Force Design 2030 Is Trying to Solve the Wrong Problem

Force Design 2030 Is Trying to Solve the Wrong Problem

The most valuable contribution the Marine Corps could make in preparing for future conflict is to focus its force design efforts on preserving or restoring the ability to maneuver in the age of precision weapons rather than on developing capabilities that are already core competencies of other services.

 

The example offers insights into the situation today.

Back to the Present

 

Whether you believe the character of war has changed or not, the challenge of defeating the mature precision strike regime merits serious and immediate attention, and not merely with respect to war with China. As there was in 1914, there are at least two distinct options.

The first is the Force Design 2030 approach, which is analogous to the French response to the Western Front problem. Accepting the defensive superiority of the MPSR as given, it addresses the problem of how to prevail in a positional-firepower contest, which it proposes to do by occupying firing positions within the enemy’s weapons engagement zone to deny the enemy the ability to maneuver—in effect proposing to turn the challenge of the MPSR around on the enemy. The concept seems destined at best to achieve a stalemate, with neither belligerent able move in the face of the other’s superior defensive system, leading to a prolonged war of attrition. It focuses on a war with China at the expense of the ability to accomplish various other missions. Indeed, fixing on a specific enemy is a necessity for a positional-firepower concept because of the need to position stand-in forces before the onset of hostilities. We hardly need point out that the historical record for predicting the next war has been decidedly poor.

The Real Operational Challenge

We suggest the above is a questionable response to the wrong problem. Rather than addressing how to prevail in a positional-firepower conflict against the PRC, we suggest the problem we ought to be attempting to solve is this: How do we preserve or restore the ability to maneuver in an age of precision weapons? (Preserve for those who do not believe the balance has yet been tipped and restore for those who believe it has.) This ability will be a strategic imperative regardless of the enemy, theater, or crisis. Preserving or restoring maneuver would maintain an offensive capability to project power and pursue positive aims rather than merely negatory ones. Although this idea supports traditional Marine Corps roles and missions, it is no mere defense of the status quo. It addresses an emerging operational challenge that would have significant force design implications.

Any great power, in developing its military capabilities, must wrestle with the dilemma of how to prepare both for an existential conflict, which generally must be considered unlikely, and for the various lesser crises and emergencies that are guaranteed to occur occasionally, if not frequently. The ideal solution is to build capabilities that apply equally across the range of possible security threats, but this often is not possible. The practical requirement is to create a balanced force through a mix of capabilities. Achieving that balance requires making trade-space decisions. As Marinus asked in Maneuverist No. 19:

Is it in the Nation’s interest to tie up limited Marine forces—built for rapid deployability to “any clime and place” and warfare across the spectrum of conflict—indefinitely in anticipation of a war that may not occur?

The Marine Corps has long been one of the primary tools the Nation possesses for responding quickly to emergent developments.

Without question, China can pose an existential danger to U.S. national security, but a conflict with China remains unlikely, and a direct high-intensity conflict in the Pacific is even less likely. Conflict with China is more likely to take the form of economic warfare, proxy fights, and the instigation of discord around the globe. Meanwhile, practically guaranteed will be multiple occurrences of the myriad types of crises and other conflicts unrelated to the competition with China that are the natural products of a disorderly world. All the above will require the United States to be able to continue to project power globally, which in turn may require the ability to maneuver in the face of the mature precision strike regime. U.S. forces cannot be in position in anticipation of every potential crisis but inevitably will be required to respond. Traditionally, it has fallen to Marine Air-Ground Task Forces to lead that response.

Whether it is conflict in the Pacific with the PRC or anything else, U.S. joint forces, including Marine components, will require the ability to project power in the face of hostile counter-intervention capabilities. That requirement, which has been a hallmark of U.S. defense strategy for seventy years, will not disappear with the emergence of a peer competitor. We suggest that the most valuable contribution the Marine Corps could make in preparing for future conflict is to focus its force design efforts on preserving or restoring the ability to maneuver in the age of precision weapons rather than on developing capabilities that are already core competencies of other services. This would chart a course that is both in keeping with traditional Marine Corps roles and missions and responsive to the complex future security environment.

Conclusion

We began by making the point that to devise an effective solution to a problem, you need to get the problem right because the way you frame the problem informs how you solve it. We have argued that Force Design 2030 frames the future operational problem in a way that will lead to a less versatile, less effective Marine Corps. We have proposed an alternative problem framing—preserving or restoring the ability to maneuver in an age of precision weapons—which we believe is both consistent with traditional Marine Corps roles and missions and responsive to the emerging security environment. Solving that problem will lead to a very different force design. Part III of this series, “Vision 2035: Global Response in the Age of Precision Munitions,” describes a vision of what that force would be.

John F. Schmitt is a former Marine infantry officer and author of the Marine Corps’ capstone doctrinal manual, Warfighting.

Image: Reuters.