Category Archives: USMC Transformation Week

Transforming the Marine Corps Topic Week Concludes on CIMSEC

By Dmitry Filipoff

For the past two weeks, CIMSEC featured pieces submitted in response to our call for articles on transforming the Marine Corps.

As high-end warfighting capabilities proliferate and become ever more powerful, especially in the Indo-Pacific, the Marine Corps is challenged to evolve and pace threats. Robust debate on transformation is a timeless feature of the profession of arms, and especially when meaningful, far-reaching change is underway. In our topic week, authors analyzed various elements of the ongoing transformation of the Marine Corps, including warfighting concepts, air defense, change management, and more. As the Marine Corps changes to meet modern threats, these efforts will continue to spark challenging debates that can help sharpen transformation.

Below are the authors who featured during CIMSEC’s topic week on transforming the Marine Corps. We thank them for their excellent contributions.

Stand-In Forces: Disrupting Anti-Access Systems,” by Joseph Mozzi

“If competition escalates to conflict, the stand-in force already occupies a position of advantage. The stand-in force concept challenges the Marine Corps to create an adaptable system that can persist and sustain itself in a contested space, adapting its theory of warfighting to present challenges.”

Locate, Close With, Destroy,” by Ian Brown

“General Ricci, poster child of the old guard, wanted his refurbished tanks and artillery tubes to have a public knife fight upon which he could slap the bumper sticker of “locate, close with, and destroy,” because that’s what the old guard wanted. Her “influencers”—linguistic trend analysis among their skills, not that Ricci cared—were screaming that this conflict would unfold another way.”

EABO Beyond the Indo-Pacific: Reimagining the “Battle of the Aegean,” by Capt. Ross W. Gilchriest, USMC

“The following analysis seeks to illustrate how U.S. Marine Corps stand-in forces and EABO could be leveraged to support a naval campaign in littoral environments beyond the Indo-Pacific region.”

Preparing for Change is as Important as Change Itself: Change Management and Force Design 2030,” by Carl Forsling

“Preparing for the change itself is a process. Just as with introducing a new electronic tool, some will be early adopters on the cutting edge, while others will trail the prevailing crowd as fast followers, and others will be dead-enders that fail to stay relevant. All of these mindsets exist within organizations, and leaders must find ways to bring all of these people onboard to execute change.”

Antisubmarine Warfare for the Amphibious Warfare Team,” by The Good Sailor Svejk

“Without changes to ARG-Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) composition, hostile submarines continue to hold the ARG-MEU at risk which is why the Navy and Marine Corps must design a new ASW concept for ARG protection. An integrated Navy and Marine Corps team could develop a composite ASW element for the ARG.”

The First Stand-in Forces: The Role of International Affairs Marines in Force Design 2030,” by Majors Zach Ota and Eric Hovey, USMC

“Simply put, any USMC effort to deter and defeat China within the USINDOPACOM area of responsibility requires Marines to have access to the air, land, and territorial seas of a foreign partner, but the Marine Corps currently lacks an international affairs operating concept to ensure that this access is granted.”

Marine Corps Metamorphosis: Legal Considerations,” by Brent Stricker

“Despite the breadth of conversation surrounding EABO, operational law has been largely ignored in the discussions, by both critics and proponents of the new concept. As the U.S. Marine Corps develops and transforms its doctrine for EABO, it must consider what impacts international law will have on future operations.”

The Importance of Unmanned Logistics Support For a Transforming Marine Corps,” by George Galdorisi

“Advanced base operations could involve Marines being cut off from sustainment, whether as forces that have been blockaded or forces that have been bypassed by opposing naval forces. Marines will require robust pre-positioned stocks to have enough self-sufficiency to continue the fight in the absence of sustainment, and sustainment assets must be more distributed and risk-worthy than legacy platforms. Unmanned systems can fill this gap.”

When Only a Chisel Will Do: Marine Corps Force Design for the Modern Era,” by Capt. Jesse Schmitt

“Incremental change fails to achieve the objective of the change. The purpose of the Marine Corps’ evolution is to frustrate the adversary’s plans to mitigate Marine capabilities. Strategic competitors have observed the Department of Defense’s actions over the last two decades of operations and structured themselves accordingly.”

Missing: Expeditionary Air Defense,” by Ben DiDonato

“In the many discussions on the Marine Corps’ new Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations (EABO) concept, the subject of air defense seems to have largely fallen through the cracks and threatened a critical capability gap. More analysis must be focused on how these forces can be defended against various aerial threats and identify key capability gaps.”

