In my work with the Williams Foundation, the Australian Defence Force has spearheaded a public discussion of their version of the strategic shift from the land wars to high-end warfare.
My own work with them has highlighted that the shift really is about designing an integrated force capable of operating across the spectrum of crisis management.
In our article published earlier this year we focused on “Full Spectrum Crisis Management for the Liberal Democracies,” and argued the following:
As the strategic shift from the land wars gains momentum the investments and training in an appropriate 21stcentury crisis management and high intensity combat force will not be modeled on the Cold War European based force. It is not about a German-US Army brotherhood with significant presence. It is not about re-establishing air-land battle
It is about leveraging core force integration capabilities, such as F-35 with the Aegis, which can provide a pull function moving the US and the allies towards a more flexible and scalable force, which can operate over the spectrum of operations.
As Vice Admiral Barrett, the former Chief of the Australian Navy highlighted with regard to how he saw the build out of the Australian Navy: “We are not building an interoperable Navy; we are contributing to an integrated Australian Defence Force able to exercise sovereign options and work closely with core allies.”
Because the adversaries are building to mass and are emphasizing expansion of strike capabilities controlled by a very hierarchical command structure, the kind of force which will best fit Western interests and capabilities is clearly a. distributed one. Fortunately, the technology is already here to build effectively down this path, a path that allows engagement at the low end and provides building blocks to higher end capabilities.
The force we need to build will have five key interactives capabilities:
- Enough platforms with allied and US forces in mind to provide significant presence;
- A capability to maximize economy of force with that presence;
- Scalability whereby the presence force can reach back if necessary at the speed of light and receive combat reinforcements;
- Be able to tap into variable lethality capabilities appropriate to the mission or the threat in order to exercise dominance.
- And to have the situational awareness relevant to proactive crisis management at the point of interest and an ability to link the fluidity of local knowledge to appropriate tactical and strategic decisions.
The new approach is one which can be expressed in terms of a kill web, that is a US and allied force so scalable that if an ally goes on a presence mission and is threatened by a ramp up of force from a Russia or China, that that presence force can reach back to relevant allies as well as their own force structure.
The inherent advantage for the US and its allies is the capability to shape a more integrated force, which can leverage one another in a crisis.
The new guidance of General Berger, the 38thCommandant of the USMC, clearly is focused on the strategic shift.
A few years ago, the Corps returned to the sea as one Commandant put it.
With General Berger, not only has the Corps returned to the sea but also they fully intend to craft more integrated operations with the US Navy and the joint force to project power from the sea in contested environments, as a key foundational capability.
According to the Commandant’s Guidance:
“Adversary advances in long-range precision fires make closer naval integration an imperative.
“The focal point of the future integrated naval force will shift from traditional power projection to meet the new challenges associated with maintaining persistent naval forward presence to enable sea control and denial operations. The Fleet Marine Force (FMF) will support the Joint Force Maritime Component Command (JFMCC) and fleet commander concept of operations, especially in close and confined seas, where enemy long-range precision fires threaten maneuver by traditional large-signature naval platforms.
“Future naval force development and employment will include new capabilities that will ensure that the Navy- Marine Corps team cannot be excluded from any region in advancing or protecting our national interests or those of our allies. Marines will focus on exploiting positional advantage and defending key maritime terrain that enables persistent sea control and denial operations forward. Together, the Navy-Marine Corps Team will enable the joint force to partner, persist and operate forward despite adversary employment of long-range precision fires.”(page 2).
And in case you missed the point, this is how the Commandant returns to his core theme at the end of his guidance:
“While the next four years will be a period of substantive change – let me be clear – we are not experiencing an identity crisis nor are we at risk of irrelevance.
“We are a naval expeditionary force capable of deterring malign behavior and, when necessary, fighting inside our adversary’s weapons-engagement-zone to facilitate sea denial in support of fleet operation and joint force horizontal escalation.” (page 23)
And to do so with a force designed to operate from the ground up (quite literally) against peer competitors.
“We will divest of legacy defense programs and force structure that support legacy capabilities.
“If provided the opportunity to secure additional modernization dollars in exchange for force structure, I am prepared to do so.” (Page 2).
And in so doing, his guidance highlights a number of trends, which we have observed over the past few years, which he has, not only embraced, but also has provided succinct guidance and clear thinking on the way ahead.
With regard to the ampbhious fleet and role of the USMC, it has been clear for some time that the old concept of the ARG-MEU is not up to the task.
What the Marines have really been focusing on is their ability to operate within an amphibious task force in which a variety of sea base capabilities combined with airpower and enhanced powers can deliver to the crisis management environment.
