December 4, 2012

Is the USMC an unaffordable luxury for the 21st century?

Filed under: Military, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 08:52

In Time, Douglas Macgregor does his level best to persuade readers that the US Marine Corps is something the Obama administration could easily cut from the budget:

The Marines as currently organized and equipped are about as relevant as the Army’s horse cavalry in the 1930s and the Marines are not alone. They have company in the Army’s XVIII Airborne Corps.

But, first, let’s examine the Marines.

In truth, the Marines have a low-end warfare niche, but a very small one for extremely limited and unusual types of operations.

[. . .]

The capability to come ashore where the enemy is not present, then, move quickly with sustainable combat power great distances over land to operational objectives in the interior, is essential. The Marines cannot do it in any strategic setting where the opponent is capable (neither can the XVIII Airborne Corps!).

The Marines cannot confront or defeat armored forces or heavy weapons in the hands of capable opponents. Nor can the Marines hold any contested battle space for more than a very short amount of time, after which the Marine raid or short stay ashore is completed.

Adding vertical-and/or-short-takeoff-landing (V/STOL) aircraft like the F-35B, to compensate for the lack of staying power and mobility on the ground is not an answer, particularly given the severe limitations of VSTOL aircraft, and the proliferation of tactical and operational air defense technology in places that count.

The real question is how much Marine Corps do Americans need? The answer is not the 200,000 Marines we have today.


  1. I was told – granted a very long time ago – that there will always be a Marine Corps.

    Not because they are so very, very, kick-ass. But because the Marines can field a grunt for a lot less than the army can.

    Comment by Brian Dunbar — December 4, 2012 @ 17:37

  2. Every decade or so some genius gets this idea, and it is routinely shot down; the last time I recall it being floated was during the Clinton era. I think the basic reality is that the USMC is the closest thing DoD has to a truly “purple” force (i.e. fully joint—air, land and sea assets working together in harmony). And as much as all the services like to say that they sing from the purple playbook, they simply don’t train for the kind of environments that Marines routinely find themselves in. Nor do they like to subordinate their own goals and objectives to the requirements of the ground force.

    Not even supposedly unified forces like our own CF can pull off a combined arms penetration like the USMC can; ask a RCAF fighter jock how many hours he logs flying CAP for transiting RCN surface action groups, then striking zero-day targets on and behind the beachhead, as well as performing CAS for the assault wave on the beach. Typically when we have purple exercises on the coasts, it’s maritime patrol aircraft and not pointy-nosed fighters that are the blue players.

    The Marines have a great mythos and there’s a whole lot of Hollywood-enhanced hooey accepted as fact, but at the end of the day they perform their mission with a degree of focus and economy that would be impossible from the blue-green-white team.

    Comment by Chris Taylor — December 4, 2012 @ 20:49

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