
provide realtime digital data for use within an all-
source fusion/processing system assisted by artificial
intelligence, photonics, and microelectronics.
Dissemination of information will be expanded by
UAVs will continue to provide battlefield
information from extended ranges and for longer
periods due to greater speeds and increased loiter
time. Lethal UAVs will also be able to identify and
There will be an increased demand for and
reliance on information gathered from space stations
and satellites (weather, ground activity, etc.). It will
result in decreased opportunities for battlefield
surprise. Space technology will greatly contribute to
operational success in the areas of communication,
detection, surveillance, and position determination.
Inexpensive, short-term, limited-capability satellites
will be positioned anywhere above the earth for
surveillance and communications purposes. (1:2-12,2-13)
The requirements listed above pertain to a mid-to-high
intensity conflict, war similar to Desert Storm perhaps. DR.
Martin van Creveld offers another vision of future warfare:
Judging by the experience of the last two decades, the
visions of longe-range, computerized warfare so dear to
the military-industrial complex will never come to
pass. Armed conflict will be waged by men on
earth, not robots in space. It will have more in common
with the struggles of primitive tribes than with large
scale conventional war of the kind that the world may
have seen for the last time in 1973 (the Arab-Israeli
War), 1982 (the Falklands), and 1980-88 (the Iran-Iraq
War). In so far as the belligerents will be
intermingled with each other and the civilian
population, the normal concepts of Clausewitzian
strategy will not apply. Weapons will become less,
rather than more sophisticated. War will not be waged
at one remove by neatly uniformed men in air
conditioned rooms sitting behind screens,
manipulating symbols and pushing buttons: indeed the
"troops" may have more in common with policeman (or
with pirates) than with defense analysts. War will not
take place in the open field, if only because in many
places around the world there no longer is an open
field. Its normal mise en scene will be complex
environments, either those provided by nature or else
the even more complex ones created by man. It will be a
war of listening devices and car-bombs, of men killing
each at other at close quarters, and of women using
their purses to carry explosive and the drugs to pay
for them. It will be protracted bloody, and
DR. van Creveld essentially agrees with the Marine Corps'
Long Range Plan that terrorism and low intensity conflict
are the face of future war. If both the Long Range Plan and
DR. van Creveld have hit upon something near the truth, then
the Marine and the nation have a problem. The Marine Corps
has historically fought the low intensity conflicts for the
nation. With the potential for significant low intensity
conflict on the horizon, the corps is in the process of
recreating a third world army.
The planned and current structure of reconnaissance
units within the Marine Corps insures the Corps will enter
any future low intensity conflict partially deaf and blind.
The conversion of the division Reconnaissance Battalion to a
Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion provides the division
with a good screening and scouting outfit. The unit is not
quite heavy enough to be cavalry but a little heavier than a
scout unit-dragoons. Stealthy reconnaissance will not be the
forte of this outfit. Even though the Battalion will have an
organic Deep Reconnaissance Company, stealthy reconnaissance
capability will suffer. The company commander will be
competing for available training time in a maintenance
intensive motorized unit. The current Reconnaissance
Battalion has 76% of its 423 Marine directly involved in
reconnaissance operations. Conversely, the current Light
Armored Infantry Battalion has approximately 46% of its
people assigned to the lettered companies.
The Force Reconnaissance Company is a superb asset. Its
capabilities are on par with army Rangers, SEALS and Special
Forces in most cases. However, there currently are too few
Marines in the company trained primarily to conduct
reconnaissance. Only about 40% of the Marines in the unit
are dedicated to the reconnaissance mission. The direct
action mission, which could be construed as infringing on
Special Operations Command's turf, occupies the remainder of
The Light Armored Reconnaissance Company which will be
organic to the Combined Arms Regiment is definitely more
dragoons. The Reconnaissance Company that is planned for
establishment within each infantry regiment will have to
compete for training priorities with three infantry
battalions and a TOW platoon. The reconnaissance training
base is too narrow and the infantry regiment has acquired a
company of scouts.
Should the Marine Corps fight Desert Storm again
soon, the current reconnaissance restructuring initiatives
will stand it in good stead. However, if the next conflict
is in some off the beaten track natural or man-made jungle
where satellites and the sun don't shine, then more
reconnaissance Marines will be required. There will be
optimistically 70 force reconnaissance Marines in I and II
MEF and a Deep Reconnaissance Company in the First and
Second Divisions, not enough.
The solutions to this potential problem are fairly
straight-forward. Return to the status quo, give-up the
force reconnaissance direct action mission before it becomes
a roles and functions issue there-by returning more Marines
to reconnaissance duties. The Light Armored Reconnaissance
Battalion problem may solve itself during the forthcoming
austerity binge. The Corps may have to choose between a
Light Armored Infantry Battalion and Light Armored
Reconnaissance battalion if money becomes tight for LAV acquisitions.
If congress doesn't put the LAR back into HMMVW's and on the
ground to conduct stealthy reconnaissance, then the Corps
should. The third option to retain a significant stealthy
reconnaissance capability within the division, at least, is
to consolidate the STA platoons and the regimental
Reconnaissance Company to broaden the training base. And
then assign an Infantry Major, preferably with former
reconnaissance experience as Commanding Officer to compete
for scarce training resources.
The Marine Corps currently has zero air reconnaissance
capability since the R-F4B has been phased out. The Advance
Tactical Air Reconnaissance Systems (ATARS) is an on and off
again program, presently on, but three years out. Satellites
and sophisticated electronics are great if one's unit is the
main effort and you're not competing with the supported
unified commander or national command authority for scarce
assets. And only Human Intelligence, Signals Intelligence
and a well trained reconnaissance Marine can relate intent
which is the key to intelligence for the commander. Marines
will have to be capable of conducting reconnaissance
operations in future conflicts to remain relevant and ready.
1. Command and Control Concept for Maneuver Warfare and Over-the-Horizon
Operations (1995-2010). Quantico, VA; MCCDC, 1992.
2. FMFM-1 CAMPAIGNING. Washington, DC; HQMC, 1989.
3. FMFM 3-21 MAGTF Intelligence Operations. Washington, DC; HQMC, 1991.
4. FMFRP 11-1 Fleet Marine Force Organization 1992. Washington, DC; HQMC, 1992.
5. FMFRP 12-21 AARUGHA! Washington, DC; HQMC, 1989.
6. Krulak, MajGen. Charles C. "A Corps of Marines for theFuture: Relevant, Ready,
Capable." Marine Corps Gazette June 92:14.
7. O-H 6-1 Ground Combat Operations. Quantico, VA: MCCDC, 1988.
8. van CREVELD, Martin. The Transformation of War. New York: Free Press, 1991.
in the company trained primarily to conduct.
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