View Full Version : Force of the future

09-27-05, 09:03 PM
October 03, 2005
Force of the future
Corps leaders look to take the lead in ‘dirty wars,’ emphasizing skills over high-tech equipment
By Christian Lowe
Times staff writer

Picture weeklong battles in city streets, snipers, improvised explosives and roadside ambushes.

At the same time, think long meetings with tribal elders, town councils and police chiefs while a Marine civil affairs unit fixes a sewage system and gets a town’s electricity going.

It’s a swirl of conflicting influences, where the same person to whom you’ve handed a bottle of water one minute could dime you out to an insurgent leader the next, where the enemy has no uniform and his motives are unclear, where loyalties change by the hour and safety is never assured.

It’s being called “hybrid war,” and it could be the Corps’ primary mission over the next decade.

As the Pentagon considers changes to the missions of the services for the next Quadrennial Defense Review — a congressionally mandated re-evaluation of military budgets, programs, strategies and roles that occurs every four years — defense analysts and Marine officials are putting together the building blocks for a Corps that would take a lead role in the war on terrorism.

While leathernecks are fighting a tenacious insurgency in Iraq, hunting terrorists in the mountain vales of Afghanistan and training foreign militaries in sub-Saharan Africa and Eastern Europe, analysts and Marine leaders are wondering whether the Corps should be the go-to force to fight terrorist cells and dismantle insurgent groups worldwide.

In a sense, it would be a return to the Corps of the 19th and early 20th centuries, where leathernecks battled such shadowy groups as the Barbary pirates in North Africa and the Cacos in Haiti.

Gone will be the “forcible entry” Corps, replaced by a Marine Corps that stresses “supremacy by stealth.”

“In hybrid wars, we can expect to simultaneously deal with the fallout of a failed state that owned but lost control of some biological agents and missiles while combating an ethnically motivated paramilitary force and a set of radical terrorists who had been parasites in that state and have been kicked out of their beehive,” said Lt. Gen. Jim Mattis, commander of Marine Corps Combat Development Command, in a speech Sept. 8 at a Naval Institute and Marine Corps Association conference in Arlington, Va. “We can also expect to face unorthodox attacks and acts of violence by sympathetic or copycat groups of nonstate actors against our critical infrastructure or our transportation networks.”

Teamed with special-operations forces, CIA paramilitary officers, FBI agents and State Department diplomats, Marines would form the backbone of America’s anti-terrorism and counterinsurgency efforts. Leave major theater wars against North Korea or China to the Navy and Air Force, experts say, and give the dirty wars to the Army, special-operations forces and Corps.

“I see the Army, special-operations forces and the Marines as comprising a new strategic triad,” said Mattis, referring to the Cold War-era strategic triad of land, sea and air-based nuclear weapons that are credited with keeping the Soviets at bay.

The Army appears to be on the same sheet of music. Its top officer, Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Schoomaker, raised a similar notion in December, proposing a new “strategic triad” in hopes of nudging defense planners into adding more emphasis to ground-pounders as they kicked off planning for the QDR.

“The new triad has been operating together during the last few years, and we have achieved a remarkable degree of synergy and interoperability,” he said. “One can only imagine the degree of transformational capability possible if the nation chose to invest in this triad and achieve the kind of dominance we now possess in other domains.”

High-speed, low-tech

Backed by Mattis and a cadre of military analysts with experience in the Corps and special operations, the Corps is making a major shift away from its reliance on high-priced technology as a solution for the future’s military problems, focusing instead on bolstering the skills and capabilities of the individual Marine.

Mattis has been pushing a concept dubbed “distributed operations,” which equips small units such as squads and platoons with the equipment and training needed to wield a greater combat power dispersed over large areas. When implemented, more officers and noncommissioned officers will be trained to deliver fire support, such as airstrikes and artillery barrages, and will be equipped with the kind of gear usually reserved for special- operations troops, such as silencers and day/night rifle optics.

With this kind of training and gear, the future Marine Corps will be able to act more like a low-key, covert operating force — a perfect fit for the wars of the future, experts say.

Michael Vickers, a senior defense analyst at the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments and a former Army Special Forces officer and CIA covert operator, said the Corps should focus on three main missions.

First, the Corps should be the go-to force to combat terrorism and Islamic radicalism. Second, the Corps should combine its forcible-entry expertise with its chemical and biological warfare response forces to be the primary tool used against rogue states equipped with weapons of mass destruction. Third, Vickers said the Corps should be the primary player in urban warfare.

