SGT Jaon D. Grose
March 10, 1997
With the death gasp of the Cold War earlier this decade, everything
changed. No longer does the United States have an “evil empire”
to defend against. The break up of the Soviet Union marks a true
turning point for how we as Americans prepare for and engage in
war. With this monumental change comes our own revolution and
renovation of mission structure to fill the gap left by the old
superpower vs. superpower environment. Because change spurns more
change, the old weapon systems and technologies are no longer
able to support the new missions. As a result, a new generation
of hardware is necessary to accomplish what Marines have always
done: accomplish any given mission. The Marine Corps was not totally
taken aback by the changes because the very nature of the Marines
is a force in readiness. Regardless, some change was due and true
to its history, the Marine Corps’ latest changes started at the
The current Commandant, General Charles C. Krulak, is considered
by friend and foe alike as a forward-looking visionary. On the
day he took office, he introduced The 31st Commandant’s Planning
Guidance which describes what he sees as the future of the Marine
Corps. Within this document, General Krulak describes what needs
to change and how those changes should be developed. Basically,
he came up with Sea Dragon which is a series of advanced-concepts
experiments conducted in his newly formed Commandant’s Warfighting
Laboratory (Damren, 30). Although General Krulak is looking at
the future battlefields and the Marines that will have to fight
on them in the 21st century, many stumbling blocks lie ahead.
In an organization built on tradition, the overhaul of formerly
successful strategies and tactics does not sit well with many
warriors. Additionally, budget constraints hamper funds being
diverted to future technologies when current systems are in such
great need of attention. The shortsightedness of this situation
is not lost on the Commandant.
General Krulak’s vision, in his own words, is “...the lance corporal
... is going to have technology applied to him as a warrior. That
he is going to have operational concepts that take advantage of
technology, take advantage of new training and education that
is equipping him. [It’s all about] equipping the warrior versus
having the lance corporal man the equipment” (Lawson, 13). Armed
with this vision, the Marine Corps must evolve with its surroundings.
What do we do now that we no longer have an arch enemy? Following
the trend set after both World Wars, the political answer is scale
down the military now that it is no longer in such high demand.
We can all now hold hands and revel in the New World Order, right?
Wrong. There are still missions to cover, different missions,
but nevertheless, important missions.
It does not take a political analyst to see that the break-up
of one of the largest countries ever known to mankind results
in many smaller, disorganized, and hostile offshoots whose borders
are on a first-come first-kill basis. Examples of such splinter
countries that might eventually become hallowed names within the
Marine Corps include Georgia, Ukraine, Moldova, and Armenia.
Consider the point of view of such small countries that see the
demilitarization of one superpower and the scale down of the other.
For these countries that have been waiting for years under the
fear of massive military retaliation if they step out of line,
the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the softening of the
United States affords them an opportunity a generation in the
A good example is a little desert get-together called the Gulf
War. This local conflict with international repercussions erupted
in 1990, causing the American war machine to kick into high gear.
Here we see into the crystal ball of our military future. No longer
can we prepare solely for large scale, sweeping world wars reminiscent
of WWII. From here until further notice, we have to prepare for
the smaller engagements. These engagements, as I will call them,
need not even be traditional “gloves off” diplomacy. They include
escalation control, security and humanitarian missions, and United
Nations sponsored engagements. These are the types of missions
we will see in the future.
