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Video Above: US Congressman: Navy Needs Drones, Light Amphibious Warship and 5th-Gen Air Supremacy to Counter China

Kris Osborn - President, Center for Military Modernization

The Marine Corps’ future warfare document is written to be a fluid, adaptable text as the service surges decades into the future, as it is written with a tacit understanding that threat variables and weapons technologies will evolve in coming years.

The Corps’ Force Design 2030 represents a thinking shift for the Corps as it looks toward future threats likely to involve a clear need for amphibious, multi domain operations with vast expanses of ocean, islands and coastal areas. While the Corps has been returning much more fully to its Maritime, expeditionary roots in recent years following the ground wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the most recent document extends this transformation to another level. In an effort to become more agile, expeditionary and driven by fast-emerging technologies, Marine Corps Force Design 2030 calls for a massive reduction in Abrams tanks, heavy helicopters and other larger mechanized platforms and weapons systems in favor of mobile, yet highly lethal anti-armor weapons, drones and longer-range precision fires.

Marine Corps Force Design 2030

“The Marine Corps must be able to fight at sea, from the sea, and from the land to the sea; operate and persist within range of adversary long-range fires; maneuver across the seaward and landward portions of complex littorals; and sense, shoot, and sustain while combining the physical and information domains to achieve desired outcomes,” Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger writes in the Force Design 2030 document.

A U.S. Marine with Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 3d Marines, crawls onto the beach during reconnaissance scout swimmer training part of Exercise Bougainville I at Marine Corps Training Area Bellows, Hawaii, Feb. 8, 2021.US Marine Corps Photo

A U.S. Marine with Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 3d Marines, crawls onto the beach during reconnaissance scout swimmer training part of Exercise Bougainville I at Marine Corps Training Area Bellows, Hawaii, Feb. 8, 2021.US Marine Corps Photo

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An influential member of Congress now working closely with the Navy and Marines on both strategy and near term innovation and weapons production praised the current Corps adaptive approach as both accurate and effective. Rep. Rob Wittman, R-Va, Ranking Member of the SeaPower and Projection Forces Subcommittee, explained that while the text does greatly reduce the needed amount of heavy platforms in favor of a more expeditionary, agile force, it does still maintain a key measure of heavier weapons for Combined Arms. Most of all, Wittman is encouraged that the document and the Marine Corps sensibility reflect a sophisticated understanding of how weapons, tactics and concepts of operation will need to continuously adapt and evolve in coming years.

“I think Force Design 2030 is exactly the course that needs to be pursued by the Marine Corps, they're looking at a very complex environment where they have to move around, they have to be able to create uncertainty, they have to do a lot of things with a lot of different platforms. And I know some folks have pushed back and said, gosh, you can't get rid of M1 Abrams, tanks, you can't get rid of 155s ….. And if you look at the most recent machinations of adjustments to the plan, they are indeed keeping certain elements of that combined arms force today, but they also know that they have to be adaptive, flexible, and mobile,” Wittman told Warrior in an interview.

New software upgrades improve the range, precision and targeting ability of ground, air and surface fired missiles is expected in the future, and these developments will of course require adjustments to maritime warfare tactics. Advances in AI will better enable drones, targeting systems and sensors to analyze and distribute incoming, time-sensitive targeting and warfare data much faster across a multi-domain force. Smaller, lighter yet extremely lethal mobile anti-armor, anti-tank and anti-drone and helicopter air defenses will all most likely greatly extend their ranges, improve explosive effects, better organize threat data and massively truncate sensor-to-shooter time. The text of the Corps document explains this ambition well, stating that such an approach can “create the virtues of mass without the vulnerabilities of concentration, thanks to mobile and low-signature sensors and weapons.”

Abrams Tank

Abrams Tank

Longer-range, secure, high-fidelity sensors are quickly enabling attacking forces to achieve a devastating and high-lethal battlefield effect from more dispersed, decentralized and disaggregated formations. Technological progress in areas such as AI, drones and unmanned systems, information processing, secure networking of otherwise disparate sources of information, course-correcting ammunition and of course long-range, highly accurate sensing are all quickly impacting concepts of maneuver, deployment and war operations. In this respect, the Corps document aligns fully with the Navy’s Distributed Maritime Operations (DMO) concept similarly aimed at leveraging unprecedented tactical advantages provided by AI-enable drones, manned-unmanned teaming, hardened communications networks, multi-domain synergies and more precise, long-range weapons of all kinds.

“The Marine Corps is adapting this plan to look at what we need to do based on current world situations. That's a great thing about the plan. You know, I've had some folks that have pushed back and said, Oh, gosh, we can't do this, or we can't do that. And I said, Well, think about it. The Marine Corps is testing these concepts vigorously. They come back each year and make adjustments to it. They make adjustments to the number of V-22s, Abrams tanks, Paladins, the 155s. That's exactly what you need to do. You need to figure out what we need? And you can't say, Well, we're going to plug in what we need in 2030, you have to say, we're going to experiment and develop where we need to be in 2030. We're going to learn on the run, and the Marine Corps is doing that,” Wittman explained. “I think they're doing the right thing. They're going to figure out what's the best combination of combined arms? What's the best combination to have an effective stand in force in the Indo PAYCOM? And listen, I think by doing it this way, they will get it right,” Wittman said. 

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.

Kris Osborn

Kris Osborn