Former Marine Generals: ‘Our Concerns With Force Design 2030’
We believe the path currently charted by the Marine Corps poses a significant risk to national security.
The unnecessary and unwise reductions in needed force structure and equipment were not made to make the Marine Corps more combat-ready. They were made to self-fund unproven, experimental capabilities that will not be fully operational until 2030 or beyond. Rather than making the Marine Corps more relevant for twenty-first-century warfare, the stripping away of proven and necessary capabilities will make the Marine Corps less capable of responding to global crises and contingencies, which poses a significant risk to national security. The Marine Corps is less capable today to fight the Nation’s wars than it was four years ago.
Create Gaps and Risks With the “Divest to Invest” Approach to Modernization
Extremely troubling is the “divest to invest” approach to modernization where the Marine Corps continues to eliminate or reduce current structures and systems to fund future ones. In the process, it is creating gaps of two to seven or more years where there will be insufficient means to field three robust division-wing-logistics teams. In fact, the Marine Corps would be unable to field a single traditional, warfighting Marine Expeditionary Force without globally sourcing essential capabilities and appealing to the U.S. Army for tanks and likely additional cannon artillery. This creates considerable risk to our national security. One infantry regiment (3rd Marines) with its supporting artillery is already gone; its replacement will not achieve full operating capability until 2030 and that capability has yet to be fully tested. A second infantry regiment (8th Marines) and its supporting artillery were deactivated in 2021 as a billpayer for ongoing force design efforts.
The conflict in Ukraine shows the confluence of current capabilities and new technological advances. The premise that technology is “changing the character of war” is far from certain. One thing is certain: the divestiture of proven and necessary capabilities before new technologies are fielded will make the Marine Corps less capable of responding quickly and decisively to global crises and contingencies.
Failure to Use the Combat Development Process
For nearly thirty years the Marine Corps has relied on its robust combat development process to determine how to arm and equip its operating forces. The process moves from emerging ideas to full-blown operating concepts that are thoroughly tested and evaluated before decisions are made to modify, create, or eliminate force structure or to commence acquisition of new weapons and equipment.
Fielding decisions are made to avoid gaps in capabilities. Divestures are concurrent with the fielding of the new equipment. As an example, the need for the increased speed and range of tilt-rotor aircraft became apparent when the Corps recognized that the rising threat of modern coastal artillery and missiles would force amphibious ships to operate from far over the horizon. Thus, vertical lift assets needed greater speed and range. The process to develop and acquire the V-22 Osprey was long and arduous. It was only after the aircraft was in production and the first airframes became available that Marine Medium Helicopters Squadrons began to transition from the CH-46 Sea Knight to the V-22. Gaps were short and risk-limited.
In failing to use this well-understood and highly regarded process in the same manner as it has been used in the past, the Marine Corps has yet to effectively address one of the fatal flaws of Stand-in Forces, the inability to sustain and move them once hostilities commence. This vital combat service support function was not tested in the wargames that supposedly validated the Stand-in Force concept. Yet irreversible decisions were made with the divesture of weapons and equipment and the cutting of force structure. Having taken actions before truly understanding if the concept was viable, the Corps finds itself in an awkward position, half in and half out of the “airplane” as it begins to take off.
For reasons that we find hard to understand, many officers assigned to the small groups working outside of the formal combat development process were required to sign non-disclosure agreements as they sought to create Force Design 2030 and Talent Management 2030. Such a lack of respect for “the special trust and confidence” instilled in every Marine officer before commissioning is not something we experienced while on active service. It is deeply troubling.
Erode the Customs, Tradition, and Ethos of the Marine Corps
Were these operational combat development process considerations not bad enough, the customs, traditions, and warfighting ethos of the Marine Corps are being seriously eroded by the unintended consequences of divesting needed force structure and equipment coupled with personnel policies best suited for a business, not for a force whose culture is “first to fight” and whose ethos is characterized by service and sacrifice. Examples include policies such as deemphasizing the importance of infantry, promotion board opt-outs, encouraging officers to pursue paths other than command, maturing the force, and lateral entry. Such policies risk undermining the attributes that make Marines different from other Services. The unique attributes that define Marines are the underpinnings of Marine Corps combat effectiveness and must be preserved. A business model approach in how we recruit, train, and retain Marines and an institutional shift from focusing on Marine infantry and close combat are recipes for long-term disaster. The new focus is on specialists who watch computer screens and push buttons that fire rockets and missiles in the deep fight. This is not who we are.
To summarize, we believe the path currently charted by the Marine Corps poses a significant risk to national security. We believe the Marine Corps must embrace an operating concept that regains maneuver in the age of precision munitions and use its proven combat development process to field a force that remains capable of responding quickly and effectively to global crises and contingencies. Having now spelled out our concerns, we believe it incumbent upon Chowder II to offer a potential solution that will alleviate or eliminate those concerns. Thus, we follow this article with two articles that explain how to place the Marine Corps on a better path to the future, a path that reduces risk and restores the balance between fires and maneuver.
General John J. Sheehan USMC (Ret) is a career infantry officer. His last assignment was Commander, United States Atlantic Command/Supreme Allied Commander Atlantic.
General James Amos USMC (Ret) is a career aviation officer. His last assignment was Commandant of the Marine Corps.