Over at the Marine Corps Gazette blog, Capt Brett “King of Battle” Friedman, pens an insightful piece using current U.S. operations in Yemen as a model for the future of the Marine Corps.
In essence, Friedman is advocating a future for the Marine Corps very much in line with what the Commandant has been saying since he published his planning guidance in Fall 2010.
In the Commandant’s words, the Marine Corps is “[A] middleweight force, we are light enough to get there quickly, but heavy enough to carry the day upon arrival, and capable of operating independent of local infrastructure.”
Friedman believes that Marine operations of the future will look very much like Marine operations of the early 20th century.
A low number of ground troops, allied with a local government (or some other type of organisation) will advise and fight alongside indigenous security forces against irregular enemies while being supported by naval and aerial assets. The gear we will use in these operations may be different, but the outline of the operations could have been cut and pasted from Nicaragua in 1912, Haiti in 1915, or the Dominican Republic in 1916.
He offers the Marine Corps three recommendations to ensure it is ready to execute these missions and firmly positioning itself as a “middleweight force,” but his last recommendation is the one I want to explore further.
3) Send in the People Other than Grunts (POGs)
If future wars do indeed resemble current operations in Yemen and Special Operations Forces (SOF) forces are already on the ground with indigenous infantry forces, infantry Marines very well may be the least likely Marines to go ashore. There are already enough shooters on the ground in Yemen but in a pinch, SOF or allies may need fire support, supplies, mechanics, Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD), combat engineers, or any of the numerous other capabilities that a Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) can provide. For example, a planned Yemeni assault could be support by an Expeditionary Fire Support System (EFSS) battery with an attached EOD platoon lifted onshore specifically for the assault and returned to ship afterwards. No grunts required.
The idea that only the grunts will engage in ground combat has been an ill-informed fantasy for decades, and it’s time we truly live up to the “Every Marine a rifleman” ideal. Frankly, the two-weeks of combat training every non-infantry Marine gets at Marine Combat Training (MCT) should have been expanded a long time ago and there’s no time like the present. We are already re-evaluating combat training for the Women in Service Review program and may as well look at the possibility of at least doubling the time spent at MCT.
Additionally, the disruption to the training pipeline that this will cause will be easier to accomplish once the Marine Corps has finished contracting somewhere around 2017. Critical enablers that the MEU possesses can be better utilized if each Marine unit is more capable of operating independently on the ground with only joint or allied forces.
America’s advisory effort in Iraq was comprehensive. That’s an understatement. The United States literally built an army from the ground up. Initial efforts were by necessity directed at ensuring the Iraqi army could fight by emphasising individual and small unit tactics. A lot of effort was spent teaching soldiers how to properly Batttlesight Zeroing (BZO) their rifles and procedures for clearing a house. As the Iraqi army grew in size and security improved, advisory efforts shifted to sustainment, ensuring the Iraqis could supply themselves and fix their own Humvees.
I don’t want to say that making the Iraqi logistics system function and getting the Iraqis to use that system was harder than teaching them how to fight and engaging in combat operations alongside them, but it was harder. Much harder. A couple of factors made sustainment a difficult proposition. First, making a system function required focused effort at multiple levels of command. Advisors from the battalion to the Ministry of defence had to coordinate their efforts.
Given the rate of turnover, the fact that advisors were from different services, and an opaque advisor chain of command, this was not an easy task. Second, the Iraqis were accustomed to getting what they wanted from the Americans. The U.S. may have given an Iraqi division 300 Humvees and told the division commander to distribute them to his brigades, but that doesn’t mean it actually happened. Often times, it didn’t.
Grunts weren’t the ones making the Iraqi logistics system work. And they weren’t the ones training Iraqi jundee to fix Humvees. It took a lot of logistics specialists, mechanics, and motor transport operators.
While Friedman is quite right that we will likely not engage in advisory missions on the scale of Iraq or Afghanistan for the foreseeable future, combat support and combat service support Marines or soldiers are a vital component of any security force assistance mission. That’s because the majority of security force assistance missions are to countries not gripped by civil strife or conflict.
The United States has teams of advisors deployed across the world engaging in SFA [Security Force Assistance] with the intent of improving partner capability and capacity. These SFA missions do not always focus on infantry tactics. Advisor teams partner with a host nation military to improve intelligence operations. Or they teach best practices for maintenance or communications.
Grunts can do these jobs, but they’ll be better done by troops who are specifically trained in those specialties. And the U.S. will be better served having partner militaries that are proficient across all six war fighting functions.
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