Recently, the U.S. and Japanese leaders re-emphasized the U.S. military commitment to the Pacific region during their meeting at the White House. But behind the scenes, this renewed focus on Asia has fueled a heated debate within one of America’s most prominent military forces. One of the most “sacred” institutions of the US military, the Marine Corps, broke out a fierce “family dispute” for this. Many former senior commanders are lining up to attack the current leadership’s reshaping plans.
At issue is an adjustment plan to deal with a potential conflict between China and the United States – “Force Design 2030” (Force Design 2030).
The program has been heavily criticized in the military almost from its inception, with a group of retired U.S. generals taking the unusual step of telling the media about their dismay at the program; retired senior officials meet regularly and speak at seminars and think tanks , also devising an alternative to a plan they believe will be disastrous for the future of the US Marine Corps.
One prominent critic is former U.S. Navy secretary and former Virginia Senator Jim Webb, who served as a Marine Corps officer in the Vietnam War and was running for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2015.
Writing in the Wall Street Journal, he said the Force Design 2030 program was undertested and “inherently flawed.” He warned that the plan “raises serious questions about the wisdom and long-term risks of making drastic reductions in force structure, weapons systems and force manpower levels that would result in sustained force casualties in most combat scenarios.”
What is “Military Design 2030”?
Launched in 2020 by Marine Corps Commander General David H Berger, the program aims to equip the U.S. Marine Corps to deal with a potential conflict with China in the Indo-Pacific region, rather than as a Counter-insurgency wars like in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The new plan designs the Marine Corps to operate dispersedly across “chains of islands.” Units of the army will be smaller and more dispersed, but packaged with a variety of new weapon systems to generate greater attack power.
Large-scale amphibious landings or land deployments such as those seen in Iraq during World War II may become a thing of the past. Least popular with critics was the plan to cut infantry and abandon all tanks. Such a proposal has some critics feel that the Legion is turning its back on its past.
Although the Marine Corps has close ties to the U.S. Navy, it is a separate service that has grown rapidly in World War II and played a major role in the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In fact, the American public’s perception of its Marine Corps is heavily shaped by the experience of World War II.
Anyone who saw John Wayne in the 1949 film “Iwo Jima” or the newer miniseries “The Pacific” by Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks will remember the massive amphibious operations ; a bunch of soldiers charging ashore from the landing craft and so on. And these are no longer how the new plan proposes the Marine Corps to fight.
The Marine Corps’ traditional role as the U.S. military’s “first responder,” capable of responding to diverse challenges around the globe, could be compromised by the new plan’s explicit focus on China and the Indo-Pacific region, critics say.
So, what exactly is in the plan?
- Some infantry battalions will be cut
- about three-quarters of towed artillery batteries were replaced by long-range rocket systems
- cut a few helicopter squadrons
- drop all tanks
The new program would save about $18.2 billion, most of which would go toward new weapons systems totaling $15.8 billion.
In addition, in addition to setting up a new rocket launcher system, there are also new anti-ship missiles that can be launched from land and a new drone system. The goal is to equip and train Marines for the new kind of warfare that the fighting in Ukraine heralds.
The main factor affecting Force Design 2030 is what Marine Corps commanders call “distributed operations,” which means reducing large forces into widely distributed smaller military units, but ensuring they have enough military power to play a practical role.
Still, Mike O’Hanlon, a military expert and director of foreign policy at the Brookings Institution think tank in Washington, dismissed key criticisms that the new focus on Beijing could hurt Marine Corps operations elsewhere.
He believes that the US Marines will go where they are sent and will not affect these operations as some people think: “The real important change is the withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan in recent years, and that is the big change. , had nothing to do with General Berger’s new plan (and mostly preceded it).”
Still, many critics insist that change is necessary if the Marine Corps is to face the challenges of the modern battlefield.
For example, Dr. Frank Hoffma, a former Marine Corps officer and now a distinguished researcher at the National Defense University, said: “I think the critics of this program are looking back at the glorious past and not observing the relationship between China and technology. The strategic image in question, it’s really disappointing.”
Downsizing the Marine Corps’ tank armament in particular has drawn a lot of criticism, but Hoffman thinks it’s the right thing to do. There will still be plenty of armored vehicles deployed, just without “heavy tanks and their auxiliary tankers,” he said. He also emphasized, “This is an adaptive adjustment to cover deeper areas with a more precise combination of firepower, as we have seen in Ukraine. The Marine Corps used to use air power to have this strike range. It will add to the mix of legacy artillery and missile families, which can increase the fire support and lethality of the Marine Corps.”
For Hoffman, these are the lessons that many believe can be borne out by the Ukraine war.
In addition, the utility and importance of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and rocket artillery, as well as the ability to strike precision strikes over large areas, have been squarely recognized during the Russia-Ukraine war that began last year, which is also an important aspect of the Marine Corps’ new plan part. But the battlefield they envision is very different: not the forests and steppes of Ukraine, but a chain of islands across the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean.
Force Design 2030 is largely an evolving military strategic plan. There have been some changes, and there are more to come. While the areas of its strategic focus have been identified, many issues remain to be resolved, not least the logistical challenges posed by a force that may be spread over a wide area.
This articleauthorJonathan Marcus is an Honorary Professor at the University of Exeter, UK.