Gen. Amos: Marines Must Explain What We Do
With budget cuts on the horizon for all branches of the military, Marine leaders are taking no chances that the Corps’ value might be put into question. They are stepping up the rhetoric in a preemptive effort to put to rest the idea that the Marine Corps is just a smaller version of the U.S. Army.
“I want to be able to clearly articulate to the Marines and to external audiences exactly what the Marine Corps does for our nation,” said Gen. James F. Amos, commandant of the Marine Corps.
It’s easier for the other services to defend their turf. Ground wars require armies. Navies fight at sea. Anything aviation is associated with the Air Force. The Marine Corps operates in all three domains but owns none of them, Amos said. Marines, however, are the only force that can quickly respond to a crisis on the ground or at sea, and they have their own aviation assets for transportation and for aerial combat, he noted.
Amos said he is frustrated by commentators who question why the United States needs a “second land army.” He also acknowledged that his own fellow Marine generals have fueled the paranoia. “It began with senior Marines saying that [we are not a second land army] in public, which I deeply regret,” Amos said Nov. 8 at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, in Washington, D.C.
To be sure, nobody in the Obama administration or Congress has even insinuated that the Marine Corps is in danger of extinction.
There are plans for modest reductions to the size of the Corps — from 202,000 to 186,800 over the next five years — following the conclusion of the Afghanistan war, where the Corps still has 6,800 troops deployed. But statements by Amos and other officials suggest they worry about deeper cuts in the coming years. Although the Corps’ $23.9 billion budget is a small slice of the Pentagon’s $525 billion pie, Marines have felt besieged by critics who have questioned, for instance, why the Marine Corps should have its own air force.Amos has been vocal about the Corps needing organic aviation support so it can respond more quickly to crises. During the past several years,Marines also have been bashed by Army commanders in Afghanistan for operating autonomously and competing with the Army for resources and clout.
Amos dismissed the sideswipes about inter-service turf struggles. “We have the best relationship with the other services that we’ve ever had,” he said.
In anticipation of a worsening cash crunch at the Department of Defense,Amos has ordered frugality across the board, especially in weapons programs. Case in point is the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle, a truck that was intended to replace the Humvee fleet. When the program started in 2007, the Corps’ demands for heavy armor protection but low weight, digital cockpits and other bells and whistles jacked up the cost of JLTV to more than half-million-dollars each. Marines now have agreed to join forces with the Army and buy a more affordable truck, albeit in fewer numbers. “We wanted to buy 20,000, but we’re buying 5,500,” said Amos. Older Humvees that would have been discarded are going to be refurbished, he said. The motto: “Only buy what you can afford,” said Amos.
Amos also has been leading apost-war transition — which began in 2009 under his predecessor Gen. James Conway — to shore up the Marine Corps’ amphibious warfare skills and weapons systems. “Marines are first and foremost a naval force, even though some would like to see us branded as ground forces,” Amos said.
A year ago, Amos created an in-house think tank based in Quantico, Va., called The Ellis Group, to help inform the public and policy makers on the purpose and value of having Marines at sea, ready to handle a crisis if needed. The Ellis Group published a glossy brochure called, “U.S. Amphibious Forces: Indispensable Elements of American Seapower.” The document introduces the concept of a “single naval battle” for fighting future wars. The single naval battle is viewed as the Marine Corps’ equivalent of the “air-sea battle” concept that the Navy and Air Force have drawn up.
Brett Friedman, a Marine Corps officer-pundit who writes ablog for the Marine Corps Gazette, said The Ellis Group “may have its hands full explaining the value of an amphibious force.”
The single naval battle concept, he said, “is sound but it speaks more to the integration of the Marine Corps and the Navy than to how the Marine Corps itself will operate in the future. … Perhaps The Ellis Group should look at how the Marine Corps fits into a land power, sea power, airpower triad rather than focusing on solely the naval aspects.”
The Corps will need to make a strong case for its role, he said. “As our three bigger sisters clamor for their slice of the budget, it will be difficult for the Marine Corps to explain its vision,” Friedman said. “The continuing confusion about just what kind of service it is … means that we have more work to do whether our budget drops or not.”
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that the Marine Corps has 68,000 troops deployed in Afghanistan. The correct number is 6,800.
Photo Credit: Marine Corps