Tag Archives: Marine Corps

Boats, Budget, and Boots: The Colombian Navy’s Challenges in International Cooperation

Regional Strategies Topic Week

By Rafael Uribe Neira

Introduction

In recent years the Colombian Navy has undergone a well-planned but less-than-well executed modernization to exert sea control and counter regional threats in both the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean. After significant changes in doctrine and procurement, the institution still struggles to contribute to regional security despite being a key U.S. partner in the region. More than a decade of doctrinal transformations and a more determined role in international cooperation and defense diplomacy runs the risk of losing momentum and clarity. At least three issues speak of the encroaching challenges the navy must face in order to consolidate itself into what it calls a “medium regional force projection navy.” Serious problems in the procurement of new frigates, budgetary issues, and an oversized force structure are working against the navy’s ambitions. Because of the Colombian security forces’ resilience, and particularly the navy’s institutional capabilities, the country’s military has the potential to creatively adapt its scarce resources to provide security against common threats, but it is facing a string of obstacles along the way.

Colombia’s Success Story and the Role of the Navy 

The Colombian Navy has engaged in maritime security cooperation since the early 1990s through the signing of understanding agreements with the U.S. and regional navies to fight drug trafficking. By the mid-2000s, the value of international cooperation was institutionally acknowledged in the Naval Strategic Plans, but second to the need to counter domestic insurgencies and their sources of income. As with the other branches of the Colombian military, the actual value of international cooperation was mainly seen in the reception of security assistance rather than providing security in the international arena.

This trend, however, changed in 2008 with successes the security forces achieved against the insurgencies within the country. By 2009, the Ministry of Defense (MinDefensa) acknowledged the increasing value of the capabilities Colombian security forces gained in the fight against drug traffickers and guerrillas and its potential to offer solutions to similarly crisis-ridden countries worldwide. This has led to the acknowledgement that the Colombian Navy is not only a recipient of military aid, but also a net security provider and exporter. This has spurred its maritime ambitions. Through the Plan Estratégico Naval 2015-2018 (Naval Strategic Plan 2015-2018) and the Plan Naval de Desarrollo 2030 (Naval Development Plan 2030 or NDP 2030), the navy articulated for the first time the purpose of consolidating itself as a “medium regional force projection navy.” This plan, among other changes, devised a vision of the navy able to exert defense diplomacy, to take part in peacekeeping missions, and to export security in the form of training courses utilizing experience earned in longstanding internal conflicts against insurgencies.

Along with the continuing formulation of security and foreign policy, the Colombian Navy takes part in international naval exercises to signal its willingness to interact in multilateral security fora. Colombia has participated in in multinational exercises such as SIFOREX, UNITAS, RIMPAC, TRADEWINDS, and PANAMAX for years. The deployment of the offshore patrol vessel 7 de Agosto to the Horn of Africa to support the multinational force Atalanta and NATO’s Operation Ocean Shield between 2015 and 2016 (although not officially part of it) marked a turning point. These deployments constituted a robust step to qualify Colombia as a NATO “Global Partner” in 2018 and establish the country as a reliable partner capable of providing counterterrorism and maritime security support.

Sailors from Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam handle mooring lines from the Colombian navy corvette ARC Narino (CM-55) during its arrival for a scheduled port visit. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Tiarra Fulgham/Released)

Many of these transformations can also be understood as the result of sustained investment of U.S. security and economic aid. Since the late 1990s, plans such as Plan Colombia, now renamed Paz Colombia (Colombia Peace) and most recently Colombia Crece, (U.S.-Colombia Growth Initiative) this year have helped to train and modernize the military forces to the point of being considered a success story, whose results should and can be replicated in other parts of the region and the world. In this sense, Colombia stands as a reliable regional actor for U.S. foreign policy to provide security solutions in both the Caribbean and the Pacific Ocean. However, such trends are not exempt from challenges and strategic uncertainty in the short and medium term.

Between Big Ambitions and Serious Drawbacks: Major Combat Vessels  

Colombia’s expansive ambition to assert itself as a capable regional security actor also meant a reevaluation of current and future naval assets. Since 2015, the Plan Orion, Plan Puente, and Plan Faro (Plans Orion, Bridge and Lighthouse) intended to replace Colombia’s aging major ships. As a result, the navy acquired two second-hand German Type 206A submarines from the German Navy in 2012 to replace the old, Italian SX-506 submarines, and modernized the two existent Type 209/1200 submarines. Additionally, it built three offshore patrol vessels (OPVs) in Colombia with a license provided by the German shipyard Fassmer. Plan Faro also initiated what many consider the “crown jewel” of the Colombian Navy: the PES program.

