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Neller: Marines Need To Shift Training Now To Prepare For Naval Info-Warfare Battle

Marines with Alpha Company, Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, assault a beachhead during an amphibious training raid in Djibouti, Aug. 15, 2012. US Marine Corps photo.

Marines with Alpha Company, Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, assault a beachhead during an amphibious training raid in Djibouti, Aug. 15, 2012. US Marine Corps photo.

The Marine Corps cannot rely on new gear alone to be prepared for the next war that arises, but rather needs to train now for a future naval-centric battle in the age of information warfare, the commandant of the Marine Corps said last week.

Gen. Robert Neller, speaking at a Marine Corps Association awards dinner, said May 5 that he did not want the Marines today to “[fall] into the trap of training for the last fight” and instead wanted to begin tailoring training towards amphibious operations in coastal regions, with precision fires and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) controlled at the company or even squad level.

“What’s the next fight going to be?” Neller asked.
“Inevitably we’ll guess wrong, but I think there’s some things we can say about what that next fight’s going to be. I think it’s going to be based on a maritime campaign: we’re going to fight with the Navy, we’re going to come from the sea, we’re going to seize some sort of naval base or maybe forward operating base. We may have to defend it against an enemy maritime threat. There may be eventually on that lodgment … sustained combat ashore. But I think our enemy is going to be different, I think it’s going to be a near-peer enemy. The enemy’s going to be networked, they’re going to jam our comms.”

Neller said that while operating in Iraq and Afghanistan, anything less than perfect communications, intelligence and airspace access was an anomaly that drew surprise and irritation. In the future, jamming and area denial will be a given, as will the presence of enemy UAVs to counter.

And, he said, the conditions will be ripe for “much higher” casualties.

“So I think it’s going to be a very different fight. And that should affect how we’re going to not just equip and organize the force, but how we’re going to train. We need to start making moves towards that now,” Neller said. He noted the major aviation readiness restoration effort, as well as modernization efforts on the ground combat vehicle and weapons side of the service – but the next war may break out before the Marines’ are equipped with their full buy of next-generation gear, so training for the future fight should begin now with today’s equipment.

“We can buy all the gear we want,” he said, but “when we go to war, whenever that is – and it’s not a matter of if but when – we’re going to go with the gear we’ve got. And no matter what we have, we have to be trained.”

U.S. Marines with 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion and Philippine Marines with 64th Force Reconnaissance Company provide security during an amphibious raid at Ternate, Philippines, as a part of Amphibious Landing Exercise 2015. US Marine Corps photo.

U.S. Marines with 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion and Philippine Marines with 64th Force Reconnaissance Company provide security during an amphibious raid at Ternate, Philippines, as a part of Amphibious Landing Exercise 2015. US Marine Corps photo.

Leveraging simulation in training will help, Neller said. The aviation community takes full advantage of simulators, practicing extensively in a virtual environment before ever testing out new maneuvers or hardware in the sky. The ground community is far behind on using this technology, he said, which will have to change going forward.

And more advanced force-on-force training could help Marines prepare for the unexpected, Neller said – forces shouldn’t train for ideal conditions, they should be challenged by equally expert Marines and restricted in their movement, communications and intelligence “so when it happens [against an adversary] we already know it’s going to be there and we’ve already figured it out.”

Overall, Neller said the Marines have had mixed success training for the right war during his 40-year career. When he was commissioned in 1975, a post-Vietnam Marine Corps continued to train for Vietnam-like operations.

“Most of the scenarios were Southeast Asia, most of the things were patrolling – it was good training, I mean we did tank infantry, we were in a [battalion landing team], we did combined arms, but it was a lot of stuff that they knew (from Vietnam),” Neller said.
“And then we went in the ‘80s and Gen. (Paul) Kelley and Gen. (Alfred) Gray transitioned us to train against the Soviet threat – and we got heavier, we got more anti-tank weapons. … As it turned out in Desert Shield/Desert Storm, it was a pretty good guess because that was the adversary – not quite as capable as the Soviet Union, but we were ready for that fight. … And then 9/11 rolled around, OIF 1 (Operation Iraqi Freedom), it was more of a conventional fight, combined arms, maneuver warfare, displacing the [command post] – and I think we were in a pretty good place, we had trained, we were ready for that. And then everything changed – we went to a stability fight, a counter-insurgency fight, no more maneuver … it was very different, and now we’re where we are today.”

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Categories: News & Analysis, U.S. Marine Corps
Megan Eckstein

About Megan Eckstein

Megan Eckstein is a staff writer for USNI News. She previously covered Congress for Defense Daily and the U.S. surface navy and U.S. amphibious operations as an associate editor for Inside the Navy.

  • Roger Roger

    Guadalcanal 2020.

  • Bill Cherry

    BUT, before we shed our marine blood storming the spratly beaches, why don’t we pull back, stand down and give economic sanctions and trade embargos time to work against red china before we sacrifice our marines and sailors in suicide missions against hundreds of PLA/PRC anti-ship missiles… and millions of well-armed PLA troops. .. spratly will make chosen look like a clusterfreaking cakewalk.

  • pvp64

    Every 6 months someone from the Marine Corps announces a new “strategy”. I think there is a serious case of Army envy at the Marine Corps. Just saying.

  • Just Saying

    When is the last time Army devised a “new strategy.” Marines have always reinvented themselves for the next fight and/or to train for lessons learned on the move. It is much harder when you are the first to fight. Bringing up the rear doesn’t require as much invention.

  • Ken Morris

    USMC has always been at the leading edge but without the newest technology; however, they have always been successful. Why? There is more than one reason, but a strong explanation is LEADERSHIP Education and development at all levels. It is the time and energy spent developing the squad leader, platoon sergeant, the platoon and company commander that makes the difference. It is Marine Corps University, Command and Staff, EWS, SNCO Academy, NCO Academy, and squad leaders course that makes the difference. All the technology in the world will not be the difference, it will be the individual United States Marine the trained and educated leader who inspires others to do more with less time, less money and less people who will be left standing and telling others saying “follow me.”

    • outsidethebox

      Agreed, so when is the Marine Corps going to start training for conflicts that involve coastal, connected, crowded urban environments involving non-state actors in a region unstable before we got there? Where does that training occur? Please don’t say Boot Camp, that is an academy of left, right, left, right, nonsense. SNCO Academy? Where they still teach sword drill? Yes, FREAKIN SWORD DRILL! EWS, Command and Staff? Maybe the theories, but are the leaders there empowered to take charge of a situation or just sit tight until the next Officer in their chain of command shows up looking for action? I agree the difference starts with training, but we can’t just say it, we have to do it. The Marine Corps has to be more than propaganda. Consider the fact that more than 63% of new recruits score in the upper half of the ASVAB (50 or better), while the average Sergeant Major’s score is 35, and that’s AVERAGE! The minimum score just to get in the Marine Corps is 32! So where are all these smart, innovative, adaptive, and independent minded operators going to come from? We need to put a fork in the sacred cow of Boot Camp and stop wasting our time with close order drill and fire team rushes. Instead, we need to train and treat Marines like the tactical level operators we expect them to be. That won’t happen by treating them like idiots from Boot Camp to the School of Infantry, then throwing them into Mogadishu and expecting them to be anything more than a hammer looking for a nail to smash. “KILL, KILL, KILL” is an antiquated and wholly inappropriate mindset with which to approach future conflicts.