Dmitry Filipoff is CIMSEC’s Director of Online Content. Contact him at

Featured Image: CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. – Marines with 5th Battalion, 11th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, arrive at one of their launch positions with the High-Mobility Artillery Rocket System at the Air Combat Element landing strip as a part of Integrated Training Exercise 3-18 aboard the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, Twentynine Palms, Calif., May 21, 2018. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. William Chockey)

Missing: Expeditionary Air Defense

Transforming the Marine Corps Topic Week

By Ben DiDonato

In the many discussions on the Marine Corps’ new Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations (EABO) concept, the subject of air defense seems to have largely fallen through the cracks and threatened a critical capability gap. More analysis must be focused on how these forces can be defended against various aerial threats and identify key capability gaps. By analyzing air defense across three broad categories, including advanced missiles, small drones, and traditional aircraft, EABO can be further strengthened as an operating concept.

Advanced Missiles

The most discussed aspect of air defense as it relates to EABO is China’s advanced long-range missiles. This discussion is often couched in vague terms and usually centered on phrases like “targeting problems,” but boils down to three key points in practice.

The first is distribution to minimize damage. Barring a nuclear warhead, the damage inflicted by these missiles is both limited and localized. Distributing Marines ashore instead of trying to control the same seas with multi-billion-dollar warships limits the damage these missiles can individually cause to a handful of casualties and/or a single piece of major equipment. This may still outweigh the cost of the missile, but the margin is much closer and makes it possible to invert the exchange ratio.

The second point is that distributing forces into smaller formations makes them more difficult to detect, track, and target. China has invested extensively in sensor systems optimized to engage large warships, and that very optimization means these systems will not be as effective at identifying Marines distributed in small units ashore.

Finally, the corollary to small, distributed formations being difficult for Chinese sensors to locate is that decoys will be highly effective. If the Marines deploy numerous effective decoys alongside distributed forces, China will be forced into an unwinnable dilemma. They can either not use their weapons out of lack of confidence, or they can expend them against numerous decoys and cause minimal damage to U.S. forces. While the U.S. obviously has various decoys available and troops of all kinds have repeatedly shown their ingenuity in improvising decoys in the field, there has not been much public discussion of new decoys and the critical importance of decoys to EABO’s success.

The conclusion is that while EABO can be an effective strategy for mitigating the high-end missile threat through effective softkill countermeasures, more could be done to emphasize the use of decoys to defeat these weapons. This is particularly important to deterrence because China cannot effectively factor in the U.S. ability to decoy their weapons into their decision-making if these capabilities are not publicly advertised to a certain extent.

Small Drones

While small, swarming drones and loitering munitions are a very serious threat in many environments and have received significant attention and investment as a result, the actual threat in the Indo-Pacific region is greatly limited by the distances involved. These small platforms simply do not have the range to cross the hundreds or thousands of miles of ocean that will be between U.S. forces and hostile territory in most cases.

That said, there may be some areas where Marines are close enough to hostile territory for drone swarms to be used, and it is also possible drone swarms could be launched from maritime platforms, particularly those of the People’s Armed Forces Maritime Militia. There is still a need for distributable defenses against these platforms, and that need is being filled by the Marine Air Defense Integrated System (MADIS). This system should prove sufficient to contest this threat and protect Marines against small drones in a local area defense context, and its softkill mechanisms could prove invaluable for logistically intensive distributed operations. But it remains subject to debate whether the use of these jamming systems creates another telltale signature that could enable other forms of strike.

Twentynine Palms, Ca – 1st Lt. Taylor Barefoot, a low altitude air defense officer with Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 163 (Reinforced), 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit, programs a counter-unmanned aircraft system on a Light Marine Air Defense Integrated System (LMADIS) during a predeployment training exercise at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif., Nov. 13, 2018. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Dalton S. Swanbeck)

Traditional Aircraft

This threat category has been badly neglected in most discussions of EABO and risks completely collapsing the concept if ignored. The Marines currently do not have an organic anti-aircraft weapon capable of engaging high-altitude targets, making Marines poorly defended against a multitude of airpower tactics. Whether it be bomber attacks or drone strikes, Marines are currently defenseless against any aircraft at even medium altitude, and there do not seem to be plans to remedy this problem aside from hoping the joint force can provide the needed capabilities.

