Category Archives: USMC Transformation Week

Marine Corps Metamorphosis: Legal Considerations

Transforming the Marine Corps Topic Week

By Brent Stricker

The ongoing transformation of the U.S. Marine Corps has raised some controversy and prompted wide-ranging discussions on the future of the Corps. Opponents of Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations, or EABO, are concerned that proven combat power like tanks and tube artillery, are being sacrificed to create a new force that is less flexible, and would provide a single tool fit for only one operational problem. EABO and the Marine Littoral Regiment (MLR) are supposed to be an answer to the Anti-Access/Area Denial (A2/AD) strategy of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). EABO is best understood as a virtual network of scout snipers extending the eyes and fires of the fleet. Marines, operating as Stand-in Forces, will hide in the littoral spaces inside an enemy’s Weapons Engagement Zone or “WEZ,” where they can support a friendly fleet that has to remain outside the WEZ. These forces will also rely on use deception and signature management, displacing every 48 to 72 hours using high-speed, low signature craft and use decoys that an enemy will struggle to target. Critics have also argued that TMEABO abandons the Marines Corps’ fundamental doctrine as described in MCDP-1 Warfighting. But this ignores the warnings of General Alfred M. Gray, 29th Commandant of the Marine Corps, in the preface to MCDP-1: “Like war itself, our approach to warfighting must evolve. If we cease to refine, expand, and improve our profession, we risk becoming outdated, stagnant, and defeated.” EABO is firmly based in the tenants of maneuver warfare where speed, surprise, deception, and ambiguity are essential. Preliminary doctrine for this force has been laid out in the Tentative Manual for Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations, or TMEABO, a publication that pays homage to the Tentative Manual for Landing Operations—and a previous effort to remake the Marine Corps for amphibious warfare during the interwar years.

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. Key factors to consider include targeting, degraded logistics, deception plans, and territorial access.


 EABO will see the Marine Corps embrace a new form of targeting, particularly when integrated with the Navy. In the past, Marines were concerned with targeting military objectives on land, while limiting collateral and incidental damage to civilians and civilian objects. EABO will see Marines engaging naval platforms, like enemy submarines and warships, where the make-up of the vessel’s crew is irrelevant in the targeting process.

The Commander’s Handbook on the Law of Naval Operations provides a concise reference for the law concerning targeting such platforms. During conflict, enemy warships, naval auxiliaries, and military aircraft may be attacked or captured anywhere outside neutral territory without warning. Attacks on surface ships must cease when they have indicated an intention to surrender such as striking their colors, stopping, or surfacing if a submarine. A submerged submarine or disabled aircraft are subject to attack until destruction due to the uncertainty of surrender.

Enemy merchant vessels and civil aircraft are subject to capture outside neutral territory. They may be attacked if they are engaged in belligerent acts or conduct war-sustaining/war-supporting activity. If they actively resist visit and search or capture, persistently refuse to heave to after being ordered to do so, convoy with enemy warships, or are armed with weapons greater than needed for self-defense from pirates or terrorists, they may be attacked. In such case, enemy merchant vessels and civil aircraft are not innocently employed and they risk destruction.

Some enemy vessels may not be attacked or captured. Enemy hospital ships and medical aircraft may not be attacked, but they must be appropriately marked and registered. Other vessels are also immune based on their use. This status could include ships involved in prisoner exchange, or religious, scientific, or philanthropic use. Finally, small coastal vessels engaged in local fishing are immune from attack.

Contested Logistics

Marine Stand-In Forces will not be able to rely on a global supply chain and may be forced to subsist off the civilian infrastructure of a host nation or what may be seized from the enemy. As the Marine Corps develops new doctrine for EABO, it will need to consider how to requisition property in a host nation or in occupied enemy territory.

The initial question is where the property to be acquired is located, in host nation or enemy territory? In host nations, the Marine Corps will use local contractors and venders through contracting officers and purchase agents. If local property is seized or damaged, a Foreign Claims Agent will step in to pay compensation.

In the past, invading armies have foraged for their supplies. This allowed for the seizure of food and livestock to support an invading army. During the American Civil War, for example, the Lieber Code made a distinction between private and public property. Public property could be seized and used by the invading army. Private property was protected and could be seized only when military necessity required it. Even in such case, the property owner was entitled to fair compensation.

The 1907 Hague IV Convention for Land Warfare expanded the protection of both private and public property. In addition to a prohibition on destruction, unless required by military necessity, compensation was expected for damage or destruction. Hague IV also addressed the use of property during an occupation by a foreign power. An occupying army was only permitted to requisition property for its needs and the items taken had to be proportionate to the ability of the locality to provide them. Civilians were expected to be compensated in cash or issued a receipt.

The Hague Regulations were supplemented or superseded with four Geneva Conventions in 1949: 1. GC I (Wounded and Sick in the Field) ; 2. GC II (Wounded, Sick, and Shipwrecked at Sea) ; 3. GC III (Prisoners of War); and GC IV (Civilians). Article 34 of GC I notes that aid societies’ property be treated as private and subject to requisition only in “case of urgent necessity” and after the wounded and sick have been cared for.

GC III also makes a distinction between requisition of private and public property. Article 18 of GC III notes that POWs have the right to retain personal property including clothing, feeding utensils, and protective equipment. This was felt necessary because during the Second World War, many POWs were stripped of personal property and their issued equipment. This was an incorrect interpretation of a belligerent’s right to seize an enemy’s public property.

Since the right of requisition is tied to occupation of enemy territory, a discussion of what constitutes occupation is necessary. The 2016 Commentary to Article 34 of GC I notes occupation does not begin at the front lines. Article 42 of Hague IV defines occupation as control of territory. The DOD Law of War Manual requires that the occupation be actual, effective, and the territory must be under the authority of the hostile army.

