Littoral Combat Teams Need Light Infantry, Not Less
Design the Littoral Combat Team Around Its Core Mission
I VERY MUCH APPRECIATE the insights Major Schwartz brought to his argument that the littoral combat team (LCT) should remain based on a three infantry company battalion. He is correct in assessing that a fires and kill-chain focused LCT will be inherently less tactically mobile than a similarly sized infantry formation. However, he should understand the different operational usage of a Marine littoral regiment (MLR) and a Marine expeditionary unit (MEU), and such different missions warrant separate, task-tailored organizations. An MLR should be designed primarily to destroy naval assets, not constrained to the Marine Corps’ traditional infantry-centric organization.
Force Design 2030 explicitly does not consider light infantry irrelevant. On the contrary, the envisioned 2030 MEU is centered on a more lethal infantry battalion armed with drones, loitering munitions, and increased aviation assets to support its maneuver. However, the MLR’s purpose is vastly different from that of a MEU. While the Petsamo-Kirkenes Offensive was a remarkable tactical feat, this success does not indicate that light infantry can destroy the naval combatants or advanced combat aircraft the MLR will be trained to fight. Even with advanced loitering munitions and drones, it would require a tremendous tactical blunder by the adversary for an infantry battalion to kill a Type 052D destroyer. We should not and cannot expect our adversaries to be such amateurs.
The magic composition among fires, aviation, and infantry may not be three fires to one infantry, as I proposed in my essay. After experimentation, Major Schwartz may well be proved right, with the most effective composition for fighting naval assets identified as three infantry to one fires.
For now, however, I hold firm to my belief that MLRs should not be infantry-centric. The tactics of fighting ships and aircraft are sufficiently different from infantry combat that MLR commanders need to be more familiar with words such as saturation, salvo, and firing solution, rather than patrol, defilade, and march. The Marine Corps is absolutely right in allowing any combat-arms officer to command the MLR. It needs to go one step further and raise a cadre of leaders who are specially trained in deploying the MLR in a naval battle space against a maritime adversary.
—LTJG Jeong Soo Kim, USN
Stand-in Forces: Adapt or Perish
AS GENERAL SMITH COMMUNICATES, the Marine Corps faces a strategic inflection point. The 2018 National Defense Strategy framed the central challenge the joint force faces in terms of its eroding military advantage versus China and Russia. This understanding was foundational to forming the strategic approach and supporting three lines of effort. The strategy carried forward ongoing innovative thinking stemming from the 2014 Defense Innovation Initiative, prioritized the modernization of key capabilities, and pressed for innovative thinking to create new operational concepts to optimize jointness, interoperability with allies and partners, and overall joint force lethality.
The lethality of peer warfare, which includes the threat of nuclear weapons, dictates new thinking. The notion of uncontested domains (as in Operation Desert Storm) can no longer be assumed. This has direct implications for communication networks, command and control, battlespace awareness, the integration of effects, and logistics and sustainment.
Distributed maritime operations, expeditionary advanced base operations, and stand-in forces represent new ways of thinking. Operating across the continuum of strategic competition to conflict, an inside force will enhance awareness, reassure allies and partners, and shape the introduction of outside capabilities if conflict erupts. Force Design 2030 sets the course for a campaign of learning that will aid in analyzing new doctrine, tactics, techniques, and procedures along with new capabilities and organizational constructs. However, the bedrock of Marine warrior ethos, warfighting philosophy, and the Marine air-ground task force will remain, enabling Marine Corps forces to operate across the spectrum.
General Smith’s call to “adapt or perish” is spot on. Change is hard. The 1930s provides numerous examples demonstrating just how hard changing an organization vested in tradition can be. We cannot let old ideas prevent flexibility of the mind. What is needed now is critical and creative thinking. The Marine Corps has a distinguished history as a learning organization—and it is as important today as it was in the 1930s.
—BGen J. Scott O’Meara, USMC (Ret.)
On the Moral Courage of Pegasus 31 and 32
Leading Through Defeat
THE FURTHER MY COAST GUARD CAREER RECEDES, the less the Proceedings articles dealing with strategy, technology, or doctrine apply to my life. However, the leadership articles still hold significance and are a highlight of each issue. The articles by Lieutenant Commander Gelfand and Major Kerg are particularly relevant. They discuss touchstone pillars of leadership.
