Summary: The US Marine Corps’ leaders have begun its largest redesign since preparing for amphibious warfare in the 1930s. See the summary by the Congressional Research Service. It configures the USMC to fight China, and only China. Not to fight the wars that have dominated the world since Korea.
Exchanging A Force-In-Readiness For A Force-In-Waiting.
By Col. Gary “GI” Wilson (USMC Ret.), Lt. Col. William A. Woods (USMC Ret.)
and Col. Michael D. Wyly (USMC Ret.) .
Force Design 2030 is trading off an agile force in readiness for a defensive-oriented island-based force focusing on a single threat, in a single region. In doing so, FD 2030 appears to ignore intelligence community (IC) assessments, which paint a much broader picture of multiple threats in multiple regions challenging the United States. Is the Marine Corps opting for the myopic parochialism of FD 2030 compared to other Services who recognize a variety of threats across a range of both military operational domains and global regions?
This raises the question will the Marine Corps be able to meet other threat challenges?
The Center for Strategic and International Studies in a piece entitled, “Marine Corps Force Design 2030: Examining the Capabilities and Critiques” (July 2022) describes FD 2030 as “an effort to fundamentally transform the Marine Corps’ capability to engage in the future operating environment.” In doing so FD 2030 significantly marginalizes the Corps Marine Air Ground Task Force (MAGTF) combined arms capability. FD 2030 also focuses two-thirds of its operational warfighting capability on the Indo-Pacific region while the remaining third of the Corps’ warfighting capability (to include the Marine Corps Reserve) focuses on what is referred to as “full-range of crisis response.”
FD 2030 customization of Marine Corps resources for an island chain defense scenario is by its very nature static, positional, and reactive. In fact, the footnotes of “A Concept for Stand in Forces” belabors the defense mentality and process:
“Two actors determine if a defense is “credible.” The first (and most important) actor is the potential adversary, or the actor the U.S. wants to deter. The potential aggressor must believe in the effectiveness of the defense enough so that they do not take the unwanted action. The second actor is the ally or partner the defense is intended to protect. They must believe in the effectiveness of the defense enough that they will be willing partners in establishing it.”
This defensive mindset is the very antitheses of the Corps’ maneuver warfare thinking and warfighting doctrine.
All this means the Corps is no longer the Nation’s force-in-readiness but a force-in-waiting betting on predicting the next future conflict posed by a single threat in a single region. Yet, the threats to the U.S. are not singular. Competition and conflict among both nation-states and non-state actors remain serious national security concerns for the United States. And the terrorist threat is not going away.
According to the 2022 National Defense Strategy, China and Russia are priority concerns; but the United States needs to remain capable of managing other persistent threats, including those from North Korea, Iran, and violent extremist organizations. Even the Navy’s Navigation Plan 2022 is not myopically threat orientated or regionally fixated. Instead it takes note of “global challengers” accompanied by a map of maritime shipping lanes and key geographic choke points depicted across the entire world. For example, see page 3:
This is a critical decade. As global challengers rise to threaten U.S. interests, America must maintain maritime dominance. The U.S. Navy will build, maintain, train, and equip a combat-credible, dominant naval force to keep the sea lanes open and free, deter conflict, and when called upon, decisively win our Nation’s wars.
FD 2030 is replete with select references to National Defense Strategy (NDS) and National Security Strategic Guidance (NSSG), Defense Planning/Programming Guidance (DPG) regarding the Corps’ justification for change and adopting FD 2030. However, at the same time we are not seeing any references to the intelligence community with respect to FD 2030, there is indeed more to consider. The intelligence community in fact renders a more complex robust delineation of threats to the United States than FD 2030’s narrow pacing threat does.
Lt. Gen. Scott D. Berrier, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency:
“State and non-state actors are selectively putting these capabilities into play globally and regionally. These capabilities also span all warfighting domains — maritime, land, air, [and in] electronic warfare, cyberspace information and space.”
— “Top Intelligence Chiefs Testify on Global Threats“, DOD News, 10 May 2022.
Avril D. Haines, director of national intelligence:
“The intelligence community’s assessment continues to focus on a number of key global and transnational threats …including global health security, transnational organized crime, the rapid development of destabilizing technologies, climate, migration, and terrorism, …because they pose challenges of a fundamentally different nature to our national security than those posed by the actions of nation states — even powerful ones, like China and Russia.” (Ibid.)
We find it curious that FD 2030 is absent references to any finished intelligence products. The intelligence community in fact depicts a far broader threat-scape than a singular dominant threat from China in the Indo-Pacific. Oddly, FD 2030 does not acknowledge transnational threats, non-state actors, or terrorism. FD 2030 is reorganizing the Marine Corps to address only the Info-Pacific threat, thus literally predicting the next conflict, which has never been the forte of DoD. Interestingly, intelligence products do not predict future conflict nor is intelligence driven by computer war games. So, where is the intelligence that China, a nuclear power, is willing or needs to go to war with the United States in China’s backyard?
