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U.S. Marine Corps Force Structure:  Another Look
CSC 1992
Title:  U.S. Marine Corps Force Structure:  Another Look
Author:  Major Glen White, United States Marine Corps
Thesis:  With the elimination of the Marine Expeditionary
Brigade, the Marine Corps will no longer have the rapid
response capability of medium, self-sustained, and
established forces.
Background:  To meet its 1997 force reduction limit of
159,100 Marines, the Commandant formed the force reduction
planning board, headed by Brigadier General Charles C.
Krulak.   The planning board using the "bottom up" approach
recommended reductions from all parts of the Marine Corps.
The bulk of the reduction came from the Fleet Marine Force.
Its forces cut from 116,000 to 89,000 Marines.   These
reductions required that all three divisions, Marine air
wings, and Force Service Support Groups be drastically cut.
In addition, the planning group disestablished six Marine
Expeditionary Brigade headquarters and six brigade service
support groups.   To economize further, the planning board
recommended that one Marine Expeditionary Force be
disestablished and two combat-ready Marine Expeditionary
Forces be maintained with a joint task force capable
headquarters.   By establishing the joint task force capable
combat-ready Marine Expeditionary Force, the planning board
believed it was building organizational flexibility with
greater tactical mobility.   Only time will determine if they
are correct.   In disestablishing the Marine Expeditionary
Brigades, the Marine Corps lost its rapid deployment
capability as the force of choice in crisis response
Recommendation:  The Marine Corps does not need two combat-
ready Marine Expeditionary Forces.   It needs smaller forces
to carry-out it most likely task of political reinforcement
operations.   The Marine Corps could better serve the nation
if it maintained it two forward deployed Marine
Expeditionary Units and one Marine Expeditionary Force, and
reestablish two Marine Expeditionary Marine Expeditionary
Thesis:  With the elimination of the Marine Expeditionary
Brigade, the Marine Corps will no longer have the rapid
response capability of medium, self-sustained, and
established forces.
I.	Force structure planning group
	A.	Purpose for the planning group
	B.	CMC's guidance
	C.	Planning group's recommendations
		1.	Two-combat ready divisions, Marine air
			wings, and force service support groups
		2.	FMF headquarter as service component
			headquarter during joint operations
		3.	Joint capable MEF headquarters
II.	Reductions and reorganization of FMF units
	A.	Combat-ready divisions
	B.	Third division
	C.	Combat-ready Marine air wings
	D.	Third Marine air wing
	E.	Combat-ready force service support groups
	F.	Third force service support groups
III.	Marine Corps capabilities under new force structure
	A.	Increase in optempo
	B.	General Krulak's comments
	C.	The optimal force structure
IV.	The combat-ready MEF
	A.	Support to the MEU(SOC)s
	B.	Support to the CAMs
	C.	Question of MEF's deployability
		1.	Shrinking amphibious-lift capability
		2.	Limited overall strategic mobility assets
		3.	Having priority of strategic lift
		4.	Task organizing to meet strategic lift
V. 	Likely USMC mission
	A.	Forward presence and crisis response
	B.	Political reinforcement operations
VI.	Elimination of the MEBs
	A.	Reason:  to husband limited manpower resources
	B.	Problems
		1.	Loss of rapid deployability
		2.	Loss of medium-size self-sustaining
			deployable force
		3.	Two large MEFs in CONUS lacks
			a.	rapid deployability
			b.	too slow to respond to a crisis
VII.	Lessons from Desert Shield
	A.	7th and 1st MEB as the Fly-in echelon (FIE)
	B.	4th and 5th MEB as the amphibious forces
VIII.	Recommendations for improvement 
	A.	Eliminate the second combat-ready MEF
	B.	Establish two MEBs for crisis response mission
		1.	One MEB as an amphibious capable force
		2.	One MEB as the FIE of the MPF
	C.	Maintain two MEU(SOC)s as the forward deployed
	D.	Maintain one combat-ready MEF as the
		1.	contingency force for joint operations
		2.	reinforcing force during crisis response
IX.	CMC's question
	A.	Colonel Victor H. Krulak's response
	B.	Colonel Krulak's warning
     These are exciting times in the United States Marine
Corps.   With the demise of the Soviet Union, the United
States is realigning its defense posture.   It is reducing
its forces and implementing a new national military strategy
based on nuclear deterrence, forward presence, crisis
response, and reconstitution.