The PES program stands for Plataforma Estratégica de Superficie (Strategic Surface Platform). It calls for the construction of up to eight frigates displacing 5,000 tons to replace the four German-made frigates of the Almirante Padilla class (FS 1500 – Howaldtswerke-Deutsche Werft, Kiel) currently in service.

However, some of these plans have suffered increasing delays. Only three out of four OPVs have been built and the PES project has reduced its scope and suffered delays despite only having reached the design phase. As a consequence, the new frigates projected will be limited to about 3,500 tons and their number will be reduced to only five vessels. They are no longer going to be built by 2027 or 2028 and no new date has been set. By 2019, there was no progress in the development of the PES project, as stated in COTECMAR’s 2019 report. So far the navy has put into service a donated South Korean corvette and declared the need to buy two second-hand frigates to fill the created gap. Among the possible candidates are Australian, Spanish, British Type 23, and German Bremen-Class (F-122) frigates. Any decision concerning the future selected vessels should take place next year, according to informed voices in Colombia close to the procurement process.

As stated in the Plan de Desarollo Naval 2042 (Naval Development Plan 2042 or NDP 2042) released earlier this year, the navy placed the PES program under the so-called PROCYON program. PROCYON (Fleet Building and Optimization Plan) also includes the PLOTEOS program which calls for the replacement of the four submarines in the silent fleet, the building of a logistics support ship, four additional patrol vessels, two amphibious transport docks, and at least one new maritime patrol airplane.

Vital to the success of these platforms is the growing shipyard industry and particularly COTECMAR (Science and Technology Corporation for the Development of Naval, Maritime and Riverine Industry), the state-owned shipyard company. The experience collected by the local maritime industry in the building of locally-designed riverine and seaworthy vessels contributes to work on the planned frigates and other major combatants. In Colombia, COTECMAR built Patrulleras de Apoyo Fluvial (Riverine Support Patrol Ships or PAF) type ships. The PAFs are domestically designed and used by the Colombian Marines for inshore security on the rivers and inland waters of Colombia, providing a cost-efficient solution for marines in domestic security operations.

The positive experiences earned at home with the PAFs helped raise the ambitions and scale of naval shipbuilding. In this sense, COTECMAR continued through the construction of coastal patrol vessels (CPV), three already-in-duty offshore patrol vessels (OPV) built between 2008 and 2017, and more recently an oceanographic vessel with Antarctic seagoing capabilities, as well as five Golfo de Tribugá class amphibious landing crafts (680 tons each). The Golfo de Tribugá class is particularly relevant, as it constitutes an international success for the Colombian shipyard industry. As important as the domestic market is, COTECMAR actively seeks to create new sources of revenue by selling crafts for dual-use, i.e. for civil and military purposes. Strategic partners such as Central American states procured amphibious landing crafts, which can be used for military operations or humanitarian aid relief operations. In 2019 and 2017, COTECMAR delivered two intercepting speed boats (Multi-Mission Interceptor 35 or MMI 35) used to fight drug trafficking and a logistics support vessel to the Honduran Naval Force for $13.5 million, as already discussed by Alejandro Wilder Sánchez on CIMSEC. A similar support vessel was sold to the Guatemalan Navy (Armada de Guatemala) for $11.7 million in 2019.

Despite these modest achievements, it remains to be seen whether the national industry will take root and be competitive in the coming years against well-established international shipyards. Additionally, and as Sánchez also pointed out, the low volume of orders from international markets puts Latin-American shipyards in dire need of establishing a brand. For the Colombian case this means that there is still a long way to go before COTECMAR and Colombian maritime ambitions can be credible actors in the region capable of building frigates. In consonance with the imperatives of such long-termed planning, the National Development Plan uses a timeframe of 20 years or five presidential administrations to replace its main surface and submarine vessels.

