Can The Marine Corps Survive?
AUTHOR Major Brian J. Vincent III, USMC
SUBJECT AREA - Topical Issues
Thesis: If the Marine Corps is to survive, it must be willing and
prepared to make even deeper personnel and equipment cuts.
I. A Time of World Change
A. End of the Reagan/Bush era
B. Bill Clinton, President and Commander in Chief
C. Fall of the USSR
D. No clearly identifiable threat
II. The Future of the Military
A. Fiscal constraints
B. The "Base Force"
C. DoD in times of sweeping change
D. Roles and missions debate
III. The Future of the Marine Corps
A. Reshaping, reconfiguring and modernizing the Corps
B. Marine Corps' "uniqueness"
C. Roles and functions of the Corps- Title 10
D. COCOM vs Commandant
IV. Cutting the Corps and Remaining Viable Too
A. Air Combat Element (ACE)
B. Ground Combat Element (GCE)
C. Combat Service Support Element (CSSE)
CAN THE MARINE CORPS SURVIVE?
Many dates and events are recorded in the annals of American
military history. From the early 1700s through two world wars
and beyond, our deeds and lineage are recorded for all to see.
Last November the Reagan/Bush Republican era officially came to a
close and Democrat Bill Clinton assumed his role as both
President and Commander in Chief.
Anyone who has read the newspaper or watched television has
had a front row seat in witnessing the multitude of changes, both
at home and abroad, in the past several years. Many people would
say that change is both productive and inevitable. I would argue
that like anything else, some changes are positive while others
are not. The fall of the USSR, America's chief foe for over 40
years, was an event unparalleled in most people's lives in terms
of political and economical significance. No one is likely to
forget the event, but did it really make our world a better and
safer place? Some may think "perhaps so," but I don't agree.
With our chief nemesis gone, many people have been looking
at our military as unnecessary and far too costly. While I would
agree that the Department of Defense (DoD) should do its part to
help balance the Nation's budget deficit, I would hardly agree
that our military is no longer necessary. We have changed from a
bi-polar (USA and its allies vs. USSR and its allies) to a multi-
polar world where a clearly identifiable threat is not so easily
determined. One only has to look at the political and economic
strife that has occurred in places such as Bosnia, Syria, Iran,
Libya or Iraq to understand that "threats" to regional and world
peace are everywhere.
America has its share of problems also; in particular, we
must provide for our Nation's defense with fewer and fewer
resources to balance against a national debt that keeps growing
and growing. Reducing the active duty end-strength of America's
military has been underway for some time now. As an example, the
Marine Corps portion of the "Base Force" is an active end-
strength of 157,100 by FY 1997. Meeting this goal, as
unpalatable as it may be for some of us, will not be a problem.
However, certain politicians feel that the Corps can be reduced
by nearly 25% and still be an effective force. So can we
continue to maintain readiness and provide the same quality of
defense with a smaller and smaller military and fewer and fewer
It would seem to me that we are back to the issue of change.
Is the Department of Defense ready and capable of such change?
Although I can not answer for the other services, I would say
that the Marine Corps' position would be yes. With a smaller
military and fewer resources, however, the key will be working
together. The separate services will have to rely on a
combination of each other's strengths to provide a more
efficient, integrated military. And to do this, the debate over
"roles and missions" will have to be settled. Each service may
not have as many unique capabilities in the future as it has
enjoyed in the past. I believe Senator Sam Nunn implied just
this in his floor speech of July 1992 when he said, "We must
reshape, reconfigure and modernize our overall forces - not just
make them smaller."(4:Speech) Senator Nunn also remarked, "At no
other time in the past 40 years have we had the three primary
forces for change come together, the change in our security
requirements, the change in technological opportunities, and the
change in budget imperatives."(5:Speech)
So what does this mean for the Marine Corps? In February
and March of 1992 General Mundy appeared before various
Congressional Committees to testify concerning the Unified
Posture Statement. He talked about a February 23rd Washington
Post article that referred to the Marine Corps as the "9-1-1
force."(3:34) General Mundy tied the "9-1-1 force" to our
concept of capabilities and stated that the Marine Corps is
prepared to shape events, manage instability, project influence,
respond to crisis on short notice, and, when necessary, fight.