     For the first time since the inter-war years, between
1919 and 1941, the Marine Corps closely reexamined it force
structure by taking a "bottom up" approach.   The Marine
Corps' goal was to reduce its active forces from 188, 000 to
159,100 by fiscal year 1997 without losing its capability.
Under the Commandant's leadership, the Marine Corps took a
proactive approach to tailor its forces for the remainder of
this decade and into the 21st Century.
     Shortly after General Carl E. Mundy, Jr. assumed his
post as Commandant, he established a force structure
planning group headed by Brigadier General Charles C.
Krulak.   The planning group's task was to study and develop
a viable force structure that met the Department of
Defense's mandated force reduction and the requirements of
the national military strategy.   The Commandants guidance to
the planning board was 
       . . . to preserve the combined arms force of three
      divisions and three air wings; maintain special
      commitments to presidential and national support
      and Navy security forces; keep readiness, training
      and education high; protect Marines' quality of
      life; and avoid creating a hollow force.   (4:13)
     After several months, the force structure planning
group presented the Commandant with its recommendation. The
planning group proposed that the Marine Corps maintain two
combat-ready divisions, two combat-ready Marine air wings,
and two combat-ready force service support groups.
     The planning group recommended that the third division,
Marine air wing, and force service support group be
maintained at approximately the half-strength of its
complementary combat-ready units.   In the event of a major
crisis, reservists would augment the division, and Marine
air wing.   Elements of the two combat-ready force service
support groups would augment the third force service support
     The planning group also recommended that Fleet Marine
Force (FMF)--Atlantic and Pacific--be capable of assuming
the role of service component headquarters.  This
headquarters would handle "component issues" with the
theater commander, allowing the tactical commander to plan
and fight.  The planning board planned to enhance the MEF's
headquarters interoperability during joint operations.   It
would function as a "joint task force-capable headquarters
that [could] participate in multi-service joint task force,
but also . . . serve as the joint task force within the
(Marine Expeditionary Force)."  (4:14)
     In reducing manpower, the planning group gleaned 1400
Marines from training establishments, bases and stations
support contingents, headquarters, and active forces--
training reserves.   This required the FMF to take the bulk
of the reductions.   By 1997, the FMF will shrink from
116,000 to 89,000 Marines.
     The smaller combat-ready divisions will decrease in
size from 18,000 to 14,000 Marines.   According to General
Krulak, the smaller divisions will reorganize to add
organizational flexibility and tactical mobility.   His goal
was to see that, "Every single [sic] man in the division
(had) a boat space in some type of vehicle such as
amphibious assault vehicles or light armored vehicles."
(4: 13)
     To meet that goal, the planning group added one
combined arms regiment (CAR) into each combat-ready
division.   The CAR will include a light armored
reconnaissance company, a tank battalion, and a light
armored infantry battalion.   The CAR will replace the third
infantry regiment in the current division organization.   The
remainder of the units within each  combat-ready division
are two infantry regiments with a reconnaissance company and
three infantry battalions; and one artillery regiment with
three direct support battalions.   In addition, one
amphibious assault, one combat engineer, and one light
armored reconnaissance battalions were also organic to each
combat-ready division.
     The third division will be smaller with only 7,000
Marines and forward deployed on Okinawa.   It will not have a
CAR.  It will have as part of its organization two infantry
regiments with a reconnaissance company and two infantry
battalions, and one artillery regiment with two direct
support battalions.   One combat support battalion with an
amphibious assault company, a combat engineer company,
and a light armored reconnaissance company will also support
the  division.
     The two combat-ready Marine air wings will be smaller
with a total personnel strength of 12,000 Marines.   The
planning group recommended that the two combat-ready Marine
air wings be organized into two fixed-wing groups and two
helicopter groups.   One service support group with four
support squadrons, and a new Marine Air Defense Battalion
with two Hawk and Stinger batteries will support each
combat-ready wing.
