MARINE CORPS NEWS
JUST IN: Marine Corps Resizing Infantry Battalions in Force Design Update
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The Marine Corps is changing the size and configuration of its infantry battalions based on experimentation conducted as part of the service’s annual update of Force Design 2030 — the Corps’ force restructuring plan established in 2019 — service officials said.
The Marine Corps released its 2023 update of Force Design 2030 on June 5, and the service’s Infantry Battalion Experimentation effort led to one of the biggest changes the Corps has seen in the past year, an increase in infantry battalion size, Lt. Gen. Karsten Heckl, deputy commandant for Combat, Development and Integration, told reporters during a June 2 preview of the update.
The experimentation efforts first began with the 2020 annual update, which directed additional live force experimentation that would generate formations more capable of distributed operations, the 2023 update read. The resulting effort, known as IBX, provided “a sound foundation to make informed decisions about the future of Marine infantry battalions.”
Phase 1 of IBX held 13 live-force experiments in environments ranging from Appalachian Mountain winters to Okinawan jungle summers, according to the 2023 update. The experiments demonstrated that a battalion of 735 Marines — the initial planning size — was not “operationally suitable.”
Dropping to the minimum of 735 “essentially broke the battalion,” Heckl said. “But that’s what we wanted. We found our far-left lateral limit.” Today, that number has been adjusted to 811 Marines, he added.
The bolstered infantry unit is “lighter, mobile, distributed, more lethal” and “expanding the definition of combined arms from … kinetics to multi-domain,” said Brig. Gen. Kyle Ellison, commanding general of the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab.
An infantryman for 30 years, Ellison said he could “only dream of having the capabilities we’re going to provide to these young men and women out there, and it’s exciting.”
Phase 2 of IBX is focused on a single unit, the 3rd Battalion, 4th Marines, or 3/4, “and it’s going to take us to the next level,” Heckl said.
The 2023 update indicated Phase 2 of IBX will be characterized by experiments “primarily focused on [command, control, communications, computing, cyber, intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and targeting], sustainment, sensing and lethality.”
Ellison called Phase 2 “the decisive phase of this experimentation.”
The 20-page update document included a review of the service’s activities over the last year and a look ahead on programs and systems including amphibious warfare ships, logistics, intelligent robotics and autonomous systems and industry challenges.
The fighting between Russia and Ukraine has shown autonomous systems are a “big part of the victory,” Ellison said. “Bottom line is we know we need to go into this realm.”
While the Corps has already entered the realm “significantly with experimentation,” the service needs to collate and tie everything across the entire Marine Corps and “get to decision-making at machine speed” and “automate” — not just fully autonomous systems, but a combination of automation and people, he said.
Much of the discussion surrounding robotic and autonomous systems is still “largely undefined,” Heckl said. “What is the robot doing? Is it moving logistics? Or does it kill things? If it kills things, now we’re into the whole moral discussion.”
There is much to be gained from robotics and autonomous systems, said Brig. Gen. Stephen Lightfoot, director of the Combat Development Directorate, but it will require coordination.
Relying on commanders of various regiments to “think together about what’s the right way to use the intelligence, robotics and autonomous systems” could potentially change the way they write requirements, he said. “What we don’t want is to have a whole bunch of disparate systems out there that everyone in their own lane figures out.”
The Force Design update included a litany of “issues requiring further analysis” regarding intelligent robotics and autonomous systems, including consideration of an occupational field and a strategy to integrate robotics specialties in the total force, as well as talent management strategy focused on recruiting and retaining qualified personnel.
“Formations across the total force must capitalize on technological advances to evolve from a ‘platform-centric’ to a ‘capability-centric’ approach, where intelligent robotics and autonomous systems are employed by trained specialists who contribute to all-domain operations,” it read.
The document also emphasized the importance of amphibious warships, calling them the “cornerstone of maritime crisis response,” and serving in the future as “motherships” for a variety of manned, unmanned and human-machine teamed systems.
Since 2019, three Department of the Navy studies confirmed a requirement for 28 to 31 L-class amphibious warfare ships and 35 landing ship mediums for maritime mobility, the update said. Recent readiness trends and projected ship availability rates demonstrated the need for “no fewer than 31 traditional L-class ships to ensure warfighting readiness and global responsiveness of amphibious naval forces.”
However, as National Defense has previously reported, the Navy and Marine Corps have been at odds over the procurement of amphibious ships, with the Navy expressing reservations about the landing ship medium’s survivability and Marines saying the vessels are an essential need.
“We have to get our amphibious fleet healthy again,” Heckl said. “We are the preeminent crisis response force. And that is directly a function of amphib availability. If I say ‘accelerate,’ the one thing on my mind more than anything else is amphibs.”
Recapping the status of Force Design 2030, Heckl said the Corps is accelerating, but it remains a journey, not a destination. The Corps is “fielding things,” experimenting, iterating and “failing as fast as we can,” Heckl said. “So, I’m super excited about where we are.”
The Corps has also learned what they don’t need to change, Ellison added. “It’s not only about change, it’s about understanding what our strengths are … who we are as an institution and what we demand of our Marines. And so, as we learn, we’re also reinforced in who we are and what we stand for. And I think that’s a powerful message.”
Topics: Marine Corps News