In short, the Commandant was referring to our capabilities as
they are and he was expanding on the Marine Corps' "uniqueness."
Perhaps the key to the roles and missions debate can best be
seen when we combine some of Senator Nunn's thoughts with those
of General Mundy. Senator Nunn talked about reshaping,
reconfiguring and modernizing. General Mundy talked about
uniqueness of capabilities. If we reshaped, reconfigured and
modernized, keeping the Corps' uniqueness well defined,
duplicative capabilities in the other services could be
If we as a Corps decide to lead from our strength, we will
advertise those capabilities that make us unique. The 1992
National Security Strategy is built upon the foundations of:
strategic deterrence and defense, forward presence, crisis
response, and reconstitution.(7:6) Reduction in forward base
structure has seen an increase in maritime orientation to deal
with regional contingencies. Forward presence and crisis
response are missions ideally suited for the Marine Corps. As an
amphibious enabling force, the Marine Corps\Navy team has
forcible entry capability with sustainability.
"From the Sea" directed that Naval forces will respond to
crises and provide the initial enabling capability for joint
operations.(6:18) Naval Amphibious Forces provide forcible entry
with sustainability, global mobility, and long loitering
capabilities. Maritime Prepositioning Forces provide quick
reacting, rapid reinforcing, and complementary capabilities. The
traditional role of the Marine Corps as the Nation's force in
readiness is still valued today. Naval forces are uniquely
capable of being tailored to meet the developing and varied
threats worldwide. Although the global threat of war has
diminished significantly, enormous uncertainty still exists in
many regions. Therefore it is critical and in our best interest
to maintain a sufficiently modern force, especially within the
naval amphibious capabilities.
Let's step back and look at the roles and functions or
missions assigned to the Marine Corps in the National Security
Act of 1947, as amended and codified in Title 10, United States
Code: (1) Provide Fleet Marine Forces of combined arms for
service with the fleet in the seizure or defense of advanced
naval bases and for the conduct of such land operations as may be
essential to the prosecution of a naval campaign; (2) provide
detachments and organizations for service on armed vessels of the
Navy; (3) provide security detachments for the protection of
naval property at naval stations and bases; and (4) perform
such other duties as the President may direct.
Title 10 not only established the roles and missions of the
Marine Corps but also the structure. Title 10 set the structure
of the Marine Corps at three Divisions, three Aircraft Wings, and
the required combat service support. As discussed earlier, the
reductions as shown in the Base Force will not allow for the
three active duty Divisions, Wings, or the combat service
support. As our structure is changed and reduced, does it not
also follow that our traditional roles and missions are also in
Before we discuss the future of roles and capabilities of
the Marine Corps, it is important to understand how we will
execute in times of crisis. To the untrained or outsider, it
would stand to reason that the Marine Corps Commandant is our
chief "war fighter." As we know in today's military, that is not
the case. The military actually has two chains of command. Our
Commandant has the responsibility of administrative or Service
chain of command. When Marine forces are committed to a crisis
or combat situation, they fall under a combatant or unified
commander. What does this mean in terms of execution? It means
that the days of a single Service being committed to a crisis are
long gone. Each Service provides a capability or capabilities to
the combatant commander (COCOM). The COCOM then has at his
disposal a dual or multi-service force whose complementing
capabilities allow him to successfully execute his mission.
So it follows that the Marine Corps will almost always act,
execute and fight in a joint or multi-service environment. This
has special meaning for the Marine Corps because it implies that
we do not need to have every capability covered, only those that
are uniquely ours and not the specialty of another Service. So
we are back to those capabilities that make us unique.
The Marine Corps could be at the most dangerous crossroads
in its 217-year history. We have taken a stand at the highest
levels and identified those unique capabilities that separate us
from the other Services. We have clearly staked out what we feel
is our place in the forces that defend our Nation. What we have
failed to do, is realize or accept the full impact of the new
administration on the military in general, and on the Marine
Corps specifically. From the "gays in the military" issue to the
defense budget, the military and its Commander in Chief are
pulling in different directions. President Clinton like his
predecessor views the United states as the world leader, but
President Clinton sees far less need for the military arm of
foreign policy than did former President Bush. What does this
mean? I believe that in the next few years there will be
further and deeper defense and personnel cuts than are currently
projected. If the Marine Corps is to survive, it must be willing
and prepared to make even deeper personnel and equipment cuts.
