Marine Raiders and the Stand-In ForcePosted on December 15,2022
Article Date 01/01/2023
MARSOF in the littorals
>Mr. Hecht is a retired Critical Skills Operator who served in a variety of Special Operations and Infantry assignments over a 30-year career. His deployments include combat operations in Somalia, Iraq and Afghanistan. As a civilian, he currently serves as a MARSOC Futures Force Design Analyst with Booz Allen and Hamilton.
Marine Raiders are connectors and that can help the Marine Corps to achieve its objectives in the littorals. The littoral space requires unique capabilities, and the force of choice must understand the littoral battlespace as an environment. Marine Raiders have been forward deployed in the littorals in places like the Philippines since 2007 building relationships with host-nation forces and conducting advise and assist missions.1 The Philippines is just one example of Marine Raiders conducting littoral irregular warfare (L-IW) across the domains, connecting with partner-nation forces, and building relationships with other governmental agencies. This type of unique placement and access allows Marine Raider elements, in concert with partner-nation forces, to provide situational awareness, information, and sustainment options for follow on Marine Corps Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations (EABO) forces.
Understanding the Littoral Operating Environment
The littorals are divided into two zones. The seaward zone is that area from the open ocean to the shore that must be controlled to support operations ashore.2 The landward portion is the area inland from the shore that can be supported and defended directly from the sea. Modern warfare and technology have created a blending of seabased operations and landbased operations that creates the case for a separate littoral domain. The ability to ascertain operations at sea from land within the littorals has become untenable. Distinguishing an operating environment from a domain is difficult. Regardless, the littorals are unique, complex, and rapidly developing in both size of population and economic importance globally. For the purpose of this article, the littorals are defined as an operating environment within the maritime domain.
The littoral environment is characterized by specific features that increase the complexity of conducting IW operations: congested urban communities, high-volume commercial commerce, foreign influence, transient populations, porous borders, multi-cultural and high-volume traffic. Littoral maritime vessels include military, civilian, and commercial vessels. Consistent key terrain within the littorals are seaports, airports, hospitals, power grids, bridges, and critical communication infrastructure. Additionally, littoral regions are susceptible to reoccurring natural disasters such as earthquakes, tsunamis, tidal waves, erosion, landslides, and sea-level rise. Economic exclusion zones make the littorals susceptible to economic instability and black-market influences. These littoral characteristics impact the stability of both the population and economics, making them susceptible to influence and shaping operations and prime areas for L-IW operations. Three key features and considerations within the littorals stand out as consistently unique regardless of location: socio-economic instability, natural disasters, and maritime traffic and ports.
Socio-economic instability is a reoccurring feature with the littorals as populations surge and natural disasters occur. Ninety-five percent of the world’s population lives within 600 miles of a coastline and sixty percent of the world’s important political urban areas are within sixty miles of a coast.3 Combine those statistics with approximately eighty percent of the world’s country capitals located within the littorals and you create a mixing pot for the majority of global economic influences and human interactions. These influences create uncertainty and ever-changing political influences that diminish security and economic well-being for large population groups. The political promise of security, economic well-being, and a positive future becomes easily clouded with doubt, frustration, and fear. This environment is then ripe for adversary opportunities to exploit uncertainty and influence foreign agendas. Marine special operation forces consistently engages and develops select partners to stabilize regions and counter these malign influence elements in the protection of U.S. interests.
The littorals are consistently susceptible to natural disasters. Specifically, most of the Pacific island countries are located within the hurricane/typhoon belt and geographically located near tectonic boundaries. Named the “Ring of Fire” the Pacific Ocean is made up of 450 volcanoes that are the results of plate tectonics.4 It is not a question of if, but rather a question of when a natural disaster will occur. Climate events including earthquakes, storms, flooding, and landslides are prevalent in the littoral regions. If left unchecked or untreated natural disasters can be the catalyst for violence and political change. With the global economy showing signs of stress spending on disaster preparedness is decreasing. Opportunities for adversaries to counter U.S. influence through the provision of equipment and monetary funds to support local populations susceptible to natural disasters are increasing.
