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Why a Marine Corps?

23 August 2010

Summary:  FM contributors G.I. Wilson and H. Thomas Hayden explain why America needs a Marine Corps.  As GW said before, “The USMC’s future lies its creative intellect, professionalism in the study and application of maneuver warfare, and delivering what the Nation needs post in a crisis be it humanitarian relief for disasters or launching forcible maritime operations from sea to attack in the littorals or several hundred miles in land to rescue civilians.”  At the end are links to other valuable articles about the future of the USMC.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates recently said that he had ordered a review of the future role of the Marine Corps amid “anxiety” that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan had turned the service into a “second land army.”  In remarks for a speech at Marines’ Memorial Theatre in San Francisco Gates (transcript) said that the review would seek to define a 21st century combat mission for the Marines that is distinct from the Army’s, because the Marines “do not want to be, nor does America need” another ground combat force.

According to the Los Angeles Times, 13 August 2010, in ordering the Pentagon review, “Gates was deepening a long-running debate about the role of the Marine Corps, including whether one of its main missions, amphibious assaults on fortified coastlines, has become obsolete because of the changing nature of warfare and advances in precision weaponry.”

“Amphibious assault on a fortified coast line” is the dumbest and most ill informed or uninformed statement anyone can make. The beauty of amphibious shipping is that it can sail up and down a coast line and land Marines where the enemy is less likely to be defending a landing zone. No one in their right mind will do another Tarawa landing in World War II. Anyone remember Inchon, Korea?  It was landing where the enemy was less prepared.

So, again we see many questioning the need for a Marine Corps. There are those who always claim that there has not been another amphibious landing since WW II. This is nonsense and is a prime example of those ignorant of history and espousing their independent political persuasion and their preconceived notions.  The last major amphibious operation was the start of the Afghanistan invasion and then before that was the Gulf War.

Amphibious operations can be classified as follows:

  • Amphibious Assault (Afghan, Vietnam, Korea, etc.)
  • Amphibious Demonstration or Feint (Gulf War, Vietnam, etc.)
  • Amphibious Raid (Gulf War, Mogadishu (NEO Op), Vietnam, etc.)
  • Amphibious Withdrawal (Korea, WW II, etc.)

Too soon today’s writers, political pundits and arm chair generals have forgotten the first major amphibious assault into The Republic of Vietnam – Operation Starlite (18-24 Aug 1965; Wikipedia). The operation was a combined attack from land and an amphibious assault from naval shipping – Amphibious Squadron 7 and embarked Battalion Landing Team 3/7. This major military operation destroyed the Viet Cong 1st Regiment. Google “Operation Starlite” if you do not want to believe me.

In 1969 alone we had 14 amphibious operations in Vietnam.  We had a major amphibious operation in the Gulf War – the demonstration or feint off Kuwait which tied down 7 Iraqi divisions while the Coalition forces invaded from the south.

The first major attack into Afghanistan was an amphibious operation that landed Marines in Afghan from amphibious ships in the Indian Ocean. Brigadier General James Mattis, newly appointed CENTCOM Commander, was the commander of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Brigade and Commander of Task Force 58 during the first major strike in Operation Enduring Freedom in southern Afghanistan. Mattis became the first Marine ever to command a Naval Task Force in combat. 

For more about the modern history of amphibious operations, see the USNI articles by Raymond Pritchett (aka Galrahn) listed below.  Also recommended:  Amphibious Assault: Manoeuver from the Sea by Tristan Lovering (Lt. Commander, RN; 2005; Amazon), a widely-cited British publication that is in most military libraries in America.

Some question why Marines go to the US Naval Academy. Mariners come out of all Service academies. Marines are an integral part of the Navy, and usually 17% comprise 17% of the graduating USNA class (more apply, but 17% is the the maximum percent allowed).

The Marines have their own “air force” because it is their long range artillery. No armed force in the world, except the British, use close air support like the Marine Corps. The US Air Force and the Navy do not practice CAS and have made many mistakes in Iraq and Afghanistan hitting the wrong targets.

