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Marines Embarking on Learning Campaign for Future Capabilities

Lt. Gen. Robert Walsh, commanding general of the Marine Corps Combat Development Command on Aug. 27, 2015. US Navy Photo

Lt. Gen. Robert Walsh, commanding general of the Marine Corps Combat Development Command on Aug. 27, 2015. US Navy Photo

The deputy commandant for combat development and integration described the Marine Corps’ “campaign of learning” as the way forward in assessing what the service will need in the future.

Lt. Gen. Robert Walsh, speaking Wednesday at the Center for Strategic and International Studies said the campaign is seeking input from the Marine Corps, Navy, industry and academia over the next year or so as the service “will be looking hard at capability” for the future force and seeing what tradeoffs need to be made in capacity.

The event was co-hosted by the U.S. Naval Institute.

In answer to a question on spending in cyber and leveraging space capabilities, etc., for the future, he said, “We know we have to invest in that. Where does [the money] come from? An infantry battalion may look a little different” but have cyber assets.

The idea is not only to gather information, but “to spread that information out” for a junior officer with his Marines stepping off an Osprey to use in a contested area.

Walsh also said the Marine Corps is looking to “refresh” Expeditionary Force 21, its vision of concepts and programs. Key points would include digitizing the force, being able to operate in a denied environment and leader-to-led development.

Concepts are “how we see things operating from platoons . . . to large-scale operations.”

Using littoral operations as an example, Walsh said, “It’s not just about amphibious operations,” but “how do we as Marines fit into” larger naval operations under different levels of threat.

“I think we’re on a good path” with the amphibious combat vehicle (ACV). The decision to emphasize survivability and protection over high water speed did not mean the Marine Corps would not continue working that issue, he said.

Walsh said a decision to down-select two contractors for the vehicle likely will come in November with a final decision within a year or two.

“Money needs to go into ACV” because of its ship-to-shore capability over modernizing existing vehicles. “It’s who we are” as a future force.

“We are a light force,” he said. “We can’t operate with MRAPs [the large mine-resistant armor protected vehicles].” Walsh said the Marine Corps is working closely with the Army in developing the joint land tactical vehicle to replace their fleets of Humvees.

In replacing the Navy’s aging dock landing ships, he said, “We’re going to get a ship that looks a lot like the LPD-17,” the San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock.

Walsh said the Bell-Boeing MV-22 Osprey has “phenomenal capability” and it is “allowing us to be relevant where we never thought we’d be.” What was lacking when the Osprey was introduced was “a good concept” of what the aircraft could do. Young Marines are “figuring out the concept on the fly. We don’t want to do that with the F-35.”

He added in answer to a question: “We need to figure out what fifth-generation [fighter] means” when it comes to operating concepts for the Lockheed Martin F-35B Lighting II Joint Strike Fighter.

In looking at manned and unmanned systems, Walsh said, “You’re going to use both” but they need to remain interconnected. As for size of unmanned systems, he said, “If it can’t go on a ship, Marines are not interested.” He said that the service is interested in “persistent weapons” that could be launched from unmanned systems. Several times during his presentation, co-sponsored by CSIS and the United States Naval Institute, he referred to “platforms and payloads” to make the point of the need for integration.

This week’s agreement on a two-year budget deal was a good thing for the Pentagon because “it will take us away from the [continuing resolution]” that bars the start of new programs and holds spending to the previous level. Walsh said the drawback to the agreement was that it did not provide for the longer-range planning the department uses for programs and future operations.

  • Mr. Speaker

    Funny, the Taliban doesn’t have these ego driven “innovative” programs.

  • FedUpWithWelfareStates

    Lt. Gen. Robert Walsh, you want some innovative ideas, not coming from academia or other arm-chair warriors, but from 4-decades + of amphibious, ground, hostile areas, & BTDT experience, then hold on to your chair & prepare to copy.

    “The Amphibious Landing, circa WWII from within visual range of the beach, ain’t going to happen again…evah!”

    What will happen, if the USMC starts to look forward for a change & really trains hard for the mission, is Amphibious Raids, via small boat (RIBs…NOT CRRCs) from OTH, at night, with dedicated air cover standing by. This is exactly why the USMC needs to put away those leftover illusions of air wing grandeur, seeded by Gen. Amos, & get back to doing what Marines are SUPPOSED to be doing…NOT trying to do both the Army’s (conventional ground force) & USAF’s (Fixed Wing Air Force) job.

    If the “Connector” is not coming from at least 20 nautical miles from over-the-horizon (OTH), then it must be AUTOMATICALLY disregarded, no matter who’s pet project it may be. THINK, establish a beach head, secure a port, or other viable Beach Landing Site, by an Amphibious Raid (RIBs), then & only then, should your NEW tactics look at bringing in heavier, but highly mobile vehicles, IOT take objectives further inland.

    Notice how you are always left out of the fight while SOF stays right in the mix? This is all due to your insistence of tradition, as in not changing with the times.
    The question that needs to be asked, is “What has the U.S. Navy done for you lately?” Nada… For your almost 240 years in existence, the USMC has ALWAYS taken a back seat, as in placed on the back burner, to USN priorities. Thus the half-hearted humor at trying to do more with less that you can do anything with nothing quips to try to explain your dependency away.

    It is time to seriously consider allowing SOCOM to become the 4th Branch of the military service, consolidating ALL SOF capabilities, & the USMC falling under SOCOM intact, as the nation’s premiere “Amphibious Special Operations Force.”

    A more streamlined force of ALL Special Operations Personnel, qualified as REAL Operators, not just rubber stamped IOT be ready for deployment, will GREATLY benefit OUR nation & will ensure that the USMC, under SOCOM, will ALWAYS be right there in the midst of the fight, NOT sitting off shore just waiting for the dust to settle, as usual.

    Then, let the combined weight of both SOCOM & the USMC fall on Congress & the USN to provide the adequate Naval Amphibious shipping needed to deploy NOT just the current number of MEUs, but an increased Naval presence in both the Pacific (2 x MEUs) & IO (1 x MEU). Increasing MEUs coming out of Camp Lejeune would also go into effect.

    In addition, you will have to give up something, such as a complete re-organization of the Pacific basing strategy. Close OCONUS & CONUS bases sitting in contested
    areas or having redundant purposes IOT see funds re-utilized to support a more
    flexible & non-static force. Move the majority of our forces/bases back to the 2nd
    Island Chain in the Pacific (III MEF on Saipan/Tinian).

    As this is NOT an in-the-weeds detailed assessment of where the USMC needs to make many other changes for the small unit effectiveness, it is a strategic offering of innovative ideas offered to transform the USMC into a relevant force for the 21st
    Century & beyond.

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