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New Marine Corps Operating Concept Emphasizes Maneuver Warfare

Marines with Kilo company, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, clear buildings of hostile enemies during the Marine Air-Ground Task Force Integrated Experiment (MIX-16) at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif., Aug. 1, 2016. The experiment is conducted to test new gear and assess its capabilities for potential future use. US Marine Corps photo.

Marines with Kilo company, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, clear buildings of hostile enemies during the Marine Air-Ground Task Force Integrated Experiment (MIX-16) at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif., Aug. 1, 2016. The experiment is conducted to test new gear and assess its capabilities for potential future use. US Marine Corps photo.

MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, Va. – The Marine Corps today released a new operating concept that updates its 2014 Expeditionary Force 21 to include a renewed emphasis on maneuver warfare, while retaining an emphasis on operations in an urban littoral environment against a technologically sophisticated enemy.

The Marine Corps Operational Concept (MOC) begins with the admission that today’s force is not organized, trained and equipped to succeed in a future operating environment where terrains and their populations are complex, technology has proliferated, information is used as a weapon, detecting enemy signatures and managing the Marines’ own signatures is paramount, and the maritime domain is increasingly contested.

“Do we need to fix something? Are we broken? … That has nothing to do with it, but we’ve been fighting a counterinsurgency stability fight … since 2004, and we’ve trained, equipped and organized the force to do counterinsurgency and fight an insurgent,” Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. Robert Neller said today at the Modern Day Marine exposition.
“An insurgent that was brave and courageous and gave us a handful, but that insurgent didn’t have electronic warfare. That insurgent didn’t have an air force. That insurgent didn’t have effective indirect fire. That insurgent … didn’t have the ability to take down our networks or jam our comms. That insurgent didn’t have armor formations that could maneuver across a battlespace. That insurgent didn’t have a sophisticated information operations plan to deceive not just our force but the American people.”

In preparation for that future enemy and future fight, the concept calls for a Marine Air-Ground Task Force optimized to “[execute] maneuver warfare through a combined arms approach that embraces information warfare as indispensable for achieving complementary effects across five domains – air, land, sea, space, and cyberspace. The 21st century MAGTF … blends maneuver warfare and combined arms to generate the combat power needed for simultaneity of action in its full range of missions,” according to the concept document, released today.

Neller said that integration of traditional combined arms maneuver warfare and information warfare will be important. In January he released his first FRAGO that highlighted maneuver warfare. Today, the commandant said emphasized the need to “find the enemy’s weakness, their gaps, avoid their forces and try to defeat the cohesion of the enemy. You can do that by locating, closing with and destroying the enemy, or you can do it in other ways. There’s other ways in a combined arms fight to defeat your opponent. If you can destroy him, fine, but … the ultimate is to defeat the enemy without a fight.”

He added that “we have to be able to affect the battlespace with fires that are not just rockets and artillery rounds and laser-guided bombs and JDAMS. Information provides effect. Electronic warfare provides effect.”

To meet Neller’s vision, the MOC lays out five critical tasks for the service to address to be successful in the future fight. First, the Marine Corps and Navy must integrate the naval force to fight at and from the sea, which includes integrating command and control structures and finding a role for the MAGTF in the Navy’s sea control and power projection missions. Next, the service must evolve the MAGTF, maintaining its powerful Marine Expeditionary Force construct but also setting up smaller units for success in distributed operations. Third, the Marine Corps must master network-hardening and signature emissions management, with mission success and Marine safety on the line in an information and electromagnetic spectrum warfare environment. Next, the service must enhance its ability to maneuver small and large forces, infantry and support forces, through all manner of terrains, and with the logistics in place to sustain those operations. And lastly, the MOC recommends a closer look at the individual Marine – seeking high-quality recruits, investing in training and education to support the MOC’s goals, developing quality leaders at all echelons, and re-prioritizing cultural and language education.

Neller wrote in a foreword to the Marine Corps Operating Concept that the approach to building a future force “embraces our naval character, expeditionary mindset, and professional approach to constantly improve and build on our foundations of maneuver warfare and fighting as a combined arms force.”

Landing craft air cushion (LCAC) 29, assigned to Naval Beach Unit (NBU) 7, disembarks from amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6) in the Philippine Sea on Sept. 11, 2016. US Navy photo.

Landing craft air cushion (LCAC) 29, assigned to Naval Beach Unit (NBU) 7, disembarks from amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6) in the Philippine Sea on Sept. 11, 2016. US Navy photo.

Marine Corps planners from the Ellis Group, a unit housed within the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory that examines naval warfighting challenges helps coordinate exercises and wargames to begin to find solutions, told reporters Tuesday that more than a year of wargaming informed the MOC, which centers on a predicted 2025 operating environment and likely adversaries ranging from guerilla insurgent forces to near-peer and peer militaries.

Ellis Group director Doug King called these weekly tactical-level wargames the foundation of the MOC development effort. For these wargames, the Center for Emerging Threats and Opportunities, a group of retired colonels representing a range of military specialties, acted as the enemy force. The Marine Corps force started out fighting this future 2025 enemy force with today’s fielded capabilities, and “when we get kicked in the teeth, we stop and we figure out why we got kicked in the teeth, and then we maybe add a capability or change a tactic or we change the way we’re doing things and then we come at it again.”

Maj. Jim Geiger, a plans officer in the Ellis Group with an infantry background, said that approach helped slowly identify how current and in-development programs may influence a future fight, as well as make clear what threats the Marine Corps has not yet figured out how to address. Other militaries’ capabilities and commercial off-the-shelf capabilities were also added into the mix to help find quick potential solutions to these gaps.

While he admitted the Marine Corps forces were badly beaten in some of the wargames, the point was not winning but rather “identifying areas for further analysis or experimentation to solve some of the problems that come out.”