Everyone needs to study what a Marine Air-Ground Task Force (MAGTF; Wikipedia) is all about – land-air-log. Then one may learn that the MAGTF combined arms team, fully self sufficient, is a unique capability that no other country in the world posses. A MAGTF (usually a battalion landing team, a helo squadron of Harrier AV-8B and tilt-rotor MV-22, and a logistics element) on board amphibious shipping is afloat in the Pacific and the Atlantic at almost any given time. The Capstone Concept for Joint Operations (CCJO, PDF) points out that diminishing overseas access is another challenge anticipated in the future operating environment. In war, this challenge may require forcible-entry capabilities designed to seize and maintain lodgments in the face of armed resistance.

The third edition of the Marine Corps Operating Concepts (PDF) notes that in the past twenty years,U.S. amphibious forces have responded to crises and contingencies over 120 times, a response rate more than double that of the Cold War.Furthermore, during the same period, forward-postured amphibious forces continually conducted sea-based security cooperation with international partners—reflecting the philosophy that preventing war is as important as winning wars.

The biggest reason there is a U.S. Marine Corps is simply because the American people love their Marines, need their Marines, want their Marines, and demand their Marines. Americans expect their Marines to be the first to fight and to do it to the enemy before the enemy does it to us.

About the authors

See the bio of G. I. Wilson’s (Colonel, USMC, retired) here

About H. Thomas Hayden (Lt. Colonel, USMC, retired), from his profile at Military.com:

He retired after 35 years of service, which included the Agency forInternational Development, the Marine Corps, defense industry and the Pentagon. His specialties are Intelligence, Counterinsurgency Operations, Counter-terrorism, and Joint Concepts Development and Experimentation.

His Marine Corps assignments included command of two separate battalions; AC/S G-2, 4th MARDIV & AC/S G-2 FMFEurope; Branch Head, HQMC, Special Operations and Low Intensity Conflict (SO/LIC); Special Assistant to the Assistant Secretary of Defense for SO/LIC; and, Senior Program Analysts at HQMC with the Joint Staff and DoD at the Pentagon. Overseas assignments included Vietnam, Japan & Okinawa, Europe, Central America, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, Somalia, Singapore, Philippines, and Colombia.

He has an MBA (Pepperdine) and an MA in International Relations (U of Southern California). He has written two books and is working on a third.

Hayden’s other publications:

  • Warfighting: Maneuver Warfare in the US Marine Corps (1995)
  • Shadow War: Special Operations and Low Intensive Conflict (1991)
  • “Counterinsurgency in Iraq started with Fallujah”, Marine Corps Gazette, October 2007
  • “Winning Hearts and Minds”, Marine Corps Gazette, June 2010 — “Afghanistan presents different problems.”
  • Husband and wife in the Armed Forces“, PoliQuicks, 24 August 2010
  • Yemen – Continuing Part of the GWOT?“, PoliQuicks, 24 September 2010
  • See his articles at Military.com

Recent articles about the future of the USMC

For an insightful and deep discussion of these issues see Chet Richard’s A Swift, Elusive Sword: What if Sun Tzu and John Boyd Did a National Defense Review?

  1. Amphibious Operations 1990 – 1999“, Raymond Pritchett (aka Galrahn), US Naval Institute, 25 May 2009
  2. Amphibious Operations 2000 – 2009“, Raymond Pritchett (aka Galrahn), US Naval Institute, 25 May 2009
  3. ‘Hybrid Threats': Neither Omnipotent Nor Unbeatable“, Frank G. Hoffman (Lt. Colonel, USMC, retired, bio), ORBIS (of the Foreign Policy Research Institute), Summer 2010
  4. Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle (EFV) Program Faces Cost, Schedule and Performance Risks“, GAO, 11 July 2010 — Bad news for the Marines.
  5. EFV Debate Is Really About The Future Of The Marine Corps“, Loren B. Thompson, Lexington Institute, 13 July 2010
  6. The Future of the Marines and Forcible Entry in a Battle Network Regime“, DefenseTech, 11 August 2010
  7. Recommended:  “Caught on a Lee Shore” by Dakota L. Wood (Lt. Colonel, USMC, retired), The American Interest, Sept-Oct 2010 — Wood is currently at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.
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