Navy, Marine Corps Seek Tighter Integration
Amid rising tensions with great power competitor China, the Navy and Marine Corps are planning to more closely integrate their forces.
Speaking at a recent industry conference, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger said China is sailing deeper into blue waters.
“We have watched them ... build [and] expand a conventional defensive force and kind of yawned for a long time — until they went to sea,” he said.
China — alongside Russia — was listed as a peer competitor in the 2018 National Defense Strategy. The nation has beefed up its military spending across the board as it invests in a variety of new ships and advanced weapons. (See story on page 26)
In order for the United States to maintain its maritime advantage, the Navy and Marine Corps will need to more closely integrate, particularly if they want to be ready to take on China in a potential future fight, Berger said.
Successful integration will require a concerted effort after decades of land warfare during conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, Berger said.
“We didn’t intentionally walk away from each other,” he said of the sister services. “We had different tasks to do and we did them very, very well. For the next 20, 30, 40 years, we must do a different task, and it has to be integrating — not out of sentiment but out of reality.”
The Marine Corps still has a portfolio of programs geared toward counter- insurgency missions, rather than great power warfare, he noted. Large-scale teaming with the Navy wasn’t viewed as a necessity in the years before the Pentagon’s attention turned to China.
“Why? Because nobody challenged us. Our competition was ourselves,” Berger said. There was “no real peer competition that ... caused us to integrate out- side an amphibious ready group and a Marine expeditionary unit.”
However, the nation can no longer afford to have a Navy and Marine Corps that are not closely intertwined, he said. “It is not a nice to have fiscally, operationally or strategically, Berger said. “It’s a must do.”
In Berger’s planning guidance, which was released over the summer when he took the helm of the service, he noted that adversaries have made advancements in long-range precision fires, making closer naval integration an imperative.
“The focal point of the future integrated naval force will shift from traditional power projection to meet the new challenges associated with maintaining persistent naval forward presence to enable sea control and denial operations,” he said.
Future naval force development and employment will include new capabilities that ensure the sea services cannot be excluded from any region by an enemy, he added.
Berger said he also intends to seek greater collaboration between the Navy and Marine Corps in the program objective memorandum development process, or POM.
“We share a common understanding of the [National Defense Strategy], the pacing threat, the future operating environment, and of those capabilities that provide the greatest overmatch for our Navy,” Berger said. “We must strive to create capabilities that support fleet operations and naval campaigns.”
There will also be integration between the services’ wargaming efforts in the POM, he added.
Maj. Gen. Mark R. Wise, deputy commanding general for Marine Corps Combat Development Command and assistant deputy commandant for combat development and integration, said the goal of increased integration is to give a fleet commander a fuller picture of the battlefield before he or she makes a decision.
“That might come partially from the Marine Corps. It might come from the Navy. But it doesn’t matter to him because it’s an integrated capability,” he said.
The sea services are fleshing out different concepts such as distributed maritime operations, littoral operations in a contested environment and expeditionary advanced base operations, he said.
James Geurts, the Navy’s assistant secretary for research, development and acquisition, said the type of integration the Navy and Marine Corps is pursuing today to meet the requirements of the National Defense Strategy is like nothing he has witnessed since he started his tenure in 2017.
“I have never seen the Navy and the Marine Corps talking, acting and coming up with concepts that are co-dependent at the level I’m seeing right now,” he told reporters on the sidelines of an industry conference.
That cooperation will help better inform future programs, he noted. For example, the Navy team spearheading the Naval Strike Missile project for the littoral combat ship has been working “hand-in-hand” with the Marine Corps. Other areas of collaboration include ground launchers, command-and-control platforms and ground fires.
“It’s really kind of breaking down these silos,” he said. Instead of having two separate teams go after a project, there is one joint effort.
The Navy is particularly impressed with Marine Corps Systems Command, Geurts added.
“They’re doing some amazing work ... [with] prize challenges and OTA awards,” he said, refer- ring to other transaction authority agreements, which have been used to help the military streamline acquisition programs. “We’re lever- aging many of those best practices back in the Navy acquisition side.”
Vice Adm. James Kilby, deputy chief of naval operations for warfighting requirements and capabilities, said the Navy could also learn much from the Marine Corps’ advanced naval technology exercises, or ANTX, where Marines work with new technologies.
The Navy wants to “set up a similar structure and then really work together,” he said. It would not be a Marine Corps or Navy focused event, but rather an integrated naval event.
Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Charles G. Chiarotti, deputy commandant for installations and logistics, said the move for closer integration is a fundamental change for the services.
In the past, it once was “let’s bring the Marines to the fight, we’ll drop them ashore, we’ll give them cover and then we’ll go back out and we’ll do the Navy’s business on the high seas,” he said. Now there “is an interdependency on each other really to build the capabilities for a fleet commander to have depth and width on the battlefield.”
And with growing threats around the world, including the Pacific, the move cannot come at a better time, he noted.
With China’s navy asserting controversial territorial claims in the Pacific, the United States no longer enjoys the same freedom of navigation that it once had, he said.
Speed is of the essence, Chiarotti said.
“This is something we need to do today because we’re already missing investment opportunities that are going to get us right for 2030,” he said. The service is currently working on the fiscal year 2022 budget. However, new equipment and weapons it funds will not be delivered until 2024, 2025 and 2026.
The sheer size of the Pacific also makes integration an imperative, Wise noted.
“Just from a physical aspect of how you’re going to get there from here, this has to happen,” he said. “It’s a necessity.” However, there will be challenges, particularly from a logistics point of view, Chiarotti noted.
Logistics is one of the hardest things to do in the military, he said during a panel discussion. The services will no longer be able to rely on the long logistical tail it needs to sustain the force because it won’t be able to bring that to a future fight with an advanced adversary, he added.
In Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. military had control of the air and seas which gave it an advantage, Chiarotti said. It would go so far as to load trans- port aircraft with basic construction materials.
“We were flying concrete and rock in the back of C-17s and C-5s because we could do that,” he said. “In tomorrow’s fight, you won’t be able to do that. So we’ve got to find a way ... [to] support these operations in a distributed maritime environment.”
Berger noted that closer integration will be beneficial in balancing the naval force. Today it is largely built for stand- off capabilities such as long-range fires. But there is also a need for “stand-in” forces, he said.
“This is the balanced force that the [chief of naval operations] and I are striving towards — a structure in the Navy and Marine Corps that provides depth all the way forward, all the way back,” Berger said. “Neither one of us believes that in great power competition you’re going to win that [fight] or successfully deter by standoff only.”
Berger noted that behavior from China over the past several years indicates that long-range fires are not enough.
“That doesn’t work against this adversary,” he said. “The farther you back away from China, [the more] they will move towards you.”
In Berger’s planning guidance, he said stand-in forces are designed to generate “technically disruptive, tactical stand-in engagements that confront aggressor naval forces with an array of low signature, affordable and risk-worthy platforms and payloads.”
Some of these technologies will exploit autonomy, advanced manufacturing and artificial intelligence, he said in the guidance. By doing so, “naval forces can create many new ... unmanned and minimally manned plat- forms that can be employed in stand-in engagements to create tactical dilemmas that adversaries will confront when attacking our allies and forces forward.”