GC IV (Civilians) placed certain obligations on an occupying power toward the civilian population. Article 55 discusses the obligation to provide food and medical supplies to civilians. Requisition may only be used to support the occupying force, not the war effort. If requisition does occur, compensation must be paid, and requisitions must consider the needs of the civilian population. The 1958 Commentary to Article 55 and Article 147 label excessive requisitioning a grave breach of the convention subject to prosecution as a war crime.

The Commander’s Handbook on the Law of Land Warfare provides a summary of the U.S. policy on protecting public and private property. It prohibits pillaging and the destruction of property “unless imperatively demanded by the necessities of war.” It notes that requisition may occur, but only in occupied areas and with the use of receipts and compensation.

Deception and Distinction to Protect Civilians

EABO relies on deception to ensure the survivability of Marines. The Stand-in Forces guidance suggests the use of civilian infrastructure to achieve this by using civilian vessels, vehicles, and civilian communication infrastructure. This deception plan must be balanced against the requirement to protect civilians and civilian objects. This principle is known as distinction where the law recognizes the protected status of civilians and civilian property from that of combatants and military objectives.

GC IV and Additional Protocol I represent what many countries accept as customary international law. The United States’ position on protected persons and places is contained in the DOD Law of War Manual and the Commander’s Handbook on the Law of Land Warfare. These publications note that commanders must take feasible precautions to reduce the risk of harm to protected persons and objects and to separate civilians from military operations where possible. Similar principles appear in Article 57 and Article 58 of AP I.

Any deception plan must be balanced with these requirements. Marines operating in and among the civilian population must ensure that they are distinct from noncombatants and do not place noncombatants at risk. Article 58(b) of AP I requires the parties to the conflict to avoid locating military objectives within or near densely populated areas. Moreover, the use of human shields is expressly prohibited by U.S. Policy and Article 51(7) of AP I.

The plan must also avoid perfidy. Marines may not employ a deception plan that leads the enemy to believe the Marines have a protected status. Perfidy is defined in Article 37 of AP I, the DOD Law of War Manual, and Commander’s Handbook on the Law of Land Warfare. Examples include the use of symbols of protected organizations, such as the International Red Cross; pretending to be a non-combatants, feigning surrender the use of flags of a neutral country. At sea, however, false flag operations are permitted until such time as naval combat is undertaken. For example, if Marines employ the Light Amphibious Warship, the law of naval warfare would allow the use of a false flag until hostilities commence.

Territorial Access

The Stand-in Forces guidance envisions the Marines defending the territory of an allied nation. EABO does not exclude seizing hostile territory, but it is more likely that the EABO A2/AD strategy will be used on a host nation’s territory in collective self-defense. The issue of access to this territory is key, and the stakes in international law are quite high. States exercise and enjoy sovereignty over their national territory and the territorial sea and the airspace above the land and the territorial sea.

East China Sea

The 1960 Japan-U.S. Security Agreement establishes a U.S. defense obligation to protect Japan and U.S. in Japan. Cooperation with Japan’s Self Defense Force must consider its limited authority. Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution was written to renounce war and the threat or use of force to resolve international disputes. A 2014 Japanese Cabinet Decision and the passing of the Armed Attack and Existential Crisis Situations Act potentially allows for Japan to act in what might be considered collective self-defense with the United States or another country when the situation poses a threat to Japan. The government has described three potential scenarios for the use of force: an anticipatory armed-attack, an actual armed attack, and an existential threat to Japan by an attack on a closely allied nation. This third scenario would likely include an attack upon the United States that threatens the U.S. ability to defend Japan. A crisis concerning Taiwan also might give rise to such a situation.

Security ambiguity is at the heart of U.S. policy toward Taiwan. Under the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act, the United States is authorized to provide Taiwan with weapons sufficient for Taiwan’s self-defense. The Act makes no commitment to defend Taiwan only stating an expectation that the One China policy must be peacefully resolved. Nonetheless, the United States would consider any effort to determine the future of Taiwan by other than peaceful means a threat to the peace and security of the Western Pacific area and of grave concern to the United States.

If the People’s Republic of China invaded or were preparing to invade Taiwan, both Japan and the United States may be drawn into the conflict. Japan exercises sovereignty and control of the Senkaku Islands adjacent to Taiwan. This claim is disputed by both the PRC and Taiwan. The United States acknowledges that its defense commitment extends to the Senkaku Islands under the administration of Japan. If an invasion crisis emerges in the region, the Marines may establish EABs on the Senkaku Islands to defend or deter aggression against the Ryukyu Islands or Japan proper. The inherent threat to U.S. forces in Japan would likely draw the Japanese Self Defense Forces into taking measures in concert with U.S. forces for collective self-defense.

South China Sea

The most likely country to allow the Marines ashore in the South China Sea is the Philippines. U.S.-Philippines relations have been turbulent dating back to the Philippine-American War when the United States invaded, and colonized the Philippines. Cold War pressures led to the Mutual Defense Treaty between the United States and the Philippines which provided for mutual support if there was an attack on the territory of either of the parties, island territories under their jurisdiction in the Pacific Ocean, or their armed forces, public vessels, or aircraft in the Pacific. The end of the Cold War and growing anti-American sentiment led the Philippine government to reject renewing a basing agreement and all U.S. forces were removed from the Philippines in the early 1990s. The subsequent Global War on Terror and continued bi-lateral training missions have seen U.S. forces return. U.S. service members are governed by the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), which has been a football in Philippine national politics. It was renounced by Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on February 11, 2020 only to be reinstated July 30, 2021. Nonetheless, under the VFA, U.S. personnel may only be temporarily in the Philippines in connection with activities approved by the Philippine government. 

The ability of Marine forces to access key maritime terrain in the Pacific will ultimately be determined by diplomacy and legal agreements. Every country will weigh its own diplomatic, economic, and defense requirements before granting access to US forces. As events unfold in the struggle of competition, to crisis, to conflict, new partners may emerge and old ones may fall away.