     The third Marine air wing like the third division will
be be smaller with only 3500 Marines.   It will have one
fixed-wing group and one helicopter group supported by one
wing service support group with one support squadron.
     For combat service support units, the planning group
proposed the elimination of six brigade service support
groups (BSSG).   In there place, the planning group proposed
to establish two combat-ready force service support groups
(FSSG) manned by 8,000 Marines each.   Each combat-ready FSSG
will have a headquarters and service battalion, a landing
support battalion, a maintenance battalion, a supply
battalion, an engineer support battalion, a motor transport
battalion, a medical battalion, and a dental battalion.
     The third FSSG will be smaller than its two combat-
ready FSSGs with a personnel strength of 3,700 Marines.   It
will have as part of its organization a headquarters and
service battalion, a maintenance and supply battalion, a
support battalion, one maintenance company, a supply
company, a landing support company, two engineer support
companies, and two motor transport companies.
     This smaller Marine Corps, developed by the force
structure planning group, will "provide forward presence,
maintain global crisis response and rapid reinforcement
capabilities, participate in interagency operation and
support civilian authorities, and contribute to regional
stability."  (1:68)
     During the past decade, the Marine Corps has become the
nation's "911 force."  Marines have deployed to a number of
crisis areas where the United States had little or no
permanent military presence--most recently in Southwest
Asia, Liberia, Somalia, Bangladesh, and the Philippines.
With its forward deployed sea-based forces, the Marine Corps
had provided the nation with a number of unique
capabilities.   It has projected national good-will by
providing humanitarian assistance, as well as rapid response
to crisis situations with a credible forcible-entry
capability from the sea.
     The force structure planning group closely examined the
Marine Corps' capabilities with a force structure size of
159,100 Marines.  Taking into account the myriad of possible
contingencies to be undertaken by Marine forces, the
planning board concluded that the Defense Department's
mandated force structure would seriously degrade current
Marine Corps capabilities.  General Krulak reinforced this
view in an interview with the Navy Times.  He stated that,
"At 159,100,  I've got [sic] a Marine Corps which is
relevant, ready and capable, but it cannot meet all the
requirements of the national military strategy."  (4:13)
     With the force structure limited to 159,100 and the FMF
shrinking to 89,000 Marines, the planning group determined
that the operating tempo (optempo) would increase deployment
time.   To meet current demands worldwide, optempo would
increase from 43 percent to 54 percent.  They concluded that
an increase of this magnitude in optempo would eventually
effect morale, discipline and retention.
     At the start of the planning conference, the Commandant
instructed the force structure planning group to study the
Marine Corps' capabilities under the Defense Department's
mandated force structure.   In addition, he chartered the
planning board to determined the optimal force structure
capable of meeting current and future demands mandated by
the national military strategy.
     The planning board determined that the optimal force
structure was 175,000 Marines.   At a force structure
strength of 175,000, the Marine Corps could meet all current
and future requirements established by the national military
strategy.   Optempo would increase slightly from 43 percent
to 45 percent.  The planning board believed that this
increase in optempo was acceptable and manageable to most
Marines.   The Executive and Legislative Branches of
government have not resolved the issue of increasing the
Marine Corps' force structure to 175,000 Marines.   Plans
currently stand to reduce the Marine Corps force structure
to 159,100.
     To make the FMF more flexible in responding to a myriad
of contingencies, the force structure planning group
tailored the FMF into two FMF headquarters with two combat-
ready MEF's.   Smaller forces from the third division, Marine
air wing, and FSSG will provide additional combat power to
the MEFs.  The new force structure will minimize changes in
how the Marine Corps conducts daily business.   Despite force
structure changes, the Marine Corps will continue to
     ".  .  . conduct day-to-day presence operations and
     project influence while maintaining the ability to
     bring significant and sustainable combat bower to bear
     ashore from the sea at the time and place of our
     Nation's choosing."  (2:25)
     The Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations
Capable), MEU(SOC), embarked aboard amphibious ships; will
continue to be the heart of the forward presence mission.