This oversight transforms many of China’s older and/or less capable aircraft like the H-6 bomber and Wing Loong drone into significant threats. They could loiter for long durations over islands suspected to have Marines at more than 20,000 feet, allowing them to perform detailed surveillance to help distinguish decoys from Marines and striking forces at their discretion. While it is true U.S. fighters could inflict casualties against these aerial assets, contesting advanced bases within an adversary’s weapons engagement zone makes it more likely that the adversary has greater counter-air capabilities and local air superiority. Attempting to interdict Chinese strikes against advance bases with airpower could draw U.S. fighters into exchanges featuring lopsided force ratios and exacerbate dependencies on limited tanking assets. Surface-to-air missiles on the other hand can sit persistently on islands to deter or contest hostile strikes, and can be rapidly repositioned after an engagement if sufficiently mobile.

Since the retirement of the MIM-23 Hawk, the only surface-to-air missile in Marine Corps service is the aging FIM-92 Stinger. Since the Stinger is first and foremost a man-portable system, it simply does not have the kinematic performance to engage aircraft unless they choose to come down to low altitude. But if there is no threat of high-altitude surface-to-air capabilities, aircraft will not be forced to lower altitudes where they can then be made susceptible to shorter-range systems like Stinger. Air defense therefore requires both high and low-altitude systems to effectively contest and deny airspace across its various dimensions and manipulate adversary air assets into maneuvering through engagement zones. The MIM-104 Patriot missile in active service can engage higher altitude targets, but Patriot is perhaps too large or logistically intensive to distribute as envisioned by EABO. It is also worth mentioning the National Advanced Surface to Air Missile System (NASAMS), which is in limited service protecting Washington DC, since this is a medium-range system which is smaller and lighter than Patriot. However, it is still a multi-vehicle networked system which would likely still be too difficult to deploy in the distributed, low-footprint manner envisioned by EABO.

Looking abroad, the closest to a suitable system is the Russian Buk which, while intended to operate as a networked, multi-platform system like Patriot and NASAMS, is also capable of operating as a self-contained, standalone single-vehicle system. Its unusual Transporter Erector Launcher And Radar (TELAR) combines medium-range missiles capable of engaging aircraft at any altitude with a radar, generator, and fire control center to allow it to be used with no external support systems. This makes it far more suitable to the distributed operations envisioned by the Marine Corps since a useful capability could be achieved with just one vehicle, and without the need for waiting for other enabling vehicles to be set up and connected. Such a capability should be able to facilitate the shoot-and-scoot tactics of distributed forces as well.

Of course, the Russian Buk is obviously not an option for the United States, but the U.S. should develop a similar single-vehicle, medium-range surface-to-air missile system, most likely using the RIM-162 Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile (ESSM). This missile is both smaller and more capable than the Russian missile, so an American system designed primarily to act as a standalone, land-based ESSM platform would be significantly more capable than Buk’s TELAR.


The current EABO concept, in conjunction with current developments, is broadly suitable for defending against advanced missiles and small swarming drones, but features a critical capability gap against traditional aircraft and large drones. Moving forward, the Marines should place more emphasis on decoys, both in messaging and procurement, and should also continue with the current MADIS program. However, by far the most critical step the Marines must take to make EABO workable is the urgent development of a medium-range air defense system.

Ben DiDonato is a volunteer member of the NRP-funded LMACC team lead by Dr. Shelley Gallup. He originally created what would become the armament for LMACC’s baseline Shrike variant in collaboration with the Naval Postgraduate School in a prior role as a contract engineer for Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control. He has provided systems and mechanical engineering support to organizations across the defense industry from the U.S. Army Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center (CERDEC) to Spirit Aerosystems, working on projects for all branches of the armed forces. Feel free to contact him at

Featured Image: U.S. Marines with the Ground Based Air Defense Program, conduct a demonstration of the Light-Marine Air Defense Integrated System (L-MADIS) and FIM-92 Stinger Missile, on Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia, June 30, 2021. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Tia Dufour)

When Only a Chisel Will Do: Marine Corps Force Design for the Modern Era

Transforming the Marine Corps Topic Week

Capt. Jesse Schmitt, U.S. Marine Corps

One of the U.S. Marine Corps’ greatest strengths has been a weakness of late. Its storied history and rich service culture make it an organization notoriously resistant to critical self-examination and change. If “man cannot remake himself without suffering, for he is both the marble and the sculptor,” then the Marine Corps is particularly fond of its own marble and sensitive to the chisel.1 Such a fondness explains the spate of articles from retired Marine Corps leaders criticizing the “hasty” execution of 2019 Commandant’s Planning Guidance (CPG) and lamenting they sacrifice critical aspects of the Marine Corps combined arms heritage.

