At key points in the U.S. Marine Corps’ storied history, the evolution of the service hinged on pioneering doctrinal overhauls steered by visionary leaders. From Lieutenant Colonel Pete Ellis, Lieutenant General John A. Lejeune, and Major General John Henry Russell Jr. between the world wars to General Al Gray in the latter part of the 20th century, these visionaries charted new courses for the Corps and paved the way for future successes. Now, as the service faces the challenges of 21st-century combat, it will once again need a transformation in thinking to adapt to the changing landscape of warfare.
The Marine Corps has a newly minted operating concept, Expeditionary Force 21 (EF21), that retired Major Scott Kinner calls “a vision of change that arguably ranks in importance with the service’s 1987 shift to maneuver warfare and the earlier 1934 publication of the Tentative Manual for Landing Operations.” But, he wonders, does EF21 go far enough? The author wargames it through a Red Team–style “pre-mortem” analysis that reveals its pros and cons, concluding that, if it is to succeed as a guiding document, it must be clear on the specifics as to the nature of the threat and the operational environment. “In the same way that the Marine Corps got amphibious warfare ‘right,’” Major Kinner contends, “the Marine Corps must get ‘right’ the way it will operate today and in the coming decades.”
The same sort of thinking outside the box that Major Kinner brings to the doctrinal arena can also be applied to the Corps’ hardware—specifically, its fixed-wing (FW) attack-aircraft procurement program. Marine Corps Major Michael Clark argues that, rather than putting all its eggs in the F-35 Lightning II basket, the Corps should acquire a versatile combination of F-35s and A-29 Super Tucanos. Breaking down the facts and figures, and outlining the varied threats the Corps can expect to face in the years ahead, Major Clark makes a compelling case that “a complementary mix of F-35s and A-29s would increase the capabilities of the Marine FW attack-aircraft community at a lower cost than the current plan to only purchase F-35s.”
Here at Proceedings, we tend to be wary of invented phrases and new buzzwords—at least until someone can explain what they mean. In this issue, retired Marine Corps Reserve Colonel Grant Newsham lays out what he refers to as “amphibiosity,” especially as it pertains to the friends and partners of the United States in the Asia-Pacific and specifically what they can bring to the table in terms of amphibious capability. He describes how the partnerships should fit together, using analogies of pillars, cross-bracing, and the old hub-and-spoke, “where nothing much happens unless the United States is around.” Colonel Newsham pulls no punches, saying it’s about time somebody “keeps score on genuine amphibious development” in the region. While he sees value in multinational exercises, he also notes that “the Marines would do well to measure progress (or lack thereof) rather than holding post-exercise barbecues and declaring success.”
Retired Navy Captain Robert C. Rubel, professor emeritus of the Naval War College, returns to our pages once again with his own new concept, “in-fighting,” which he believes should be a top priority for naval forces faced with doing battle in a hotly contested and close-in littoral environment. Although a term most would use to describe civilian bickering and backbiting in an office setting, board room, or professional playing field, in-fighting as it applies to operations at sea is something completely different. “The ability to ‘hold our ground’—when tactical geometry is dictated by others or by political requirements—will depend on the Navy developing concepts, forces, weapons, and doctrine to conduct ‘in-fighting,’” says Captain Rubel.
The more diverse force structure needed for in-fighting can achieve another goal: that of exercising sea control in disputed regions. William M. Beasley Jr. believes that the U.S. Navy’s current preference for large vessels has been detrimental to the service. Securing and exercising command of the sea are distinct functions that require vessels with different characteristics. By prioritizing larger, costlier ships over smaller ones, the Navy sacrifices presence. This trend has diminished the Navy’s police powers, reducing the areas in which it can exercise command and ensure maritime objectives. The results have been particularly apparent in East Asia. China has taken advantage of this decline in presence and replaced freedom of the seas there with a closed-sea system. The United States needs smaller ships to augment the functions of its larger vessels, and to that end, the author argues, the Navy should revive flotillas to reassert control in East Asian waters.
Paul Merzlak, Editor-in-Chief