Marine Corps Preparing for a Future of 'Party Crashing’
Marines are enthused about the future. Their duties in land-locked wars are ending, and they have begun to train at sea in preparation for future beach landings.
But Marines are not planning for a return to Inchon. They expect to land mostly on friendly littorals, to help allies or assist in disaster relief. They are more worried about having to penetrate hostile territory, where they will have to contend with enemy landmines, artillery fire, shoulder-fired and ballistic missiles. It’s a scenario that the Pentagon has labeled “anti-access, area denial” and will require the military to find the 21st century answer to Sun Tzu’s admonition that those who are “skilled in producing surprises will win.”
The Marine Corps anticipates “going where people don’t want us,” said Lt. Gen. Richard Mills, commander of Marine Corps Combat Development Command.
Landing ashore where Marines are invited is easy, Mills said. “But a tough job is to land places where we are not wanted,” he told an audience of military officers and strategists in Washington, D.C.
Mills spoke at “Expeditionary Warrior 2012," the Marine Corps’ Title 10 war game, which all branches of the military conduct annually to debate future strategies, equipment needs and force reorganizations.
The Marine Corps and its Navy partners foresee a future role as “party crashers,” Mills said.
The official Pentagon buzzword for party crashing, “forcible entry,” could become an increasingly complex and dangerous undertaking as potential U.S. foes arm themselves with long-range missiles, sophisticated sea mines and buried explosives. For Marines, this means they will have to avoid showing up where they are expected — along shorelines and obvious ports of entry — and figure out how to insert troops stealthily, a couple hundred miles inland.
“Distributed operations” is what Marines will do, Mills said. That is the term Corps strategists use to describe the scenario of small groups of Marines deploying from ships to a targeted area. As they conduct their mission, these troops will have to communicate back to ships at sea, sustain themselves logistically while ashore and while separated from the main body of the force.
The Marine Corps does not currently have all the necessary equipment and technology to achieve this concept, but intends to put the pieces of the network together in the coming years. Already Marines have invested in solar power technology, water-purification gear and other systems that would allow units to be self sufficient for days or weeks without resupply.
Whether the Marine Corps would ever insert troops into a “heavily denied” area is questionable, according to experts. But if the concept of distributed operations does take hold, it would boost the Marine Corps’ role as a surgical strike force that is currently dominated by special operations forces, analysts have said.
The key to make it work is to “integrate information” across an expeditionary strike group, said Navy Rear Adm. Terry Kraft, commander of the Navy Warfare Development Command. Marine Corps and Navy leaders will need to come up with new tricks to fool the enemy so U.S. troops can reach the desired area. “Deception works,” Kraft said. “We need to continue to think about that. Confuse the people that are trying to find you.”
Another issue that has to be considered in forcible entry is how a unit of Marines would function if the enemy jams U.S. communications land signals or satellites. That means commanders would be losing their “1,000 mile screwdriver, and we are going to have to trust our subordinates,” Kraft said. “We’ll have to empower junior leaders” so they know what they need to accomplish when communications go down. “We haven’t done that in a long time,” Kraft said. “We’ve gotten used to having a lot of ISR [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance] assets” in permissive environments, he said.
Also of concern is the possibility that enemies will lay mines along the coast and in deeper waters, and increase the risk for U.S. ships “Mine warfare will slow you down,” Kraft said.
Naval analyst Scott Truver said that underwater mines have sunk or damaged more Navy ships than any other means of attack since World War II.
Discussions such as those that are occurring this week at EW2012 -- about how the military would cope with enemies’ efforts to deny access to U.S. forces -- strike some observers as meaningless because the enemy is unknown.
“We are still searching for an enemy,” retired Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Chip Gregson, former commander of U.S. Marine Forces Pacific, told the seminar.
Although the assumption behind many of the Pentagon’s studies is that China could be the next big military foe, the military should be careful to not buy into the conventional wisdom, Gregson said. “China is not the second coming of the Soviet Union,” he said. “Virtually all our friends and allies have an economic relationship with China.”
Regardless of how U.S. ties with China, or lack thereof, play out, Gregson contended that the Pentagon should strengthen the military’s “power projection” capabilities, including keeping the Navy’s 11 aircraft carrier groups. “The argument that we don’t need 11 carriers because other nations only have one or two is misleading,” he said. “We don’t just buy aircraft carriers to fight other aircraft carriers.”
These assets are needed, he said, “because we are the ones that fight the away game all the time. Americans tend to prefer it that way.”
Protecting U.S. and allies’ interests in Asia should be the “centerpiece of any strategy,” he said. “It’s not how we’re going to march on Beijing. But how we’re going to protect allies.”
Frank Hoffman, military analyst and director of the National Defense University Press, said that any future strategy should support the concept of “dominant U.S. power.”
“We do need party crashers,” said Hoffman. “The first day of a post-American world will be the day when we can’t access an area to help and ally or rescue hostages.”