Taken sincerely, it represents well-intentioned men and women expressing concern for a service they care about. However, they should not be heeded if the Marine Corps is to realize its status as a modern and relevant force provider. Change is at the heart of maneuver warfare philosophy. This framework should guide the Marine Corps’ plans strategically as it does tactically, given the trajectory of global affairs. Applied, this process will see the Marine Corps carve its own marble to provide relevant and novel capabilities to combatant commanders, while shedding legacy capabilities that are ill-suited for the realities of the modern battlefield.

Well Meaning, But Wrong

It is useful to understand the critiques leveled at the Commandant’s Planning Guidance. Some of the critiques can be specifically refuted, such as General Zinni’s (USMC (ret.)), assertion that the proposed changes “do not meet … requirements and do not meet the needs of the combatant commander.”2 Meanwhile, General Todd Wolters, current Commander of U.S. European Command, told the House Armed Services Committee that the changes “dramatically enhance(s) our options … a brown-water force that can shoot, move and communicate and is very expeditionary is priceless for 21st century security.”3 Lieutenant General Van Riper’s chief complaint concerns the speed of change and overall lack of due diligence. This commentary fails to account for years of wargaming and study dating back to Commandant Neller’s tenure and for several years’ worth of oversight from the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD), the Joint Staff, and Congress.4

Notably, nearly all of the capabilities slated for divestment (with the exception of tanks—shed for the incompatibility of tank units with expeditionary operations) have only been reduced in capacity to make way for novel and relevant capabilities. Despite changes to the III Marine Expeditionary Force, the domestic-based Marine Corp expeditionary forces remain largely unchanged, outside of reduced capacity in cannon artillery (to be replaced by precision long-range fires, such as rockets and missiles) and aircraft.

Change is the Answer

It must be accepted as fact that change is required. The last four Commandants all agree, dating back to 2011, that the Marine Corps must evolve beyond the force that deployed to Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom, and Operation Inherent Resolve. Even those who oppose the CPG’s restructuring concede the point: Lt Gen. Van Riper (ret.) told Politico, “We recognize that the Marine Corps has to make changes,… what we want to see is these changes based on thorough study and analysis…”5 No serious commenter claims that the Marine Corps should not grow to take advantage of new capabilities and learn to operate in a more complex operating environment impacted by ubiquitous and emerging technologies. The disagreement, then, exists over the speed and extent of said changes.

Incremental change fails to achieve the objective of the change. The purpose of the Marine Corps’ evolution is to frustrate the adversary’s plans to mitigate Marine capabilities. Strategic competitors have observed the Department of Defense’s actions over the last two decades of operations and structured themselves accordingly.6 What they have not planned to directly counter and destroy, they have done their best to copy. A current Marine infantry battalion, equipped and enabled with legacy systems, represents a dangerous and noteworthy quantity, but a known one.

For example, the classical model of Marine Expeditionary Units (MEU)—consisting of three ships, with a composite squadron on the big deck, and a Battalion Landing Team organized as company raid forces — have routinely deployed for decades, establishing patterns of employment and capability. These are not incapable systems and their roles as flexible deterrents below the threshold of conflict are useful, but they have existed long enough in their current forms that adversaries have developed counters to reduce their deterrent value.

Taken further, Anti-Ship Cruise Missile (ASCM) proliferation limits the MEU’s Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) littoral access (and relevance) in conflict.7 However, adding piecemeal capabilities, such as unmanned systems to an infantry battalion or Information-Related Capabilities (IRCs) to a MEU does not move the needle. An organization committed to maneuver warfare should recognize these adaptations by competitors and modify itself to maintain an advantage.

