A bad trade for the US Marines

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.) .

Introduction

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.”

Conclusion

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 …

  1. it does not address the multiple worldwide threats as outlined by the national intelligence community,
  2. it is based solely on the results of war games and not real-world circumstances, and
  3. 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.

Please follow us on Twitter. Also see all posts about ways to reform the military,  and especially these …

  1. Why a Marine Corps? – by GI Wilson and Tom Hayden (Lt. Colonel, USMC, retired).
  2. Generals read “Ender’s Game” and see their vision of the future Marine Corps – by a sergeant in the USMC.
  3. Will feminizing the Marines win wars?
  4. Careerism and Psychopathy in the US Military – By GI Wilson.
  5. The future called the Marine Corps. It refused.
  6. 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. 

  1. The US Marines turn away from the future.
  2. The Marines shackling their field-grade officers & losing wars.
  3. Teaching Marine junior officers to obey, not think.
  4. Require Marine officers to do as they’re told so – we can continue losing the WOT!
  5. We prize simple concepts (even if they haven’t worked since WWII).
  6. Train our Marines like robots, to better fight our adaptive & decentralized foes.

20 thoughts on “A bad trade for the US Marines”

  1. Until we restore a moral citizenry and demand credible civilian and senior military leaders we will continue to see devolution in our military. We still have great veterans willing to do what our government will not (Pineapple Express, anyone?). We need to tap into them now to restore our country.

  2. They have long been the US’s second standing army. Most such pieces are just written to gripe about not getting enough funding for all the usual exotics–crashing Ospreys, F-35s that can’t fly, etc.

  3. With regards to the dangers of predicting the next war, the focus seems to be primarily on conventional wars. The fact is, we are already in a war that I would call a nonconventional war except, in some ways, it exceeds the definition of even nonconventional warfare. Maybe that is why our society, as a whole, does not recognize it.

    Our Southern border is being invaded and much of the activity at the southern border includes proxy activities. China is feeding us fentanyl through cartels. (Over 100,000 fentanyl deaths in our country last year.) Terrorists are being caught but how many are getting away. Significant land purchases are being made by companies connected with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). (How will the CCP make use of this?) Supply chains are being disrupted.

    We seem to be walking into times when we will not have adequate supplies of critical medical supplies due to the fact that we have allowed ourselves to be dependent on adversaries for supply. There are many examples of our growing dependence on adversaries for things that maintain and sustain our way of life.

    Also, the fake news organizations being fed by “state and non-state actors” often work to blind society to these issues. The fact that many of our politicians also seem to not see this or are ignoring it should be an indicator that some (possibly many) in elected office are not in office to serve their constituents. So, how do we fight a war that we can’t seem to recognize? Will we eventually recognize the fact that the war has begun? Then will we act appropriately? If so, what would that appropriate action be? Has the lack of recognition been, at least partly, a result of our government being infiltrated by nefarious actors?

    We need a strategy to win the war we are in or there will be no need for a Force Design 2030. We also need to recognize the current world activities as a whole and look at their impact on any force design that is to be developed.

    Back to today – I believe that if we are to win the existing war, a strategy needs to be built by patriots that know and understand our own internal political strife and the root causes of that strife. If such patriots exist, the question then is, can those patriots develop a strategy that will work without going outside the framework of our Constitution? The answer to that likely depends in part on those we have elected to political office. Another part depends on having a judiciary that rightly interprets law rather than serving political interests.

    I know I went off topic somewhat but the things I’m talking about does impact the future of, not just the Marine Corps, but all the services and I believe it definitely calls into question the validity of FD 2030. None of the current thoughts about who will declare the next war will matter if our society cannot see that there are also nonconventional ways of declaring wars – wars that are, as a result, overlooked until it is too late. Hopefully, the current war will be recognized before it’s too late. The of war we are in will likely be even more destructive than a declared conventional war.

    By the way, I do completely agree with the authors conclusion.