Just before assuming my first command of a patrol boat, a center’s training officer—a commander and aviator—sat down to give me some advice. The most pertinent piece was about dealing with failure and how I, as a leader, would work through it. It takes courage to do so, then apply the lessons to improve.
I echo what these two authors wrote and thank them for putting pen to paper (metaphorically).
U.S. Navy in Review
MESSRS. HOLZER AND TRUVER PRESENTED a detailed and informative account of naval force structure assessments (FSAs) over the past six years. But the article might have benefited from a central theme, not just a conclusion of “Tough Choices Ahead.” Having worked on several of the studies described, I would offer one for consideration:
FSAs have become so political as to be useless. The 2016 FSA presented several alternatives to Navy leaders, ranging from “maximum acceptable risk” to “low risk.” Ron O’Rourke had recently spoken at a conference of Navy admirals and senior executives, encouraging them to think big, based on the new Trump administration’s plan. The alternative chosen was 355, the “moderate risk” force.
Unfortunately, the number took on a life of its own, even becoming codified in law, though it is unaffordable to procure, crew, or maintain. Much as “amateurs talk strategy, but professionals talk logistics,” naval analysts talk force architecture, not the total number of ships. A force of 400 frigates is an impressive total but not useful operationally, just as keeping manpower- and maintenance-in- tensive cruisers to claim 300 ships is not cost-effective and adds little capability against advanced threats.
One study not mentioned was the integrated Navy and Marine Corps FSA. This well-balanced study was briefed to and approved by the Commandant of file Marine Corps, Chief of Naval Operations, and Secretary of the Navy at the end of 2019 but then was quashed by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, which wanted its own analysts to participate. This resulted in the Future Naval Force Structure Assessment referenced in the Navy review, which was based largely on wargaming, not quantitative analyses.
Bottom line: The Navy’s force structure is the responsibility of the Secretary of the Navy, who is responsible for balancing competing requirements. DoD leaders, the administration, and Congress can then decide how much risk they can afford to take in funding that fleet.
—Charles Werchado, ADC Evaluations/ Director, PA&E, HQMC Programs & Resources
Gunboat Diplomacy Demands a Gun
LIEUTENANT COMMANDER HAYES’ ESSAY is important, but it fails to address the context of the environment between China and the United States. To start, he does acknowledge the risk of engaging a nuclear-armed China with gunboat diplomacy. However, none of his examples offer insight into how gunboat diplomacy between two nuclear-armed nations could be successful.
In addition, all the punishment-based examples involved a superior naval force coercing an inferior one, which appears impractical given today’s context. Further, since only Congress can declare war, any ship captains aiming to seize the initiative with use of force would likely find themselves relieved and facing legal proceedings while the executive branch worked to deescalate the resulting crisis.
Though the concept is ill-defined, the growing idea of integrated deterrence (in which all elements of national power can be applied in concert with partners and allies to achieve political ends) may offer practical insight into linking a military presence operation to a political objective by communicating a redline and a credible threat. Such messaging becomes difficult between nuclear powers because nuclear deterrence is grounded in strategic ambiguity, in which the redline is intentionally not communicated.
But the threat does not have to involve only the military instrument of power. Though diplomatic, informational, and economic instruments take longer to achieve intended effects, they can offer a punishment tool that limits the risk of escalation to a nuclear exchange. Commander Hayes is correct that the status quo—presence, without the communication of a threat—has done little to stem the aggressive acts of revanchist nations. However, only seeking military solutions to military problems is a fast track to going from great power competition to great power conflict.
Gunboat diplomacy certainly does have a place in the United States’ international relations toolkit. But in the realm of great power competition, its applicability appears to be limited unless escalation has already occurred.
—Maj Dan Crouch, USAF
It’s Just Hair! The Navy’s War on Beards Is Self-Destructive
THANK YOU TO LIEUTENANT WOLFF for his thoughtful argument to allow sailors to grow beards. He effectively summarized the negative health effects of the current policy for men suffering from pseudofolliculitis barbae (PFB), better known as “razor bumps,” which disproportionately affects African Americans.
I would like to add two more bullets to his already convincing proposal. Allowing beards would help the Navy in its “War for Talent,” and it would provide an outstanding opportunity to highlight the Navy’s “Get Real, Get Better” initiative.