King added that, while the wargames focused on entry operations against a peer or near-peer competitor in an urban littoral environment in the Pacific, other enemies and other environments were tested. Four or five games looked at the embassy reinforcement mission in Africa, where forces had to fly in from long ranges and bring minimal supplies with them – essentially simulating what today’s Special Purpose MAGTF Crisis Response force does.

Marines from the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (11th MEU) board MV-22 Ospreys attached to Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 163 (Reinforced) as they prepare to launch from the flight deck of the amphibious assault ship USS Makin Island (LHD-8) on Feb. 23, 2015. US Navy Photo

Marines from the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (11th MEU) board MV-22 Ospreys attached to Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 163 (Reinforced) as they prepare to launch from the flight deck of the amphibious assault ship USS Makin Island (LHD-8) on Feb. 23, 2015. US Navy Photo. 

The focus on urban littorals in the Pacific was important to the effort, King said, giving the growing anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) threat the region poses. As a Marine Corps, as enemy missile and sensor ranges increase, “we’ve got to figure out how to operate in that contested space and not just move further and further back from them – we’ll find ourselves in [the continental United States] trying to project power somewhere.”

Implementing this concept will not only require acquisition of new systems for the warfighter, King said – recommendations for which are included in a classified version of the concept – but revised training and education for Marines, as well as exercises and wargames that reflect the challenges highlighted in the MOC.

  • Horn

    Sounds like 2003 all over again. Maneuver warfare was stressed during the invasion of Iraq.

  • hrtbrk

    Gen Gray has got to be pleased

  • Marjus Plaku

    Close with and destroy the enemy is still an effective approach. You just have to be better trained and equipped. The rest will take care of itself.

    • Dygene

      Find the enemy, engage and destroy them. We have been doing just that successfully, for more than 240 yrs.! “Fire and maneuver,” it’s a Marine thing.

  • j James

    What that insurgent had was worldwide sympathy for their ‘plight’ on their side and an information warfare department known as mass media.

    • Keltic

      The world will always root for the ‘underdog’ guerilla or insurgent fighting for “their” turf over a powerful foreign force.

      • j James

        What I said basically. Doesn’t make the underdog better or stronger, makes them easier to target and neutralize if anything.

  • RobM1981

    In our history, the Navy has been caught unprepared. The Army has been less-than-ready. The Air Force has had the wrong planes.

    But the Marines?

    They’ll just add this to their repertoire…

  • The Plague

    The more I read about the theorizations of top brass about the future of warfare, the more I am reminded of what Gauss had once said about philosophers : Anything they say that turns out to be true, also turns out to be trivial. Whereas anything they say that is not trivial, turns out to be false.
    All the services – except for a few powerful subgroups within them – seem to be possessed by an unstated fear of irrelevance. So they run around, their flag ranks asking stupid questions about the trivial without clearly answering any of them, looking at old things and situations as though they were something new, all grabbing onto “cyber” like a lifeline and theorizing about its dangers, then proceeding to promote operational and technical ideas that can only make those dangers far worse, all the while doing their utmost to maximally preserve the most irrelevant parts and aspects of their respective service.
    I wonder what has induced in them this headless chicken behavior. There could be something coming down the line that they know about and already fear.

  • B.J. Blazkowicz

    “Some money grubbing General’s Marine Corps Operating Concept Emphasizes return to Vietnam era Warfare.” Fix the headline for yah. Air Assault was proven to be a failure during the Yom-Kipper war. And the USMC wants to return to it? Except Marines causalities ten times worse than malfunctioning V-22s .

  • williammcdill

    US military forces have often been surprised by the opposition in the initial phases of conflict. US forces ALWAYS recover and ultimately overwhelm their opposition. However, the US Marines have often been the ‘trip wire’ for the US and frequently dislocated enemy plans or operations (Tripoli, Wake, WW I ,). The US military also has a long tradition of very active training and exercising (for a wonderful illustration read about the US Navy during the War of 1812). Marine tactical doctrine is often criticized as being overly aggressive and prone to high casualties. But the battle circumstances facing Marines usually does not allow ‘maneuver’ tactics -(Think Iwo Jima, Guadalcanal , the Tripoli pirates.). I frankly doubt that the USMC will ever embrace ‘Maneuver Tactics’

    • Kelt

      The USMC’s contribution is frequently overstated and their PR department has done a great job of distorting their history because it’s a service that has always had questionable utility and been under threat of being disbanded.

      In terms of ground campaigns, the US Army has always been, for obvious reasons, the major muscle that has crushed the enemy. Take World War II as an example (and it’s not the only example), there was no US Marines (not in a combat capacity anyway) fighting the Nazis and Italians in the North Africa-Europe-Mediterranean Theater, two of the largest amphibious invasions of all time, Sicily and Normandy, were spearheaded by the US Army.

      The Army carried out more amphibious ops than the Marines in WWII, often without a single Marine present.

      In the Asia-Pacific Theater side of the war against Japan, 80% of the US ground troops were Army soldiers. The Army liberated the Philippines and defeated 1/4 million Japs on New Guinea. The Army was the core ground force in the battle of Okinawa (4 Army Infantry Divisions and 2 Marine divisions). They played a crucial role in Guadalcanal, Saipan, Peleliu/Angaur and fought in several forgotten battles, e.g. Aleutian Islands campaign, and the forgotten counter-insurgency campaign on Iwo Jima (and various other battles) by the 147th Infantry Regiment that virtually no one has heard of. Can you imagine a regiment of Marines fighting in, say, Normandy or The Bulge being forgotten to history? The USMC PR would spin it to pretend the Marines won the fight mostly by themselves.. kinda like what they did at Bellaeu Wood in WW1.