JUST IN: Marine Corps’ Littoral Capabilities are Lagging, Berger Says

By Josh Luckenbaugh

Textron Systems photo

WASHINGTON, D.C. — In his final speech to a Modern Day Marine conference as Marine Corps Commandant, Gen. David Berger emphasized a topic he’s been messaging for months: the service’s need for increased littoral capabilities.

Specifically, the Marine Corps needs to “catch up on” Ship-To-Shore Connectors, said Berger, whose term as commandant will end in July, on June 27 during his keynote address at the conference.

“We’re behind, we got to move much faster,” Berger said of the connector program. “We lost time up front; we have to be able to make up that time.”

According to USNI News, the first connector was supposed to be delivered to the service by manufacturer Textron Systems in 2017, with initial operating capability achieved in 2020. However, after a series of delays the first connector was not delivered until 2020, and the Marine Corps now plans to reach initial operating capability sometime this year, according to the Government Accountability Office’s assessment of the program.

The Marine Corps also needs more unmanned surface and subsurface craft, he said. For fiscal year 2024, the Department of the Navy is requesting $379.5 million in research-and-development funding for unmanned surface vehicles, and $283.7 million for unmanned undersea vehicles, according to department budget documents.

Berger said the Marine Corps can utilize autonomous systems “from the pre-assault all the way through … the sustainment” during littoral, amphibious operations.

Pre-landing, unmanned craft can perform intelligence-gathering missions such as hydrographic, meteorological and inland surveys, he said. There are two reasons to the Marine Corps needs to increase unmanned capabilities, he said. “One, why put a human there if a machine can do just the same? And two, you can generate a lot more tempo, cover a lot more territory if you’re combined unmanned and manned.”

Unmanned systems should also help in the transition of units and equipment from ships to the shoreline, he said. Otherwise, the Marine Corps would be “stuck” with manned connectors “cycling back and forth, back and forth, back and forth,” he said.

“If that’s your limiting factor, how can you augment that with unmanned craft?” he said. “How can you triple … the volume of equipment and the space that you can do it in using unmanned?”

Additionally, unmanned aircraft teamed with manned systems could potentially provide overhead cover and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, Berger added.

“How much of that do you need to fly ashore, and does it need to be a [CH-53K King Stallion helicopter] only, or can we use unmanned rotary wing aircraft to move supplies and equipment?” he said.

The Marine Corps is currently sorting through how to do reconnaissance missions in a multi-domain environment, Berger said.

“The traditional ground reconnaissance, which I grew up in, and airborne reconnaissance and reconnaissance over the water or under the water can’t be three separate units, not to do what we have to do,” he said. “Right now, all three [Marine Expeditionary Forces] are working on multi-domain reconnaissance.”

It’s unclear how this could affect which platforms the Marine Corps ultimately acquires and fields, but it will be “some combination of vessels, aircraft and vehicles,” he said. “That's what we have to sort out over the next couple of years, but it's not just one of them … it's clear to us that capability has to be all three: aviation, ground and some kind of vessels, some kind of craft — probably a hybrid of manned and unmanned.”

The Marine Corps has “lots to learn” about using unmanned systems for littoral missions, he said. “We don’t know where it leads us, but the potential’s there.”


Topics: Marine Corps News

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