The future codification and operationalization of EABO will be constrained by international law. Marines will have to adapt their targeting to a new missions which target platforms and not individuals. Degraded and contested logistics will increase the demands on purchasing and contract agents. Deception plans will be forced to consider the obligation to protect civilians. EABO will be conducted in cooperation with host nation forces granting access in collective self-defense. Ultimately, EABO is a transformational warfighting concept that requires careful input by legal advisers and USMC judge advocates to ensure it unfolds consistent with international law and U.S. policy.

LtCol Brent Stricker, U.S. Marine Corps, serves as the Director for Expeditionary Operations and as a military professor of international law at the Stockton Center for International Law at the U.S. Naval War College.

The views presented are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of the U.S. Marine Corps, the U.S. Navy, the Naval War College, or the Department of Defense.

Featured Image: U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Stephen Mathews, a Liberty, Indiana native, and rifleman with 3d Battalion, 3d Marines conducts a combat patrol during Bougainville III at Marine Corps Training Area Bellows, Hawaii. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Patrick King)

The First Stand-in Forces: The Role of International Affairs Marines in Force Design 2030

Transforming the Marine Corps Topic Week

By Majors Zach Ota and Eric Hovey, USMC


The past few months have seen renewed interest and controversy surrounding the 38th Commandant’s Force Design 2030 efforts to modernize the Marine Corps and meet the demands of the National Defense Strategy. Though initial feedback to Force Design 2030 was largely positive, an increasingly vocal subset of retired general officers and senior civilians have publicly sounded the alarm that the divestments and doctrinal changes espoused by General Berger, such as Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations (EABO) and stand-in forces, go too far and risk irreparably harming the Marine Corps.1 Nearly three years after the publication of the 38th Commandant’s Planning Guidance, the Marines find themselves at an uncomfortable crossroads: retired senior leaders decrying what they see as destructive changes, and active duty leaders defending the methodology undergirding the Marine Corps’ transformation.2

The purpose of this article is to shift the debate from litigating the merits of EABO, Force Design 2030, and its accompanying Stand-in Forces (SIFs) concept, to improving their efficacy by addressing known shortfalls. Modifying these concepts is a better approach than rejecting them wholesale for two reasons: first, they were implemented with the understanding that incremental updates would be necessary and two, many of the recent arguments against Force Design 2030 are weak and do not hold up under scrutiny. LtGen (ret) Van Riper’s critiques about the divestiture of tanks never explains how a future USMC could employ these logistically intensive armor systems to deter China in a future conflict.3 Gen (ret) Terry Dake writes an entire article bemoaning cuts to the Marine’s Air Combat Element (ACE), while not once mentioning the significant (and necessary) increases to the Corps’ unmanned aviation capabilities.4 It is impossible to ignore the criticisms of these retired senior leaders, but it is equally important to not let their concerns derail the necessary organizational changes implemented under General Berger. This article therefore rejects the notion that the USMC should stop or reverse Force Design 2030, and instead focuses on providing the critical feedback and ideas necessary to make it a success.5

A key challenge facing the current and future Marine Corps is gaining and maintaining access. After framing the central role that access challenges will play in implementing Force Design 2030 and its associated warfighting concepts, recommendations are then proposed for how the USMC can best employ its cadre of international affairs (IA) Marines to address this access challenge. The desired endstate is thus to improve these concepts to ensure that their implementation is successful in deterring and, if necessary, defeating America’s enemies. Force Design 2030 is the future of the Marine Corps – IA Marines are ready to make it a reality.

Framing the Problem Access

The biggest potential flaw in the USMC’s Force Design 2030 is the access challenges U.S. military forces will face in the event of direct conventional conflict with Russia or China. For brevity, this article focuses on the most pressing scenario of conflict with China. 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.6

Focusing on access is critical because, by definition, EABO and its associated Stand-in Forces concept cannot exist without the support of partners and allies. Expeditionary advanced bases and forward terrain of interest within an adversary’s weapons engagement zone will mostly be on the territories of allies and partners. The May 2022 Force Design 2030 update notes that, “access and placement matter” for our warfighting concepts and capabilities. As envisioned in A Concept for Stand-in Forces, stand-in forces are the means and ways to “set conditions for the introduction of naval and joint forces.”7 Stand-in forces critically require an understanding of allies, partners, and their operating environments to succeed as a joint access enabler. It is much more preferable to gain access to allied and partner territories in peacetime through constructive engagement than to have to secure access through warfighting in the midst of conflict.

To operationalize the Stand-in Forces concept, the Marine Corps must look beyond just the systems and technologies which these forces may field. Political and diplomatic access is a critical enabler for these forces to be positioned on territory of interest. While the USMC is pushing hard to develop new technologies, these capabilities may be for naught if Marines do not have the basing and access required to not only get to the fight, but to be on the fight’s frontlines as stand-in forces in the critical first days and weeks of a crisis. There are convincing arguments as to why the USMC needs more unmanned aviation over traditional manned platforms, more long-range rocket artillery over traditional gun systems, but the lack of detail in how USMC forces will be able to achieve physical and diplomatic access prior to conflict is problematic.8

The origins of this gap are understandable: USMC planners had to move quickly and make some assumptions in the earliest days of Force Design 2030 in order to validate warfighting concepts and make informed decisions about changes to force structure. Nearly three years on, however, and in a world where China’s global naval ambitions are becoming increasingly assertive, the USMC cannot afford to assume or underinvest in building strong relations with partners and allies to ensure access.9

International Affairs Marines – Key Enablers to Support USMC Access

IA Marines come from various backgrounds and are comprised primarily of foreign area officers (FAOs), regional area officers (RAOs), and foreign area staff non-commissioned officers (FASs).10 The International Affairs Program of Headquarters Marine Corps describes FAOs as such: “FAOs develop professional language regional expertise and cultural (LREC) capabilities and insights to help MAGTF, Joint, and Coalition commanders understand the complex human environment where Marines deploy.” FAOs bring to the MAGTF their unique capabilities in regionally-focused graduate education, foreign language proficiency, and personal experience through regional travel and immersion. Similarly, RAOs “develop specialized regional expertise through graduate education or significant time abroad” and inform commanders on the operational environment. FASs “apply LREC to the Marine Corps Planning Process, Security Cooperation and combined exercise planning, and serve as LREC trainers for operational force units, members of Forward Command Elements, and inter-organizational liaisons.” Together, these IA Marines form a multi-functional cadre of foreign area experts who fulfill an array of billets in the interagency, joint, and Fleet Marine Force.

