Marine Corps Leaders Say Global Mission Can't Survive Further Troop Cuts

By Dan Parsons
The Marine Corps’ post-Afghanistan plans to station troops worldwide and focus on crisis response and disaster relief missions is threatened by force reductions, top service officials said April 7.
Maj. Gen. Frederick Padilla, director of operations at headquarters Marine Corps, said the service’s plan to respond to crises around the world would not survive force cuts that would go into effect after fiscal year 2015.
“We will be forward deployed focused on crisis response,” Padilla said at the Navy League's Sea, Air, Space conference at National Harbor, Md. “That is at the expense of being prepared to conduct a couple of major combat operations. If major combat operations were to come, we would respond but we might not make the timelines.”
The Marine Corps' force posture plan assumes its end strength will shrink from 202,000 Marines to 182,000. That number of troops was not based on strategy, Padilla said, but is “the best Marine Corps we could afford with the money allocated to us.”
But if sequestration-level cuts are reinstated after 2015, the force will shrink to 175,000, which will disrupt plans to station Marines on or near every continent but Antarctica.
Marines already will spend more time deployed, Padilla said. The Marine Corps attempts to give  troops three times as much time stateside as they spend overseas. But force reductions already in place will require troops to spend at most twice the length of their deployment at home, he said. Time between deployments may drop even further if the service is forced to make deeper cuts, he said.
“This is not possible with a 175,000 force. These are significant challenges,” Padilla said. “Can we do this with a 182,000 force? Yes, we can.”
In the event that the Marine Corps were faced with another full-scale war like Afghanistan or Iraq, its response would be a “bench-clearing event,” Padilla said. “Everyone would be in and everyone would stay there until it’s over with.”
Current plans are to rely heavily on Marine Expeditionary Brigade-level units, Padilla said. In the United States, the Marine Corps will station a crisis response force of two MEBs, each with about 14,500 Marines that will focus on North and South America.
Thousands of Marines and a majority of U.S. amphibious assault ships will be deployed to various parts of the Asia-Pacific region in support of the Defense Department’s growing focus there, Padilla said. The service will therefore have fewer Marines to send to other areas of the globe.
In U.S. Southern Command, another crisis response force will rotate from the United States. It will be primarily a ground force focused on theater security cooperation, Padilla said. A special purpose task-force with ships and airlift capabilities will also be available for contingencies in South America.
Padilla called SOUTHCOM an “economy of effort” area of responsibility, though demand for forces there is higher than what the Marine Corps has been able to provide.
A special purpose Marine air-ground task force based in Spain and focused on Africa was recently increased in size from 550 to 850 Marines. The unit is equipped with six MV-22 Ospreys and two KC-130J aerial refueling tankers.
It is the Marine Corps’ first response to the “new normal” situation created by the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, Padilla said.
When terrorists overran the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, the Marine Corps could not respond because it didn’t have enough ships and troops in the Mediterranean, Padilla said.
“Had we had that capability, I would submit to you that Benghazi would have played out much differently than it did,” he said. “We would have had a response that would have been there very quickly.”
The group was created about a year ago and has been employed in both Libya and South Sudan, Padilla said.
Another special purpose MAGTF is slated for deployment in support of U.S. Central Command, he said.
The global deployment of Marines is a necessary precaution in a world that is increasingly volatile and unpredictable, said Brig. Gen. Michael Groen, director of Marine Corps intelligence.
“As much as we wish to be done with the dirty and dangerous in this world, the world has a way of bringing these things to our doorstep,” Groen said. “Ukraine is a perfect example. Ukraine was at the bottom of everyone’s priority list three months ago. … Suddenly it pops up to number one. This is the nature of the future operating environment.”
The world is on the cusp of “massive social change,” he said. “That social change drives who we fight. It drives where we’re going to fight. It drives how we’re going to fight. For the world’s global crisis response force, business is booming.”
Even positive social change can negative implications, he said. “As the global economy creates more haves than have-nots, the have-nots become informed … that they do not have,” Groen said. “To my mind, that is the primary impetus for social change and conflict and instability — an informed populace will not willingly live under tyranny.”
Though countries are more economically interdependent than ever, the same international relationships failed to prevent World War I, Groen said. It also allows economic coercion to become a weapon, he said.
Urbanization is occurring largely in littoral areas near the ocean, which concentrates people where they are most vulnerable to rising sea levels and natural disasters like hurricanes, Groen said. Also on his laundry list of emerging threats were competition for land, water, food and other resources; global piracy and organized crime.
Humanitarian aid missions will be a preoccupation in the Asia-Pacific region, Groen said. “If you’re not there when it’s raining, you’re not going to be there when it is raining bullets."

Topics: Expeditionary Warfare

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