Marine Corps Will Push for Return to Maritime Roots (UPDATED)

3/26/2013
By Yasmin Tadjdeh
Marine Corps officials are eager to return to the service's traditional role of global crisis response force operating from the sea.
Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie, the service's director of the Quadrennial Defense Review, said the strategic planning document, due in 2014, would enshrine that wish.
“We see ourselves as a forward-deployed, hedge force that buys time for the strategically decisive force of the nation to arrive and conduct their … ground campaign, and that would be the U.S. Army,” McKenzie told Washington, D.C.-based defense reporters March 26.
The Marine Corps also wants to carve out a distinct niche to distinguish themselves from the sort of reserve army it resembled during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“There’s been a lot of talk over the last few months about the Marine Corps as a second land Army. We’re not. But I think we should all recognize that we don’t need a second land Army,” said McKenzie while speaking to reporters at the Fairmont Hotel in Washington, D.C., on March 26.
For the first time, technology and innovative force structure may allow the Marine Corps to enjoy the agility it gains by operating from the sea, but from a land base, he said.
McKenzie envisioned the potential of becoming a "continental response force" by using V-22 Ospreys, which have greater speed and range than conventional rotorcraft.
“In the case of Special Maritime Crisis Response, what you’re going to see is a forward-deployed crisis response element of Marines that are going to be married to V-22 Ospreys and aerial refuelers which give you truly continental range from a land base,” said McKenzie.
Over time it may become a form of “theater engagement” that would be land-based, but would be able to manage forces that were deployed afloat.
The QDR is a congressionally-mandated study which is done every four years to forecast the needs of the military over the next two decades. Next year’s report will reinforce the need to bring the Marine Corps back to its seafaring roots and position as an expeditionary force, McKenzie said.
The report, which is due in February 2014, will be significant because of smaller budgets, the "pivot to Asia" strategy and newly confirmed Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, McKenzie suspected. Additionally, the QDR will for the first time formally include representatives from Special Operations Command and the National Guard, he said.
As an expeditionary force, one of the Marine Corps signature abilities is deploying quickly while being as austere as possible, McKenzie said. It is these qualities that the service wants to focus on in future missions.
“We think that the shift to the Pacific, the national strategy that we’re following, are all natural things for the Marine Corps,” McKenzie said. “As we go into the [QDR] process, we’re going to want to accentuate the capabilities that we bring to the nation.”
The Marine Corps' successful performance in Iraq and Afghanistan may have been a double-edged sword, McKenzie said. Marines are so good at fighting on land, their strategic role moved further inland, resulting in entire generations of Marines who have never been on a Navy ship or gotten their boots wet during an amphibious landing.
“The Marine Corps is a naval force. We’re not a land force. It’s easy to lose that distinction because we perform so extremely effectively while we are ashore,” he said. “We see really no appetite, or no drive, anywhere to redefine the Marine Corps as anything other than a naval element of the nation’s portfolio.”
The Marine Corps has long had a close relationship with the Navy, McKenzie said. He pointed to Marines using Navy vessels to launch various missions as one example of the bond. In the future, he wants the service to strengthen that alliance.
“From a Marine Corps perspective … the relationship with the Navy is absolutely vital,” he said.
Clarification: A spokesman for Maj. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie said the general's point that the United States does not need a "second land Army" also applies to naval forces. "While there should not be duplicative things happening on the land side, it also goes the other way on the sea side," McKenzie's spokesman said.
Photo Credit: Marine Corps, Defense Department

Topics: Defense Department, DOD Policy, War Planning, Expeditionary Warfare

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