1 October 2019 – A Striking New Vision for the Marines, and a Wakeup Call for the Other Services



So What’s New for the Marine Corps?

  • The Marines Will Focus on Naval Operations Once Again
  • The Marines Will Focus Primarily on the Pacific
  • The Marines Will Fight Differently
  • The Marines Need Fewer Amphibs, More Unmanned Systems, and Possibly Fewer Marines
  • Marines Should Have More Freedom to Do Their Jobs
  • Marine Culture Is Changing, But Not Enough

Implications for the Other Services and Special Operations Forces

The Army

Berger wants the Marine Corps to be the most agile, flexible, and mobile ground force in the Pacific — which the Army will see as a threat to its evolving role in the theater. His guidance directly challenges how the Army plans to conduct multi-domain operations in a future conflict with China, and essentially relegates the Army’s role in the Pacific to defending the Korean peninsula. The Army will likely push back hard against Berger’s plans to develop land-based long-range fires, since that has long been an Army mission. Then-Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley frequently stressed the need to disperse soldiers on the battlefield, just as the Marine Corps guidance does. But Berger’s plans to provide greater independence and combined arms capabilities down to Marine squads should push the Army to accelerate its thinking in this direction. The Army should also take a page from the planning guidance and add greater uncertainty and battlefield-like chaos into garrison life, since its culture of over-engineered planning often produces initiative-killing directions (such as a 21-page order with annexes for an annual event to clean up trash and pine cones at Fort Bragg.)

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Special Operations Forces

Berger’s vision of dispersed, small-unit operations closely resembles how special operations forces operate today. As the new guidance is implemented, the Marine Corps and U.S. Special Operations Command should increasingly work together to develop new operational concepts and capabilities — including weapons, communications gear, intelligence systems, and insertion platforms. But Berger also needs to learn an important lesson from special operations forces about what distributed operations require. Special operators routinely conduct highly independent missions characterized by high risk, great agility, and little oversight. In order to do so effectively, they are nearly always older than conventional troops, trained for much longer periods, and carefully screened for maturity and psychological toughness. But today, the Marine Corps (and the Army) typically puts its youngest and least-experienced people at the cutting edge of the battlefield. Berger’s vision may require the Corps to rethink its model of fighting primarily with 18-year-old marines — which would be another culture-shattering challenge for the 21st-century Marine Corps.