    Danny Hundley
    Col USMC(Ret)

  4. Norman W Wilson, PHD

    “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.” This comment in the article scares the hell out of me. Just one more thing for me to want to get out of Dodge,

  5. As a non American, I have no dog in the fight. You have grave reason to be worried.
    Firstly, from where I sit, I see a house devided against itself.
    Secondly, I see a country that is addicted to war which it does not want to win. All the military men who have written the above article have to agree with me, America is in the business of war for profit.
    Third, I see a country that is intent on making enemies, not friends.
    Woe to the US when the true enemies of the US start to arm the multitude of enemies the US has made over decades with sophisticated weapons as America has done in Ukraine.

    1. 7Zander,

      All sad but true.

      But much of the West is in worse – or far worse – shape than the USA. First, economically (eg, debt loads).

      Second, socially. They have allowed in massive numbers of immigrants – poor, relatively uneducated, from radically different societies. Moronically.

      1/ They have done so as another wave of automation appears – probably destroying much demand for unskilled labor.
      2/ Most of these nations have shown far less ability to absorb culturally foreign migrants. Much of Europe could not even absorb Jews.

      Their problems have just begun to hit. Failure to assimilate tends to cause severe problems beginning with the second generation.

      1. John,

        For 17 years on this website I published predictions – by GI Wilson, William Lind, Don Vandergriff, Chet Richards, Martin van Creveld, mine, and others. The track record here would make Nostradamus envious.

        Unfortunately, they were mostly grim predictions. Worse, reality tended to be worse than predicted. Especially my posts about the illness affecting the USA.

        Sadder, while there is a big market for dark predictions – I never discovered how to tap it. So I gave up.

        But GI Wilson pushed me back into the pool.

        Don’t expect to see much good news here, until America changes for the better.

  6. The west is in deep trouble and at the root of all lies a failure to cling to what made it great. They have become untethered, drifting, blown by any passing breeze of public opinion; arrogant, entitled elites leading blind masses.
    Europe is heading for the abyss and the sad thing is, a 12-year-old could have told them so. The levels of stupidity are astounding.
    What is disappointing, the leaders who could show the way out are corrupt and just plain silly. I cannot explain it better; Gretta ‘How dare you!’ showed them for what they are.
    But then, this is not something you don’t know… Just me writing to express frustration.

    1. arrogant, entitled elites leading blind masses

      One only need to look at the causes these billionaire foundations such as the Open Society support to figure out who’s behind it.

      If there’s a bright spot, it’s that the rest of the world (non-Western) isn’t falling for this crap. Perhaps a cold winter will re-introduce Europeans to reality and get them to change course. We’ll see.

      1. Randolarian,

        Sadly, that is a great summary. One point is especially worth expanding upon – “blind masses.”

        Our inability as a society to see the fantasticly large, mostly irreversible changes made by the Left is the primary reason they are able to make them.

        Such as gender identity in America, demographic change (ethnic, religion) in Europe.

        It’s hubris. We believe we deserve what we have, and so our society is built that unshakable foundation. If we were aware of its fragility, we would worry more.

        We are entering the steep part of the S curve. We might see much of what we value in the West go away during our lifetimes. The 20th century provides many lessons of how fast this can happen.

        I’ve predicted this is posts during the past 15 years. Here is a prescient post from 2019:

        https://fabiusmaximus.com/2019/03/13/death-of-america/

    1. 7zander,

      First, I have not listened to Petetson , and have no idea about his views.

      But – Boomer conservatism is dead (Peterson is 60). We have dominated the right’s center stage since the 1970s – and have failed totally. The Left has achieved wins on a mind-blowing scale – still without organized opposition. The right lacks even a coherent opposition platform.

      There is a new right brewing among young men. So far as I can tell, they despise Boomer conservatism, and to a terrifying extent often reject the post-WW2 liberal (classic liberal) consensus virtues.