Maritime traffic and ports are significant features that create complex scenarios prime for irregular warfare operations. A prime example is the port of Manilla in the Philippines. This port consists of 22 berths and 12 piers. The annual traffic load of vessels is 21,000 with an annual footfall of 72 million passengers with a cargo tonnage of seventy-five million tons.5 Some of the largest international ports in the world are located within the Indo-Pacific region. This one example is representative of thousands of ports within the littorals that have their own human ecosystem and port authorities. Most maritime and port traffic patterns are predominantly monitored through coastal defense organizations or port authorities. These organizations are most domestically focused and are not prepared to deal with foreign adversaries as they try and influence key littoral spaces and maritime safe passage routes. Typically, underfunded and undermanned port police, coastal defense patrols, and coast guard units are susceptible to foreign influence through foreign monetary and equipment contributions and funding.
Congested port operations: Port of Manilla, Philippines.6 (Figure provided by author.)
Littoral Irregular Warfare: The Marine Raider Connection
The complex littoral environment and the strategic competition in these areas illuminate the need for littoral-specific irregular warfare (IW). IW is defined as “the violent struggle between state and non-state entities for control over a population” and has five pillars: counterterrorism, counter-insurgency, unconventional warfare, foreign internal defense, and stability operations.7 Littoral irregular warfare (L-IW) maximizes traditional IW activities that are connected to both landward and seaward-based partner-nation forces to shape and influence populations and legitimacy in the littoral regions. Additional activities of L-IW include disinformation, deception, sabotage, economic coercion, as well as proxies, guerrilla, and covert operations.8
L-IW is the means by which Marine Raiders shape the environment to enable access to key terrain and key partner-nation relationships. L-IW is based on the foundation of a whole of government approach that builds on networks of partners and organizations. Marine Raiders conducting L-IW can train and equip local forces, conduct key leader engagement with local leaders, scout and identify advance basing opportunities, and engage with interagency partners. L-IW is conducted by, with, and through local forces by training regular and irregular forces to shape the balance of power, control adversary competition, and create terms favorable to influence and shape U.S. national interest abroad.
MARSOC SSR and the Next-Generation Raider Force
Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command (MARSOC) continues to implement its strategic shaping and reconnaissance (SSR) concept introduced in 2021. SSR was created to meet the challenges of a complex future operating environment (including the littorals) and “provide a cornerstone to design, develop, and employ SOF prepared to meet the adversary or enemy across the domains.”9 SSR envisions globally connected SOF deployed for a purpose that illuminates and assesses adversary threats and imposes costs on them with actionable solutions. SSR is MARSOC’s contribution to the Joint Warfighting Concept and service concepts like EABO in support of National Defense Strategy priorities. While not every SSR mission is in the littorals, MARSOC’s maritime roots and connection as Marines create ideal conditions for littoral employment in the future.
Strategic Shaping and Reconnaissance
Leveraging SSR in the gray zone to influence and build partner capacity, Marine Raider elements are poised to deter global threats and influence partner activities. SSR emphasizes all domain connectivity and understanding to decipher the threat and Special Operations activities to achieve global effects. The littoral space holds importance to Marine Raiders as MARSOC moves forward to implement, codify, and refine SSR. The Marine Corps should value MARSOC’s operating concept of SSR as critical support to EABO.10
Those activities are conducted by special operations elements in cooperation, competition, and conflict. SSR encompasses a wide array of skills employing SOF-specific equipment to provide shaping and influence effects.