IA Marines are critical enablers for the Marine Corps capabilities envisioned in Force Design 2030 and concepts for EABO and SIFs. Across the levels of war and through the spectrum of competition to conflict, IA Marines develop an understanding of the operational environment, develop capabilities in allied and partnered forces, gain and maintain access to key terrain, and enable the introduction and employment of U.S. forces. International Affairs Marines are arguably the Marine Corps’ first stand-in force – and set conditions so that, in the run-up from competition to conflict, Marines can have the access, basing, and overflight to execute the Marine Corps’ warfighting concepts.

Strategically and globally, IA Marines gain and maintain access, influence, and develop capabilities for larger stand-in forces. IA Marines are the critical touchpoints with both the U.S. Department of State and foreign militaries, ensuring mutual understanding of USMC capabilities and advocating for access. IA Marines are therefore critically positioned to advocate for Force Design 2030 and stand-in forces to allied and partner governments. As members of embassy country teams, IA Marines are highly capable, low-signature enablers of U.S. access. In 34 countries around the world, including Taiwan, Ukraine, and Iraq, IA Marines serve as attachés, advising U.S. ambassadors and advancing U.S. national and foreign security policies, including the specified interests of the Navy and Marine Corps.11 Additionally, through security cooperation and security assistance, IA Marines facilitate the development of critical capabilities with allies and partners, such as the Harpoon Coastal Defense System. IA Marines in embassies around the world inform MAGTF commanders of the operational environment and set the conditions for the introduction of larger forces.

At the operational level, IA Marines translate strategic objectives into tangible ways and means through security cooperation, security assistance, and campaigning with allies and partners. IA Marines leverage their operational experience and focused understanding of the operational environment to align resources and inform commanders. While ultimate approval of formal bilateral agreements lies at higher level of State and OSD policymaking, FAOs and RAOs are the immediate connective tissue linking U.S. military forces with their counterparts abroad. Thus, anytime one reads an impactful bilateral security document—such as the historic defense cooperation roadmap signed between the U.S. and Morocco in 2020—FAOs at the country-team level were heavily involved in the process.12 Aligning USMC FAOs and RAOs toward the USINDOPACOM access problem set is therefore essential to ensure the political and military viability of stand-in forces.

Philippine Marines with Marine Battalion Landing Team 10 and U.S Marines with 1st Battalion, 3d Marines, 3d Marine Division conduct a bilateral beach defense exercise during Balikatan 22, at Aparri Beach, Cagayan, Philippines, March 31, 2022. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Joshua Brittenham)

At the tactical level, IA Marines enable the introduction and inform the employment of USMC capabilities alongside allies and partners during competition, crisis, and conflict. Not only can the Marines help impart wisdom about amphibious operations, but our regional partners and allies can teach us skills and share technologies too. Indeed, Colonel Yusuke Kawachi, a Japanese military attaché to the United States, noted that Japanese Ground Self-Defense Forces have been using land-based anti-ship missiles analogous to the USMC’s nascent ROGUE fires system since the Cold War.13 Similarly, not only are the U.S. Navy and USMC pursuing LAW development, but the Australian Army is also investing hundreds of millions of dollars in improving their own littoral vessel capabilities.14 Recognizing and taking advantage of this aspect of the operating environment offers great opportunities, especially “when each ally and partner makes the best use of their respective comparative advantages.”15

International Affairs Marines – Challenges and Way Ahead

The requirement for highly trained, multi-functional international affairs experts has never been greater. Additionally, forces with light footprints increase their chance of survival in contested spaces. As A Concept for Stand-in Forces emphasizes, “reducing the number of Marines needed to operate effectively means each Marine must have the ability to perform an expanded set of tasks when compared to current practice.” IA Marines are the low-signature, persistently postured intermediaries with our allies and partners that enable USMC warfighting concepts. 

Force Design 2030-related budgetary decisions are jeopardizing the high-demand, low density International Affairs Program, however. Although the deactivation of the Marine Corps Security Cooperation Group created the potential to reinvest existing structure in the Fleet Marine Force, those billets were instead recapitalized for other purposes. The recently created information maneuver military occupation specialty (MOS) is a positive example of Force Design 2030-related structure reinvestments, but these new influence-related specialties lack the education and experience working alongside our allies and partners to be effective in their operating environment.

Additionally, the remaining structure for International Affairs Marines is not optimized to achieve the objectives of Force Design 2030, the Stand in Forces concept, or EABO. IA Marines are not deliberately organized into the Fleet Marine Force, and successive duty assignments often squander the accumulated knowledge and capabilities of IA Marines. Indeed, of the 14 Marines who were selected to be FAOs in the 2016 Commandant’s Career Level Education Board (CCLEB), and thus forecasted for a summer utilization tour slating, only four were able to be utilized.16 The requirement for Marine Corps FAOs to conduct a tour in their primary MOS immediately after completion of their training pipeline (to remain competitive for promotion in their original community) is the proximate cause for this talent management disconnect.