Budgetary Issues, Navy Size, and Security Cooperation

A more pressing difficulty in putting into motion the plans of constructing new platforms lies in the growing budgetary issues MinDefensa has faced in the last years. Although the Colombian budget for security and defense is the second largest in Latin America after Brazil’s at $10.8 billion (2019), military spending for procurement is dwindling. In fact, $466 million or about 4.3 percent of the defense budget was allocated for acquiring military hardware in 2019. In comparison, MinDefensa still allocated 9.1 percent to procurement in 2011, a number that diminished to 5 percent by 2017, according to a report on defense and security spending by the National Office of the Inspector General. For 2020, the budget for procurement further shrank to 2.9 percent.

The navy naturally does not escape this trend. While its budget has been relatively stable at between 6 percent and 7 percent of defense spending in Colombia, the share of procurement has steadily decreased as well. According to the NDP 2042, the navy invested 19 percent in the acquisition and replacement of new material in 2011. By 2019, that number had decreased to 10 percent. The bulk of navy spending is for personnel. During the same timeframe it grew from 57 percent to 69 percent. For the Armada Nacional, increased spending on personnel means fewer resources for procurement and other vital investments, which enable the projection of capabilities in the region.

Most worrisome is the fact that the navy does not seem to seriously tackle this issue in the NDP 2042. The institution puts its hopes in a budget it anticipates will increase in the future and which will result in a more competitive maritime market than the navy is currently boosting. The navy defines itself as a force, which will reduce its personnel spending by about 50 percent by 2042 without detailing how it plans to cut back and prioritize other items in the coming years. In practical terms, the navy expects the political leadership to increase its budget to put in motion the needed investments at some point in the future. Nevertheless, an economy hit with a worldwide pandemic and a resulting 15.7 percent loss in GDP makes that less than likely in the coming years.

Instead of pressing for a larger budget, it would make sense to reconsider the size and purpose of the Colombian Marine Corps, which makes up the bulk of the Colombian Navy. Traditionally used to combat insurgents, criminal organizations, and employed to extend the state’s reach in the most remote areas, the Colombian Marines do not possess relevant coastal defense capabilities or the required capabilities for amphibious power projection. When compared to similar forces in the region the Colombian Marine Corps is clearly oversized. According to a recent chapter in The Military Balance journal, the navy relies on a force of 56,400 men and women, while the Colombian Marines amount to almost half of that number: 22,250, which is larger than equivalent units such as the Brazilian (16,000) or the Mexican Marines (21,500). Offsetting this large size however is the fact that that the Colombian Navy does not use junior enlisted personnel and relies on marine conscripts for those jobs, inflating the size of the marine corps relative to the navy.

Although Colombian Marines also have the responsibility for securing all of Colombia’s considerable river system, which has over 18,000 kilometers of navigable waterways, many of their responsibilities overlap with those of the Colombian National Police and face the need to change with a transformation in domestic security. This naturally belongs to a larger discussion about the roles of the security forces after the 2016 peace agreement. Despite its disproportionate size, there is no plan to downsize the amphibious branches in the coming 20 years. The NDP 2042 mentions no restructuring other than increasing urgent capabilities.

Reducing the size of the naval infantry has the potential to free up valuable resources, which could be used to equip the force with specialized capabilities and deploy it to peacekeeping missions. Strengthening projects such as the building of two amphibious ships (LPDs) and the navy’s CENCOPAZ (Training Center for Peacekeeping) is a clear step in the right direction. CENCOPAZ co-leads the training of peacekeepers in Colombia and constitutes one of those national centers in which the Colombian security forces train to share their know-how in riverine operations, humanitarian de-mining, and anti-kidnapping.

Despite the progress in adapting the navy for more intense international cooperation, there are concerning trends it should seriously address. The projected LPDs are still in their conceptual stage and do not have the priority the PES program enjoys. Even with Colombia cooperating with NATO as a “Global Partner” as military-political enticement for international cooperation, plans to send navy peacekeepers as part of UN or NATO missions have seen little progress. Between 2014 and December 2019, MinDefensa reports 858 “certified soldiers” for peacekeeping operations out of 5,000 it originally planned to put through the training. The navy offers a slightly different number: in its 2015-2018 management report it states that CENCOPAZ trained 909 military, police, and civilian members in different courses for UN peacekeeping missions between 2015 and 2018, and points out that 687 (76 percent) come from the navy.

A Sober Look at the Future

The development of the Colombian Navy in the last decade has revealed an assertive regional naval force with the potential to evolve into a provider of regional security. This vision has materialized under the purpose of becoming a “medium regional force projection navy” with the right tools to exert sea control and cooperate with others to share what the Colombian military has learned during its historical fight against insurgencies and criminals.

