Does the Marine Corps Need Course Correction? Congress Wants to Know

If so, necessary changes and funding are needed to restore lost capabilities.

Where does the Marine Corps go from here? This critical question has pitted retired Marines and the existing senior leadership for the last four years.

Force Design (FD) 2030, the brainchild of the former commandant General David Berger, has been loudly and persistently challenged by many senior retired general officers, former defense officials, and friends of the Corps.

Congress somewhat belatedly woke up to this intellectual civil war with this year’s National Defense Authorization Act, which mandates a Federally Funded Research and Development Center (FFRDC) independently evaluate FD 2030.

Candidates to Evaluate FD 2030

That is all well and good, but the question of which FFRDC will do the study is critical. There are three leading candidates: the Center for Naval Analysis (CNA), the Institute for Defense Analysis (IDA), and RAND Corporation.

CNA’s primary funding comes from the Department of the Navy, meaning the Navy and Marine Corps. The Department also contributes directly to RAND, but not to the extent of CNA.

Of the candidates, only IDA appears to receive no direct Navy funding. It has no dog in the fight. CNA has never questioned the need for large amphibious ships, nor has RAND. It is probably unfair to ask either to take sides in this issue as it is a lose-lose proposition.

Super Garuda Shield
US Marines participate in the Super Garuda Shield exercise. Photo: Sgt. Andrew King/US Marine Corps

Heavily Invested

Let me be clear: I have no current affiliation with any of the candidates. I have collaborated with all in past studies and have the greatest respect for all three — but I did not fall off the turnip truck yesterday.

The Navy and the current Marine Corps senior leadership is heavily invested in FD 2030. The Marine Corps has divested billions of the assets that made the Corps a balanced, combined arms team to buy anti-ship capabilities primarily devoted to deterring or fighting a war with China.

Many in the Navy support FD 2030 because the service does not have to buy the large amphibious ships that would support the expansive landing operations the current Marine Corps leadership is trying to walk away from.

Anyone who believes they will not work hard to influence the FD 2030 study probably also believes in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy.

Unbiased and Free of Influence

In addition to the Marine Corps divestments in capabilities once considered critical to its worldwide force in readiness mission, the Navy has radically scaled back on its amphibious ship building program. All of this has been done without serious congressional oversight.

The current National Defense Authorization Act attempts to rectify that, but it can only be done properly if the mandated study is unbiased and free of influence by the existing leadership of the two naval services.

Of the three candidates, only IDA receives no major funding from the naval services. Consequently, it is the most logical organization to take on the mission.

No matter which organization receives the task to conduct the study, it should contain three major elements to be considered legitimate.

US and Philippine Marines conduct a raid rehearsal during Balikatan 22
US and Philippine Marines conduct a raid rehearsal during Balikatan 22. Photo: Cpl. Jackson Dukes/US Marine Corps

Independent War Games

The first would be a series of independent war games to determine the real issues surrounding FD 2030. General Berger and the current commandant, whose Quantico command conducted the original games, claimed that they validated FD 2030.

However, I always tell the students in my red teaming classes that wargames don’t validate anything. At best, they can identify potential problems with a plan and its assumptions. This is one of the bedrocks of war gaming theory.

If one red team playing in a single game ignores (or tries to ignore) the Marine Corps’ contribution as irrelevant to Chinese operations, it is merely a data point. If three of four red teams consider the concept irrelevant, it represents a serious issue. USMC and Navy FD 2030 advocates should play as the blue (US) team in these war games. If anyone can make the concept work, it should be them.

Anonymous Survey

Second, the input from serving Marines, particularly the field grade ranks, should be solicited. One of the primary criticisms of FD 2030 is that a cabal of very senior officers, their trusted subordinates, and selected contractors created it without significant input from the field.

Those of us who have worked on the issue for the past few years have heard anecdotal evidence that no such input was solicited, and that Marines who voice criticism do so at risk to their careers.

An anonymous survey of those expected to implement FD 2030 would reveal whether the Corps’ future leaders believe it is a good idea.

Force-Wide Analysis

Finally, an honest analysis from the combatant commanders in each theater should be required to determine whether the degree to which the divested USMC capabilities have impacted their combat readiness.

If these things can be accomplished competently within the study’s scope, it can be determined whether the Marine Corps is headed in the right direction. If not, both the administration and Congress should give the Marine Corps marching order to change direction as well as funding to restore lost capabilities now deemed necessary.

If not, it will draw cobwebs in a safe with so many other congressionally mandated studies.

Headshot Gary AndersonGary Anderson served as the Chief of Plans (G-5) of the Marine Corps Expeditionary Force responsible for the Indo-Pacific area.

He lectures on Alternative Analysis at the George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs.

The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of The Defense Post.

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