Nuclear-armed states such as China, Russia, and the United States have never gone to war directly against each other; rather they fight each other using proxy clients. We are losing sight of the fact that non-state actors and proxies are now and will remain the enemy of the future. FD 2030 does not take into full account national intelligence assessments of future threats, the role of proxies, and the vestiges of fourth-generation warfare as do the Chinese as reflected in Unrestricted Warfare written in 1999 by two colonels in the People’s Liberation Army, Qiao Liang and Wang Xiangsui. Rather than China focusing on direct military confrontation, its focus is on war by other means “Unrestricted Warfare” such as proxies and economic espionage.
Nuclear-armed states wage a lower level/intensity of war with each other using proxies, as well as economic and cyber means. China clearly demonstrates how it has undermined the United States by burrowing into our educational institutions, gouging our economy, siphoning away jobs and absconding with our technologies. According to the FBI:
The Chinese government is employing tactics that seek to influence lawmakers and public opinion to achieve policies that are more favorable to China. At the same time, the Chinese government is seeking to become the world’s greatest superpower through predatory lending and business practices, systematic theft of intellectual property, and brazen cyber intrusions.
—FBI website, counterintelligence section, “The China Threat“.
We dare say that China has no intention of engaging the U.S. militarily. China doesn’t need to. Interestingly no one, to include Congress, is aggressively questioning the return on investment (ROI) on taxpayer dollars having a military service focus on one theater with a narrow mission profile. It is time to question the transition from a versatile agile force in readiness to force-in-waiting literally on standby in one theater and one threat only.
In light of questionable return on investment, one has to ask: Is the Marine Corps preparing for the war-game-war it wants and predicts rather than the real fight that it will get?
FD 2030 depicts an overreliance on technology, a fixation on predicting the next war based upon computer simulations, war gaming, and a total divestment of the Corps’ warfighting doctrine. The essence of the Marine Corps’ warfighting mindset and doctrinal foundation is found in Marine Corps Doctrinal Publication (MCDP)-1.
The danger of predicting wars
We try, as we should, to forecast the likelihood (e.g. threat assessment) of coming events in the interest of being ready. As hard as we may try, no one can, or ever has, accurately predicted the future. Being able to predict the next conflict/war has proven a bridge too far for the Pentagon brass. Micah Zenko in his article, “100% Right 0% of the Time: Why the U.S. military can’t predict the next war“, skillfully underscores the Pentagon’s inability to predict the next war or conflict. It is safe to say that the Pentagon does not possess an armed conflict crystal ball. Even the current Secretary of Defense noted to Reuters, 30 April 2021:
“We can’t predict the future …So what we need is the right mix of technology, operational concepts and capabilities – all woven together in a networked way that is so credible, so flexible and so formidable that it will give any adversary pause.”
Will the FD 2030 Marine Corps, to paraphrase the secretary of defense, be a force that is “so credible, so flexible and so formidable that it will give any adversary pause?” We think not. FD 2030 is a flawed concept of operations primarily because …
- it does not address the multiple worldwide threats as outlined by the national intelligence community,
- it is based solely on the results of war games and not real-world circumstances, and
- its defensive mental process is the antithesis of the Corps’ maneuver warfare warfighting doctrine.
About the authors
Retired U.S. Marine Corps Col. Gary “GI” Wilson is a former infantry officer, has written about maneuver warfare and fourth-generation warfare. He is now an adjunct professor at Palomar College, where he teaches criminology courses. See his other articles.
Retired Marine Corps Lt. Col. William A. Woods is also a former infantry officer, was involved in the early development of maneuver warfare in the service.
Retired Marine Corps Col. Michael D. Wyly has taught and written about maneuver warfare, formerly led tactics instruction at the Amphibious Warfare School. He currently lectures at military schools.
For More Information
See my recommended books and films at Amazon.
- Why a Marine Corps? – by GI Wilson and Tom Hayden (Lt. Colonel, USMC, retired).
- Generals read “Ender’s Game” and see their vision of the future Marine Corps – by a sergeant in the USMC.
- Will feminizing the Marines win wars?
- Careerism and Psychopathy in the US Military – By GI Wilson.
- The future called the Marine Corps. It refused.
- Has our military become a force of pussycats? – William Lind’s review of Martin van Creveld’s book, Pussycats.
Also see these selections from “The Attritionist Letters,” written by junior officers in the USMC, based on their experiences in our mad wars since 9/11.
- The US Marines turn away from the future.
- The Marines shackling their field-grade officers & losing wars.
- Teaching Marine junior officers to obey, not think.
- Require Marine officers to do as they’re told so – we can continue losing the WOT!
- We prize simple concepts (even if they haven’t worked since WWII).
- Train our Marines like robots, to better fight our adaptive & decentralized foes.