All of this, however, seems to be at risk. There are at least three caveats to Colombian ambitions for international cooperation that are manifesting themselves in the navy. First, a well-structured procurement program intended to replace key combatants like frigates, has lost momentum. Second, naval defense spending leaves little leeway for the navy since manpower costs are hampering the ability to acquire the right tools to fulfill institutional missions. This, thirdly, intimately relates to the disproportionate size of the Colombian Marine Corps. They also have the potential to project the security solutions against terrorism and drug trafficking the national military is proud of, but can only be effective if they decrease in size.

In this context, the Armada Nacional should start thinking more about creating a slimmer and more effective navy in the face of political uncertainty, low budgets, and probably a long-lasting pandemic in Latin America. Otherwise, it may compromise its future of securing peace through international cooperation. 

Rafael Uribe Neira graduated in Juny 2020 with distinction from M.A. Peace and Conflict Studies at the Otto-von-Guericke University in Magdeburg, Germany. He focuses his research on civil-military relations, narratives in security aid, and lots of pop culture. Since his time as a research assistant at the Institute for Security Policy at Kiel University (ISPK) in the fall of 2018 and as an intern at the UN in Colombia in Winter 2018/2019, he developed a keen interest in the Caribbean and its global ties. Follow him on Twitter @RafaelUribeN.

Featured Image: Colombian Marines board an amphibious assault vehicle at the beach in Ancon, Peru, July 16, 2010. (Wikimedia Commons)

Corps Existentialism: Ensuring a Future for the Marines

After more than a decade of overwhelming success in combat operations ashore, the United States Marine Corps is mounting a very public return to its sea faring roots—and the timing could not be worse.  The defense budget is shrinking by billions of dollars each fiscal year, impacting everything from amphibious ship maintenance / readiness / modernization and interoperability to Marine acquisitions and end strength.  In the midst of all this fiscal turmoil, the Department of the Navy (DoN) is further handicapped by an absence of Department level strategic communications coordination evidenced by the distant narratives being communicated from the Blue and Green sides on amphibious operations. With America’s largest Global War on Terror land campaigns wrapping up and with it a shrinking appetite to maintain two land armies, the lack of a coherent, unified justification for the future employment of Marines aboard Navy shipping existentially threatens the Marine Corps. Below are eight major items that the DoN must internally reconcile in this budget cycle to further guarantee future relevancy of the US Marine Corps:

1.       DOCTRINE: Reconsider the Marines new Capstone Document, Expeditionary Force 21 (EF-21).

“EF-21 will not change what Marines do, but how they do it[1].”  To this I would add “and when they will do it, and why they will do it.”  EF-21 represents a unilateral, fundamental paradigm shift in Joint Forcible Entry Operations (JFEO) doctrine that disconnects with existing concepts such as the Joint Operational Access Concept and the Army – Marine Corps Access Concept.  EF-21 asserts the Marine Corps’ preeminence in conceiving Amphibious Doctrine and announces dramatic changes in USN shipping standoff ranges during landing operations (an almost unfathomable 65 nautical miles) as well as a novel sequencing of operations—landing Marines prior to cyber, naval, or air preparation of the battle space in order to conduct USMC counter anti-access and counter area-denial operations.  The Marines have blazed a new doctrinal path, replete with unique assumptions on surface ship missile defense capabilities (underestimated) and surface connector capabilities (overestimated). With EF-21 they have created a schism that—left unreconciled —will call into question Naval / Joint doctrine and acquisitions to support amphibious entry operations.