One central theme to all of these types of missions is time. The
speed at which a force can interdict in a situation defines the
power it will posses within that situation. This universal combination,
speed with power, makes the Marine Corps’ MAGTF organization specially
suited for all of these missions. It just so happens the world
affairs caught up with the way we do things. With a little tweaking
to its concept, the Marine Corps can cope with the new global
The Marines’ secret is the forward deployment concept adopted
by the Marine Corps. Because the MAGTF structure provides versatility
and reliability in such a small package, Marines in such a formation
can provide a powerful punch, or the threat of one, within a small
time frame. By having Marine units deployed on ships and on overseas
bases near hot spots all around the world, small conflicts can
be taken care of while they are still small, potential conflicts
can be cut off through the presence of American power, and large
conflicts can be contained until more power can be applied from
bases or ships further away. The Marines can provide all of these
missions but the best fight is the one they never have to actually
engage in. If they can either scare the enemy into submission
or stunt aggression when it is forming, the reward is success
with minimal human cost on both sides. And this is not limited
to one engagement at a time. Just because a major conflict is
happening in one place in the world does not mean that evolving
conflicts elsewhere do not need attention. If ignored, these neglected
conflicts would escalate requiring more Marines than if it was
nipped in the bud.
Take for example the Gulf War. While 97,000 Marines were deployed
to the Middle East, the Marines also provided the mainstay in
crisis response in Liberia, Mogadishu, Bangladesh, Northern Iraq,
and the Philippines (Linn, 17). Most of these missions were examples
of humanitarian relief. When a typhoon hit Bangladesh, the Marines
were called in to help the survivors and clean up the dead. When
a volcano erupted in the Philippines, the Marines were called
in to evacuate Americans stationed there. When the Kurdish people
were forced into the mountains of Northern Iraq, Marines were
called in to help them survive. And when chaos ruled in Somalia
resulting in violence and disarray, Marines were called in to
restore peace so that relief supplies could be brought in.
Why were Marines picked in these examples? It comes back to the
facts that they are always present, can react quickly, and are
flexible to carry out any mission given to them. This is why they
were called upon and it is why they will be continued to be called
upon in the future. Ever since the colonial days, America has
known that when the Marines land, the situation is well in hand.
Non-combative roles aside, the original concept of a Marine Corps
as the premier fighting force in the world is still the Corps’
main mission. To keep the sword sharp, new technologies must be
introduced. You can’t fight a tank with a horse. Ask Poland. But
you also can’t expect the missions to change without changing
the hardware needed to successfully accomplish them. Two things
happened recently that sent the Marine Corps in a tailspin when
it came to the equipment they use. As mentioned above, the demise
of the Cold War changed the rules about warfighting. With new
rules comes the need for new toys to bring to the fight. Second,
the useful life of some of the Marine Corps’ tried-and-true systems
went from glaringly outdated to galactically outdated. By combining
these two events you get a real need to update the Marine Corps
arsenal and ironically, at a time when defense dollars earmarked
for the Marine Corps are about as common as ice cream parlors
in Hell. But there are a few systems that the Marine Corps sees
as the future warrior’s tools of trade.
The old Vietnam-era CH46 helicopters have been the medium-lift
workhorse for the Marine Corps for over five decades. But after
numerous conflicts and countless training cycles, the old horse
is ready for the glue factory. The Marine Corps is hoping that
the V22 Osprey is the young buck to take its place.
The Osprey, a vertical takeoff turboprop that can also fly as
a normal fixed-wing aircraft, is intended to move Marines faster
and farther than conventional helos. With a top speed of 460 kph
and a range of 1000 km (3900 km ferry range), it can carry 24
troops or three tons of cargo and even handle external loads.
Because the Osprey can be deployed world-wide on short notice,
the Marine Corps ordered approximately 900 of these versatile
aircraft for transport and rescue missions.
But the Osprey is not without its problems. With a price tag more
than twice the cost of current helos, the need for the Osprey
in a time of serious budget cuts is in serious question by the
current money conscience bureaucracy. So why the gamble? Because
along with its problems, the V22 fits the bill when it comes to
vertical envelopment, a mission formerly held by the CH-46. With
its long range and quick speed, the Osprey can perform Over The
Horizon (OTH) operations, meaning that it can come in fast and
hard which limits the forewarning and therefore the defensive
reactions of an enemy.
The Marine Corps should have already had these birds but with
setbacks in the 1980’s involving two prototype crashes, the Secretary
of Defense canceled the entire order in 1989. The Clinton administration
revived the program but procurement is slow and General Krulak
is worried that the planned procurement rate will interfere with
the next big-ticket item, the Joint Strike Fighter (Clancy, 148).