The Marine Corps’ Greatest Strength

Fortunately, the Marine Corps’ greatest asset has always been its people, particularly those that lead Marines in chaotic and unknowable environments. From the outset, Marine leaders are trained to act in the “intrinsically unpredictable” nature of war, because that is what enables success in combat.8 Do not take the Marine Corps’ word for it, either. In 2015, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) Central Military Commission, chaired by President Xi Jinping released a document that came to be known as the Five Incapables.” The document detailed shortcomings of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) force, particularly the inability of enlisted and junior officers to judge situations, understand higher authorities’ intentions, make operational decisions, deploy troops, and deal with unexpected situations. This document has been referenced hundreds of times in the PLA Daily—the official newspaper of the PLAbetween 2015 and 2019.9

The contrast is clear: where strategic competitors struggle to cope with ambiguous situations the Marine Corps thrives in them. The reasons for this trait in autocratic systems are manifold, from a reliance on higher-ranking decision makers to political oversight of commanding officers.10,11 The best way for the Marine Corps to be a relevant, capable resource to Combatant Commanders is to be a force that can create those ambiguous, chaotic situations and then use its advantage in them to win. That principle holds true regardless of the adversary from the Indo-Pacific to the polar regions and points in between.

A smaller, less expensive, but uncertain and survivable entity can be more disruptive to the enemy’s understanding of the situation than any current systems, making it a more effective use of resources. Developing new capabilities to modernize the Marine Corps’ ability to defeat an enemy’s plan is precisely what maneuver warfare doctrine calls for to “circumvent a problem and attack it from a position of advantage.”12 With ubiquitous advances in long range fire — not just in the Indo-Pacific — highly nimble, survivable, and independent forces capable of operating inside a given weapons engagement zone will critical to a future fight.

Finally, what all critiques have failed to appreciate is that the most important change is not equipment or manpower, it is the creation and invigoration of a culture that seeks novel solutions to novel problems. By publishing the CPG, making important divestments, and following through, the Commandant of the Marine Corps has empowered an entire generation of Marines to think boldly about what comes next. The opportunity cost of maintaining antiquated structures and systems is not just fiscal, but one of growth. Necessity, embodied by a new environment, drives innovation and creates novel problems for competitors. The CPG has explicitly called out the new environment and situation; it is now the institution’s responsibility to adapt.

The Commandant’s Planning Guidance appropriately and meaningfully empowers institutional change in recognition of a shifting environment and the capabilities of strategic competitors. The inherent challenges of the modern battlefield cannot be met by legacy structures and systems. The process—akin to maneuver warfare at the strategic level—will not be painless, as the Marine Corps carves from its own marble to provide relevant and novel capabilities to combatant commanders in any clime or place.

Captain Jesse Schmitt is the S-2a for the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit in Okinawa, Japan. He has a Master’s degree in International Relations and has written for CIMSEC, War on the Rocks, U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, and the Marine Corps Gazette


  1. Alexis Carrel, “Man, the Unknown”, 1935
  8. MCDP-1, Warfighting
  12. MCDP-1, Warfighting

Featured Image: Marines with 5th Battalion, 11th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, arrive at one of their launch positions with the High-Mobility Artillery Rocket System at the Air Combat Element landing strip as a part of Integrated Training Exercise 3-18 aboard the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, Twentynine Palms, Calif., May 21, 2018. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Corporal William Chockey)

The Importance of Unmanned Logistics Support For a Transforming Marine Corps

Transforming the Marine Corps Topic Week

By George Galdorisi

The United States Marine Corps is in the process of transforming in ways that will have a profound impact on how the service helps ensure the security and prosperity of America in this decade and beyond. Documents such as the Commandant’s Planning Guidance, Force Design 2030, and others have staked out a plan for a dramatic change in force structure as well as a substantial transformation of operating concepts. The objective of these changes is to enable the Marine Corps to prevail against adversaries in an era of great power competition.

Looking to ongoing conflicts, while it will take months – or even years – to tease out all of the lessons learned from the conflict in Ukraine, one that will likely be examined in war colleges, think tanks, and other venues is the vital importance of logistics.

 It should come as no surprise that logistics has emerged as a crucial factor in the wars of the third decade of the 21st Century. The importance of this discipline goes back as far as recorded warfare. Over 2,300 years ago, Alexander the Great put it this way: “My logisticians are a humorless lot…they know if my campaign fails, they are the first ones I will slay.” In the maritime domain, Captain Alfred Thayer Mahan said: “Logistics are as vital to military success as daily food is to daily work.” During Operation Desert Storm, the 7th Corps Commander, U.S. Army Lieutenant General Fredrick Franks noted: “Forget logistics, you lose.”

That said, of all the military stakeholders that depend on logistical sustainment, the U.S. Marine Corps is one that will likely be mining these lessons learned in depth.