2.       ORGANIZATION: Re-evaluate the ARG MEU and MAGTF

For well over a decade, the Amphibious Ready Group / Marine Expeditionary Units (ARG MEU) have been operating outside of their normal 3 ship formations. “Split Force Operations” and “Distributed Operations”[2] have been directed by Geographic Combatant Commanders, thereby breaking up the traditional ARG MEU formations in order to distribute the ships and personnel where operationally required.  While the ARG MEU has been historically conceived as an amphibious, expeditionary rapid reaction combined arms force capable of self-sustainment, the proliferation of lesser contingency operations has resulted in the placing of greater preeminence on the pieces parts vs. the whole.  This trend of separating not only ARG-MEUs but also and their Marine Corps combined arms Marine Air Ground Task Forces (MAGTF) will likely only increase in the future (especially with game changing acquisitions like the 5th Generation F-35B Lightning II coming to the Fleet in FY-17).  The cross domain synergy envisioned in the JOAC—“…the complementary vs additive employment of capabilities which enhances the capabilities and compensates for the vulnerabilities of others”—will drive independent elements of the MAGTF further into the Joint arena, and may precede a paradigm shift fundamentally altering the current ARG MEU and MAGTFconstructs.  Getting in front of that bow wave will be essential to maintaining both the MAGTF’s integrity, its capability set and its Joint Force relevency in both fully integrated and split/disaggregated instantiations throughout the range of military operations.

3.       TRAINING: Refine the agility instead of preparing for Tarawa II

Exercise BOLD ALLIGATOR is as much about domestic and international strategic communications as it is a Marine Expeditionary Brigade level exercise.  The Navy – Marine Corps team has used the exercise to host many distinguished visitors (DVs) to demonstrate the capability of amphibious forces to conduct forcible entry operations even after a decade spent waging two land wars and a significant curtailment of practiced amphibious landings on both coasts.  MEB level landings haven’t been employed operationally since the Gulf War—and in that case it was a pump fake at Ash Shuaybah.  What the Navy-Marine Corps Team has done plenty of is split/disaggregated operations, and despite their prevalence over the last decade, there has not been enough concept refinement and exercises to perfect the planning, combat cargo loading, disaggregating and (most importantly) re-aggregating of the force in order to conduct larger scale operations.  Real emphasis on these modern deployment dynamics have to become a priority so that Navy-Marine Corps amphibious forces can maintain their relevance as a scalable, agile force capable of deploying to conduct both distributed, lesser contingency operations and focused, combined arms major combat operations.

 

4.       MATERIEL: Preserve the Assault Echelon by ensuring that the ACV does not become a “Ship to Objective Commuter[3]”

With the current Amphibious Assault Vehicle (AAV) fleet nearing 50 years of age, the Marines are in desperate need of a replacement.  The Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle—previously the heir apparent to the AAV—was cancelled in 2011 after $3 Billion was spent and $15 Billion more required.  The successor to the EFV, the Amphibious Combat Vehicle (ACV), is reported to lack an amphibious capability (it will not swim unlike its predecessors) and will instead rely on US Navy surface connectors (Landing Craft Air Cushion [hoovercraft] and Landing Craft Utility [regular displacement craft]) to get ashore. As stated by LtCol Howard F. Hall in the Marine Corps Gazette, “… regardless of its land capabilities, the [non amphibious ACV] lack of personnel carrying capacity, reliance on connectors, and delayed transition from those connectors once ashore exacerbate operational risks.” Those risks include surrendering the assault echelon writ large: without amphibious capability, the connectors—which are very vulnerable to small arms, coastal artillery / mortars—would be stuck depositing ACVs instead of follow on logistics and supplies.  Once ashore, the ocean becomes a brick wall to Marines embarked in ACVs instead of maneuver space.  EF-21 envisions a 65 nautical mile standoff between Marines on the beach and Sailors on the amphibs.  If that distance is to be honored, an “amphibious combat vehicle” that lives up to its name must be fielded.

5.       LEADERSHIP: Challenge convention, support the Joint Force and the Corps will continue to thrive

The Marines are famous for their institutional paranoia on both Navy support and Army efforts to subsume them.  This paranoia, however, is detrimental to effecting needed change, and often causes a reflexive opposition to anything which threatens existing Marine Corps doctrine—seen as the Corps’ existential guarantor.  The Corps is not without their own innovators, however.  Earl “Pete” Hancock Ellis, as a Major in the Marines, conceived and developed the innovative Operations Plan 712—the basic strategy for the United States in the Pacific that led to the Corps’ modern day monopoly on Amphibious Assault (and in no small part its survival through the twentieth century). If not for Ellis’ own benefactor, General LeJeune, OPLAN 712 may never have received the vetting that drove it to become foundational to the Pacific Campaign.  This same kind of innovation and support, and not just doubling-down of core competencies in more difficult settings, must take place with Marine leadership going forward to ensure that the Corps is positioned strategically to act when the Joint Force requires.