Generating an international affairs operating concept would be one way that the USMC could prioritize and execute the necessary changes to align IA Marines to the access challenges inherent within Force Design 2030. A critical first step toward realizing this operating concept would be to stop the misallocation of study-track FAOs, as seen with the ongoing challenges to slate utilization tours for CCLEB Marines. The Marine Corps can and should move quickly to generate a primary MOS for IA Marines, just as the organization addressed comparable talent management issues in the past by creating the 8059/61 acquisitions community and the recent 1700 information maneuver community. This is not a new idea, and a low-density, lateral-transfer community for IA Marines would allow the organization to grow and operationalize its resident IA experts, especially as concerns USINDOPACOM.17 Moreover, optimizing the organization, promotion, and retention of IA Marines would fall squarely within the guidance of the FY22 National Defense Authorization Act, and the best practices of the Army, Navy, and Air Force, which all have PMOSs for FAOs.18

With these immediate manpower challenges addressed, an international affairs operating concept would enable Fleet Marine forces by aligning IA Marines to impactful assignments where they can advocate for the Marine Corps, from access issues to building and sustaining relationships with partners and allies. Under this new concept, IA Marines could also potentially retain their original MOS as a secondary MOS to employ their expertise in designated Fleet Marine Force billets that require a fusion of these two skills. For example, a Mandarin-speaking FAO with a secondary specialty of intelligence would be qualified to serve as the III Marine Expeditionary Force Assistant Chief of Staff for Intelligence. The underlying theme of a proposed international affairs concept is that IA Marines must be deliberately leveraged for their critical capabilities.


The service must recognize that new concepts and capabilities critically require the political, diplomatic, cultural, and historic understanding of the operating environment that IA Marines uniquely contribute. It is one thing to have a bilateral exercise, such as a KMEP with our Korean allies on the peninsula, but when that exercise is paired with a Korean-speaking FAO or LNO who can help bridge the gap between tactical-level staffs and speak to emerging USMC doctrine in Korean, the value added is immense. We would not expect another service or agency to advocate to Capitol Hill on our behalf; so too must we not outsource Marine Corps access and influence on key forward terrain. The capabilities delivered by IA Marines are critical to our continued effectiveness as a fighting force.

Ultimately, investing in the USMC IA community is about investing in the success of EABO and the larger FD 2030 effort to focus on strategic competition against peer competitors, like China. It means acknowledging that campaigns will not occur on amorphous blobs devoid of people; they will occur on key terrain with diverse populations and differing predilections. Fortunately, we know where this key terrain is and, in most cases, the populations and governments are friends. In a combined campaign, our allies and partners will be the primary stand-in force. In this dynamic, IA Marines are key enablers for combined stand-in forces.

History tells us that navigating concerns of national pride and sovereignty are complex, and that even a perceived common enemy is no guarantee of harmony amongst allies. During the WWII Pacific campaign, for example, the U.S. Navy’s official history wryly noted that both French and British civilians hoped U.S. forces would serve as a check against the other.19 Given the recent diplomatic row between the U.S., UK, Australia, and France over an Anglophone military and technology pact dubbed AUKUS, military planners must always be cognizant of the potential for friction with allies and work continuously to ensure smooth communication.20 As Winston Churchill stated, “there is only one thing worse than fighting with allies, and that is fighting without them!”21 IA Marines can help the USMC navigate the sensitivities of allies that have critical operational implications.

The current tech-centric debates about the merits of Force Design 2030 miss the mark because they do not address the most important subject: people. Deterring and defeating China is not simply a matter of developing new technology, it is about the United States maintaining access and strong relationships with partners and allies. Alliances and partnerships are America’s greatest strategic asset, and a robust cadre of IA Marines is therefore essential to the successful implementation of Force Design 2030 and the continued relevance of the Marine Corps.22

Zach Ota is a Marine infantry officer and Southeast Asia regional area officer. He deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, Operation Enduring Freedom, and the Unit Deployment Program. He currently serves in the International Affairs Branch, Plans Division, U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Pacific. He can be found on Twitter at @zach_ota.

Eric Hovey is a Marine foreign area officer and member of the Foreign Area Officer Association (FAOA) Board of Governors. He is currently based in Washington, DC and can be found on Twitter at @Eric_Hovey.

The views expressed in this article are presented in a personal capacity and do not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Marine Corps or other U.S. government institutions.


[1] Paul McLeary and Lee Hudson, “How Two Dozen Retired Generals Are Trying to Stop an Overhaul of the Marines,” Politico, 1 April 2022,

[2] “A Critical Discussion on Force Design 2030 with LtGen Paul Van Riper and Gen Anthony Zinni,” The Warfighting Society, April 14, 2021,

[3] P. K. Van Riper, “The Marine Corps’ Plan to Redesign the Force Will Only End Up Breaking It,” Task and Purpose, 20 April, 2022,

[4] Terry Dake, “The Marine Corps’ Reorganization Plan Will Cripple Its Aviation Capabilities,” Task and Purpose, 22 April 2022,

[5] Dake, “The Marine Corps’ Reorganization Plan Will Cripple Its Aviation Capabilities,” pg. 23.

[6] George J. David, “Making it Work,” vol. 104, no. 10, Marine Corps Gazette (October 2020): 46.

[7] “A Concept for Stand-in Forces,” Headquarters Marine Corps, December 2021,

[8] The Warfighting Society, “A Critical Discussion on Force Design 2030 with LtGen Paul Van Riper and Gen Anthony Zinni.”

[9] Damien Cave, “Why a Chinese Security Deal in the Pacific Could Ripple Through the World,” The New York Times, April 20, 2022,; David Vergun, “General Says China Is Seeking a Naval Base in West Africa,” Department of Defense, March 17, 2022,

[10] This definition of IA Marines implicitly includes other programs such as Marine Attachés and international Personnel Exchange Program (PEP), since these Marines can subsequently apply for FAO/RAO accreditation after their tours, if they were not already accredited to begin with.

[11] “Marine Corps Support to the Defense Attaché Service (DAS),” Headquarters Marine Corps,

[12]Jim Garamone, “U.S., Morocco Chart Defense Cooperation Through 2030,” Department of Defense, October 2, 2020,

[13] Yusuke Kawachi, “Opportunities and Challenges,” vol. 106, no. 5, Marine Corps Gazette (May 2022): 39.

[14] “Austal Australia to Bid for New Littoral Manoeuvre Capability for the Australian Army,” Austal Limited, May 31, 2022,

[15] Headquarters Marine Corps, “A Concept for Stand-in Forces.”

