Commandant Expresses Reservations About Trump’s Promise of More Marines

By Stew Magnuson
Marines dismount from a Light Armored Reconnaissance Vehicle during the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit’s Combined Arms Exercise

President-elect Donald Trump promised on the campaign trail to increase the size of the Marine Corps by 12 active duty infantry battalions and one tank battalion. Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. Robert B. Neller said Dec. 7 that this was “doable” but added some caveats.
“If that’s what the president directs us to do, we’ll do it. As long as we get the funding and the support to do it,” he said during a talk at a United States Naval Institute event in Washington, D.C.
When the service grew the force to 202,000 during the previous decade, it simply added more of what it had: additional infantry battalions and tank companies. “Because that’s what we needed for that fight,” he said. 
While infantry and tank battalions are important, the Marines are preparing — like the Army — to fight in a multi-domain battlefield, which includes air, under the sea, space and the cyber domain and the information domain, he said. 
The current version of the National Defense Authorization Act has a plus-up of 3,000 Marines from the baseline of 182,000.
“If we do get an end-strength increase and it’s sustainable and we get the money to recruit, train and equip those Marines  ... they will be performing tasks and providing capabilities that we don’t think are existing in the current force in either sufficient quantity, or they don’t exist at all,” he said.
These new billets would include: information operations, intelligence analysis, electronic warfare, cyber, communications, air defense, engineering and areas where there are shortfalls such as maintenance, he said. Even if the Marines don’t receive this boost in personnel, it will still be adding these capabilities, he said. They will just have to be taken out of other units, he added.
“If you got a little thing you want to put in my Christmas stocking, and that’s a 185K Marine Corps, I would be very happy,” he added.  
As for Trump’s proposal, “That’s a lot of people,” Neller said. “And you’re talking about a volunteer force that has to be recruited. It’s not just an all volunteer force, it’s an all recruited force,” he said.
There are eight infantry battalions in the reserves, so if those are added to the current 24, that makes 32, he noted. The Corps currently has the infrastructure to support 27 infantry battalions.
“There are a lot of things that have to be worked through in addition to recruiting those Marines and maintaining the quality that they have,” he said. The Marines will have to find additional battalion commanders, sergeant majors, company commanders, buy the gear and build more barracks, he said. 
“There are a whole bunch of doctrinal, organizational, training, manning, personnel, logistics, things that have to be worked through. Is it doable? Absolutely. It’s not going to happen overnight,” he said.
“My only caution would be that we have a very high quality force and whenever you try to grow too fast, it’s very difficult to maintain that level of quality and experience,” he said.
New recruits can’t be trained to fight the last war, he added. A quarter of the force is turned over every year, meaning no lower ranking Marines have served in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, and only some squad leaders, gunnery sergeants and captains have experience there. 
“We have to change our training and our mindset to almost where it was in the 80s,” he said. Marines will have to learn to maneuver with uncertainty as to what the enemy is going to do. They will have to mask their signatures, expect to receive accurate indirect fires and expect that the adversary will have aviation, battlefield sensors and robust electronic warfare capabilities, he said.
“They are going to fly their planes over you. And we’re going to have to create that training environment so the soldier, sailor, airmen, Marine sees that and they know what it is … It’s an airplane and its not yours and he’s coming here to bomb you.” 
Also among Trump’s campaign promises is an additional 50 ships for the Navy, which would presumably include more amphibious platforms that the Marines use for ship-to-shore operations.
Readiness and capacity versus commitments has been a topic in Congress since before the presidential campaign, Neller noted.
If the nation sees fit to buy more ships, aircraft and boost personnel, that would be beneficial, he said. “But we’ve got to pay for it. It’s a lot of money,” he added.
As for amphibious ships, 38 is the number that was agreed upon by previous commandants and chiefs of naval operations. That is based on two Marine expeditionary brigades conducting an amphibious landing with a certain number of ships not being available due to maintenance. 
"Are two Marine expeditionary brigades sufficient? I would say that’s the floor,” he added. The notion that the Marines haven’t done an amphibious operation since the Battle of Inchon in the Korean War is false, he said. “We come from the sea all the time. … I would say that’s a weak argument.”
There are about 31 amphibious ships now, he said. The current plan makes it to 34. “Any plan that gets us to 38 I think is a good thing,” he said.

Topics: Marine Corps News, Land Forces

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