SSR is conducted through a hybrid approach utilizing selected SOF core activities and programs. Effects are achieved by reconnaissance and intelligence operations, and persistently developing regional relationships. 11
In order to advance the SSR concept and emphasize the importance of the littorals, MARSOC is working on an updated Force Design concept called the Next-Generation Raider Force (NGRF). The focus of this force design seeks to address pacing and acute threats by employing a formation across the SSR capabilities spectrum. L-IW and Littoral Special Reconnaissance (L-SR) represent the two poles of the SSR spectrum.12 The NGRF leverages three foundational building blocks: (1) the L-SR-focused Ground Support Team, (2) the L-IW-focused Marine Special Operations Teams, and (3) the Marine Raider Detachment (MRD)—a hybrid team operating in both the L-IW and L-SR mission sets.13
The NGRF envisions a future where SOF units need to be ambidextrous. Using Michael Tushman’s explore and exploit methodology, the NGRF introduces a new operational base element inside of MARSOC called a Marine Raider Detachment.14 Marine Raider Detachment are smaller, scalable Raider elements capable of both L-IW and L-SR while looking to explore innovation pathways, technologies, and trends. This new unit will complement the existing Marine special operations team, which will continue to provide the high standard of strategic thinking and tactical expertise that they are known for. Marine special operations teams will exploit current strengths through incremental improvement and process refinement. This envisioned force will enable MARSOC to excel in the littoral regions and support both SOF and Marine Corps initiatives.
MARSOC is currently executing SSR globally through existing special operations activities and investments in coordination with partner-nation forces. Littoral regional expertise, interoperability, modern mobility, ISR platforms, emerging information, and cyber technologies are required to enhance SSR and increase strategic effects. A higher level of regional expertise is developed through persistent engagement than through sporadic or episodic engagement. Marine Raiders have gained this level of expertise through a continual deployment to key areas in the littorals for over a decade.
MARSOC next-generation Marine Raider force.15 (Figure provided by author.)
As an example, MARSOC has spent over fifteen years training and advising the Philippine military. Shortly after MARSOC was established in 2006, the first advisors from the Marine Special Operations Advisory Group (MSOAG) deployed to the Philippines.16 These advisors helped train Filipino forces, counter terrorist threats, and interact with key local leaders. Over the past fifteen years, this relationship has grown exponentially. When the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant–Philippines invaded Marawi in May 2017, MARSOC forces were instrumental in helping free the city by advising and assisting Filipino forces.17 MARSOC’s relationship with the Filipino forces has permitted the freedom of movement for MARSOC units to engage local leaders, conduct joint training at various port cities, and understand the opportunities and challenges with operating in the terrain, climate, and culture of the area.
SSR and EABO
A vital part of the EABO concept is the Stand-In Force (SIF). Examples of SIF are Marine Littoral Regiments, reconnaissance and counter-reconnaissance elements, and special operations forces.
“SIF are small but lethal, low signature, mobile, relatively simple to maintain and sustain forces designed to operate across the competition continuum within a contested area as the leading edge of a maritime defense-in-depth in order to intentionally disrupt the plans of a potential or actual adversary. Depending on the situation, stand-in forces are composed of elements from the Marine Corps, Navy, Coast Guard, special operations forces, interagency, and allies and partners.”18
These SIF elements are critical to EABO as connectors and facilitators for follow-on forces. As the example above illustrates, Marine Raiders have been persistently deployed as rotational SIF in places like the Philippines and are uniquely positioned to enable access and placement for conventional force SIFs. This persistence is an opportunity for the Marine Corps to utilize in its EABO concept. These SOF elements are conducting SOF activities, building connections with other governmental agencies, and building relationships with partner-nation forces in the littorals.
“As a complimentary force in the contact layer, Marine Special Operations Forces are poised to do the advanced work to assess EAB locations, footprints, and capabilities while also working as part of the stand-in force to buy time and space for joint physical and virtual maneuver.” 19
—LtGen James Glynn
Marine Corps EABO and SIF elements should embrace Marine Raiders as the SOF SIF of choice and an ideal partner to maximize operational and strategic effects in the littorals. When the Marine Corps looks to execute its EABO concept, forward Marine Raiders who are already inside of the weapons engagement zone will enable the successful reception, staging, onward movement, and integration of Marine Littoral Regiments or reconnaissance and counter-reconnaissance forces. This would include connecting these SIF forces with the right partner nation forces or local leaders. The chance of SIF success increases exponentially when partnered with the right force and with the right local leaders. L-IW is the means by which Marine Raider SIF gain and maintain influence with partner nation forces that are vital to the Marine Corps EABO characteristics.