If it lives up to its reputation, the Osprey will provide Marines
with the medium-lift capability together with speed and long range.
These factors fit neatly within the new missions involving small,
limited engagements in far-off lands. With its shipboard capability,
the Osprey can be used by the forward deployed units enabling
quick response time during a crisis. The Osprey will help Marines
succeed in war but will not eliminate future conflicts completely.
Another technological development, nonlethal weapons, is viewed
by some as a promising way to humanitize the battlefield.
War is ugly. You try to dress it up and even try to romanticize
it, but the fact remains that the one thing that has not changed
over the evolution of man, much less in modern times, is the ugliness
of war. Some people think that with advanced technology comes
increased civilization. They map these two concepts together until
the public actually believes that even war can be sanitized and
that messy engagements are a thing of the past. With the introduction
of nonlethal weapons, the public sees a promise of just such a
scenario. Draft DOD directive of June 26, 1995, states that nonlethal
weapons such as sticky foam, anti-traction agents, and pepper
spray are “explicitly designed and employed so as to incapacitate
personnel or material, while minimizing fatalities and undesired
damage to property and the environment” (Stanton, 59). But are
these the weapons of a future Marine Corps?
For domestic riots and other low-intensity conflicts, these weapons
could have a purpose. But a battlefield where lethal weapons are
being used introduces a very different set of circumstances. First,
using nonlethal weapons does not obligate your enemy to use them.
Second, leaving an enemy soldier incapacitated for a short time,
say in sticky goo, does not take him out of the war. He will return
to fight again and next time might not be stopped. The alternative
to him getting away alive is to leave him to dehydrate, starve,
or lie as vulnerable prey to any indigenous beast ready for a
free meal. Third, as Lieutenant Colonel Stanton points out, the
boomerang effect of having our own technology used against us
is a real concern (Stanton, 60). It does not seem that any enemy
the Marines might fight soon would stop at nonlethal incapacitation.
More likely substances such as the sticky goo or the super lubricants
would turn into a non-mobility weapon combined with an NBC attack.
The bottom line remains that war is dirty. It will always be dirty.
To expect two sides to agree to nonlethal weapons is preposterous.
If they could agree to something so civil, they probably would
not be fighting in the first place. The interest in non lethal
weapons is a knee-jerk reaction to make the public more comfortable
with what Marines do. The time, effort, and money used on such
research could be better used on more practical weapon systems
for the future battlefield.
So what is the overall future of the Marine Corps? According to
General Krulak, it is to increase training for the dwindling numbers
of Marines allowed to serve and let technology pick up the slack
so that one future Marine can do the work of ten “Old Corps” Marines.
On the mission level, the Marine Corps is looking at smaller engagements
from more technologically primitive enemies whose technology gap
is dwindling every year. The Corps will also see more non-combative
roles such as humanitarian relief for the simple reason that Marines
have proven themselves experts through experience and their MAGTF
organization is configured to accomplish such missions effectively.
The tools we use to accomplish the above missions will also change.
With the Commandant’s Warfighting Lab and the paltry government
dollars allotted to the Marine Corps, the Marines will decide
for themselves what they need. What they can’t make or afford
themselves, they will borrow from the other services. With the
Osprey as but one example, replacing outdated equipment will be
of the highest priority. Hopefully, the innovators in Quantico
will not be led down the wrong path and invest precious resources
into politically-driven technologies such as non-lethal weapons.
The above assessment might appear to paint a precarious situation.
Aspects such as low budget numbers, outdated equipment, shoestring
inventions, evolving missions, and high commitment expectations
with decreasing force strength all might seem overwhelming. But
consider that just such a situation existed earlier in this century
and out of the ashes came a series of amphibious victories that
crushed the Japanese in the Pacific during World War II. It is
truly amazing what a few Marines can accomplish despite the odds
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