“A big part of this is going to be building up our capacity. We’ve got a problem of al-Qaida cells in 54 countries, and a war of ideas that’s global, and an Islamist insurgency in 18 countries. You can’t concentrate your effort in two of them. You’ve got to be in lots of places,” Vickers said during a mid-August conference focusing on the future of the Marine Corps.

Analysts say the future Corps won’t get rid of its heavy firepower. Rather, it will buy fewer expensive platforms and use them more efficiently. Marines will still need the high-tech Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle, lightweight 155mm Howitzer, V-22 Osprey and F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, but analysts say the numbers will have to shift.

Robert Work, another defense analyst with CSBA and a former Marine artillery officer, has mapped out a plan for how the future Marine Corps should be equipped to deal with global terrorism, urban warfare and WMD-possessing states.

“The Marine Corps needs to focus in the [war on terrorism] and this power-projection problem with a kicker that you’d do it not as a traditional assault, but how would you do it in a littoral [region] defended by one or two nuclear weapons,” Work said.

“Most people are saying the Marine Corps has to have this blend between the small wars, GWOT focus and being able to do one power projection force.”

Work has proposed a Corps largely based at sea, equipped with its own heavy-lift and strike aviation assets, backed up by WMD-resistant armor and able to host and support spec-ops forces for anti-terror missions.

For the “amphibious forcible entry force,” Work’s plan includes:

• Eight Wasp-class amphibious assault ships.

• 24 San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock ships.

• Two amphibious assault (replacement) ships, to provide additional heavy-lift helicopter landing spots.

• Four future aircraft carriers manned with only Marine Corps F-35 Joint Strike Fighters.

• Futuristic landing craft, including a new air-cushioned landing craft and Landing Craft Utility vessels.

• 336 EFVs — the planned replacement for the amphibious assault vehicle — which can lift 24 companies of Marines that could support the infantry elements of two Marine Expeditionary Brigades.

• Canceling the Corps’ purchase of the MV-22 Osprey, and instead buying 10 squadrons of the CV-22 special-operations variant and making those squadrons a “national tilt-rotor force.”

• Modernizing the CH-53E Super Stallion fleet and making it the primary ship-to-shore air transport for troops and gear.

And for the “global war on terrorism response force,” the plan includes:

• Four two-ship Maritime Prepositioning Force squadrons, with ships modified to the Container and Roll-On/Roll-Off Stockham configuration. Squadrons would be stationed at Ascension Island, Guam, Palau and Diego Garcia, and the ships would contain urban combat and irregular warfare equipment.

• A two-ship MPF squadron stocked with heavy combat equipment and armor, based in Australia.

• A six-ship MPF squadron deployed to Diego Garcia to be used for future MPF experimentation and to back up deployed squadrons if more combat capability is needed.

The ‘four-block’ war

As plans for the Corps’ future take shape, Marines can expect to see a new block added to the “three-block war” concept that dates back to Gen. Charles Krulak’s tenure as commandant in the late 1990s.

The label refers to the notion that in the urban fight, leathernecks can find themselves providing humanitarian relief on one city block, quelling a civil riot on the next and engaging in full-scale combat on a third.

Now, Mattis has added a fourth block, one that focuses on information operations — changing an enemy’s thinking and deflating terrorist and insurgent ideologies.

“Counterinsurgencies are wars of ideas, and our ideas need to compete credibly with those of the enemy,” Mattis said in his Sept. 8 speech. “The information ops component is how we extend our reach and how we can influence populations to reject the misshaped ideology and hatred they are offered by the insurgents and accept the better future we want to help build with them.”

Commandant Gen. Mike Hagee has also stressed the need for the Corps to focus on eliminating the root causes of conflict.

Specifically, he is emphasizing what he calls “Phase 0” operations, the kind of military-to-military exchanges that help eliminate problems before they take root and spread.

The Corps’ new focus on training foreign militaries — a job usually reserved for Army Special Forces — and the new requirement for officer and career enlisted Marines to adopt a regional cultural expertise are all part of the effort to tip countries hanging in the balance away from terrorism.

“We want to help countries train their armed forces and understand how their armed force works under a democratic, civilian-led government,” Hagee said in mid-August.

“If we do Phase 0 right, I don’t think we’ll have to do the … combat operations.”

Christian Lowe covers Marine Corps strategy issues. He can be reached at (703) 750-8613 or clowe@marinecorpstimes.com.