Within Striking Distance & Ready to Act

By General Charles Krulak, U.S. Marine Corps

At the conclusion of the Cold War, the ethnic, cultural, and religious conflicts that once had been tempered by the global strategic struggle are becoming ever more common and intense. Hatreds contained formerly by Cold War alliances have erupted violently in places such as Bosnia, Kosovo, and Chechnya. The implications of such conflicts are greater today than they were in the recent past, because the bipolar world of 1945 to 1991 has been replaced by a world of global economic interdependence. As chaos in this interdependent world threatens the predictability of the international economy, it also threatens our way of life and that of our allies.

At the same time, we are witnessing a massive migration from rural to urban areas. The rapidly growing uban "jungles" created by these migrations most often are located in the littorals, within 300 miles of the coast. In many instances, they lack the infrastructure and resources to support their swelling populations, generating flash points for future conflict as well as high-density pockets of human suffering. Finally, amidst the chaos of the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact, weapon technologies that once were controlled closely have found a home in the international marketplace, presenting greater threats from non-state actors, rogue nations, and prominent regional powers. The naval services are suited uniquely to the presence, deterrence, and power projection operations required for this environment, but we must continue working closely with the Navy to ensure that the Navy-Marine Corps team remains our nation's premier crisis-response force for the 21st century.

Recognizing the changing nature of the strategic environment, in 1992, the Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Frank Kelso, and the 30th Commandant of the Marine Corps, General Carl Mundy, committed the naval services to focus on littoral, power-projection operations with the publication of ". . . From The Sea." In 1994, General Mundy and Admiral Mike Boorda, Admiral Kelso's successor as Chief of Naval Operations, expanded that commitment with "Forward . . . From The Sea," which maintained the naval services' littoral, power-projection focus, but also emphasized naval forces' capabilities to influence and operate in all types of conflict. Since the publication of these documents, the Navy and Marine Corps have committed their greatest resources and energies to making the vision of "Forward . . . From The Sea" a reality.

In 1996, the Marine Corps merged the promise of increasingly sophisticated technology with the philosophical shift represented by "Forward . . . From The Sea" and published its keystone operational concept, "Operational Maneuver From the Sea." This is not the Navy's keystone operational concept, but the Navy has provided substantial support to Marine Corps efforts at realizing its full potential. This is crucial. The Marine Corps cannot succeed without the continued, full participation and commitment of the Navy. The leadership of the Navy recognizes the value of a force capable of executing the tenets of "Operational Maneuver From the Sea," as well as their vital role in creating and sustaining it. To this end, the Navy and Marine Corps are working together closely in our warfighting experimentation initiatives, at the Marine Corps Combat Development Command and Naval Warfare Development Command, and most important, in the Fleet and Fleet Marine Force.

In February 1999, the Operational Maneuver From the Sea Working Group delivered its final report, after six months of research and analysis. It was a thorough, insightful effort that articulated clearly the important role of the U.S. Navy in developing, deploying, employing, and sustaining an Operational Maneuver From the Sea-based Marine Air-Ground Task Force. As highlighted in the Working Group's final report, the role of the Navy in amphibious operations will expand considerably in the future. In order to maximize mobility, sustainability, and lethality by exploiting technology, Marines ashore will rely increasingly on sea-based maneuver, fires, logistics, command-and-control, and force-protection systems. Basing these functions at sea will allow Marine units to travel lighter and faster, with fewer vulnerabilities ashore.

One-third of our maneuverability triad—the Landing Craft Air Cushioned (LCAC)—is a Navy system. The LCAC-and the other two legs of the triad, the Advanced Amphibious Assault Vehicle (AAAV) and V-22 tilt-rotor aircraft—will enable Marine units to maneuver from ship to objective without pausing to establish a secure beachhead. Furthermore, with these systems, Marines will attack their objectives from far greater ranges than possible today. This enhanced maneuverability and range, however, will require more effective, higher-volume naval surface fire support than is available at present. The Navy has increased investment in research, development, and acquisition to meet this challenge. Within the next decade, the Navy expects to field a land-attack standard missile; extended-range guided munitions; a more capable 5-inch gun; a "tactical Tomahawk" designed for deep interdiction against high-value targets; and a networked, multi-sensor information grid designed to speed the assignment and execution of naval surface fire requests. These enhancements will be back-fitted onto Ticonderoga (CG-47)-class guided-missile cruisers as part of the cruiser conversion program. Further, even more substantial power projection capabilities will be incorporated in the revolutionary DD-21 "Land Attack Destroyer." As a result of these programs, in the future, naval surface fires will be more responsive and precise, be capable of greater ranges and volume, and include non-lethal and lethal munitions.