Marines in the fight use enormous quantities of fuel, food, ammunition, and other material in operations. Taking and holding islands in forward areas poses especially challenging logistical complexities. The mission will ultimately fail if the Marines are not able to have reliable and continuous sustainment in order to press the fight.

Marine Corps professionals have highlighted the importance of providing rapid and reliable sustainment as a critical factor in supporting Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations (EABO), with one officer quoting the Commandant General David Berger’s Commandant’s Planning Guidance noting:

“The Navy and Marine Corps will need improved logistics capabilities: We must reimagine our amphibious ship capabilities, prepositioning, and expeditionary logistics so they are more survivable, at less risk of catastrophic loss, and agile in their employment.”1

Traditional methods of resupplying Marines will not work, especially against a peer adversary like China which has substantial anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) systems that pose a serious risk for existing Navy and Marine Corps logistics platforms. Other writing has pointed out that EABO is vitally dependent on reliable logistics resupply, noting:

“The inherent risk in EABO is that traditional maritime logistics will be unable to support and sustain these groups in the contested environment. U.S. forces may not have access to stocks and supplies prepositioned in other nations. Unfortunately, EABO concepts only exacerbate this long-standing problem. Marine and Navy leaders and outside agencies have been calling attention to it for years.”2

Advanced base operations could involve Marines being cut off from sustainment, whether as forces that have been blockaded or forces that have been bypassed by opposing naval forces. Marines will require robust pre-positioned stocks to have enough self-sufficiency to continue the fight in the absence of sustainment, and sustainment assets must be more distributed and risk-worthy than legacy platforms. Unmanned systems can fill this gap. 

The U.S. Navy-Marine Corps Team Leverages New Technologies

Given the extensive A2/AD capabilities potential peer adversaries possess, vessels providing logistics sustainment will likely be subjected to withering enemy fire as they try to deliver vital supplies to Marines in advanced bases and operating within the adversary’s weapons engagement zone. Using manned naval craft for this sustainment mission puts operators at unnecessary risk of enemy fire, as well from near-shore obstacles. Using scarce manned craft to perform this mission also takes them away from more necessary roles. That is why this major Navy-Marine Corps amphibious exercise evaluated the ability of unmanned surface vehicles to conduct the sustainment mission.

Because of their long hiatus away from amphibious operations, the U.S. Marine Corps has recently been especially proactive in organizing a large number of amphibious exercises, experiments, and demonstrations to investigate emerging technologies (often commercial-off-the-shelf technologies–COTS) to enable expeditionary strike formations to prevail in the face of a determined adversary possessing robust A2/AD capabilities.

 One U.S Navy-Marine Corps exercise, Joint Exercise Valiant Shield, focused specifically on the logistics function. Valiant Shield demonstrated the ability of commercial off-the-shelf technology – in this case, unmanned surface vehicles – to perform one of the more important functions needed by amphibious formations – that of logistics.

This is a solution teed up by the two U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings articles cited earlier. Indeed, as First Lieutenant Flynn suggested:

“Similar to the flexibility and the variety of logistics platforms that ground commanders have at their disposal, UUVs and USVs can increase flexibility for naval commanders. Such versatile platforms could be adapted to resupply warships at sea and Marine Corps forces on land.”3

Valiant Shield, overseen by Commander Marine Forces Pacific (MARFORPAC), looked to use emerging commercial off-the-shelf technology to support Marines on the beachhead during this critical juncture of an amphibious assault. To this end, a significant part of this exercise focused on logistics.

MARFORPAC used USVs during exercise Valiant Shield to resupply the landing force. The exercise coordinator used a catamaran hull, 12-foot MANTAS USV to provide rapid ship-to-shore logistics sustainment. While this small, autonomously operated USV carried only 120 pounds of cargo, the proof-of-concept worked and demonstrated that unmanned surface vehicles could effectively resupply troops ashore. That said, resupply in 120-pound increments is far less than is required to provide what is needed by Marines in expeditionary advanced bases. The Valiant Shield exercise provided the impetus and inspiration to continue to explore the use of USVs for force sustainment. Now the Navy and Marine Corps are looking to scale-up small USVs and continue to experiment with using larger USVs to provide larger sustainment quantities. 

While there are a range of larger USVs that can be evaluated by the Navy and Marine Corps, the basic specifications of the 38-foot Devil Ray “Expeditionary Class” (T38) will provide an indication of the ability of USVs to provide a steady, continuous stream of logistics support to Marines on the beach. The T38 can carry a payload of 4,500 pounds. The vessel travels at cruise speed of 25 knots and draws just 18 inches of draft. Additionally – and importantly for Marines in conflict – the T38 has a burst speed of 80 knots.

