This blog is for Communication among Marines and people interested in the Marines. The 10 is for Communications. The Photo above is Marble Mountain, Danang, Vietnam.

Jun 14, 2013

How The Marines Plan To Win Washington's Budget Wars
June 11, 2013

How The Marines Plan To Win Washington's Budget Wars By Loren Thompson

Washington -- Life in the Pentagon has become an endless round of budget-cutting exercises, and some military leaders are becoming despondent about the prospects for preserving core capabilities. Not the Marines. They view the bureaucratic chaos spawned by deficit reduction and shifting strategic priorities as an opportunity to prove the enduring value of sea-based expeditionary forces.

Over the last few months I've talked to several senior Marines, and the picture that emerges is of an organization that is downright eager to tell its story to policymakers. The Marines aren't naive about what happens when wars end - they've been through similar periods a dozen times since the Corps was founded in 1775 - but they think the capabilities their service contributes to the joint warfighting portfolio are so useful and inexpensive that they are bound to win the battle for future funding.

The core of the Marine message comes down to what might be called the "Three R's" of military merit - relevance, readiness and realism. You can capture the flavor of their thinking by perusing a document titled "True North: Marines in Defense of the Nation" that appears on the homepage of the service's web-site. It's organized like the Bill of Rights, laying out ten concise reasons why the Marine Corps is versatile and cost-effective - the "Swiss Army knife" of the joint force, as they like to put it.

Despite their legendary directness, though, the Marines sometimes fall into the same kind of jargon-laden language that plagues the other services. When you spend every  waking hour planning for and executing military missions, it's easy to lose sight of the fact that most Americans lack a frame of reference for understanding how warfighting professionals use terms like "asymmetric" and "expeditionary." So what I'd like to do here is translate the Marine story into the most basic terms, sticking with the "Three R's" framework.

Relevance. Marine leaders believe that their service's core competencies are perfectly aligned with the nation's emerging military strategy, which entails increased emphasis on the Western Pacific, continued presence in the Middle East, and a modest footprint everywhere else. As a sea based force, the Marines are able to remain forward deployed in any region around the world without needing access to bases ashore. That's a claim the Army can't make, and it matters a lot in a world where future threats are hard to predict.

The basic building block of the Corps' organization is the Marine Expeditionary Unit, a force of 2,200 warfighters carried on three-ship "amphibious ready groups" that possesses all the aircraft, ground equipment, logistics and command elements needed to respond quickly to crises. Most of the world's population lives near the sea, but with aircraft like the MV-22 Osprey rotorcraft, Marines can get far inland fast if necessary, and then land pretty much anywhere they want.

An expeditionary force can be scaled up or down easily depending on the mission, as can the degree of force it employs. As one briefing puts it, a Marine Expeditionary Unit can knock politely on a littoral nation's door when diplomacy is required, or it can pick the lock with special-operations skills, or it can simply kick the door in if quick access is needed. Other countries know this, making the forward presence of Marines a potent deterrent for aggressors and a source of comfort for friendly nations.

Readiness. Marines see themselves as the nation's first responders, the force that will be "most ready when the nation is least ready." Like the other services, they are straining to preserve force structure as overseas wars wind
down, but they emphasize that whatever size the Marine Corps ends up being when the smoke clears, it will be in a uniformly high state of readiness. As one Marine general put it to me, "we will not sacrifice readiness for force structure." In other words, the Corps would rather be small and ready than big and unprepared for combat.

The importance of readiness is stressed by the institutional culture of the Corps, which requires that every Marine be a rifleman and every officer be capable of leading a platoon. Readiness is also built into the way that combat units are organized and distributed. Marine Expeditionary Units are
continuously deployed along with pre-positioned combat equipment in Northeast Asia, Southwest Asia and the Mediterranean Sea, and are capable of quickly assembling or disassembling based on the challenges they face.

A case in point is provided by the recent deployment of the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit to seas around the Arabian Peninsula. Upon arriving, the three warships in its Amphibious Ready Group split up, with the larger helicopter and jumpjet carrier heading for the Gulf of Aden in case it was needed to evacuate nearby embassies while the smaller warships headed into the Persian Gulf to participate in training exercises with allies. If a major contingency had arisen, the warships could have reassembled and responded quickly anywhere from Kenya to Karachi.

Realism. Marines are realists about human nature, whether that nature is manifested in the behavior of other countries or other military services. They aren't impressed with sweeping abstractions like "military transformation," and they understand the enemy gets a vote in any war plan. So their strategy for prevailing in Washington's budget wars begins with a hard-headed analysis of what the other players want, and how the Marine Corps should leverage the limited political capital at its disposal.

That's one reason why the Corps gave up on a pricey replacement for its 1970s-era amphibious assault vehicle, and wants to start over with a more affordable solution. It desperately needs a faster, more survivable way of getting from ship to shore, but when the time came to make a choice several years back, Marine leaders decided it was more sensible to invest fiscal and political resources in the agility provided by the MV-22 tilt-rotor and the F-35B successor to the Harrier jumpjet. Now they are gearing up to make the case for a new and improved amphibious "tractor."

Hardheaded realism also explains why the Marines avoid public fights with the Navy, despite disagreements over the number of amphibious warships needed. Whatever divergence there may be in Navy and Marine priorities, Marine leaders recognize that they must present a united front in budget deliberations.

Fortunately for the Marines, the nation seems to have entered a period in which fiscal and geopolitical realities align nicely with what the Corps wants. The service's core competency of influencing events ashore from the sea, whether through deterrence or swift defeat of adversaries, is well-suited to the needs of a nation that wants to keep the peace in places like Africa and the Middle East without having a prolonged presence on the ground. For less than a tenth of the defense budget, the Marines deliver versatility and value other services cannot.

That could make the Marine Corps one of the few winners as the military 
downsizes for an era of limited intervention and uneven peace.

Thanks to Ron Wozniak for sending this to us.  I would add one other measure that the Marine Corps should produce and tell people about.  We provide one rifleman at a lower cost than does the Army. We provide one jet bomber at a lower cost than the Air Force or Navy. And we provide a helicopter at lower cost than the Army. We do this in part because we are smaller, with lower overhead and smaller command groups.  And because we are lean and mean and younger.  The Marine Corps should produce those numbers and make sure that Congress knows them.

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