The Marines and the QDR
We continue with our thoughts (some of which appeared in comments on another site) on the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review, with more on proposed cuts in our Gator Navy. Here is Marine Lt. Gen. Duane Thiessen, deputy commandant for programs and resources, via the Navy Times:
“Forcible entry, [to] naysayers, has taken on this image of Iwo Jima and those types of scenarios. Again, the likelihood of that is almost nil, but there are many other scenarios where you would want to be able to bring forces ashore by a number of different means, … and you would want to do so in a way that protected those people, and allowed them to operate in something other than in an exposed, administrative manor. So the idea of amphibious forces, I think, is defensible.”
The US Marines take it personally when any cuts in the amphibious fleet are called for, but sea soldiers have been a part of naval warfare since its inception in ancient times. Cutting the Marines Corps or at least reducing some of the myriad functions it now holds in our military strategy would never mean it will disappear as an organization. A giant naval power like the USN would naturally have an equally capable Marine force at its call, though it must certainly change from its current form, with little enough appearance as naval infantry.
Increasingly the Marines have become an extension of the Army rather than the Navy. Since the Battle of Belleau Wood in 1918, we have used the force as a type of an emergency reserve, and in World War 2 they were often considered the “Navy’s Army”. Notice they have in fact gotten away from the amphibious mission which they are so associated with. Historically the Army has led the major amphibious invasions of this country, and even in WW 2, the greatest landings were conducted by the Army in the European Theater. The largest landings in the Pacific region were done with joint Army/Marine forces.
To discuss amphibious warfare and think exclusively of Marines is historically inaccurate, although they are certainly America’s spearhead at sea, the point of the Navy’s sword in seizing defended beachheads. Yet, their well-honed capabilities have been put to little use in recent decades as I pointed out previously in “Questioning the need for a “Gator Navy“:
With the exception of the Inchon Landings in 1950, occurring previous to the Missile Age, America has yet to launch a single major amphibious landing on a defended beach. Without exception the enemies she has faced during this time period have been Third World foes who had little in the way of sea forces and in which the USN had unchallenged air superiority.
It is difficult to understand why even in this very desirable environment the opportunity wasn’t taken to test our superior and extremely costly amphibious fleet on any occasion. We don’t think this is a matter of timidity on the part of our warriors (My Gosh! These are US Marines!). Perhaps, though, it is an acknowledgment by our naval leadership of the vulnerability of this strategy in modern high-tech warfare.
If the US Marine Corps wishes to establish itself in a new era of austere budgets, it may wish to end any resemblance it has with the US Army and the duplication of missions, perhaps even discarding its airpower. Where the focus should remain is on its true historical role, that of amphibious warfare, which in itself may be greatly different than our current top heavy structure consisting of giant landing ships. It will be essential in future littoral operations to have some force of sea soldiers on call, to contend with pirate/insurgents, destroy their bases, and perhaps even defend helpless merchant ships from these unwanted borders.
The Marine helicopter carriers probably should be kept, as these are so versatile and can even become light attack carriers when V/STOL aircraft are deployed. The less capable and very costly San Antonio’s and her sisters could be sold to our Allies like Canada who is seeking a new Joint Support Ship. Beefing up an allied fleet is almost as good building up our own. Continued deployment of such exquisite ships, never used for their original purpose of seizing a defended beach, siphons away precious shipbuilding funds, while giving us a false sense of security that our ships can do all and be all.