More robust logistics resupply can be provided by larger USVs of the same family of expeditionary unmanned surface vehicles as the MANTAS and Devil Ray. The T50 Devil Ray can carry a payload of 10,000 pounds. Like its sister T38, the T50 Devil Ray has a cruise speed of 25 knots and a burst speed of 80 knots. Given the speed and carrying capacity of the T38 and T50, it is readily apparent that they can support the rapid buildup of combat power in a contested space.

This logistics concept would also complicate an adversary’s attempts to interdict resupply operations. Rather than hunting down and killing single large, slow, vulnerable surface ships, a mothership could deploy multiple unmanned surface vehicles to complicate targeting efforts through a distributed operating concept. This would force the adversary to hunt and destroy each individual USV rather than simply tracking and destroying a surface ship moving between advanced bases or warships and resupplying them one at a time.4

A New Paradigm for Marine Corps Logistics Sustainment

While there are any number of scenarios that can be offered to demonstrate how unmanned surface vehicles can support Marines ashore, it is worth mentioning that while unmanned surface vehicles offer substantial promise to aid future expeditionary operations, USVs should not completely replace traditional means of supplying Navy and Marine Corps forces. Rather, they will supplement them by providing numerous, risk-worthy platforms to move supplies within the threat range of an adversary’s weapon systems, as will be required in EABO. These platforms could fulfill the requirements General Berger outlined in his Planning Guidance: they are more survivable, at less risk of catastrophic loss, and agile in their employment.5 These unmanned surface vehicles have the potential to be game changers for logistics in a contested environment.

Using a notional stand-off distance for an expeditionary strike group of 20 nautical miles, a formation equipped with four T38s traveling at their cruise speed of 25 knots could deliver 18,000 pounds of material from amphibious ships to the beach per hour, allowing the short time needed for loading and unloading the craft. Multiply that by 24 hours and it yields a buildup of well over 400,000 pounds of vital material per day, enough to support a substantial force of troops ashore. Using four T50s in a similar manner, the amount of vital material delivered approaches one million pounds a day.

Until recently, getting these medium-sized unmanned surface vehicles to the area of operations where they could provide logistics support to Marines on the beach was problematic. The amphibious warships comprising expeditionary strike groups are loaded with vehicles and supplies needed by their embarked Marines. What is needed is a mothership for USVs. These will soon enter the fleet. The Navy recently announced its intention to spend $2.7B researching and buying ten large unmanned surface ships over the next five years.6 The Navy envisions these LUSVs as being 200 feet to 300 feet in length and having full load displacements of 1,000 tons to 2,000 tons. These LUSVs could carry numbers of T38s and T50s combat loaded with needed supplies.

Under this CONOPS, presented in detail in a March 2022 article in Naval Engineers Journal, one or more LUSVs would be attached to an expeditionary strike group and carry these T38s and/or T50s. Supervisory control is coordinated by the expeditionary strike group commander or his designees.7 Under this CONOPS, the expeditionary strike group can leverage the extended cruising range of the T38 and T50 to stay well clear of adversary A2/AD capabilities, as the T38 has a cruise range of 1,000-1,500 nautical miles, and the T50 has a cruise range of 1,500-2,000 nautical miles.

Into the Future with Enhanced Logistics Sustainment and Enhanced Sensor Support

The Navy and Marine Corps are planning an ambitious schedule of exercises, experiments, and demonstrations in the years ahead, focused on the Commandant’s “Campaign of Learning.”8 It is time to once again demonstrate how unmanned surface vehicles can provide robust logistics sustainment to Marines. Based on the promising performance of small unmanned surface vessels in exercises designed to demonstrate how USVs can support expeditionary assault forces, the Navy and Marine Corps would be well-served to experiment further with larger USVs to perform this vital logistics sustainment mission.

While the available evidence suggests that the Marine Corps should leverage USVs for logistics support as a first priority effort, Marines will likely look for other ways to leverage these unmanned vehicles, such as to provide the organic sensor support Marine Littoral Regiments will need in the future fight.