      1. Try it, you might jsut be surprosed that he is not espousing a boomer consertism… he is taking you and me way back… dont close your mind before having tried… I look forward to hearing what you think’. I will be stunned if you dont come away with your head space electrified.
        It costs you nothing.

  7. Great read and analysis!
    Sincerest thanks to the authors, one of which (Col Wilson), was my boss and still is a great mentor of mine.

    It is hard, or virtually impossible, to address global threats and force generation understanding the economical & political landscape in which it was established. The 500 pound gorilla in the room is the militaro-industrial defense complex’s influence on defense spending and priorities, something that Russia and China do not have as much anyways. National Security and Defense should not and must not be viewed from a corporate lens. Unfortunately, the swap is so deep and wide in Washington DC that our politicians have legalized corruption, a weakness that US foes are exploiting fully!

    Zenko addresses a major issue in our ability to predict conflicts, not because we lack the talent, it is because we have accustomed ourselves to create a narrative which dictate our actions on global matters. This is how we lost in Afghanistan, and likely in other conflicts that I didn’t partake in, we run wars like corporations run business: replace the RD department with the PR… “perception is everything” they say!

    It appears that the FD2030 is calling the Marine Corps to adopt a new slogan: Semper Gumby!

  8. Firstly, an appreciation for your return to posting, over the years your insightful commenting has provided thoughtful, balanced and illuminating commentary and I look forward to future entries.

    Colonel Hundley offers an extraordinary statistic, +100,000 fentanyl deaths in a single year, presumably overwhelmingly that of young, (military aged), males. How can an impact of this magnitude go apparently unnoticed and largely unremarked upon? If my understanding is correct I believe that American combat deaths were less than 300,000 for the entirety of the second world war, a horrifying level of loss that indelibly marked an entire generation. How can these levels of fentanyl losses not be galvanising a society into responding to an existential threat?

    While I cannot speak to the american political class, a noticeable feature of post WWII politicians in Australia and New Zealand is the arising of a largely self selected political class who have pursued politics as a career, that is they have only ever been involved in the political system as means of making a living. I accept that such generalisations can always be refuted with examples of selfless individuals, nonetheless it is a feature that was largely absent in previous generations. Our two main political parties have a combined membership of around 120,000, or less than 5% of the population, yet are the vehicle for articulating and implementing policies that impact us all. There is one slight ray of hope on the horizon, our recent election saw the rise of independent candidates, who for the first time enjoyed significant electoral success. They succeeded via the time honoured method of mobilising local “grass roots” support, articulating policies that appealed to the local electorate.

    Perhaps this is a harbinger of a pendulum swinging back to a widespread recognition that we are all responsible for the society we inhabit and we incur obligations to assist in electing and supporting the representatives we select to represent us, at least I could hope so.

    I feel that the compulsory voting requirement in Australia does offer the benefit of candidates applying their efforts to the policies they espouse, rather than cajoling voters to actually attend the voting booth, that said there has been a significant disconnect between the electorates wishes and the actuality of the policy implementation of the various administrations. it will be very interesting to see if the rise of the independents can effect a change similar to that of the Swiss canton system.

    Again, thank you for your welcome return.

  9. I’m disappointed that Fabius Maximus has entered this debate.
    There is no question that tanks are still useful on the battlefield, although the Ukraine experience highlights their vulnerabilities.
    The new Marine Corps Commandant is looking at the Pacific as the future area of concern and knows that there won’t be the LSTs or equivalents available to bring the heavy stuff to the battle line. His conclusion, to do away with it and spend the resources elsewhere, seems entirely logical and correct.
    The logistics footprint of the tanks and related gear cannot be implemented in the Pacific.
    So the Marines have to do something new.and different, as they have done before.

    1. Etudiant,

      Please read more carefully. This was posted by GI Wilson (Colonel, USMC, rtd), a member of this website since it’s beginning. See the co-authors.

      These are people worth listening to, with awesome track records.

      It’s a topic in which I have no training or experience, and so I have no comment on it.

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