[16] “International Affairs Program Newsletter,” Headquarters Marine Corps, Second Quarter 2022,

[17] William B. Easter, “FAOs and RAOs:  We Need to Better Manage These Skills More Effectively,” vol. 104, no. 1 Marine Corps Gazette (January 2020): 77-78.

[18] U. S. House of Representatives, “Rules Committee Print 117-21 Text of House Amendment to S. 1605,” December 7, 2021,

[19] James D. Hornfischer, Neptune’s Inferno: The U.S. Navy at Guadalcanal, (United States: Bantam; 2012), page 38.

[20] Heather A. Conley and Michael J. Green, “Don’t Underestimate the AUKUS Rift With France,” Foreign Policy, September 22, 2021,

[21] Kenneth Harris, “Wartime Lies,” The New York Times, last modified April 27, 1997,

[22] Joseph R. Biden, Jr., Interim National Security Strategic Guidance (Washington, DC: White House, 2021), 10,

Featured Image: Marines with the Maritime Raid Force, 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit, conduct military free-fall training over Marine Corps Training Area Bellows, Oahu, Hawaii, as part of the 11th MEU’s Western Pacific 16-2 deployment, Oct. 18, 2016. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Devan K. Gowans)

Antisubmarine Warfare for the Amphibious Warfare Team

Transforming the Marine Corps Topic Week

By The Good Sailor Svejk

The US Navy has an ASW problem. The carrier strike group (CSG) has a medium range ASW aircraft coverage gap, and the amphibious ready group (ARG) has no organic ASW coverage at all.1 The current concept of operation is for surface combatants and P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol planes to serve as ARG escorts. In LCDR Jason Lancaster’s article, “Close the Gaps!” the author stated that P-8s work for the theater ASW commander but are a limited resource.2 Surface combatants are also a limited and dwindling resource. Despite the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) 355 ship requirement, the cold-hard reality reflects a continuous decline of available surface combatants. The 2022 Navy budget proposal includes decommissioning 22 cruisers (CGs) and nine littoral combat ships (LCSs) by 2027 along with the elimination of the LCS ASW mission package.3 Fleet shrinkage requires out of the box thinking to increase the protection of the ARG. 

In contrast to the decreasing US Navy surface forces, Russia and China continue to produce and deploy capable and quiet submarines; many are equipped with long range anti-ship cruise missiles with ranges up to 200NM. 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. This element should include Navy and Marine Corps aircraft outfitted for ASW, Navy personnel to support the Amphibious Squadron Composite Warfare Commander, and Command, Control, Computers, Communications, and Intelligence (C4I) systems to provide protection for the ARG in the ASW fight. Many of these systems already exist and only need to be adapted for the ships and aircraft of the ARG. 

ASW Aircraft

The best way to eliminate the organic ASW coverage gap in the ARG is to incorporate existing Navy helicopters into the ARG. ARGs have deployed with MH-60Rs aboard and in 2020, the USS Wasp participated in Exercise Black Widow, a high end ASW exercise as an airborne command and control (C2) platform despite the helicopter’s limited range and endurance. To overcome long range submarine threats, the Navy operates long range ASW aircraft such as the P-8. However, the Navy has been plagued by a medium range ASW aircraft gap since the S-3 Viking retired from the fleet. Even worse, the Marine Corps operates no ASW capable aircraft despite a history of integrated operation from naval ships. The radical departure of the Marine Corps current force demonstrated through General Berger’s guidance “Force 2030” along with his written and vocalized concern on ASW means that now is the perfect time to experiment with different ways for the Navy-Marine Corps team to provide organic ASW capability.

Over the next few years, the Whidbey Island and Harpers Ferry class ships are scheduled to be decommissioned, changing the current ARG comprised of a Landing Helicopter Dock/Assault ship (LHD/A), a Landing Port Docking ships (LPD), and a Dock Landing ship (LSD). Instead, ARGs will deploy with an LHD/A and two LPDs. This change drastically increases the air capability of the ARG. An LPD has a hangar designed to support one MV-22 or two MH-60s along with an air department that enables the simultaneous operation of well deck and flight deck. Furthermore, the introduction of USS America (LHA 6) and USS Tripoli (LHA 7) increases the flight deck capabilities of the ARG, demonstrated by the Lightning Carrier Concept demonstration in April where the USS Tripoli embarked 20 F-35Bs.

In addition, the Marine Corps is experimenting with different MEU Air Combat Element (ACE) compositions. Future LHD/A concepts could embark as many as ten F-35s and ten MV-22s aboard the LHD/LHA, nearly a twofold increase of fixed wing over the six to eight F-35/AV-8 and twelve MV-22 the ACE currently utilized. This composition would free up MV-22s for a new ASW variant. The removal of two MV-22s from the LHD would enable the Marine Corps to outfit those two as ASW platforms for operation from an LPD.

General Berger insisted that “The undersea fight will be so critical in the High North and in the western Pacific that the Marine Corps must be part of it,” but the Marine Corps has no ASW capability. However, the Marine Corps has aviation assets that could fill the bit quite nicely.4 An MV-22 has the internal payload capacity and range to augment the MH-60R ASW workhorse of the Navy. Since the MV-22 is a tilt-rotor, the aircraft offers far more range and payload capacity than its helicopter counterpart.5,6 The Navy and Marine Corps could reduce acquisition risk by employing the radar, electronic warfare suite, sonobuoy systems, dipping sonar, and Link systems used by MH-60R. The MV-22s payload capacity would enable it to carry more sonobuoys and torpedoes than an MH-60R. MV-22s could also employ the Multi-static Active Coherent (MAC) buoy systems found in the P-8. If those systems fit into the MV-22, it would enable the ARG to employ the most capable sonobuoys in service today. Reusing existing systems would research and development, simplify logistics, and streamline training. Additionally, the Navy and Marine Corps could integrate schools and spare parts. Marine Corps ASW could also augment future Navy ASW operating concepts as the Navy continues to acquire carrier borne variants of the V-22s which could close the Carrier Strike Groups’ (CSG) medium range ASW gap.