We need to recruit, retain, and promote people who suffer from PFB as well as those who simply want to grow facial hair for personal reasons. I am reminded of a shipmate whom I hold in very high esteem, who has shaved over PFB for decades, and for whose well-being I was once directly responsible. He continues to serve, but how many sailors include a painful morning routine in their list of reasons to leave the Navy? If our sister services continue to resist allowing beards in their ranks, a beard-permitting Navy would have an advantage, as it recruits from the same pool of potential volunteers. The current ban on beards thus presents a tangible readiness inhibitor with a purely theoretical safety benefit.
The goal of “Get Real, Get Better” is “accelerating our warfighting advantage by unleashing our people, not by burdening them with extra requirements, policies, or bureaucracy.” Allowing sailors to grow short, trimmed beards would not cost a dime and would be a clear, visual expression of the Navy’s willingness to evolve. Furthermore, by expanding permission beyond those diagnosed with PFB, the Navy could remove any lingering stigma around facial hair through leadership by example. Sailors could support shipmates suffering from PFB with many thousands of beards grown in solidarity. Imagine the positive effect an admiral could have when addressing his shipmates while sporting a tidy beard.
—CDR Matt Wright, USN
The Time Is Right for a Pivot to Africa
AMBASSADOR COHEN ARGUES that Africa deserves more attention in U.S. foreign policy, the truth of which is evident to most of us who have worked there. It is very welcome to see senior leaders making the point. However, he grounds his argument in an attack on the paradigm of great power competition, which seems oddly counterproductive.
His argument is based in the competition for resources within the government. The ambassador notes that nonmilitary aid and development funding for Africa has been “unserious” even when of sound design, in contrast with the large sums we spend on “submarines, bombers, and nuclear weapons to counteract Russia and China.” Would it not be more helpful to center the argument on truly effective deployment of all domains of U.S. national power to secure U.S. interests? Particularly in Africa, these require U.S. leadership in development aid, ethical investment, and substantive diplomacy. In other words, propose better African engagement within great power competition, not in opposition to it.
This alternative conceptual framework also would mesh better with Africa Command, whose commander told the Senate Armed Forces Committee that diplomacy and development are “our tools of first resort,” applicable to defeating violent extremism as well as toxic Chinese and Russian maneuvers, specifically highlighting pending ambassadorial confirmations and USAID funding.
Additional value may be gained in urgency and consequentiality by advocating for engagement within great power competition. The requirement for success may be more persuasive at the level of tactical bureaucracy than worthiness in its own right.
I once participated in a scaled DoD-sponsored collaborative health system research engagement in Liberia related to an Ebola outbreak. The study was stopped cold for more than 14 months while bureaucrats worked out how to extend Paperwork Reduction Act protections to Liberian study volunteers. These bureaucrats believed their work worthy, and our concern for the harm to time-sensitive study momentum, nascent partnerships, and reputation was unpersuasive.
An explicit competition framework might have introduced the “reality check” we could not.
April Maritime Security Dialogue
SECRETARY OF THE NAVY (SecNav) Carlos Del Toro has said the U.S. Navy budget “should be driven by strategy and not the strategy driven by the budget itself,” adding, “That’s why we’ve put together a clear strategy to deliver the lethal, resilient, sustainable, survivable, agile and responsive course called for in the 2022 National Defense Strategy.” However, during the Maritime Security Dialogue, Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Mike Gilday left no doubt that Navy capability and capacity are designed to the President’s budget, and that his “wants” were on the unfunded requirements list submitted separately from the official Navy budget input.
I certainly agree that strategy should drive the budget, except that the Navy’s share of the latest President’s budget does not. One would expect that, as a former naval officer, this SecNav would be an outspoken advocate of an aggressive shipbuilding program given a Navy analytical basis to support it (i.e., 355 ships), China’s naval buildup, and a more aggressive Russian sea presence.
In the parlance of “dollars are policy,” however, this is not the case. This budget funds a big decline in force structure; rhetoric does not buy ships, aircraft, or readiness. Given the negative political climate and a serious growing threat beyond Ukraine, the SecNav and CNO should stand up and pound the table publicly for a massive shipbuilding program and a larger topline Navy budget, including hiring former Secretary of the Navy John Lehman as a consultant.
To declare an aggressive Navy buildup would send positive signals to our enemies and allies. The time is right for the SecNav to shed the usual political appointee role and be an outspoken Navy advocate—and for this CNO to put his stars on the table to say publicly what the Navy and the country need!
