I had a chance to meet with Lt. Gen. Brian Cavanaugh at his office in Norfolk on Friday February 24, 2023. He is Commanding General, Fleet Marine Force, Atlantic; Commander, Marine Forces Command; and Commander, Marine Forces Northern Command.
As Lt. Gen. Cavanaugh has spent many years in the Pacific, he comes to the Atlantic area in a period of change and under the impact of the war in Ukraine. He argued that the Marines are in a process of transformation which can be understood as one affecting all of the joint forces.
As he put it: “The joint forces have acquired their equipment and training in the past twenty hears focused on a capability, not necessarily specific threats. This clearly has changed as we recognize specific threats to which we need to modernize equipment and train our forces.”
“The joint forces have acquired their equipment and training in the past twenty hears focused on a capability, not necessarily a specific threat. This clearly has changed as we recognize specific threats to which we need to modernize equipment and train our forces.”
The updated National Defense Strategy and National Security Strategy undoubtedly identify the primary threat from the People’s Republic of China and the CCP. The Corps has taken this task head on as evident in the Commandant’s Planning Guidance and the past few years of Force Design. However, from his seat on the Atlantic coast, where his headquarters sits abreast the Navy’s U.S. Fleet Forces Command, Cavanaugh explains the Corps’ support to National Defense is more than just a focus on the Pacific.
“We know the PRC is operating globally and competes with the U.S. and our allies across all domains. The Corps, and the greater Naval force, is looking at how we address security issues globally,” said Cavanaugh. His command is co-located with U.S. Fleet Forces Command, and he works closely with this command to support the Marine Corps’ Naval Integration efforts. Cavanaugh emphasized that they are working together to meet the evolving threat envelope facing U.S. and allied forces.
The Marines are the smallest of the joint forces but are very adaptable. Cavanaugh is focused on transitioning advanced Marine Corps capabilities and joint concepts to enable the Navy and the joint force to meet these emerging challenges across all global regions.
He argued that the current command structures along geographical lines needs to adapt as technology and our Nation’s threats do not subscribe to those geographical boundaries. The Marines are working to re-shape and re-define how they tailor their forces to work the defense problems posed by the newly evolving threat envelopes.
Cavanaugh explained that concepts like Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations and Littoral Operations in a Contested Environment address global security threats in support of Fleets and Combatant Commands. “We are focused on shaping different ways to use our tools to adapt various force packages to get the desired joint effect. In my discussions with fleet commanders, I focus on our complimentary capabilities. Marines can provide fires and sustainment in the broader Naval campaign.
“The Corps provides commanders across the globe with expeditionary, joint force enabling capabilities. Our air, land, and sea capabilities facilitates integration with our fellow services and allies. That’s why we train and equip to enable the operations of the broader Joint Force, our allies and partners, and the NATO construct.”
One new asset which is coming to the East Coast Marines is the CH-53K.
As an experienced operator of the legacy versions of this aircraft, I asked him what he thought the CH-53K was bringing to the Marine Corps. Cavanaugh has many operational hours in the legacy CH-53D/E. He spoke about how he saw the new aircraft operating in the dynamic context for the Marines, the Navy, and the joint force.
He argued that the CH-53K is very different from the legacy aircraft in terms of physical attributes of lift capacity and ease of flight operations. But it is a digital aircraft which he anticipates will be part of the overall transition of the USMC in providing tailorable capability to the joint force.
This is how he put it: “Because it is a digitally enabled aircraft, the CH-53K can operate within the mesh network as user and provider. It’s a part of a broader interoperable kill web that can pass data to other parts of the kill web and enable the joint sensor-shooter relationship.
“I see the CH-53K leading with UASs in a mesh web and passing data to enable Aegis ship operations. It’s not just a muscle platform, it’s part of the digital interoperability revolution affecting our platforms and allowing them to be part of a joint kill web.”
Lieutenant General Brian W. Cavanaugh assumed the duties as Commanding General, Fleet Marine Force, Atlantic; Commander, Marine Forces Command; and Commander, Marine Forces Northern Command on 30 August 2022.
A native of Baltimore, Maryland, Lieutenant General Cavanaugh earned his commission through the United States Naval Academy in 1990 and was designated a Naval Aviator in 1992. He served with HMH-462, HMH-362, and HMX-1. He commanded HMH-362 in Iraq during Operation IRAQI FREEDOM and MAG-36 during multiple disaster relief efforts in Asia.
As a General Officer, he served as Deputy Commander, U.S. Marine Forces Pacific; Deputy Director for Operations, Joint Staff J-3; Assistant Deputy Commandant, Programs, Headquarters Marine Corps, Programs and Resources Department; and as Commanding General, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing.
Lieutenant General Cavanaugh’s other staff assignments include instructor at Officer Candidates School; Aide-de-Camp to the Chief of Naval Operations; Joint Doctrine Branch Chief, Joint Staff; Executive Assistant, Vice Director Joint Staff; Director of the Commandant of the Marine Corps’ Safety Division; and Marine Military Assistant to the 75th Secretary of the Navy.
Lieutenant General Cavanaugh’s education includes a BS in Mechanical Engineering from the United States Naval Academy, an MBA from Webster University and a Master of Science in National Resource Strategy from the National Defense University’s Industrial College of the Armed Forces. He is also an MIT Seminar XXI Fellow.
Lieutenant General Cavanaugh has accumulated over 3,000 flight hours, primarily in the CH-53D/E.
The photo is credited to Fleet Marine Force, Atlantic and is of the day of my visit with LtGen Cavanaugh.