Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger is emphasizing his commitment to the service’s force design initiative in a recent memo to the new defense secretary, USNI News has learned.
In the late February memo, reviewed by USNI News, Berger stressed that the service will not ask for more funding to achieve its goals but will require the ability to use the money it saves from getting rid of certain legacy equipment and some end strength to pay for its new priorities.
“I have not asked for any topline increase for the Marine Corps – only that we be allowed to reinvest the savings we create by divesting of legacy capabilities and excess capacity,” Berger wrote to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.
The memo comes nearly a year after Berger unveiled the initial results of the first two phases of the Marine Corps Force Design 2030 initiative, which is meant to recalculate the service’s strategy and composition to prepare for a potential fight in the Indo-Pacific that would see Marines moving between expeditionary bases on islands in the region. It also comes as the Pentagon, under the new Biden administration, performs an assessment of the Trump administration’s Fiscal Year 2022 budget plans.
In last year’s report, Berger disclosed plans to cut the force by 12,000 Marines, an objective the commandant wrote in the recent memo the Marine Corps is still pursuing. In addition to cutting end strength, the service plans to cut its civilian personnel by about 15 percent.
“Re-allocation of personnel and modernization of equipment are only the beginning of the large-scale transformation that Force Design 2030 requires. Accompanying these initiatives will be changes in our manpower processes and modernization of our training and education establishment,” the memo reads.
“We will also reform and reorganize many of our headquarters organizations and processes to gain the institutional agility this era of long-term global great-power competition demands,” it continues. “These initiatives have the common goal of producing the smaller but more mature, resilient, and highly trained Fleet Marine Force of the future, backed by a headquarters and supporting working establishment infrastructure stripped of redundancy and bloat.”
While the Marine Corps last year announced plans to get rid of all of its tanks, in addition to cutting the number of amphibious vehicle companies, infantry battalions and artillery cannon batteries, Berger in the February memo said it will shed more of the service’s heavier equipment.
“We are fielding long-endurance unmanned air vehicles and appropriate payloads for airborne communication, reconnaissance, and electronic warfare as rapidly as possible using the savings from such divestments,” the memo says. “Additional planned divestments include more of our towed cannon artillery along with significant numbers of manned fixed and rotary wing aircraft. We are also phasing out much of our legacy logistical capacity, previously intended for sustained land operations, while modernizing the rest for distributed maritime operations.”
The Marine Corps last year said it would cut the number of aircraft in its F-35B and C Joint Strike Fighter squadrons down to 10 from 16 aircraft, but Berger in his 2020 report said the service needed more analysis to better understand how to use the F-35.
Throughout the last year, Marine Corps officials have discussed the formation of a new unit known as the Marine Littoral Regiment as part of the force design work. Berger in the memo confirmed the Marine Corps will form three MLRs in the Indo-Pacific region.
“For INDOPACOM, we are building three Marine Littoral Regiments (MLR) centered in Hawaii, Guam, and Japan. These MLRs will operate from ship, from shore, or both, dispersed into small, agile configurations with signatures small enough to complicate an adversary’s collection efforts,” the memo reads.
“MLRs will have organic and allocated airborne, land, surface ISR means, integrated within naval and Joint Force command and control architectures,” it continues. “Possessing a degree of organic lethality and able to persistently maintain Joint C5ISR-T networks inside the [Weapons Engagement Zone], these organizations will be able to deter malign activity, support regional allies and partners, hold key adversary assets at risk, and when necessary, complete naval and Joint force kill chains for decisive effect.”
USNI News previously reported that the service was considering forming three MLRs in the Pacific. Last year the Marines began initial experimentation with 3rd Marine Regiment in Hawaii, which will eventually convert to the MLR construct.
Berger’s memo comes as the Pentagon performs a “budget relook” of the Fiscal Year 2022 plan from the Trump administration, USNI News recently reported.
Navy shipbuilding topped the list of budget items that the Pentagon’s Director of Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation (CAPE) is looking at, according to the memo from Deputy Defense Secretary Kath Hicks.
Berger’s memo said the Marine Corps’ ability to achieve its force design goals is contingent on the Navy buying smaller, less expensive ships and unmanned vessels, an objective service officials have been highlighting the last few years as the Navy pursues its distributed maritime operations operating concept.
“The Marine Corps cannot remain relevant as a globally-employable naval expeditionary force in readiness without close and continuing support from the United States Navy,” Berger writes in the memo. “Realizing the vision described above will require specific investments by the Navy in capabilities including smaller and lower-signature naval vessels and manned and unmanned watercraft. My staff and I are closely engaged with the CNO and his team on this front.”
The “future force” initiative is slated to achieve initial operating capability in FY 2023 and full operating capability in FY 2030, according to the memo.