Toward a Shared Framework
The Marine Corps is looking to reengage with its naval heritage, especially in training and education. Within Training and Education Command (TECom), subordinate commands are framing the problem and analyzing their specific programs of instruction to ensure appropriate attention is given to this topic, as the Commandant has directed.
But these are all formal centers of learning, and their staff actions will take time. Programs of instruction must be planned and implemented before students can matriculate through them, and it takes years for substantial changes to filter through to the Fleet Marine Force (FMF). Professionally curious Marines across the force, then, are left to build their own knowledge by exploring historical examples they believe might be applicable. The professional military education (PME) topics they explore will cast a wide net and may lack focus. Without some guidance, this self-directed PME fails to create a shared baseline of knowledge, necessary for leaders across the force to orient subordinates and align efforts.
Resident PME is important and will always be a primary means of educating the force. But self-directed PME is always occurring across the force as well. An industrial-style teaching model typically is the core of most formal PME, but the Marine Corps also recognizes the importance learners play in their own education. Self-driven PME can be done in the informal space, through whatever medium individual learners choose. This self-drected PME is a vital part of the education continuum for the Marine Corps, but its massive potential is simply not harnessed at present (aside from a single, force-wide Marine Corps reading list), and self-driven education is only as tailored and focused as the individual makes it.
The downside of self-directed efforts is that they lack institutional focus and alignment with contemporary or emerging issues and threats. A responsive PME program aimed at these learners would allow the force to create a shared baseline of knowledge among leaders at various levels. As Major General William F. Mullen III, commanding general of TECom has noted, “We have to have an information age process that gets Marines learning as a group.”
TECom should stand up a “Rapid PME Working Group” (RPME), resident in Marine Corps University, that draws on the broad experience of its instructional staff and the Library of the Marine Corps’ digital capabilities. This working group would assess books, case studies, articles, blogs, and digital media as they relate to areas or concepts toward which the Marine Corps needs to orient rapidly, such as operating at sea in support of a naval campaign.
The working group would be empowered to identify new subjects for consideration, frame problems informed by key experts across TECom and its subordinate formal schools, and develop topical PME reading lists that align with what the schoolhouses are teaching. These lists would be tailored for Marines to digest in reasonable amounts of time. TECom could develop a smart-device app to distribute topical lists with links to the resources of the Marine Corps Library and Navy Knowledge Online, as well as websites, videos, blog posts, and periodicals, to allow learners to choose the medium best suited to their needs and strengths.
As learners at all levels of the Marine Corps access the material, the FMF would quickly build a baseline understanding of a new (or newly relevant) topic, in a consistent and focused manner that creates shared situational knowledge of concepts, historical examples, and language. Most important, this rapid dissemination would allow individual units to expand their own PME programs along specific applications essential to their own mission-essential tasks. An institutional RPME shift would facilitate rapid, timely forcewide education to supplement traditional formal schools while maintaining TECom’s learner-centric instructional model.
RPME would help address what Tom Friedman (in Thank You for Being Late) calls the “mismatch between the change in the pace of change and our ability to develop the learning systems, training systems, management systems . . . that would enable citizens to get the most out of these accelerations and cushion their worst impacts.” The app could include a collaborative forum to sustain RPME’s pace of relevance in an ever-accelerating world.
Fundamental Navy/Marine Corps Integration
The Commandant and the Chief of Naval Operations agree that integration between the two services needs to improve. But, after 30 years of the Marine Corps focusing on the Marine air-ground task force and 18 fighting land wars, what that integration should look like is not especially clear. (See “What Does the Navy Need from the Marine Corps?” November 2019). An example of possible RPME on this topic follows, allowing a common starting point from which unit and individual PME could evolve.
Book 1: Small Boats and Daring Men: Maritime Raiding, Irregular Warfare and the Early American Navy, CDR Benjamin Armstrong, USN (University of Oklahoma Press, 2019).
Narrative: Histories of the U.S. Navy typically emphasize large-scale, blue-water operations. But the service’s early years were dominated by small-scale and irregular operations. This book highlights small-unit actions—Navy and Marine Corps teams conducting raids, striking enemy facilities, and enforcing strategic policy objectives with open-ended, mission-type orders that required decentralized execution. The book’s antagonists range from pirates and other nonstate actors to the Royal Navy, with operations often conducted without land or naval supremacy.
Takeaway: Raids and irregular naval warfare are an integral part of U.S. naval history and can provide concrete examples of small unit leadership, commander’s intent, and the role of small landing parties in support of limited naval objectives. This history of unconventional Navy operations showcases capabilities and a mind-set that the force must rediscover.
Book 2: The Battle for the Falklands, Max Hastings and Simon Jenkins, W. W. Norton & Company (1984).
Narrative: The 1982 conflict between Argentina and Britain highlights an amphibious operation from a modern naval force without air superiority, under threat by a conventional air and naval force. While advances in technology have occurred since this time, it remains the best modern example of projecting forces ashore from a large naval force at the end of a lengthy logistical and communication train. Royal Marines, Army, and Air Force units all served in direct support of the campaign with a unified command structure and single naval commander in charge.