Specially trained and equipped, they "conduct an expanded
range of sea-based expeditionary missions .  .  .  in real
world crisis and contingencies."  (4:25)  Two MEU(SOC)s are
deployed at all times.
     Under the new force structure, each combat-ready MEF
will provide the combat units, combat support units, and
combat service support units to the MEU(SOC)s.   The MEFs
will also provide forces to Crisis Action Modules (CAMs).
This is a  relatively new concept designed to provide the
theater commander with tailored force packages.   CAMs is the
"building blocks" for adaptive planning within the joint
planning system.  (4:25)
     Under the concept presented by the planning group, the
MEF appears very adept at providing forces to smaller MAGTFs
and CAMs.   The planning board, however, never addresses how
MEFs will deploy into theater.   During the next 5 years, the
U.S. Navy's amphibious fleet will shrink from 59 to 49
ships.   In support of the Marine Corps need for amphibious
lift, the Department of Navy "will continue procurement of
selected assault ships in order to maintain a 2.5-MEB
[Marine Expeditionary Brigade] lift capability into the next
century."  (1:77)
     Any future contingency will find that the Marine Corps
will have great difficulty in finding enough strategic lift
to deploy a 37,000-man force like a MEF into any theater of
operations.  Under the new force structure plan, the
planning board disestablished six Marine Expeditionary
Brigade (MEB) headquarters.   This,  in essence, eliminated
MEBs from the Marine Corps force structure.   The question
that needs answered,  is how does 2.5 MEBs equate to one MEF?
The answer is "it does not."  To deploy one MEF into
theater, the Marine Corps will rely on the concept of task
organizing its forces.   It will have to tailor its forces to
meet the needs of a given situation and deploy them by
different means of available transportation.
     The problem with this method is that elements of the
MEF will arrive in theater at different rates depending on
the mode of transportation and priority given.   The
sequencing of forces becomes critical at every junction.
Every decision, delay, and change can spells potential
disaster.   The basic rule of joint operations is:   "if you
can't get there, you don't play."  By tradition, Marines
have always been able to rely on the Navy to get them to the
fight.   Unfortunately, this is not the case in the new joint
warfare environment.   During Desert Storm, Marine units had
to compete with other services to get units into the
theater.   Marine forces did not have priority on their
traditional mode of transport, ships.  The priority of fast
sealift went to the 24th Mechanized Division.
     How deployable is a MEF?  It depends on available
strategic mobility assets and the priority given to Marine
forces by the theater commander.   It is clear from the
Desert Storm experience that a MEF can deploy.   However, the
MEF used in Desert Storm arrived in theater by as MEBs.
Later MEBs were composited to form the MEF.   This indicates
that the more deployable unit is a MEB.
     Does the Marine Corps need two MEF's?  If recent
history is an indicator, the Marine Corps has never deployed
two MEFs or it equivalent, since the Second World War.
During the Korean Conflict, the Marines immediately deployed
one provisional brigade and later one Marine division.  That
small force had a profound impact in that theater.  It is
improbable that the Marine Corps will ever deploy a second
MEF in a post-Cold War.  The Marine Corps does not need two
large MEFs.   It does need a number of smaller forces to
conduct political reinforcement operations.
      If historic precedent has any predictive value, one
      could conclude that--
          Military force is far more likely to be employed
          for political reinforcement than major conflict;
          Naval forces will be employed for most political
          reinforcement operations;
          If ground forces are committed, they will probably
          be Marine; and
          If Marine forces are employed, they will probably
          be forward deployed.  (7:3-12)
Political reinforcement operations, authorized by Executive
authority, uses a combination of diplomatic action with
military support and/or military operations to protect U.S.
lives, property, or interest in foreign countries.  (7:3-12)
     The only forward deployed MEF is III MEF on Okinawa and
it is being disestablished as part of the force reduction
effort.   What will remain is one under-strength division, a
small Marine air wing, and a very limited FSSG.  The only
other forward deployed forces which can accommodate most
political reinforcement operations are the MEU(SOC)s.