An Air ASW Element comprised of five to eight MH-60Rs and two MV-22 ASW variants could provide limited around the clock and robust coverage. Unlike carrier strike groups, 24-hour flight operations are not typical in a typical ARG. A CSG can provide sustained 24-hour coverage by designating cruisers (CGs) and destroyers (DDGs) attached to the CSG to provide night coverage. This allows the air crews to consistently fly at night and not violate Naval Aviation Training Operation and Standardization (NATOPS) crew rest or flight deck operation limitations. To enable the continuous ASW coverage, the ASW air element would need to be distributed amongst the ships of the ARG to allow air crew and flight deck personnel time to rest. 

With two LPDs in the future envisioned ARG, there should still be sufficient flight deck space to embark an organic ASW element. An LPD has two spots large enough for landing an MV-22 and 4 expanded spots. Aside from the large flight deck, the hangar is also large enough to support one MV-22 or two MH-60Rs. 

ASW Staff Element

Beyond just a lack of organic assets, the ARG also lacks an ASW staff element. The Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) conducts surface warfare (ASuW) and ASW to protect the carrier. Currently, the Amphibious Squadron (PHIBRON) works with the MEU and conduct amphibious operations and in the CSG composite warfare construct, DESRON serves as the sea combat commander, protecting the force from surface and subsurface threats. In the ARG composite warfare construct, an LPD typically performs the role as the sea combat commander. To augment ASW support, amphibious surface warfare officers (SWOs) the PHIBRON often request DESRON support during ASW exercises. During workups such as Composite Training Unit Exercise (COMPUTEX), destroyers from the DESRON have performed ASW command and control functions by tasking external P-8s and helicopters working with the ARG. To properly staff the ASW Staff Element on the ARG, the proposed element would consist of three planners and eight watch standers composed of ASW trained officers, Operations Specialists, and Sonar Technicians, and a Navy Oceanographic ASW Team (NOAT) to provide sustained 24-hour ASW command and control for the Sea Combat Commander.

ASW C4I Systems

Because current amphibious ships do not have any systems optimized for ASW C2, the staff element would require a command-and-control system that incorporates ASW. This system would need installation aboard the Sea Combat Commander ship in the ARG. The DESRON module on an aircraft carrier has several systems integrated into Ship’s Self Defense System (SSDS) to provide C2 of ASW forces for the Sea Combat Commander. The AN/UYQ 100 Undersea Warfare Decision Support System (USW-DSS) is designed for use by ships, destroyer squadrons, and shore nodes like the theater undersea warfare commander to collaboratively plan and execute ASW missions. This system enables a common tactical picture that can include environmental data, sensor tracks, and sensor metrics.7 AN/SQQ-34 Aircraft Carrier Tactical Support System (CV-TSC) which is designed to integrate ASW systems from across the carrier strike group and P-8 maritime patrol planes.8 In addition to systems like these surface combatants carry antennas designed to receive information from sonobuoys. Other systems enable the ship to monitor any sonobuoys in the pattern and to observe the forward looking infrared (FLIR) camera. Since the Navy already has many of these systems on aircraft carriers, there should be minimal friction for integrating them into SSDS, the LPD’s combat system. Although, LPDs have controlled ASW without these systems, these systems will make command and control significantly easier for the sea combat commander. 


ASW is a team sport. These proposals are not intended to replace P-8s or other antisubmarine warfare combatants. They are designed to improve the capability of the ARG to defend itself in the face of submarine threats. The addition of Navy and Marine Corps aircraft with a dedicated ASW staff element and appropriate C4I systems to plan and execute the fight will improve the lethality and self-defense capabilities of the ARG. This resulting improved survivability would ensure the Amphibious Ready Group’s main battery, the Marine Expeditionary Unit arrives in the amphibious objective area unharmed and ready for battle.

The Good Sailor Svejk is a U.S. Navy Surface Warfare Officer with experience in operational plans, amphibious ships, destroyers, and destroyer squadrons and has a master’s in history.


1. LCDR Jason Lancaster, U. (2021, June 5). Close the Gaps! Airborne ASW Yesterday and Tomorrow. Center for International Maritime Security

2. Ibid.

3. Eckstein, M. (2022, March 28). US Navy wants to cut nine LCSs, eliminate their anti-submarine mission.

4. General David Berger, U. M. (2020, November). Marines will help fight submarines. Proceedings.

5. US Navy. MV-22 Fact Sheet. Retrieved from Naval Air Systems Command:

6. US Navy. MH-60R Fact Sheet. Retrieved from Naval Air Systems Command:

7. US Navy. US Navy Fact File AN/UYQ-100 Undersea Warfare Decision Support System (USW-DSS). Retrieved from

8. US Navy. US Navy Fact File AN/SQQ-34 Aircraft Carrier Tactical Support System. Retrieved from

Featured Image: INDIAN OCEAN (May 8, 2012) The amphibious assault ship USS Makin Island (LHD 8) conducts flight deck operations in the Indian Ocean. (U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist John Lill/Released)

Preparing for Change is as Important as Change Itself: Change Management and Force Design 2030

Transforming the Marine Corps Topic Week

By Carl Forsling

The Marine Corps is a large organization, bound by tradition. Its long history of maritime and amphibious operations was challenged by nearly two decades spent in the deserts of the Middle East and Central Asia. While now we think of those as diversions, the World War II battles that form so much of the Corps’ identity took place over barely three years.

The problem with Force Design 2030 (FD2030) and Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations (EABO) is that they both involve massive institutional changes being executed in a very short time. More specifically, there are multiple significant changes involved in implementing these broader concepts. Any of these by themselves would be a significant shift in the institution. Implementing them all simultaneously may be, in military parlance, “a bridge too far.”

One of the issues facing both FD2030 and EABO is that they are almost often rhetorically linked and made equivalent, when in fact they are distinct from each other. EABO is a tactic and operating concept. Some aspects of it are almost mundane—the seizure of advanced naval bases is a statutory responsibility of the Marine Corps dating back 75 years in law and far longer in practice.

