Marine Corps General: ‘Rumors of Our Demise Were Greatly Exaggerated’

By Sandra I. Erwin
Conventional wisdom about the future of the Marine Corps is grossly misguided, said the Corps’ second-highest ranking officer.
Speaking to an audience of military contractors, Assistant Commandant Gen. Joseph Dunford sought to quell widespread speculation that the Marine Corps is being targeted for major budget cuts. “Rumors of our demise were greatly exaggerated,” he said April 12 at the Navy League’s annual convention in National Harbor, Md.
Comments by Defense Secretary Robert Gates last August — when he announced weapon program cuts and raised questions about the relevance of amphibious assault warfare — sentshock waves through the Marine Corps and its contractor community. “People were questioning the utility of the Marine Corps” and surmised that Gates was planning to drastically downsize the Corps after the war in Afghanistan ends, Dunford said.
Contrary to popular belief, Gates was not implying that the Corps is expendable, or a second land army that will no longer be needed, Dunford insisted. The secretary has been greatly supportive, he added. “Gates was telling us to maintain our maritime soul” and to focus on the Marine Corps’ “core strengths” so it can be prepared for a wide array of contingencies, he said.
“This was an opportunity to reshape the Corps,” Dunford said. People assume that the Corps in the past decade has only been engaged in Afghanistan, he added. In fact, marines have been involved in 20 other contingencies since 9/11, including several humanitarian relief operations and deployments alongside U.S. special operations forces around the world, said Dunford.
Some cutbacks, however, will be necessary to comply with Gates’ efficiency mandates. A nominal reduction of forces is planned for 2015, and some administrative offices will see job cuts. To improve its ability to respond quickly to crises, the Corps will set up one-star headquarters that will directly support Africa Command, Pacific Command and Central Command, and is adding 1,000 marines to U.S. Special Operations Command, a 44 percent jump. The goal, said Dunford, is to be “optimized for crisis response.”
Questions, however, remain aboutfuture weapon procurements and whether the Marine Corps can recover from the cancellation of one of its signature modernization projects for amphibious warfare, the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle.
The loss of the EFV had been feared as the death knell for marines’ beach-storming, sea-based mission. The program was terminated, but the Marine Corps still gets to keep the amphibious mission, and use unspent EFV dollars to buy a new vehicle.
Marine leaders were challenged by Gates to articulate why assaulting a beach is still a relevant assignment for which they should be training and equipping.
Commandant Gen. James Amos has called for the Corps to recapture its maritime roots. But to be able to truly regain its sea legs, the Marine Corps also will have to downsize its equipment load because ships have limited cargo capacity. Amos' mandate is to “reduce the size, weight and the energy expenditure of our forces, from the individual rifleman to all components of the air ground task force.”
Years of ground wars have saddled the Corps with heavily armored vehicles and bulky hardware. Extended counterinsurgencies also have turned marines into what some leathernecks would characterize as creatures of comfort. Amos wants to move away from a “culture of plenty” which has resulted in the “acquisition of resources that in some cases are incompatible with the ethos of an agile, expeditionary force,” he said.

Topics: Expeditionary Warfare

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