Two "legs" of the maneuverability triad—the LCAC and AAAV—depend on an effective, sea mine hunting and clearing capability. The sea mine is a cheap and potentially effective weapon against amphibious power projection operations. Here again, the Navy is committing valuable resources, working to ensure the survivability of the LCAC and AAAV against this dangerous threat. With the goal of creating a mine hunting and clearing capability in every carrier battle group and amphibious ready group, the Navy is developing three systems—the Airborne Laser Mine Detection System, the Shallow-Water Influence Mine Sweeping System, and Airborne Mine Neutralization System—for variants of the H-60 helicopter. In conjunction with an Underwater Unmanned Vehicle employed from Los Angeles (SSN-688)-class submarines, these systems will provide a mine hunting and clearing capability within each carrier battle group and amphibious ready group, unleashing the full maneuver potential of the LCAC and AAAV.

Sustainment of the "Operational Maneuver From the Sea" Marine Air-Ground Task Force may be the greatest challenge of this operational concept. To exploit the maneuverability of the V-22, AAAV, and light armored vehicles (LAVs) embarked on LCACs, Marine units will not pause to establish a secure beachhead to bring supplies ashore, but will instead maneuver directly to the objective. They will travel light, unencumbered by a long logistics tail. This ship-to-objective maneuver will facilitate quick, decisive action, but it also will demand the ability to provide "just-in-time," precision, sea-based logistics. Marine and Navy units together will provide the full range of capabilities necessary to get the supplies to forces ashore, often in a hostile environment. This may demand electronic attack, naval surface fires, close air support, and vertical-lift assets to conduct simple resupply missions. If Marine air contingency forces are flown in and joined with Maritime Prepositioning Forces, the complex challenges of sea-based logistics will multiply exponentially. The techniques and procedures are still being developed, but one thing already is clear: "Operational Maneuver From the Sea" logistics will be a Navy and Marine Corps team effort.

Finally, and perhaps most important, the quality of the Navy's amphibious fleet is vital to the ability of the Navy-Marine Corps team to project power into the littoral regions of the world. The Navy has committed significant resources to new amphibious shipbuilding and modernization. In 2003, the first 2 of 12 LPD-17-class dock landing ships, the San Antonio (LPD-17) and New Orleans (LPD-18), will be commissioned. This class represents a revolutionary leap ahead in the capability of the "Gator Navy." It will provide greater vehicle stowage and cargo space, which will increase the number of assets that can be forward deployed, as well as an enhanced command-and-control suite that will improve our ability to conduct split-Amphibious Ready Group operations. Other upgrades include shipboard training simulators that will assist in maintaining combat readiness while under way and a vertical-launch system will increase the Amphibious Ready Group's ability to influence the fight ashore. The Navy also is studying options to replace the Tarawa (LHA-1) class of amphibious assault ships as it nears the end of its projected service life, including a modification of the Wasp (LHD-1) class of helicopter/dock landing ships, designated the LHD-8, or an entirely new class of "big-deck amphib," the LHX. The Marine Corps recognizes that the Navy's substantial commitment of resources to amphibious shipping epitomizes its commitment to the Navy-Marine Corps team.

While shifting from a Cold-War to a littoral power-projection force has been painful at times, the Navy and Marine Corps have worked together closely and have made tremendous progress. Today, the foundation for a greatly enhanced Navy-Marine Corps team is in place. In the next decade, powerful new operational concepts will be tested and refined, key enabling capabilities will be fielded, and naval forces will increase dramatically their already potent lethality, flexibility, and sustainability. In the 21st century, during times of national crisis, as our civilian and military leaders ask once more: "Where are the carriers and where are the Marines?" And the answer will remain: "Within striking distance and ready to act."

General Krulak is the 31st Commandant of the Marine Corps.


More by this Author

None found for this author.

Events and Conferences

None found for this author.


Conferences and Events

Maritime Security Dialogue

Mon, 2016-10-03

You are cordially invited to: Maintaining Maritime Superiority A discussion with Admiral John M. Richardson, USNChief of Naval...

2016 Coast Guard Academy Conference

US Coast Guard Academy

WEST 2017

San Diego Convention Center, San Diego, CA

View All

From the Press

Guest Speaker & Book Signing

Sat, 2016-10-01 - Mon, 2016-11-28

Guest Lecturer & Book Signing

Sun, 2016-10-02

Why Become a Member of the U.S. Naval Institute?

As an independent forum for over 135 years, the Naval Institute has been nurturing creative thinkers who responsibly raise their voices on matters relating to national defense.

Become a Member Renew Membership