Small Wars Journal

U.S. Rethinks a Marine Corps Specialty

U.S. Rethinks a Marine Corps Specialty: Storming Beaches - Tony Perry and Julian E. Barnes, Los Angeles Times.

On a stretch of clean, white Southern California beach, thousands of young Marines this month charged forward from the sea, leaping from helicopters and landing craft, echoing the exercises conducted decades before when Marines trained for Iwo Jima and Inchon. It was the largest and most complex amphibious exercise since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. It also could be one of the last...

But the Marines have not stormed a hostile beach since Inchon during the Korean War. And influential military thinkers - including, most notably, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates - have begun to question whether the Marines will ever do it again.

In a speech last month, Gates said rogue nations and nonstate movements such as Hezbollah now possessed sophisticated guided missiles that could destroy naval ships, forcing them to stay well away from shore and making any sort of beach landing by Marines extremely dangerous. Countries including China and Iran have guided missiles and other defenses to deter a beach landing, said Andrew Krepinevich, president of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, who has written skeptically of traditional amphibious landings...

More at The Los Angeles Times.


Marine SEALs? First & foremost would be finding enough Marines who could pass BUDs, unless the USMC pulls the usual & dumbs down the training. While I fully agree that the USMC should become a "Part" of SOCOM, as its maritime expeditionary force, I would not agree that the USMC is the SME for SOF operations. Rubber-stamping MEUs (SOC) does not qualify as competent SOF operators. The USMC needs to lose all of their heavy assets to the Army, seriously shave away excess support jobs that can be performed by civilians, and actually become America's premiere 911 force in reality (U.S. Marine Commandos)...NOT just as part of some PR campaign. Should the USMC be forward deployed? Yes, but only as MEUs on ships (Stop trying to do the Army's job). In line with the original article, a 65 mile standoff is dreaming...try hundreds of miles. This is where the USMC has made serious "Shoot their selves-in-the-foot mistakes," by destroying the reconnaissance community, all the while trying to play (MARSOC) with the varsity team (SF, Delta, DEVGROUP), unsuccessfully I might add, and which does not even support the regular USMC. Re-vitalize the Recon community, increase it 4-fold & train for them to insert deep behind enemy lines (Parachute, Rubber Duck, Helocast, Submarine, CRRC, etc.) IOT secure that beachhead, destroy that radar, etc. ISO a follow-on USMC mission. Then & only then can you bring in the grunts...fantasizing that a company of grunts can do this is just that, a never-going-to-happen fantasy, or if attempted, will result in increased usage of body bags (think KOH TANG, Cambodia 1975).

Given the history of the USMC as the anti-piracy / small wars naval force, is now the time to look at re-configuring the entire USMC into the maritime special operations force by rolling all Navy SEAL functions into it (Marine SEALs)? By making the Marines the primary maritime SOF element (primary DoD SOF element?), they can reduce their size even more by dumping all tank formations (leave armor warfare to the Army), most of the artillery and helicopter units (Army and Navy can take up the slack there), and get "lean and hard" by becoming an predominantly infantry-centric SOF organization....our own Marine Commandos.

slapout9 (not verified)

Tue, 06/22/2010 - 11:56am

Weren't the Marines invented to fight pirates and terrorist and guerrillas from ships and on ships and go ashore when needed? And if it turned into a big war to help the Army? Seems like a pretty good specialty in todays world.


Tue, 06/22/2010 - 11:35am

<i>Small, light, fast, & agile. How's that for a defining role?</i>

It's great, but I for one don't see the Marine Corps acting that way enough. I think we've become very myopic and too focused on amphibious assault. We can maintain expertise in amphibious assault and develop expertise in other areas. But many Marines seem to think that the memories of Iwo Jima will sustain us all by itself.

ed (not verified)

Mon, 06/21/2010 - 9:33pm

Nygdan- March 2003 173rd ABN BDE jumed into northern Iraq

Anonymous (not verified)

Mon, 06/21/2010 - 3:47pm

I would like to think that these past 8 plus years of land-locked conflict involving the Corps is more an anomaly than the defining future considering the preponderance of the worlds populations are more and more gathering along the littorals.

The problem of course remains what platforms, both airborne and by sea, are best suited to take advantage of existing - not promised - naval shipping and support, to move Marine over the horizon?

Vito (not verified)

Mon, 06/21/2010 - 3:23pm

The Marine Corps' Small Wars Manual was published in 1940. Was sort of overcome by events to say the least.

Steve (not verified)

Mon, 06/21/2010 - 2:33pm

It's also important to remember that prior to WW 2 there was extensive debate within the Marine Corps as to their true mission (small wars or a landing force)...a question that some might say was decided by WW 2. There were plenty of forward thinking Marines in both the SW and LF camps during the interwar period.

Its interesting that the more 'famous' sections of the military don't do what they're famous for; the Marines don't storm beaches, and Paratroopers don't parachute behind enemy lines anymore either. Heck, Tanks don't knock out enemy tanks all that much either. Its at least reasonable to expect that US tanks would duke it out with enemy tanks in a 'big' war, but, I don't know, does anyone actually /expect/ that we'll have troops assaulting coastlines and parachuting into combat?

I forgot to add to my second paragraph.....that the Army's new focus on "small wars" had traditionally been a Marine Corps thing...and despite the Army now taking this on (I think), the Marines are still needed.

Didn't mean to rush.

It seems that the Marines have to define their role, and justify their existence, every couple of decades or so.

While storming beaches may be a thing of the past, having a Marine Corps isn't. Despite the shift in focus being experienced in our Army....focus on COIN, security force assistance, "small wars", etc....the Marines remain our premier expeditionary force, able to rapidly respond anywhere on the globe. Because they remain forward-deployed, bobbing about on ships that protect our sealanes, they are usually far-better positioned than any Army units. They are task-organized from the battalion level (battalion landing teams, MAGTFs) on up to operate independently for several weeks until the Army, with its more robust capabilities, arrives.

While Marines may still want to keep the "beach storming" capability in their kit-bag, I don't think it needs to be their defining characteristic.....and if I'm correct, storming beaches didn't become a Marine Corps thing until WW 2, courtesy of some forward-thinking Marines, who during the 20's and 30's, were trying to define the role and purpose of the Marines after WW 1.

Our Marines are the rapid-reaction expeditionary force for the US. Small, light, fast, & agile. How's that for a defining role?