Let's look at some possible ways to cut even deeper without
adversely affecting those "unique capabilities." I will divide
this discussion into three categories: air combat element (ACE),
ground combat element (GCE), and combat service support (CSS).
Since the driver here is money and the preponderance of the "big
ticket" items are in the ACE, I'll start there.
As we are currently structured, the Marine Corps maintains
the following aircraft types: F/A-18 Hornet, AV-8B Harrier, EA-6B
Prowler, KC-130 Hercules, CH-53 Sea Stallion, CH-46 Sea Knight,
UH-1 Huey, and the AH-1 Cobra. The mission of Marine Aviation is
to "participate as the Fleet Marine Force's (FMF's) supporting
air component." The mission is simple, it's when we look at the
six doctrinal functions of Marine Aviation that things begin to
get complicated. As outlined in FMFM 5-1, the six functions are:
(1) Antiair warfare (AAW) destroys or reduces enemy air and
missile threats; (2) offensive air support (OAS) provides timely
and accurate close-in fire support (CIFS), close air support
(CAS), and deep air support (DAS); (3) assault support insures
the rapid build-up of combat power ashore; (4) air reconnaissance
provides the MAGTF commander with information he can use to
influence operations; (5) electronic warfare (EW) neutralizes
enemy radars and provides the MAGTF commander with information he
can use to update the enemy's order of battle; and (6) control of
aircraft and missiles provides the MAGTF commander with the
ability to use ACE assets to influence combat operations.(2:1-1)
In today's joint and or combined environment, most fixed
wing assets regardless of Service, will be controlled by the
Joint Forces Air Component Commander (JFACC). By control I mean
that the JFACC allocates sorties in accordance with the CINC's or
Joint Task Force (JTF) Commander's priorities. What this means
to the Marine Corps is that we will often lose operational
control (OPCON) of our F/A-18s and on a more limited basis any
other fixed wing assets required by the JFACC. Although not
doctrinal in the joint arena, the Air Force will most often be
designated the JFACC if it has the preponderance of air in
theater. This then is the problem: should the Marine Corps pay
for assets that will be controlled by the Air Force or used to
fly CAP for the Navy's carrier battle groups?
I would propose that the Marine Corps accept the hand-
writing on the wall and make some changes to the six functions of
Marine Aviation. If we accept the fact that we will usually lose
OPCON of our F/A-18s, we should give them up, in the interest of
combat efficiency and cost effectiveness. After all, if we
really believe and push our uniqueness, then CAS and CIFS will be
our biggest requirements. The Navy and the Air Force could
assume the remaining functions, much like the Air Force does for
the Army now. On the fixed-wing side this would allow us to cut
to the AV-8B and the KC-130. Because of the AV-8Bs short
loitering time, however, the Marine Corps should look into
obtaining some of the A-10 Wart Hogs the Air Force has put into
the reserves. This would support the strategy of cutting costs
while maintaining an air warfare capability. If we do not fight
alone, we have lost little by giving up these aircraft.
Next comes the rotary wing. In some ways this issue is even
more complicated than fixed-wing. We need "heavy haulers," and we
have a good one in the CH-53E. With that as the exception, any
other helos that we retain in the long run should be as add-on
buys to Army procurement contracts. With the mix of CH-53s,
Apaches and Black Hawks, we would obtain additional capabilities
at a reduced cost. Of course this would have to be a phased
program, replacing the old with the new, but at least it would
finally put the OSPREY controversy to bed.
Additionally, some air command and control (C2) savings
could be realized because we would be shrinking or localizing our
area of operations. However, closer coordination with the Navy
and the Air Force would be required because our support
requirements would increase. Savings in this area could be
redirected into ground based anti-air defense assets.
