(USA Features) Acknowledging that the Marine Corps as it is currently comprised no longer meets the nation’s warfighting needs, top leaders have unveiled a plan to remake the nation’s amphibious fighting force.
Included in the radical changes: Getting rid of all Marine Corps tank companies, cutting back on the number of helicopters, and remaking its artillery units, the Washington Times reported Tuesday.
The service branch is specifically retooling and refashioning its forces to take on a rising China.
“The Marine Corps we have been building for many years now is increasingly out of step with the problems they’re going to face” in confronting China,” Chris Brose, chief strategy officer at Anduril Industries and former staff director for the Senate Armed Services Committee, told the paper.
“There are reasons for why that is the case,” he added. “The Marine Corps has borne the burden of a lot of the deployments overseas post-9/11. They were optimizing for a different set of challenges.”
Pentagon officials say China is rapidly improving its military capabilities, making it unfeasible and unrealistic to try and land Marines on islands, Iwo Jima-style.
Rather, the Corps is being reshaped into a “stand-in” force that can operate within the range of enemy weapons instead of storming ashore.
Critics say the China-centric approach is too much, but Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger and top planners disagree.
“I am convinced that the defining attributes of our current force design are no longer what the nation requires of the Marine Corps,” Berger said in the planning document, which lays out a decade-long plan to shift the service into a more modern role, the Times reported.
“With the shift in our primary focus to great power competition and a renewed focus on the Indo-Pacific region, the current force has shortfalls in capabilities needed to support emerging joint, naval and Marine Corps operating concepts,” he wrote.
Getting rid of the Corps’ seven tank companies is probably the most radical change. Under the new guidance, the Army would absorb all tank-fighting roles, in addition to more “bridging” operations, as the Corps sheds a number of engineer companies.
As for artillery, the Corps plans to shift away from cannon batteries to missile and rocket batteries, taking those forces out of range of enemy fires on the battlefield. Anti-ship artillery will also become a focus as the service moves away from traditional land combat to focus more on island warfare.
“Small Marine forces would deploy around the islands of the first island chain and the South China Sea, each element having the ability to contest the surrounding air and naval space using anti-air and anti-ship missiles,” Mark Cancian, senior adviser with the International Security Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and a retired Marine Corps colonel, wrote in a recent analysis of the Marine Corps‘ plan. “Collectively, these forces would hem in Chinese forces, prevent them from moving outward, and ultimately, as part of a joint campaign, squeeze them back to the Chinese homeland.”
“Implementation [of the Marine Corps plan] will be a 10-year effort that makes the radical changes that the guidance implied. The restructured Marine Corps will focus single-mindedly on a conflict with China in the Western Pacific” and structure all of its efforts with such a scenario in mind, he said.
Also, the overall plan calls for a reduction of about 12,000 Marines by 2030, meaning the force would likely shift away from being a major combat force on its own.