6.       PERSONNEL: Bring back Marines assigned to Navy ships at the platoon level to augment Navy VBSS, security, small arms, ATFP capabilities

The Marines had an illustrious 223 year run on Navy capital ships, which ended in January 1998 as the defense department drew down its end strength as part of the Clinton era peace dividend.  Today, as the Corps is set to shrink once again post Afghanistan and Iraq, there is ironically a pressing need for Marines to return to Navy ships.  Anti-terrorism / Force Protection (ATFP) requirements—sentries, crew served weapons and quick reaction forces—have been on a steady rise since the 2000 USS Cole suicide bombing in Yemen.  These watch stations strain Navy crews and are manned by personnel whose primary responsibility is not the handling of small arms.  Likewise, Navy Visit Board, Search and Seizure teams—while more proficiently trained than their ATFP counterparts—are principally manned and trained for inspection and self-defense; they do not have an assault / counter-assault capability and therefore usually rely on heavily tasked special operations forces (SOF) to conduct opposed boardings.  Returning Marines to Navy ships will bring additional ATFP and VBSS capabilities to the Fleet while insulating the Marine Corps from additional manpower cuts.

7.       FACILITIES: Prepare special units to embark non-traditional shipping (and keep them light)

Commandant of the Marine Corps General James Amos testified in front of Congress on 01 October on his initiative to form a Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force (SP MAGTF) in Kuwait to provide regional Quick Reaction Force (QRF) capability.  Retired Captain Jerry Hendrix of the Center for a New American Security endorsed the innovation in the Wall Street Journal.

“Looking at the Marines as a crisis response force is good in the sense the Corps knows it must develop an alternative mission and a new future.” [4]

However, Amos believes that his efforts are being hamstrung by the lack of amphibious shipping.

“In a perfect world we would rather have these teams sea-based, but we don’t have enough ships.”[5]

Not every contingency warrants a warship.  For lesser contingency operations—everything from embassy reinforcement, snatch-and-grabs to theater security cooperation—the Navy is looking towards employing ships from its “Moneyball Fleet”.  Joint High Speed Vessels, Afloat Forward Staging Bases, Dry Cargo Logistics Ships and Littoral Combat Ships are considerably cheaper to build and operate than their USS cousins, boast considerable cargo space, have sufficient flight deck / boat deck facilities while operating with a considerably smaller “signature.”  In order to ensure that these vessels do not become the exclusive domain of lighter / sexier Special Operations Forces (SOF), Marines must build tailored, scalable packages that can rapidly deploy, integrate, conduct operations and debark as cheaply and as expeditiously as possible.  Throwing down similar communications integration, berthing, and command and control requirements on non-traditional shipping as amphibious shipping is a surefire way to get priced out and left on the pier.

8.       POLICY: A greater role for the Secretary of the Navy in ensuring unity of effort / purpose within DoN DOTMLPF

At the end of the day, Title 10 authority to man, equip and train the members of the United States Navy and United States Marine Corps is invested in the Secretary of the Navy, the Honorable Ray Mabus.  The department’s strategic vision must be clearly defined and communicated at the Secretariat level.  There is no room for competing narratives, especially in an era of ever shrinking fiscal resources and ever expanding operational requirements.  It must become the policy of the Department of the Navy that all Navy / Marine Corps Doctrine, Organization, Training, Materiel, Leadership, Personnel, Facilities conform to the department’s strategic vision and serve in promoting its unity of purpose.  Anything less introduces risk and presents an existential threat to the Marine Corps.

 

Nicolas di Leonardo is a member of the Expeditionary Warfare Division on the staff of the Chief of Naval Operations and a student at the US Naval War College.  The views expressed here are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Expeditionary Warfare Division or the Naval War College.

[1] Amos, General James E. et al.  “EF-21,” Headquarters Marine Corps, 04 March 2015, p.5
[2] Disaggregated Operations are defined in EF-21 as “…requiring elements of the ARG/MEU to function separately and independently, regardless of time and distance, with elements under a command relationship that changes/limits the ARG/MEU commanders’ control of their forces.  Distributed Operations / Split Force Operations are defined as “…requiring elements of the ARG/MEU  to function separately for various durations and various distances with the ARG and MEU commanders retaining control of their forces under the Geographic Combatant Commander.”

