by Maj Brian Kerg

As a smarter colleague often tells me, this is a great time to be a Marine! The CPG signals a lot of positive change. I welcome the challenge to respond to the CMC’s latest guidance and hope many others join in to create a much needed dialogue on the changes to come.

This will be the first of several posts. In the spirit of making my thoughts digestible and avoid an overtly lengthy post, I’ll respond to each idea piecemeal. If any readers would prefer to continue a dialogue offline, please do contact me directly.

To begin:

“The Marine Air-Ground Task Force (MAGTF) cannot be our only solution for all crises. Instead, we are defined by our collective character as Marines and by fulfilling our Service roles and functions prescribed by Congress.”

I would challenge us to go a step farther and say that the MAGTF cannot be our primary solution for all crises. At this point, we have become as reliant on the MAGTF as a construct as the Army has historically been reliant on the Brigade Combat Team (BCT). That is, we rarely think/plan to send in anything less than a MAGTF in response to any contingency. Whether the solution could be solved with a team of hand-selected SME’s or a force package that is as small as a company, our default reaction is to assemble an entire MAGTF and hurl it at the problem.

Shouldn’t we simply tailor the package to the problem? The primary principle of the MAGTF’s utility is that it can be tailored to the mission, but we are now beholden to the MAGTF construct and are afraid to break with it. We should be more agile than the Army, and we won’t be as long as we are married to the MAGTF as our primary response option. To this point, current, ‘regular’ SP-MAGTF rotations are not even a requirement for any given mission, but appear to largely be a byproduct of PP&O advocacy. How many combatant commanders have leveraged these SP-MAGTF’s in response to real world missions? Would they be more inclined to ask for Marines if we did not respond with, ‘you get the entire SP-MAGTF or you get nothing’? If the combatant commander only needs a rifle platoon, can’t we just give him a rifle platoon? The danger here is that the Army may very well become more responsive than the Marine Corps, and the President’s or the Combatant Commander’s first thought may very well be, ‘Send in the Army’. This is in no way a knock on the capabilities of the Army, but if the Army can do what the Marine Corps is supposed to do, why maintain a Marine Corps?

There is certainly utility in the MAGTF, but the second line of the above statement from the CPG should drive force design, generation, and planning. Let us tailor the force to the mission, rather than trying to squeeze a MAGTF into every mission-sized hole.

“The focal point of the future integrated naval force will shift from traditional power projection to meet the new challenges associated with maintaining persistent naval forward presence to enable sea control and denial operations.”

Presently, we spend a lot of resources rotating Marines on Unit Deployment Programs (UDP) and similar deployments that don’t meet this intent. Yes, putting more Marines on Okinawa gives them the chance to deploy and learn a thing or two about the III MEF AOR, but this doesn’t reinforce sea control/sea denial.

To better meet the CPG’s intent of naval integration, why not think of the UDP and similar deployments as an Expeditionary Advanced Base (EAB) Deployment, or as a Dynamic Force Employment (DFE) Program?

That is, for an EAB Deployment, put Marines in either expeditionary locations inside a potential adversary’s threat envelope, where they can rehearse capabilities that provide this sea control/sea denial? Alternatively, for a DFE program, put Marines in not necessarily expeditionary locations, but in locations that are inside the threat envelope, where they could be rapidly shifted in purpose to provide sea control/sea denial?

This would not necessarily require an abandonment of the UDP, but simply repurpose/re-aim the UDP. Don’t just dump Marines on Oki and hope to God and Chesty Puller that they can lock on meaningful range time, or against all odds get their artillery over to Fuji to pull off some fire missions. Put them somewhere and employ them in a way that directly meets this goal of the CPG, which in turn meets the goals of the NDS.

Finally, these deployments could be used in a meaningful way to respond to hostility in the Pacific. Presently, we respond to aggression or sharp power in the INDO-PACOM AOR by doing freedom of navigation ops. This doesn’t stop the Chinese from continuing to lean on other states in the region, or stop them from building artificial islands, or to otherwise act in ways that are harmful to international norms, the free flow of markets, etc. They would be checked much more meaningfully by a EAB deployment or a DFE deployment that provides the US and our allies with sea control/denial in response to such actions. The regular exercise of such capabilities would also better prepare the force to do it for real should they be called upon to do so.

“Reinvigorating the FMF can be accomplished by assigning more Marine Corps forces to the Fleet, putting Marine Corps experts in the fleet Maritime Operations Centers, and also by shifting emphasis in our training, education, and supporting establishment activities.”

Presently, there are a handful of Marine officers attached to both US Fleet Forces Command (USFFC) and US Pacific Fleet (PACFLT), and to other naval headquarters. Low hanging fruit to support the above intent is to make these Marines available for use in the MOC at key times, or to become more integrated in MOC activities so they can surge the MOC when necessary to better support Fleet operations.

As an example, I have just been attached to USFFC as part of a waterfront support memorandum between MARFORCOM/US Fleet Forces Command, and work as the Fleet Amphibious Communications Officer in the USFFC N6. I literally work in the same building as the USFFC MOC. I inject myself into MOC activities only through personal initiative and because my leadership gives me the freedom to do so. This function, to support the above, shouldn’t be incidental or personality driven, but can be directive and permanent so naval integration at this level becomes habitual. This could be forced through direction from HQMC. USFFC/PACFLT could balance the injection of Marines currently assigned to them into their MOCs, while also juggling their primary billets, under the cognizance of the respective Fleet Marine Officer (FMO) assigned to each fleet. FMO’s could assess the impact of MOC involvement on each individual billet and weight the effort accordingly.

Alternatively, some billets could be restructured to divest USFFC/USPACFLT of the current billets, but provide a 1-for-1 swap of billets in the MOC. I.e., lose an officer in a functional area, but attach them to the MOC. Assessment of impact by the current billet holders, their current leadership, and the FMO can help in discussions for such restructuring. Such restructuring may not be appropriate in all instances, but it could be in some, and even one Marine SME in each MOC will provide incredible potential for naval integration of the Marine Corps into fleet operations.