Video Above: The Role of Javelin Missiles in the Russia-Ukraine Conflict
Would a smaller, faster, more agile yet extremely lethal Marine Corps armed with long-range precision weapons and high-speed networking perform more successfully in modern war than a heavier mechanized force with more Marines, helicopters and tanks?
Could fast-maneuvering Marines use lethal anti-armor weapons, dispersed formations and a large number of networked unmanned systems to exact an effective battlefield effect upon a larger mechanized armored force? Is that even preferable to a larger force armed with tanks, heavy helicopters and larger numbers of Marines?
The Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. David Berger told Congress that the answer to this question is a simple yes.
Marine Corps new Force Design 2030 Strategy
While armor and lethal firepower will not fully disappear from the Corps in the future, the Marine Corps new Force Design 2030 strategy document calls for a large-scale decrease in force size and a substantial reduction in large armored platforms and heavy helicopters, among other things. The new Corps strategy will completely remove the main battle tank from the service.
In recent remarks before Congress, Berger made specific reference to Ukraine and the way in which a dispersed, fast-moving, dismounted force armed with effective anti-armor weapons has had great success against a larger mechanized Russian Force.
While discussing the conceptual impetus for Force Design 2030, Berger makes the point that in a modern battlefield a fast, well-networked maneuverable force that is easily deployable, expeditionary and armed with long-range precision weapons. The future Marine Corps will have no tanks but will rather arm fast, deployable tactical vehicles with highly-lethal anti-armor weapons.
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While there is still debate about the need for a larger Corps and the place for large helicopters and even tanks in the service, the large-scale introduction of drones, high-speed, AI-enabled networking, paradigm-changing sensors and precision weapons have changed the tactical equation in a substantial way.
Video Above: Tank Modernization in the Russia-Ukraine War and Tank Battles in the Gulf War
Berger said as many as nine force-on-force exercises over the past year have confirmed that a smaller, more mobile and more distributed force can prevail if they have, as he put it, “organic ISR and loitering munitions.” Berger explained that these kinds of formation are actually more lethal than traditional larger units and says these findings are “consistent with what we have seen in Ukraine.”
Sure enough, with modern sensors and long-range weapons, an enemy might be able to attack concentrations of forces or armored vehicles much more easily than had been possible in years past.
A concentration of mass or armor offers a more visible and potentially more vulnerable target for an adversary equipped with GPS-sensors, mapping, an ability to see force structures from great distances and long-range precision weapons to attack from stand-off distances. A more dispersed force is naturally a force that is harder to see and of course much harder to target.
A Smaller, faster and more dispersed, if armed with drones and sufficient amounts of anti-armor weapons and loitering munitions, might also help enable multi-domain operations for a Corps increasingly preparing for “island hopping” kinds of sea-land amphibious warfare operations in the future. In this respect, the Force Design 2030 shows great relevance to the Pacific and other coastal island areas. However, Ukraine is showing that perhaps, if used with tactical proficiency, dispersed forces armed with high-lethal anti-armor weapons can be quite successful against larger concentrated armor formations.
Kris Osborn is the President of Warrior Maven - Center for Military Modernization and the Defense Editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.