Takeaway: UK naval forces were challenged by land-based, long-range air threats, and modern antiship missiles while attempting to mass units for large-scale amphibious operations. The integration of subsurface, air, and irregular forces all played a vital role in the operation’s success, albeit at great cost in men and equipment. A modern surface-to-air missile threat, dispersed enemy garrisons, and hostile physical environments challenged planners and leaders at all levels. The impressment of commercial shipping, very-short-takeoff/vertical-landing Sea Harriers, and integration of naval surface fire support offer numerous lessons for the Navy–Marine Corps team.
Publication 1: MCWP 3-31.7, Seabasing Edition, June 2013.
Narrative: Seabasing allows joint force commanders to employ power from the sea with reduced reliance upon land bases. Maneuver in the maritime domain, free from diplomatic or host-nation military constraints associated with land bases while reducing the force-protection concerns of forces ashore, provides flexibility in overcoming A2/AD challenges.
Takeaway: Familiarity with the types of equipment and support vessels necessary for a seabase, along with historical references of their use, are important for anyone planning a future naval campaign in today’s threat environment. Marines in particular can think about how their forces, aided by the potential a seabase offers, might provide support to a naval campaign. In addition, the ability to rapidly repackage an amphibious task force from one mission to another, without needing first to go ashore, could significantly increase the flexibility of our naval forces. Being able to reorganize from a force tailored for forcible entry to one that could better support humanitarian assistance operations shows how seabasing enables a modern, global navy tasked with power projection worldwide.
Article 1: “From Wells to Wings,” LTJG Daniel Stefanus, USN, U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, December 2017.
Narrative: Historic methodology for naval employment options should not serve as a planning “constraint” in preparation for future missions. This article suggests a new configuration of resources that differs from traditional amphibious ready group/Marine expeditionary unit (ARG/MEU) constructs and incorporates lessons learned from historical deployments and modern capabilities tied to new ship and weapon types.
Takeaway: Marines unfamiliar with the capabilities and limitations of certain ship classes (and even differences among flights of the same class) will benefit from Lieutenant Stefanus’s observations. Looking at the Navy’s perspective on integration can be helpful for Marines who seek ways to best support a naval campaign. The littoral combat ships (LCSs) are largely new to Marines; the suggestion of including them in an ARG serves as a good launch point to think differently about what an ARG/MEU could bring to a fight—not only LCSs but also unmanned systems and improved aerial connectors.
Article 2: “Bring Back the Dragon Swarms,” Brian Dunn, U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, August 2017.
Narrative: Today’s amphibious doctrine relies heavily on the lessons of World War II—in particular, large-scale operations in the Pacific campaign. Less-well-known are the small landing teams built around a modified light destroyer and a company of Marines, even though these existed in the force as late as the end of the 1960s. These small, disaggregated teams could close rapidly and converge to mass forces where necessary to gain an advantage, even beneath local enemy air superiority. The modified light destroyers (attack transports) maintained some ability to provide gunfire support to their deployed companies in amphibious raids and landings.
Takeaway: The World War II “dragons” operated inside the umbrella of Japanese area-denial weapons such as long-range patrol aircraft and bombers. Their survivability and ability to rapidly embark and disembark their Marine companies provided flexibility that larger amphibious ships lacked, while maintaining smaller visual and radio signatures. The comparisons to modern threats the fleet might face are easy to make, and fast ships—such as LCSs or FFG(X)s—might lend themselves to similar purposes, with Maritime Pre-positioning Force ships acting as tenders or motherships.
Video 1: The Empire Strikes Back – Retaking South Georgia 1982, Youtube.com.
Narrative: As part of the larger Falklands Islands War, a small task group of Royal Navy ships, Royal Marines, and Special Boat Service commandos was sent to retake the rugged island of South Georgia, some 970 miles from the Falklands. Working closely together in planning and execution, this small group was able to neutralize an enemy submarine and integrated vertical assault and naval surface fire support at the company-level to accomplish its mission.
Takeaway: Future operations in littoral environments as part of a modern naval campaign will likely require the close cooperation of small, task-organized forces to conduct raids and reconnaissance missions and seize small islands. This operation is an interesting study of a relatively recent occasion and what that looked like on the ground for those involved.
Two books, two articles, a Marine Corps publication, and a video—this list is by no means exhaustive. But it would allow leaders across the force to quickly establish shared awareness of an emerging requirement and create a known starting point for specialized units to investigate the roles they might play in support of a larger naval campaign. And the lists provide this opportunity in a variety of formats and lengths to make the subject matter accessible to Marines up and down the chain of command. John Lewis Gaddis sums this up well in On Grand Strategy:
But what is “training” as Clausewitz understands it? It’s being able to draw upon principles extending across time and space, so that you’ll have a sense of what’s worked and what hasn’t. You then apply these to the situation at hand: that’s the role of scale. The result is a plan, informed by the past, linked to the present, for achieving some future goal.