Considering these assumptions of how Marine forces will
employ in the post-Cold War world, how can the Marine Corps
justify having two MEFs?
     The elimination of all MEBs from the Marine Corps force
structure was a bold and brave decision.   The purpose was to
husband limited manpower resources and form a flexible
organization that could quickly task organize to meet a
specific mission.   It has, however, robbed the Marine Corps
of its rapid deployability.
     Two MEFs in the continental United States (CONUS) have
nothing unique to give the nation during a crisis,  if they
are not capable of getting to the theater rapidly.   In all
likelihood,  if Marine forces are not early participants in
the crisis, then probably Marine forces will not
     To deploy a MEF, the MEF commander would have to task
organize his MEF into MEB-size units to conform to the
constraints of limited strategic lift.   One or two ad hoc
MEBs could deploy on amphibious ships and another ad hoc MEB
could deploy as the Fly-in echelon (FIE) as part of the
Maritime Prepositioning Force (MPF).   Other units would have
to fly in theater on a "space available" basis.   This is
especially critical,  if the whole--needs the sum of its
parts--to function optimally.   If Marines can't fight
because crucial units are missing, then Marines will not
fight as Marines but be absorbed by larger formations,
portending the "death bell" of the Corps.
     During Desert Shield, the 7th Marine Expeditionary
Brigade was the first fully operational mechanized ground
combat force in Saudi Arabia.   The Marines flew into the
theater from California and linked-up with it Maritime
Prepositioning Ships (MPS).  By 15 August 1991, the brigade
was unloading it 30-days of supplies validating the Maritime
Prepositioning Force (MPF) concept under combat conditions
for the first time.   The 1st MEB from Hawaii arrived into
the theater on 25 August as part of the second MPF.
     "On 2 September,  I Marine Expeditionary Force, under
Lieutenant General Boomer, assumed operational control by
compositing or fitting together the elements of the 7th MEB
and 1st MEB."  (6:55)  The MEF's deployment into theater took
two months longer to complete.
          By C+60, during the first week of November, Phase
     I of the Desert Shield deployment was complete.   Nearly
     42, 000 Marines, close to one-quarter of the Marine
     Corps's total active-duty strength and a fifth of the
     total U.S. force in Desert Shield, had been deployed.
     More than 31,000 were a shore in I MEF.  (6:59)
     With the elimination of all the MEBs, the Marine Corps
no longer has the rapid response capability of medium self-
sustained and established forces.   In the event of a crisis,
the MEF commander and his staff will conduct a mission
analysis to determine the size and composition of forces
needed.   Additionally,  if the full MEF does not deploy, the
problem of forming a provisional headquarters to command the
task organized force can become a serious issue.   The MEF
will "reinvent the wheel" for every new contingency--wasting
valuable time and very limited resources.   The lessons of
Desert Shield and Desert Storm validated the rapid
deployability of  MEB's.   The rapid response capability of
the 7th MEB and 1st MEB into the theater of operation is
one.   Another is the 4th and 5th Marine Expeditionary
Brigade on board amphibious ships.   They provided the
theater commander with an amphibious assault option early in
the crisis that fixed a number of Iraqi divisions to the
coast.   The MEBs role is even more important since
amphibious lift will remain limited to 2.5 MEBs for the
remainder of this decade.
     The force structure planning group was correct in
assessing that six MEBs were too many.   However, none is too
few.   The Marine Corps does not need two MEFs.   Task
organizing into MEB-size units is fine, but not at the
expense of efficiency and effectiveness.   If the MEF must
task organize into MEB-size units to meet contingencies,
then why does not the Marine Corps retain MEBs in its force
     The Marine Corps can maintain and enhance its current
capabilities by making the changes advocated by the force
structure planning group.   However, the second MEF is
redundant and unnecessary.   A possible alternative is to
organize into two deployed MEU(SOC)s, two rapidly deployable
MEBs, and one deployable MEF.  The two deployed MEU(SOC)s
could handle the forward presence mission.   The two
deployable MEBs--one MEB deployable by sea capable of
amphibious assault and the other deployable by air as the
fly-in echelon of the MPF--could handle crisis response.