Marine Corps Warfighting Lab Director, Major General Benjamin Watson, put the need for organic sensors this way:

“A major investment for the service will include more sensors controlled by Marines instead of relying solely on joint tools for targeting awareness for the Marine Littoral Regiments. You’ve got to be able to sense the target before you can engage and a complete reliance on non-organic capabilities, like somebody else to do that sensing for us and find the target, confirm it, etcetera as part of the kill-chain is a position we prefer not to be in. We’d prefer not to have that as our only option.”9

Fortunately, this is an area where the Marine Corps is already experimenting with ways to use unmanned surface vehicles equipped with various sensors to provide intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) and intelligence preparation of the battlefield (IPB). During the Ship-to-Shore Maneuver Exploration and Experimentation (S2ME2) Advanced Naval Technology Exercise (ANTX) the amphibious assault force employed an unmanned surface vehicle (USV) proactively to thwart enemy defenses. The MANTAS USV swam undetected into the “enemy” harbor (the Del Mar Boat Basin on the Southern California coast), and relayed information to the amphibious force command center. Subsequent to this ISR mission, the MANTAS USV was driven to the surf zone to provide IPB on water conditions, beach gradient, obstacle location, and other information crucial to planners prior to a manned assault. 

In many ways, S2ME2 ANTX was a warm-up for, and precursor to, Bold Alligator, the annual Navy-Marine Corps exercise designed to enhance interoperability in the littorals and across the maritime domain. Bold Alligator took the concepts explored during S2ME2 ANTX to the next level, employing two different size MANTAS USVs in the ISR and IPB roles to provide long-range littoral reconnaissance of “enemy” beaches and waterways. These systems were employed during the Long Range Littoral Reconnaissance (LRLR) phase of the exercise. The beauty of using unmanned surface vehicles for the logistics – as well as the ISR/IPB missions – is that the same USVs can be employed by reconfiguring them for these missions, as well as others such as mine-countermeasures.


Force Design 2030 calls for a U.S. Marine Corps that “Can execute the complex missions defined by our emerging concepts in any potential theater.”10 Complex missions demand innovative solutions and leveraging the good work that has gone into evaluating unmanned surface vehicles to support a number of expeditionary missions is one of the surest ways to ensure the U.S. Marine Corps prevails in a future high-end fight.

Captain George Galdorisi (U.S. Navy, retired) is the Director of Strategic Assessments and Technical Futures for the Naval Information Warfare Center Pacific. Prior to joining NIWC Pacific, he completed a 30-year career as a naval aviator, culminating in 14 years of consecutive service as executive officer, commanding officer, commodore, and chief of staff. During his final tour of duty he led the U.S. delegation for military-to-military talks with the Chinese Navy. In his spare time he enjoys writing, especially speculative fiction about the future of warfare. He is the author of fifteen books, including four consecutive New York Times bestsellers. He is co-editor of the U.S. Naval Institute book, AI At War: How Big Data, Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning Are Changing Naval Warfare. His most recent novel, Fire and Ice, is eerily prescient of today’s events, as it foresaw Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.


[1] Karl Flynn, “Unmanned Vessels for EABO,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, November 2021.

[2] Walker Mills and Erik Limpaecher, “Sustainment Will Be Contested,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, November 2020.

[3] “Unmanned Vessels for EABO.”

[4] Megan Eckstein, “Navy, Marines Moving Ahead with Unmanned Vessel Programs,” USNI News, October 31, 2019.

[5] General David Berger, Commandant’s Planning Guidance (Washington, DC: Headquarters U.S.  Marine Corps, July 2019).

[6] Ronald O’Rourke, Navy Large Unmanned Surface and Undersea Vehicles: Background and Issues for Congress – CRS Report 45757 (Washington, D.C.:  Congressional Research Service, March 31, 2022).

[7] George Galdorisi and Jack Rowley, “Engineering Unmanned Surface Vehicles Into an Integrated Unmanned Solution,” Naval Engineers Journal, March 2022.

[8] James Hammond, “U.S. Marine Corps in Review,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, March 2022.

[9] Sam LaGrone, Mallory Shelbourne and Heather Mongilio, “Fewer Marines, More Sensors Part of Berger’s Latest Force Design Revision,” USNI News, May 9, 2022.

[10] Force Design 2030 (Washington, D.C.: United States Marine Corps, May 2022).

Featured Image: SAN DIEGO (April 17, 2021) Chris Valdez conducts pre-underway systems checks aboard the MANTAS T38 Devil Ray unmanned surface vehicle during an operations demonstration April 17. (U.S. Navy photo by Senior Chief Mass Communication Specialist Mike Jones)