How to Ruin the Marine Corps

FD 2030 reduced the US Marine Corps to something between coastal artillery and naval infantry.

Few would ever consider how to completely neutralize a truly iconic fighting force like the US Marine Corps.

However, for whatever reason, if one were motivated to do so, I would recommend the following strategy.

The Plan in Theory

First, I would not reveal my plans during my confirmation hearing as Commandant of the Marine Corps. That would alert the traditionalists among the retired Marines and friends of Marines who might oppose my appointment. Once confirmed and installed, I would present my real plan, proceeding confidently and decisively.

Let’s say my concept would involve a radical transformation of the Marine Corps from a worldwide force in readiness into a service primarily focused on deterring or fighting a war with China. I would issue my Commandant’s Planning Guidance to that effect and direct my combat development command to set up a series of war games that would support my plan.

I would use a small group of trusted agents to run the games and make sure that they supported the concept. I would ensure that anyone participating in the games signed non-disclosure agreements, and I would classify the process so that no dissenting opinions would be let loose. I would then declare that the results validated my concept.

Next, I would divest the Marine Corps of what I considered to be legacy capabilities no longer needed for the implementation of my plan. These divestitures would include all tanks, all its heavy engineer and assault breaching capabilities, much of the conventional artillery, its vaunted snipers, and about a third of the aviation assets.

Knowing that many retired Marines and friends of Marines would object to this radical departure from the Marine Corps’ traditional force-in-readiness posture, I would direct my public affairs people to dismiss them as hopeless reactionaries.

US Marines and Georgian Army soldiers run to the extraction point
US Marines and Georgian Army soldiers run to an extraction point. Photo: US Marine Corps

I would be confident that I was hitting all the right political bases. The administration has identified China as the nation’s pacing threat. I would be saving Congress billions by divesting unneeded capabilities.

There would be a few potential obstacles. The combatant commanders of global theaters might object to my taking away capabilities that they need in their war plans. More embarrassingly, the commander of the Indo-Pacific theater might object that he or she did not need my concept. However, I could be fairly confident that the “general officers’ protective association” would prevent them from airing this dirty laundry in public.

Finally, I would have my director of combat development designated as my preferred replacement. Because of his complicity in my approach, he would look foolish trying to reverse it.

My legacy would be ensured.

How It Has Played Out

Fortunately, I never became Commandant of the Marine Corps. Unfortunately, General David Berger did. With his concept, dubbed Force Design (FD) 2030, he transformed the Marine Corps from a worldwide force in readiness to a service primarily aimed at deterring, or if necessary, fighting a war against China in the South China Sea.

Since his concept did not require large-scale amphibious landings, General Berger released the navy from its requirement to provide the Marine Corps with a division’s worth (two Expeditionary Brigades) of amphibious shipping. This was a savvy move as it got buy-in from the navy’s carrier and submarine admirals.

To give Berger credit, this was a brilliant political approach. The Biden administration has identified China as the pacing threat to national security.

Berger’s plan to “divest to invest” to procure the anti-ship missiles needed to implement FD 2030 would save the nation billions in the short run. Although the divestiture was done without any guaranteed quid pro quo, General Berger apparently believed a grateful nation would reward the Marine Corps for its generosity.

A Naval Strike Missile streaks out to sea before striking a naval target ship on August 15, 2021. Photo: Lance Cpl. Dillon Buck/US Marines

The Results

Things have not gone well for FD 2030 in the past year. Before he left office, General Berger was forced to admit that the Navy-Marine Corps team could not respond to contingencies in Sudan and Turkey due to a lack of amphibious shipping.

Congress has belatedly realized something may be wrong, and the current Defense Authorization Act has mandated a second look at FD 2030.

An exhaustive study by a group of retired senior Marine Corps generals revealed the war games justifying FD 2030 were manipulated to produce positive results. General Berger’s concept was built on a house of cards. He reduced the Marine Corps to something between coastal artillery and naval infantry.

General Eric Smith, Berger’s chosen successor, has obviously felt the heat and recently changed the name to “Force Design,” but this is like changing the name of the Titanic after it hit the iceberg.

If the congressional study confirms what the retired generals suspect, several things should be done. General Smith is not a well man and should be medically retired. One of the recently retired general officers who objected to FD 2030 should be returned to active duty and appointed as commandant to sort out the mess. That will be difficult; Berger left chaos in his wake.

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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