The remaining MEF can serve as the contingency force capable
of joint operations or reinforcing the two MEBs if required.
     The elements from the second MEF could form the two
deployed MEU(SOC)s and two deployable MEBs.   The remaining
units would fill out a smaller second division, Marine air
wing, and FSSG.   The composition of the MEB's elements and
the organization of the second division could be the subject
of another paper.   Whatever the composition, the MEB must be
capable of deploying rapidly and fulfilling its crisis-
response mission.   The second division must fulfill its role
as the second GCE of the MEF.   It must be a warfighting
division with credible combat power that enhances the
flexibility and "fighting power" of the MEF commander.
     In addition to the recommendations above, there needs
to be a reevaluation of whether the Marine Corps needs two
FMF headquarters.   One option would be to eliminate one and
establish the other as the Fleet Marine Forces Command.   It
could have one or more service component command cells to
serve as the service component headquarters in a joint
theater of operations.   With today's global communication
links, the second FMF headquarters seem redundant and
unnecessary, especially  with the elimination of a second
     Restructuring the Marine Corps began with the
Commandant, asking a simple question:  "Does the nation
need a Marine?"  (5:16)   It is ironic that 35 years earlier
another Commandant, General Randall McC. Pate asked a
similar question to then Colonel Victor H. Krulak, General
Charles C. Krulak's father.  General Krulak's father wrote a
very eloquent reply and concluded that, "the United States
did not need a Marine Corps .  .  . [but]  .  .  . wanted a
Marine Corps."  (3:xv)
     He explained that the American "grassroots" believe
three things about the Marine Corps.
     First, they believe that when trouble comes to our
     country there will be Marines--somewhere--who, through
     hard work, have made and kept themselves ready to do
     something useful about it, and do it at once.
     Second, they believe that when the Marines go to war
     they invariably turn in a performance that is
     dramatically and decisively successful--not most of the
     time, but always.
     The third thing they believe about Marines is that our
     Corps is downright good for the manhood of our country;
     that the Marines are masters of a form of unfailing
     alchemy which converts unoriented youths into proud,
     self-reliant stable citizens--citizens into whose hands
     the nation's affairs may safely be entrusted.  (3:xv)
     General Mundy has recognized that the Marine Corps is
in a serious transition period.   It is transforming into a
smaller force.   Yet, the expectations of the American public
demand that their Marine Corps be more capable than ever to
meet the challenges of the post-Cold War world.  It is
questionable whether the new force structure of two combat-
ready MEFs is relevant.
     The force structure planning group should be commended
for a courageous attempt to keep the Marine Corps relevant
during a very volatile period in history.  Only time will
determine whether the Marine Corps will meet the challenges
of a "mean and dangerous" world.  Regardless, we must heed
then Colonel Victor Krulak's warning to General Pate that,
" . . . should the people ever lose that conviction--as a
result of our failure to meet their high--almost spiritual--
standards, the Marine Corps will . . . quickly disappear. "
(3: xv)
1.	Cheney, Dick.  Annual Report to the President and the
Congress.  Washington, D.C.  U.S. Government Printing Office,
2.	Garrett, Lawrence, III, Frank B. Kelso, II, Admiral USN,
Carl E. Mundy, General USMC.   "Department of the Navy 1992
Posture Statement."  Marine Corps Gazette, 76 (April 1992).
3.	Krulak, Victor H.  First to Fight.  Annapolis:  Naval Institute,
4.	Longo, James.  "The Smaller Marine Corps:  Too Many
Missions; Too Few Marines."  Navy Times, 20 (Feb 24, 1992).
5.	Mundy, Carl E. Jr., General USMC.  "Remarks of General
Carl E. Mundy, Jr.".  Marine Corps Gazette  76 (April 1992).
6.	Simmons, Edwin H., Brigadier General USMC (Ret).
"Getting Marines to the Gulf."  Proceedings/Naval Review 1991
(May 1991).
7.	U.S. Marine Corps.  Headquarters United States Marine
Corps.  The Role of the Marine Corps and National Defense,
FMFM 1-2.  Washington, D.C., 1991.

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