By Lex, on August 13, 2010
Credit where it’s due, SecDef Gates does not forbear to go where angels fear to tread:
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates is ordering a review of the future role of the Marine Corps amid ” anxiety” that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan had turned the service into a “second land army.”
The review would seek to define a 21st century combat mission for the Marines that is distinct from the Army’s, because the Marines “do not want to be, nor does America need” another ground combat force, Gates said in prepared remarks for a speech at Marines’ Memorial Theatre in San Francisco on Thursday to a group that included retired Marines and foreign policy experts…
Gates is seeking $100 billion in budget savings from the military services and Pentagon bureaucracies, though he intends to invest the money in weapons programs. Given the unwavering support for the Marines in Congress, there is little chance the service would be eliminated or see its budget significantly reduced.
Gates noted that anxiety about the future of the Marines stems from the “perception … that they have become too heavy, too removed from their expeditionary roots.”
In a question-and-answer session with sailors aboard the Higgins earlier in the day, Gates said, “I think they’ve gotten too big,” and he predicted that the service would shrink in coming years.
At congressional direction, the Corps packed on over 25,000 bodies over its pre-war end strength in response to GWOT tasking in Iraq and Afghanistan. I long ago predicted that the increases to land force end strength generally would come into full effect just as the GWOT was winding down. But better men than Gates have broken themselves on the shoals of the Marine Corps lobby in Congress. Too, the seeming presumption that amphibious assault is passé due to the proliferation of littoral area denial weapons hits the Corps straight in the black.
In the early days of the Afghanistan campaign, the Marines could mount a nearly 400 mile maneuver from the sea to establish Camp Rhino, a setting off point for the capture of Kanduhar International Airport three weeks later. This was the longest range amphibious assault in history, and established the coalition’s first strategic foothold in Afghanistan.
This kind of assault was a classic Army Ranger mission, and many junior and field grade officers of the senior service were dismayed to see it assigned to the Corps. The fact remains, that – even with the Marine Corps becoming “heavier” through long usage in the field – the Corps exhibits the leanest tooth-to-tail ratio in the US armed services. In the small wars construct, with the exception of heavy mechanized assault – a significant exception – the Corps can do what the Army can do more quickly, less expensively and with greater agility, albeit without the army’s organic sustainability. It does so while retaining such unique capabilities as operational maneuver from the sea. Making significant reductions to the Corps’ combat power or tinkering with its mission set could prove problematical politically.
The Secretary of Defense might just have chosen which hill he wants to die on.