Neller: ‘We Need a Fifth-Generation Marine Corps’
By OTTO KREISHER, Special Correspondent
ARLINGTON, Va. — Fighting and winning against emerging peer competitors will require a “fifth-generation Marine Corps” capable of competing in technological domains, as well as the traditional air, sea and land kinetic arenas, the top Marine officer said Jan. 12.
After 15 years of counter-insurgency and stability operations, “we have to focus on the capabilities required for near-peer competitors,” including cyber, information warfare, electronic warfare, unmanned air and ground systems and robots, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert B. Neller said.
Addressing the Surface Navy Association’s National Symposium, Neller said if the Navy fleet is to expand, as President-elect Donald Trump promises, it must be “a balanced force” that would include more attack submarines to help the expeditionary forces reach their objectives.
“There are certain adversaries where clearly we would need more attack submarines. One hundred amphibs? That’s not the whole answer. They have to be protected. Conditions for them to land have to be shaped … We need every type, model and series ship out there,” he said.
“Clearly, we would like to see more amphibs out there. That would have to be our first priority. But it needs to be a balanced fleet,” he said.
Neller noted that he was the first Marine Corps commandant to speak to the surface warriors in a number of years. The reason is, he said, “the game has changed.”
“The world has changed. In some ways, our Marine Corps is OK. In others, it’s not. Things have to change,” he said.
“There’s always risk in change. But there is a bigger risk if we don’t change,” he added later.
There is a lot of talk about fifth-generation aircraft, such as the F-35, Neller said. “We need a fifth-generation Marine Corps” that will not look the same as the current Corps. “Every Marine is a rifleman, but not every Marine is in infantry.”
Whether the Corps is able to grow back to 185,000 Marines, as Trump has proposed, or stay at the current force of 182,000, Neller said service leaders would need to shift Marines from the traditional specialties to the more technical fields needed for the emerging environment.
“We can quickly build infantry, artillery, armor Marines. How long will it take to build an electronic warfare Marine?” Or Marines who can do cyber, intelligence collection and analysis, and information ops, he said.
The commandant restated some of the changes he has warned his Marines are coming, including the need to train how to operate in a network- and electronic-denied environment by using old-fashioned tools like paper charts and nondigital communications. And they will need to win the “battle of signatures” by reducing electronic emissions, he said. That will mean Marines will go into the field without their cell phones.
“How do you mask your signature, make your adversary raise his? If your signature can be detected, you can be killed,” he said.
Neller also emphasized how the Marines are working with their Navy partners to return to amphibious exercises and training.
“We’re going to get after the ability to project power from the sea,” he said.
But to do that in the new contested environment, the Corps will have to develop ways to help protect the amphibious force.
“The green side [Marines] recognizes that if we want to get from A to B, we can’t do that without helping,” he said. “That may mean using Marine air to defend the task force” or landing forces seizing territory to prevent land-based attacks on the amphibious force. “It’s totally a team game.”
Asked why the Corps was sending 300 Marines back to Afghanistan, Neller said because “somebody asked us if we could go do that, and I said ‘yeah’.”
The Marines will replace an Army unit that has been advising Afghan forces in the hotly contest Helmand Province, which Neller noted is the heart of the Taliban resistance.
“We have no delusions about the difficulty and the challenge they’ll face,” he said.