Marine Raiders conducting L-IW in concert with USMC SIF actions in support of Marine Corps EABO concepts will create additional momentum for operational preparation of the environment and maritime domain awareness in support of the Joint Fleet. The tentative EABO manual specifically mentions “SOF’s unique authorities, relationships, and capabilities provide critical support to EABO when connected to relevant operational concepts and approaches.”20 Marine Raiders executing L-IW under SOF unique authorities could enable USMC EABO SIF to operate within politically sensitive environments to achieve greater access and placement with key partner nation forces.
The unique role of Marine Raiders as part of the SIF is in our bloodline as Marines. Aligned with Service equities, Marine Raiders walk and talk Marine leadership principles, ethos, and MAGTF acumen. Understanding this unique relationship creates mutually supporting lines of effort that maximize conventional force and SOF, integration, interoperability, and interdependence in the littoral regions of the world. As MARSOC executes SSR and pushes forward with the NGRF, this bond has the potential to grow even stronger. Together, Marine Raiders and Marine Corps SIF forces can navigate complex features and human terrain in the littorals.
1. Ryan Anson, “Philippine and US Forces at Work,” Pulitzer Center, May 16, 2007, https://pulitzercenter.org/stories/philippine-and-us-forces-work.
2. Joint Chiefs of Staff, JP 2-01.3 Joint Intelligence Preparations of the Operational Environment, (Washington, DC: 2009).
3. Milan Vego, “On Littoral Warfare,” Naval War College Review 68: No. 2, (2015).
4. Ocean Exploration, “What is the Ring of Fire?” Ocean Exploration, n.d., https://oceanexplorer.noaa.gov/facts/rof.html.
5. Ajay Menon “10 Major Ports in the Philippines,” Marine Insight, June 14, 2021, https://www.marineinsight.com/know-more/10-major-ports-in-the-philippines.
6. Panay News, “Port of Manila Operations Improve Amid Decongestion,” Panay News, May 19, 2019, https://www.panaynews.net/port-of-manila-operations-improve-amid-decongestion.
7. Office of Irregular Warfare and Competition, Joint Staff Joint Force Development and Design Directorate, Irregular Warfare Mission Analysis, (Washington, DC: 2021).
8. MARSOC CD&I, G5 Branch, Strategic Shaping and Reconnaissance, (Camp Lejeune: October 2022).
9. David Pummell, “MARSOC Operational Approach For Modernization,” Marine Corps Gazette 106, No. 1 (January 2022).
10. Department of the Navy, Tentative Manual for Advances Base Operations, (Washington, DC: February 2021).
11. David Pummell, “MARSOC Operational Approach for Modernization,” Marine Corps Gazette, January 2022, https://mca-marines.org/wp-content/uploads/MARSOC-Operational-Approach-for-Modernization.pdf.
12. MARSOC, Next-Gen Raider Force Memorandum, (Camp Lejeune: May 2022).
13. MARSOC CD&I, G5 Branch, The Next Generation Raider Force, (Camp Lejeune: October 2022).
14. Charles A. O’Reilly and Michael Tushman, Lead and Disrupt: How to Solve the Innovator’s Dilemma, Second edition (Stanford: Stanford Business Books, an imprint of Stanford University Press, 2021).
15. The Next Generation Raider Force.
16. Phil Grondin, “MARSOC in the Philippines Part 1,” YouTube, 5:57, November 8, 2008, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ww31YWlusHw.
17. Todd South, “Pentagon to Spend Nearly $5M on Marine Corps Mission in the Philippines,” Marine Corps Times, August 9, 2018, https://www.marinecorpstimes.com/news/your-marine-corps/2018/08/09/pentagon-triples-military-spending-in-philippines.
18. Headquarters Marine Corps, A Concept for Stand-in Forces, (Washington, DC: December 2021).
19. James Glynn, “A Letter from the MARSOC Commander,” Marine Corps Gazette 105, No. 1 (2021).
20. Headquarters Marine Corps, Tentative Manual for Advanced Base Operations, (Washington, DC: February 2021).