Marines Shifting Focus to Readying for the ‘High-End’ Fight
By OTTO KREISHER, Seapower Correspondent
WASHINGTON — The new National Defense Strategy (NDS), which shifts the focus from counterterrorism to the emerging great power competition with Russia and China, has given the Marine Corps clear directions on what to do in its training, organizing, equipping and deploying the force, three of the service’s top officers said June 4.
Responding to the new strategy, the Corps is turning its focus on preparing for the “high-end” fight against more capable military forces, which requires it to regain capabilities it lost during a decade-plus of lower-level conflict, such as electronic emissions control, counter-air and long-range precision fires, and to build new skills in cyber and information warfare, the three lieutenant generals said.
The new “threat-based” strategy also means changing the way the Corps organizes and deploy its integrated Marine Air-Ground Task Forces (MAGTFs) to be more unpredictable and to be able to fight as the “inside force” that can operate within the enemy’s extended-range defenses to give national leaders the time and space to deploy the more powerful joint forces, they told a Center for Strategic and International Studies forum.
And the possibility of a conflict with a peer competitor has enabled the Marines to restore their traditional close operational ties with the Navy and to strengthen their relations with the Army and Air Force to share new warfighting concepts and gain the advantages of shared acquisition programs, said the officers, who hold offices responsible for planning and policies, for developing combat concepts and equipment, and for training combat-ready forces.
Lt. Gen. Robert Walsh, commander of Marine Corps Combat Development Command, said the NDS was the “clearest strategy” since the Cold War guidance from the Ronald Reagan administration of the 1980s. It requires the Corps to seek to regain the anti-aircraft missile defenses it abandoned during the 16 years of counterinsurgency conflicts, to pursue long-range precision fires and anti-missile protective systems for its ground combat vehicles similar to what its combat aircraft have.
Lt. Gen. Robert Hedelund, commanding general of the II Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF), said his command has used the NDS as a tool to rebuild readiness and restore II MEF as a warfighting command able to deploy and fight at the MEF level. It also is forcing a change in its training to the “high-level” fight, but he wished he could keep more of his Marines back from current deployments so they had more time for that training.
The generals also cited the new expectation that Marine expeditionary forces would have to “fight to get to the fight” because of Russia’s and China’s extended-range defenses, which means they would have to have defensive and offensive weapons on their amphibious ships to help the Navy conduct the naval battle.
The prospect of a great power conflict also will require them to acquire capabilities in cyber and information warfare, manned-unmanned teaming, application of artificial intelligence and the ability to fight despite the disruption of the long-range flow of communications and intelligence they have become accustomed to, the generals said.