[3] Hall, LtCol Howard F.  “Ship to Objective Commuters: The Continuing Search for Amphibious Vehicle Capability.”  The Marine Corps Gazette, August 2014
[4] Barnes, Julian E.  “Marines Deploy New Quick Reaction Force in Kuwait.”  The Wall Street Journal, 02 October 2014.
[5] Barnes, Julian E.  “Marines Deploy New Quick Reaction Force in Kuwait.”  The Wall Street Journal, 02 October 2014.

U.S. Marine [Expletive] No One Realizes He’s the [Expletive]

International Maritime Satire Week Warning: The following is a piece of fiction intended to elicit insight through the use of satire and written by those who do not make a living being funny – so it’s not serious and very well might not be funny. See the rest of our IntMarSatWeek offerings here.

CAMP FUJI, JAPAN—U.S. Marine Second Lieutenant Chandler Weisenbottom graduated from a Division II school in the Southeast United States with a Bachelor’s Degree in Physical Education and was the sergeant-at-arms for his fraternity, all accomplishments that would grant him a modest head nod at any bar in America. Tragically, the Marine Corps has refused to acknowledge the depth and breadth of his brilliant capabilities.

“Listen, I took an Arabic studies elective sophomore year and learned as least three greetings. But when I showed up to the battalion, no one [expletive] cared,” said Weisenbottom as he was trying to figure out how to get the pin on his common access card (CAC) to work. Sources reported he had been at the computer for at least an hour even though he never went through the necessary check-in steps and therefore had not had his PIN loaded into the card. Weisenbottom stated that up until now he mostly used his CAC to get cheap booze from the package store on the base near his mom’s house while he waited to begin at The Basic School (TBS).

Weisenbottom was emphatic that his skills were being less than efficiently utilized.

“The semester after I came back from Platoon Leader’s Class I taught all my brothers how to lead a fire team attack on a Soviet machine gun nest so that we could teach those Delta Omega [expletives] a lesson,” said Weisenbottom, referring to the summer training program for officer candidates and a movie reference he doesn’t understand. “So I think I have some credibility when I am trying to teach my platoon how to interpret Clausewitz as it pertains to sexual assault prevention and response.”

“I mean why the [expletive] was I not put in charge of the battalion’s embedded training team? I have the cultural background for Christ’s sake—I got a C+ in that [derogatory]-studies class,” Weisenbottom cried after resigning from his attempts with the CAC. When questioned as to why the battalion would need Arabic cultural awareness when they were currently on a rotation to Japan, Weisenbottom replied “huh, well it’s still important and I need to get a [expletive] pump in before I punch out to 1STCIVDIV so I can get into finance.”

Weisenbottom’s platoon sergeant, Dave Smith, was resigned when questioned about his new platoon leader’s woes. “The LT is okay, he mostly sits around sucking up to the XO because they were in the same skull society or whatever the [expletive] at some college, so he doesn’t get in our way too much. It is problematic though when he wants to teach a class, since we have a pretty tight training schedule, and those stupid hip pocket classes keep the Marines from getting any time out in town to try and get some [derogatory] strange. [Expletive], it’ll be at most another week until some [expletive] gets us locked down again for [expletive] something up, so I better get laid.”

Captain Brent Duckler, Weisenbottom’s commanding officer, stated that the new lieutenant would be fine if “he quit [expletive] whining” about his cultural skills being misused and finished confirming “his [expletive] consolidated memorandum receipt (CMR).”

Weisenbottom was unavailable to respond to Duckler’s remarks and was  reportedly busy trying to set up a Marine Corps Martial Arts Program (MCMAP) tournament that had registered only other new lieutenants.

Maynard, Cushing & Ellis is the repository of our anonymously submitted articles.

Why the United States Should Merge Its Ground Forces

Part of our Sacred Cow series, originally posted at USNI Blog.

Speaking at the Association of the United States Army on the 12th, Admiral James Winnefeld, the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the audience that in future ground wars the tempo will be “shorter, faster-paced and much harder” because America’s adversaries will work to create a “fog of war.” Thus, the Admiral suggested that the Army “place more emphasis on the growth industry…of protecting American citizens abroad” in order to adapt to the fluid geostrategic environment.

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VCJCS Admiral James Winnefeld speaking at the Association of the United States Army on September 12th.

Indeed, since the sequestration went into effect in March, many defense experts have been debating what the future may hold for the Army, the Marine Corps and the Special Operations Command (SOCOM). Whatever their respective views may be on the utility of landpower in future wars, all seem to agree on one thing: that in the sequestration era, the ground components must fight leaner and smarter.

