Neller: ‘We Are a Completely Different Marine Corps Than We Were’
By OTTO KREISHER, Seapower Correspondent
WASHINGTON — Despite increasing competition for the declining percentage of young Americans eligible to serve in the military, the Marine Corps already has signed up the number of recruits it needs for this fiscal year and expects to have half of next year’s quota by October, the top Marine said.
The diversity of the Corps also is changing, in both gender and ethnicity, and the Corps will get older as it builds the capabilities in cyber and information warfare that it will need for any conflict with a peer competitor, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert B. Neller said April 26.
Addressing a Brookings Institution audience, Neller said the Marines are changing not just the type of people they need but also the way they train and the weapons and equipment they will need to meet the demands of the new National Defense Strategy that focuses on great power competition, rather than countering violent extremists.
“There are a lot of concerns out there. Some are near term, some longer term. But the strategy says we want to increase the lethality of the force, we want to create a more capable force that will dominate the battlefield. We want to work with allies and friends because we’re not going to have enough capacity to do this by ourselves,” he said.
Among the capabilities the Marines will need for that future fight are more secure command and control, the ability to engage in information warfare and in cyberspace, and long-range precision fires, Neller said.
“We need a longer stick, from ground to ground, air to ground, from surface to air,” and defense against manned aircraft, ballistic missiles and swarming unmanned air systems, he said. The Corps also will need more unmanned systems, he said.
“If you have to clear a room, the first thing in that room will be an unmanned vehicle,” Neller said. And he predicted, a majority of future aircraft “will not have a human being at the controls, in that device.”
The Marines also are changing the way they train, with more force-on-force exercises, similar to what they did during the Cold War, he said.
Asked how the Corps was doing in recruiting and meeting the calls for greater diversity, Neller said he was told earlier in the day that “we’ve already got all the people we need for this year. They’re all signed up. They’ll ship this summer. And by 1 October, we’ll have over 50 percent of the people already signed up for next year.”
Those recruits include 97 percent high school graduates and a high percentage of the highest scorers on the qualification tests, he added.
On diversity, Neller noted that he had set a goal of a Corps that was at least 10 percent female, and that figure currently was at 9.2 percent. “In the last four years for officer accessions, the numbers have been 23, 24, 25 and 32 percent of officers are men of ethnicity and color and women.
“If you look at every possible category of diversity — gender, ethnicity — we are a completely different Marine Corps than we were five, and certainly 10 years ago. The demographics of the nation is changing. Hispanics are the fastest growing group in the nation, and also the fastest growing in the Marine Corps,” he said.
The Marines traditionally have been the youngest of the armed services, with more than half of its personnel under 25. But that will change as they have to keep more Marines in longer to master the complex tasks of cyber warfare, Neller said.
“They will cost more money. … We’re going to pay that because we need what they do,” he said.
While the three other services are requesting large increases in end strength in the fiscal 2019 budget, the Corps has requested only 100 more Marines, because of the higher cost of those cyber and information warriors, he said.
Asked if he expected to get and retain the high-quality people needed for those skills, Neller said, “We’re going to find out.”