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World's Largest Marine Corps

History has demonstrated that specialist marines are an absolute necessity during all maritime expeditionary operations when operating in the difficult littoral environment encountered. And recent trends in the global security environment has demonstrated that such amphibious forces represent readily usable maritime power in a way that other types of sea forces are not. Hence, the increasingly widespread acqusition of amphibious ships, and development of marine corps.

The 1996 "Handbook for Marine NCOs" by Kenneth W. Estes and Robert Debs Heinl states that "Every world power has an army. Most powers have navies and air forces. Few have had marine corps, but more have formed such corps during the period since World War II, based upon examples of their eminent usefulness. Currently, some thirty nations field marine corps or naval infantry units in their orders of battle: Argentina, Brazil, Chile, China, Cuba, Ecuador, El Salvador, France, Guatemala, Indonesia, Italy, Republic of Korea, Kuwait, Mexico, Morocco, Netherlands, Paraguay, Phillipines, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey, United Kingdom, Venezuela and Vietnam. Several other countries have naval commando or coast defense organizations that perform missions similar in function to marines."

There are upwards of 50 countries with amphibious infantry units and even more without such organizations but with means to land men and equipment across unprepared beaches. Some of these units are trained as commandos while others are trained as attack swimmers (frogmen) - the UK's Royal Marines' Special Boat Service is a prime example, as are the US Navy SEALS and Russian Spetsnaz. For smaller nations, Marines perform combat duties, usually providing riverine assault forces, counterinsurgency troops or security forces naval bases and installations. Several countries find their Marines useful as a counterweight to the Army when it comes to political manuevering and coup-plotting.

By the year 2010 over 40 countries around the world [out of a total of about 200] maintain military forces that possess the capability to conduct one or more types of amphibious operations, most of those forces are comparatively small in number and limited in capability. The current US joint doctrinal definition of an amphibious operation is a "military operation launched from the sea by an amphibious force, embarked in ships or craft with the primary purpose of introducing a landing force ashore to accomplish the assigned mission."

Amphibious operations range in complexity from small-unit raids to expeditionary-force amphibious assaults. The types of amphibious operations include
  1. forcible entry to establish beachheads or airheads from which to introduce large-scale military forces - amphibious assault is the principal type of amphibious operation that involves establishing a force on a hostile or potentially hostile shore;
  2. amphibious demonstration (a type of amphibious operation conducted for the purpose of deceiving the enemy by a show of force with the expectation of deluding the enemy into a course of action unfavorable to him);
  3. amphibious raid (a type of amphibious operation involving swift incursion into or temporary occupation of an objective, to destroy selected installations, units, or individuals that may have significant bearing on the course of the campaign, followed by a planned withdrawal);
  4. amphibious reconnaissance (an amphibious landing conducted by minor elements, normally involving stealth rather than force of arms, for the purpose of securing information, and usually followed by a planned withdrawal);
  5. amphibious withdrawal (a type of amphibious operation involving the extraction of forces by sea in ships or craft from a hostile or potentially hostile shore);
  6. strategic reserve -- to exploit opportunities and counter threats that develop during the course of a campaign;
  7. reinforcement--to assist in conducting a land campaign as a part of a joint or combined command;
  8. naval campaign--to control the landward flank of a naval command.
  9. Other amphibious operations include noncombatant evacuation operations (NEO) and foreign humanitarian assistance (FHA).

Not every unit that calls itself "Marine" is a counterpart to the United States Marine Corps. This distinction is totally apart from the fact that Francophone countries use the word "Marine" to denominate what is known in Anglophone countries as "Navy." Many countries use the term "Naval Infantry" to denominate their counterpart to the United States Marine Corps. But in American parlance, the term "naval infantry" is used to denominate that portion of the ships company that has debarked as a shore landing party. In the 19th Century such naval infantry parties were used for power projection ashore, while the US Marines remained embarked, to police the ship's company.

This terminological niceties aside, there are perhaps a dozen military formations around the world that seem to resemble the US Marine Corps, but upon closer inspection appear not to be true Marines in the American sense. The distinguishing attributes of the US Marine Corps are the ability to project power from the sea, and to conduct sustained operations ashore, and that it is a distinct unit organized, trained and equipped for this purpose.

Romania's 307 Marine Battalion, elements of Sweden's Amphibious Regiment [Amfibieregementet], and Israel's Flotilla 13 are naval commandos, not marines. Commando units, such as the US Navy SEALs, are not Marines, because their power projection from the sea is in the form of a raid, of relatively short duration, rather than a sustained operation. The Marine Expeditionary Units (MEU) forces were declared "special operations capable" (SOC) in the early 1980s. Many Marines genuinely believed they were as good as, and perhaps better than, other special forces in performing certain missions. But the US Marine Corps is not a special operating force, nor does the special operating forces community regard them as such. Conversely, special operating forces are not Marines. The US Army special operating forces includes Special Forces, Delta Force, Rangers, specialized helicopter units, as well as psychological operations and civil affairs teams. The Navy incoludes SEALs, special-boat units, and SEAL-delivery teams. The Air Force has helicopter and C-130 squadrons equipped for special-operations missions. Common usage frequently refers to all of these units as special forces, but the proper term is special operating forces.

Some countries have naval infantry formations, but these are not power projection services. The Colombian Infanteria de Marina, with some 15,000 troops, is by far the largest example of such formations. It is essentially a riverine counter-insurgency and counter-narcotics internal security force. The Naval Infantry of Syria, like the Marines of Pakistan, Sri Lanka's Naval Patrolman or Germany's Marineschutzkräfte (MSK - Naval Protection Forces), are essentially shore-bound units tasked with defending naval facilities. In South Africa the recently formed Naval Commando is some sort of maritime police force. Finland's Coastal Jaeger and elements of Sweden's Amphibious Regiment [Amfibieregementet] are coastal defense troops tasked with defense against hostile commando raids from the sea, while Iraq's Naval Marines are mainly tasked with defending oil terminals. Serbia's Pontoon Battalions [Pontonirskom Bataljonu] appear to be mainly concerned with riverine disaster assistance.

In order to project power ashore, whether it is across an ocean beachfront or the bank of a river, a Marine Corps must have specialized vessels suited to this purpose. These vessels may be 40,000 ton aircraft carriers, or small rigid hull boats, but a fighting unit without access to such specialized vessels is not a marine corps. Car ferries and motor boats don't count.

And a marine corps must be a corps, a distint unit organized and trained for the purpose of projecting power ashore. The word corps is French, from the Old French cors, from the Latin "corpus", that is, body. The first known use was in the year 1707. A corps is an organized subdivision of the military establishment, such as the Signal Corps. In the army a corps is a deployable/operational unit with 20000-40000 troops. In many armies, a corps is a battlefield formation composed of two or more divisions and auxiliary arms and services. More generally a corps is a group of persons associated together or acting under common direction; especially a body of persons having a common activity or occupation, such as the press corps or a ballet corps.

By the 21st century the marine corps had definitively replaced the 19th century naval infantry by virtue of the complexity of amphibious power projection operations, and the specialization of the training and equipment involved. This fact is most clearly seen in cases such as Australia, France, and Japan, which have each realized that the acquisition of large amphibious ships neccessitates the development of a specialized marine corps to operate from those ships.

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Page last modified: 03-04-2012 19:39:55 ZULU