Small and Mobile: The Future of the U.S. Marine Corps is in the Making (Thanks to China)
A new experimental Marine regiment is pioneering a new Marine Corp force design.
The threat of an expansionist China—now the world’s largest naval power—is forcing the United States Marine Corps to reevaluate how it conducts business.
During the Marine Corps’ Modern Day Marine event, held virtually this year due to the ongoing pandemic, one of the Marine Corps’ top brass explained just what exactly is being done to modernize the Corps for a future fight in the Pacific.
Fortune Favors the Bold
At the center of the USMC’s force redesign is the Hawaii-based 3rd Marine Regiment, soon to be renamed the 3rd Marine Littoral Regiment (MLR). Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Kevin Iiams told reporters that the experimental regiment will inform future Marine force design. “We want to make sure that we stay informed with where the actual Marines who are employing the MLR are seeing the gaps and the seams and the fruition of the MLR,” Maj. Gen. Iiams explained.
A Marine Littoral Regiment, about 2,200 Marines in total, would be made up of three separate but interconnected groups, a combat unit, an anti-aircraft team, and a logistics element.
Presumably, a MLR would be further split up into smaller groups of semi-autonomous groups of Marines spread out over wide swaths of the Pacific Ocean on the hunt for enemy ships. The Marine Corps’ delegating leadership style is particularly well-suited to this type of autonomy, as junior Marines are encouraged to find solutions to operational problems, rather than being told how to tackle problems.
In statement to the Marine Corps Times, the Marine Corps Combat Development Command explained what exactly the new MLRs would do, saying that MLRs “designed to provide the basis for employing multiple platoon-reinforced-size expeditionary advance base sites that can host and enable a variety of missions such as long-range anti-ship fires, forward arming and refueling of aircraft, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance of key maritime terrain, and air-defense and early warning.”
In addition to storming beaches—traditionally a Marine Corps domain—the USMC would also be tasked with sinking enemy ships, a bit of a new task for the Corps. Though the Marine Corps does currently field a long-range rocket artillery system, the Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS), which can hit static targets out to about 190 miles, the system would struggle to hit mobile targets like enemy ships.
Same Location, New Capabilities
To remedy this solution, the USMC is initiating an effort to mate the Navy’s Naval Strike (NSM) Missile with the Corps’ Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV) vehicle by removing the cab and remotely controlling the truck. The NSM has a 115 mile plus range, has a sea-skimming, low flight profile, and can take random evasive maneuvers in its terminal flight phase to avoid anti-missile defenses.
Although it remains unclear how the JLTV-NSM vehicle, tentatively named ROGUE Fires, would be integrated into Marine Littoral Regiments, the new MLRs could be responsible for landing and arming the systems on remote, austere islands, and keeping the two-missile platform armed. Along with new force design experiments, the Corps is also retiring old systems, and developing new ones with an eye on the maritime.
The core recently divested all of their tank battalions, and is getting rid of a number of tube mortar and artillery pieces, as these platforms would struggle to be combat effective in an island environment. In addition, the Marines are finally getting their new Amphibious Combat Vehicles to bring them from ship to shore, after depending on the old Assault Amphibious Vehicle for nearly forty years.
Change is coming to the United States Marine Corps, in both equipment and force structure. They’re getting ready to take the Pacific, by force if necessary.
Caleb Larson is a Defense Writer with The National Interest. He holds a Master of Public Policy and covers U.S. and Russian security, European defense issues, and German politics and culture.