-CAPT Alan W. Swinger, USN (Ret.)
Make Independent Duty Corpsmen Warrant Officers
THIS PROFESSIONAL NOTE RESONATED with me as a former Army medical corps- man (1969), warrant officer (1977), and commissioned officer (1992-2011). Using the knowledge and experience of our enlisted medical service members seems obvious. Making them warrant officers is a thoughtful idea. It is not, however, new.
This resource pool (experienced medical noncommissioned officers) was the original source of the physician (not physician s) assistant (PA) profession. Military PAs were appointed warrant officers in the Army, Coast Guard, and Navy and as senior enlisted in the Air Force. Then the Air Force began commissioning its PAs (1978) before the Navy (1989), Coast Guard (1992), and Army (1992).
It is possible changing independent duty corpsmen to warrant officers will detract from the PA applicant pool, but perhaps it could be seen as another step in career progression.
Those who have worked with independent duty corpsmen (or equivalents) are familiar with their capabilities and do not find rank a barrier to mission accomplishment. Those who have not had that privilege might see rank discrepancy as an issue. Making them warrant officers could enhance their “place at the table.”
It is a recognition that is due.
—BGEN Shepard Stone, CT State Guard, Life Member
AMONG THE BUILDINGS the Defense Department’s Naming Commission is considering renaming is Maury Hall at the U.S. Naval Academy.
Matthew Fontaine Maury was considered the “Pathfinder of the Seas,” for his work in determining ocean currents and the best sailing routes between Europe and the Americas. He was an oceanographer, meteorologist, astronomer, teacher, and much more. A native Virginian, Maury resigned from the U.S. Navy and joined the Confederate Navy, in which he served as an envoy to European nations. He received a federal pardon following the war and lived a productive life of service. It is curious he is condemned by public opinion more than 150 years later.
Should the Naming Commission determine that Maury’s name ought to come off the building, the Navy should rename it after Captain Don Walsh, class of 1954. Captain Walsh is an oceanographer, explorer, and a longtime contributor to these pages. He took the bathyscaphe Trieste to the bottom of the Marianas Trench. Among his honors, he has received the Hubbard Medal from the National Geographic Society and the U.S. Navy’s Distinguished Service Medal.
Captain Walsh has dedicated his life to expanding knowledge and conservation of the oceans. If a name should replace Maury Hall for the U.S. Naval Academy’s oceanography building, no name would be more fitting than Walsh Hall.
—CDR Michael Collins, USNR (Ret.)
Excellence and Fair Treatment of All
PETTY OFFICER CHOY’S ESSAY provides a good argument that our armed services should be a showcase of equality and fairness for the benefit of U.S. society. Unfortunately, he provides little substance to his allegation that “extremism inside the military and veteran communities has grown so severe,” and his citations show the opposite.
Whatever instances of personal discrimination were the experiences in uniform of Carl Brashear, the Golden 13, and Medgar Evers, the fact that they had a role and an opportunity to excel is evidence that our military leads U.S. society in inclusiveness. Immigrants and minority citizens have greater access to enlistment and advancement within the military than in most U.S. industries and professions. Such rights are codified in the regulations, core values, and practices of the U.S. armed forces and are evident in the remarkable diversity in the upper tiers of enlisted and officer ranks. A critic would be hard-pressed to find such diversity among top executives or upper management in most corporations.
The essay implies that the presence of a few veterans at the protest on January 6 or the bombing in Oklahoma City by an Army veteran indicate widespread racism and extremism within the veteran community. This allegation omits the more than 17 million veterans of all races, creeds, ethnicities, and beliefs not engaged in abhorrent behavior, whose presence and participation in American society make our nation stronger and more resilient.
Having asserted, “no one in the Navy should be provided special treatment,” the author claims “immigrant sailors” may be unable to accomplish their assignments without personal accommodations. Without explaining either the assistance required or listing instances in which the Navy has failed these sailors, the author leaves the reader wondering about fleet readiness when immigrant personnel are involved.
Of all the proud traditions in the Navy, none is more important than the process of transforming individuals into shipmates. For sailors to function as a cohesive unit, each must feel that he or she is an integral part of it. When shadows are cast by unfounded suspicions and generalizations based on skin color, assumed politics, or just the feelings of others, individuals and groups become marginalized and unit effectiveness suffers.