Following suit, the GCE can also give up certain equipment
types without too much degradation to our combat power. We must
keep in mind that as in Desert Storm, the Army can augment our
capabilities if we assume a combat posture outside our normal
role. As an enabling force, we do not need to be configured for
sustained heavy combat operations. Our goal should be to become
lighter, quick reacting and even more flexible. We must be
prepared, if called upon, to tell the President what weapons,
forces and delivery means are available no matter when, where, or
how he may choose to employ us in the interests of the Nation.
Combat power as such should not be the sole consideration here.
As seen recently, humanitarian assistance, disaster relief, drug
interdiction, and assistance to local law enforcement are
becoming primary missions of the military.
Looking closely at the GCE would indicate that the cuts to
be made should come from both the equipment and personnel sides
of the house. Let's start with the M1A1 Abrams tank. It's a
definite for sustained heavy combat operations, but that is an
Army mission not a Marine Corps mission. Although we have only
one active duty tank Battalion, in the currently constrained
fiscal environment tanks are "luxury" items that we can no longer
afford. I would agree to increasing the number of Light Armored
Vehicle (LAV) anti-tank variants, but the savings would still be
As most of us have already realized, the Combined Arms
Regiment (CAR) is nothing but a pipe dream. Not only is the
funding unavailable, but selling the Congress on a second heavy
mech/armor force would not be possible. Again, we need to stick
with "what got us here," which is speed, lightness and
flexibility. As the Army's light divisions go away, our chief
"competition" will be limited to the 82nd Airborne and the 101st
Also at issue are the three active duty divisions that we
cling to by charter. As personnel cuts have been realized, we
have begun to accept the reality of a two-plus active duty
division Marine Corps. To get on with the business at hand, we
must do the best we can with what we have, and identify those
roles we can no longer fulfill with a reduced force.
CSS is a horse of a different color. How often have we
heard the small-picture types espouse some variant of the "if it
don't shoot and it don't move, we don't need it" philosophy?
Unless you are one of the lucky few, the answer is probably "much
too often." These are generally the same warriors who feel that
logistics and logisticians are the "ball and chain" they must
endure on their personal road to greatness. The "big-blue-arrow"
types can try to design a plan that is infallible, but even the
best plans will become quite fallible if the combat support (CS)
and the CSS types are not equal partners in the Planning,
Programming and Budgeting System (PPBS).
Perhaps one aspect of a more sensible approach would be to
fund CS and CSS more equally. In the past, the more glamorous or
"high speed" programs have received far greater political
interest and funding support, at the expense of CS and CSS
requirements. This philosophy will have to change as we face the
challenges ahead and are required to provide for our Nation's
defense with severely constrained resources.
Since we will be buying less and less, we must be prepared
to keep what we have running as long as possible. High-cost
single service programs may become a thing of the past.
Therefore personnel cuts from the already overtaxed CSS field
would be a mistake.
The future of our Corps in the uncertain times ahead is not
clear. We must do all we can to ensure our survivability.
Taking a hard look at our structure and equipment mix must become
a priority. Who better than ourselves to determine what we can
afford to give up without degrading our unique capabilities.
Secretary of Defense Les Aspin during a February 11th American
Defense Preparedness Association speech said, "The goal for
active duty strength by the end of FY 1997 will be 1.4 million
men and women, 200,000 less than the baseline Bush number."
(1:Speech) In sum, a smaller Base Force, less and less money,
and a world of political, social and economic instability.
America needs her Corps, and we must adjust with the times so
that we will be around to serve.
1. Aspin, Les. Speech to the American Defense Preparedness
Association on 11 February 1993.
2. Fleet Marine Force Manual 5-1, Organization and Function of
Marine Aviation, October 1991, p. 1-1.
3. Mundy, General C.E. "Remarks of Gen Carl E. Mundy, Jr. Before
Congress." Marine Corps Gazette, April 1992, pp. 34-35.
4. Nunn, Sam. Floor Speech on 2 July 1992.
5. _________. Floor Speech on 2 July 1992.
6. O'Keef, the Honorable S.C., Kelso, Admiral F.B., and Mundy,
General C.E. "From the Sea: A New Direction for the Naval
Services." Marine Corps Gazette, November 1992, pp. 18-22.
7. Powell, General C.L. "The National Military Strategy 1992."
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