The Marine Corps is shifting its focus from a counterinsurgency campaign in the Middle East to expeditionary advanced base operations in the Pacific, so why are lieutenants still learning about land convoy operations at The Basic School (TBS)? Instead, these “soldiers of the sea” should be learning about naval convoys using small boats, barges, and landing vehicles.
In Force Design 2030, Commandant General David H. Berger notes, “With an eye to the future, and an understanding of the increased potential of our peer competitors, we are rapidly pursuing new capabilities and concepts to ensure we remain a capable naval expeditionary force in 2030 and beyond.”
This “capable naval expeditionary force” is the cornerstone on which success in any conflict in the Pacific at the tactical level will be based. The Marine Corps knows this and is changing to meet many of the challenges we will encounter as a force in the Pacific. However, The Basic School—which all Marine Corps officers attend before heading to their military occupational specialty schools and eventually the Fleet Marine Force—is stuck in the past two decades of land-based counterinsurgency operations.
An easy way for TBS to adapt for the future would be to change the focus of its convoy operations curriculum. Instead of learning the tactical skills needed to be successful in the regions of the Middle East, lieutenants should learn small boat convoy operations that will help them be successful in the sea-centric environment of the Pacific.
Consider, for example, the Philippines: a country of more than 7,641 islands and a total land area greater than 115,000 square miles. The 11 largest islands make up 95 percent of the land area of the country. This means the remaining 7,630 islands account for the last 5,791 square miles of land. Those 7,630 islands would be where the Marine Corps should operate, so it is more challenging for the enemy to find us. If, as a force, we could move around those 7,000 islands swiftly and fluidly, we could do our job for the Navy–Marine Corps team better.
Seven-ton medium tactical vehicle replacements, mine-resistant ambush protected vehicles, and Humvees will not be the way Marines move around these islands. Small boats will be. The roads and highways of the Middle East laden with improvised explosive devices will not be the threat we face. Instead, rivers, bays, ports, and straits laden with undersea mines and loitering unmanned undersea vehicles will be. If the waterways of the Pacific are to be the highways on which the service moves troops, munitions, and gear, the Marine Corps must train its lieutenants for that environment.
It should start by taking the week of The Basic School dedicated to vehicle convoys and dedicate it to small boat convoys. One option would be to take the lieutenants to Little Creek, Virginia, to train with the Navy’s Special Boat Team 20. Train lieutenants in basic water navigation, naval logistics, boat handling, weapons employment, and craft recovery, so they are able to plan and safely execute missions when called on. Expose them to the oceans and rivers early, at TBS, so their first time doing operations in and around those environments is not thousands of miles from home in enemy contested spaces.
The Marine Corps must not fall into the trap of training for yesterday’s conflict instead of preparing for tomorrow’s challenges.