For John R. Deni, a research professor at the U.S. Army War College’s Strategic Studies Institute, the answer seems to lie in the “Army-led military-to-military activities” which may provide stability in politically volatile regions “if only because most military forces around the globe are army-centric.”

Others beg to differ. Generals James Amos and Raymond Odierno and Admiral William McRaven seem to second Admiral Winnefeld’s claim when they argue that today “the need to conduct large-scale aid and consequence management missions, both within the United States and internationally, is certain to grow.” General James Amos, the Marine Corps Commandant, also recently echoes this view when he advocates a lighter but mobile Marine Corps because he believes tomorrow’s conflicts will likely involve “violent extremism, battles for influence, disruptive societal transitions, natural disaster, extremist messages and manipulative politics.”

However, if the United States Armed Forces is truly concerned about raising a cost-efficient and versatile ground force, it can merge the Army, the SOCOM and the Marine Corps into one unified service branch. This idea is not new. As far back as 1994, the late Colonel David Hackworth advocated the merger of the Army and the Marine Corps because their missions seemed to overlap. He went so far as to claim that the Department of Defense (DoD) could save “around $20 billion a year.” Nevertheless, absent in Hackworth’s column was a coherent blueprint for how the DoD could effectively unify its ground components into a cohesive service because Hackworth did not flesh out his strategic vision for what 21st Century wars may look like.

Which raises a very salient question as to what America’s strategic priorities should be. In a perceptive op-ed, Mark Fitzgerald, David Deptula and Gian P. Gentile aver that the United States must choose to go to “war as a last resort and not a policy option of first choice.” To this must be added another imperative. The United States Armed Forces must prioritize homeland defense as its primary mission and rethink the mistaken belief that the United States can somehow secure its interests through “lengthy military occupations of foreign lands.”

Thus, this newly merged service must redirect its focus towards countering cyber warfare and CBRNe (Chemical, Biological, Radiation, Nuclear and explosives) attacks and should work towards bolstering its counterterrorism (CT) capabilities. This is because, due to the convergence of the global community, the United States may be vulnerable to attacks from within by homegrown terrorists and drug cartels—all of which may wreak havoc and may even cripple America’s domestic infrastructures.

Reorientation of its mission focus may also require that the new service reconfigure its size. After all, as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey wrote in Foreign Affairs, “Washington should remember that the size of the armed forces is not the most telling metric of their strength.” One solution is to adopt the so-called “Macgregor Transformation Model (MTM)” centered around the combat group concept which may reduce the strength of the new service “yet in the end produce a force that has greater combat capability…[and] more sustainable.” This model may provide the United States with a deployable fire brigade in the event of a national emergency or an international crisis. Already, the bases from which to adopt this viable model exist in the form of Army brigade combat teams (BCTs) and Marine Air-Ground Task Forces (MAGTFs) of various sizes.

Should the United States decide that it needs to project its hard power abroad to guard its interests, it could deploy the Special Operations Forces (SOF) components of the new service in tandem with UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) to selectively target and neutralize potential threats. While the SOF and UAV surgical raids should not be viewed as substitutes for deft diplomacy, they can provide cheaper and selective power projection capabilities. Moreover, doing so could minimize the risks inherent in power projection and anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) missions which may potentially mire the United States in messy and protracted conflicts.

Marines from MARSOC honing their rifle marksmanship skills. Photo by MARSOC Public Affairs

Last but not least, this new service could buttress interoperability and capabilities of allied forces around the globe through military-to-military exchanges. Although Deni was referring specifically to the Army-led initiatives when he suggested this, he may be correct that military-to-military engagements may help to promote America’s image abroad as a trusted guarantor of peace. But even more important, such activities may “mean fewer American boots on the ground.” However, implementing what the retired Marine General James Mattis refers to as the “proxy strategy” may be a better means by which the United States could “lead from behind.” Under this arrangement, while “America’s general visibility would decline,” its allies and proxies would police the trouble spots on its behalf.

Contrary to what many in the defense establishment believe, the austerity measures wrought by the sequestration have not been entirely negative. If anything, this perceived “crisis” has provided the much-needed impetus for innovative approaches to national defense. The proposed merger of the ground forces may provide the United States with most cost-effective and versatile service branch to defend the homeland and safeguard its interests abroad.