But being able to execute EABO requires many additional changes in the way the Corps is recruited, trained, structured, and equipped—hence Force Design 2030 and its associated plans and directives. It is the product of a great deal of analysis. But the classified nature of those assessments means that outside of a small group, relatively few people have a full view of the complete and detailed reasoning behind it.

FD2030 was the product of a very insular process. The rollout was also extraordinarily quick—eight months from the Commandant’s Planning Guidance until Force Design 2030 was published and then implemented, during which time even some of the unclassified elements were very closely held.

Marines are well known for their almost religious fervor for the Corps, and in the Commandant as the head of that church. But there’s some limit to how much they are willing to take on faith, especially in an organization so tradition-bound. While it may be an extremely hierarchical organization, that doesn’t render the Marine Corps exempt from basic considerations of change management. Leaders can issue orders and they may be followed, but for changes and initiatives to endure, the myriad stakeholders in the institution must buy in to these efforts by virtue of effective persuasion.

Those stakeholders include not only the Marines themselves, but also combatant commanders, civilian leaders, Congress, and even Marine veterans. Senior veterans in particular see themselves as keepers of the flame in regard to the Corps’ heritage. To say that they need to be brought along is not to say that they get a veto, but an acknowledgment that the Marine Corps is more than just an assembly of units and equipment organized in a particular fashion. It is about people. Apart from whether the changes of FD2030 are the right moves in terms of the threats facing U.S. national security, FD2030 advocates have faced unnecessary challenges in implementation because of a failure to achieve early buy-in from many stakeholders. Change is not easy in any organization.

There is a reason that change management is a major subject in the business community. Businesses have to complete organizational change far more frequently than militaries do. Businesses sway in the winds of consumer preferences and technological change and must constantly reinvent themselves to survive.

Militaries on the other hand can persist indefinitely as steadily taxpayer-funded organizations regardless of how poorly they are adapting to the changing character of war. Perhaps the Corps would have been well served by borrowing some of the basic practices businesses use during periods of major change. One of the fundamental change management models is Kurt Lewin’s. Simply put, it first involves unfreezing—preparing an organization of the need for change. Only then can one actually execute the change. 

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.

Finally, one can refreeze, and institutionalize the change so that the new way of doing business is instilled as the new normal. To conceptualize this model, think of a block of ice that needs to be changed from a cube to a sphere—you have to melt it, use a new mold to effect the change, then finally refreeze it in the new form.

The Corps admits to failing in its communications surrounding FD2030. As the Corps’ 2022 Force Design update states, “Our FD 2030 communication has not been effective with all stakeholders.” That is something of an understatement. It is only now that much of the Corps, much less outside stakeholders, is really understanding what Force Design 2030 implies, in the sense that its biggest changes are focused on Pacific-based III Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF), and that the changes to I and II MEF are more modest, allowing them to still execute traditional Marine Corps missions. Whether that was actually the intent from the beginning is still unclear.

Bold leaders, such as General Berger, frequently embrace a “go big or go home” mentality. Marine training and culture reinforces this tendency toward bold decisions in most contexts. “Speed, surprise, and violence of action” is only one of many mantras Marines hear and repeat to reinforce that notion. The fact that the Commandant normally has only a four-year term to implement his plans likely contributes to this. Any big change is controversial and has the potential for backlash, so the natural reaction is to move quickly to institute changes and to make them as irreversible as possible. In this case it means tearing out old force structure, both root and branch, then trying to fully mature the new design before turning over to a successor who might not share the same vision.

An “unfreezing” to prepare for change is not just for the sake of improving morale, though that is important. No matter how well thought-out the analysis supporting Force Design 2030 is, it did not make much of an attempt to capture the expertise of those beyond its planning cells, especially those in the operating forces. While a “campaign of learning” is an important and commendable part of Force Design, some of that learning is more easily gained by simply asking those closest to the problems a few questions. Even if the end state of the change remains the same, ground-level insight can help sidestep many problems.

Taking the time to involve the broader organization and other stakeholders from the beginning increases their buy-in and enthusiasm. Clearly the array of former Marine Corps senior leaders who have expressed their dismay over FD2030 did not feel as if they were consulted or informed. Yes, there is the chance that taking more opinions onboard might have diluted the purity of Force Design 2030, but it could have avoided some of the hiccups and discord that occurred. The more time spent preparing for change, the smoother the actual change is.

For example, the number of line V-22 squadrons was going to be cut from 17 to 14 until it became readily clear that 14 was insufficient to meet the requirements of combatant commands. This necessitated partially reversing those cuts in midstream. Had the bulk of the force and outside stakeholders been brought along from the beginning, this mistake could have been identified much earlier. The whipsaw effect on personnel, operations, and sustainment from drawing down and standing up would not have occurred. More people involved means that it is more likely that the carpenter’s adage, “measure twice, cut once” actually happens.

Honoring the input of stakeholders during the unfreezing process increases the chances of change actually refreezing and making the change last. People don’t always need to agree, but they do need to feel as if their concerns are heard. If they are not, they become more likely to push back and take opportunities to undo those changes.

General Berger’s successor might very well be a Force Design 2030 disciple. That new Commandant could fully refreeze his changes and make them an enduring part of the Corps and its institutional culture. Then again, he might not. The best chance to build a broad initial consensus on the nature of the change is at the beginning of the process. That moment has passed, and the resulting discord could greatly delay progress towards FD2030’s desired end state, much less building upon its foundation.

Change is always difficult, so once you do it, you want it to stick. It is for this reason that building a broad coalition in support of change early on is so important. An African proverb says, “If you want to travel fast, go alone. If you want to travel far, go together.” The consequences of not adequately preparing the force for the changes of Force Design 2030 could be as great as the consequences of the design itself.

Carl Forsling is a retired Marine officer who currently works in the aerospace and defense industry.

Featured Image: A Marine with 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion repels out of an MV-22 Osprey during helicopter rope suspension technique training on Camp Hansen, Okinawa, Japan. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Andrew R. Bray)