With regard to building the force, the Marines have shown a forward lean with regard to new systems like the Osprey, the F-35 B and the CH-53K. T
The new Commandant is very clear that this forward lean needs to be reinforced and accelerated and we have focused for several years on how innovations on the air side of the Marine Corps has clearly been doing the lean forward, which has often been an uphill battle.
The new Commandant clearly understands the importance of force integration and prioritizing key elements in the Marines force rebuild which are “integratable” and up to the task of operating in a flexible task force which is inherently “integratable.”
Adversary advances in long-range precision fires make closer naval integration an imperative. The focal point of the future integrated naval force will shift from traditional power projection to meet the new challenges associated with maintaining persistent naval forward presence to enable sea control and denial operations. The Fleet Marine Force (FMF) will support the Joint Force Maritime Component Command (JFMCC) and fleet commander concept of operations, especially in close and confined seas, where enemy long-range precision fires threaten maneuver by traditional large-signature naval platforms.
Future naval force development and employment will include new capabilities that will ensure that the Navy- Marine Corps team cannot be excluded from any region in advancing or protecting our national interests or those of our allies. Marines will focus on exploiting positional advantage and defending key maritime terrain that enables persistent sea control and denial operations forward. Together, the Navy-Marine Corps Team will enable the joint force to partner, persist and operate forward despite adversary employment of long-range precision fires. (page 2).
The new Commandant as well in his focus on the future of the amphibious task force has a very wide lens on what can and should be included in Marine Corps operations with regard to that task force.
And most notably, he is focused on mix and match building blocks which can be deployed in a variety of force packages, rather than defining the Marine Corps in terms of the MAGTF per se.
On the one hand: “Moving forward, the Marine Corps must maximize our inherent relationship with the Navy, along with our expertise coordinating elements of the MAGTF, to effectively coordinate across all warfighting domains to support the Joint Force.” (page 5).
But on the other hand: “We are not defined by any particular organizing construct – the Marine Air-Ground Task Force (MAGTF) cannot be our only solution for all crises.” (page 2).
The new Commandant also understands the importance of both bringing to shore or operating from islands or other land or sea bases, long-range fires to support crisis management maneuver forces.
“Marine Corps integration into the Fleet via composite warfare will be a prerequisite to the successful execution of amphibious operations: Marines cannot be passive passengers en route to the amphibious objective area.
“As long-range precision stand-off weapons improve and diffuse along the world’s littorals, Marines must contribute to the fight alongside our Navy shipmates from the moment we embark. Once ashore, Marine Forces operating within CW will increase the Fleet’s lethality and resiliency and will contribute to all domain access, deterrence, sea control, and power projection.” (page 10).
And later in the document he adds:
“Our investments in air-delivered long-range precision fires (LRPF) are known, suitable, and sufficient; however, we remain woefully behind in the development of ground-based long-range precision-fires that can be fielded in the near term which have sufficient range and precision to deter malign activities or conflict.
“Our capability development focus has fixated on those capabilities with sufficient range and lethality to support infantry and ground maneuver.
“This singular focus is no longer appropriate or acceptable.
“Our ground- based fires must be relevant to the fleet and joint force commanders and provide overmatch against potential adversaries, or they risk irrelevance.” (page 13).
The new Commandant has highlighted one of the key elements of being to operate against peer competitors, namely, a distributed force which can be commanded in a denied and contested combat environment.
In our various visits to 2nd Marine Air Wing and MAWTS-1, it is very clear that the Marines have been working very hard on leveraging their new capabilities, such as the F-35B, to deliver a 21st century full spectrum crisis management force.
“While others may wait for a clearer picture of the future operating environment, we will focus our efforts on driving change and influencing future operating environment outcomes.
“One way to drive the continued evolution of the future operating environment is Distributed Operations (DO). DO capable forces are a critically important component of Marine Corps modernization.” (pp. 11-12).
He then underscores the nature of the challenge to be met:
“Our lack of progress in implementing DO is in part due to an inadequate description of why we would distribute forces and why we would conduct distributed operations.
“In my judgment, we distribute for five reasons:
- We disperse to better accomplish the mission against a distant or distributed adversary.
- We disperse to improve maneuver options in order to gain a positional advantage to assault, or engage more effectively with direct or indirect fires.
- We disperse to reduce the effects of enemy fires.
- We disperse to impose costs and induce uncertainty.
- We disperse to reduce our signature to avoid detection. In a precision strike regime, sensing first and shooting first are a tremendous advantage.” (page 12).
To do requires, a significant focus on robust C2, which means an ability to operate in a degraded and contested environment.
In many ways, working this challenge is at the heart of the kind of force integration, which the Commandant seeks.
“Future force development must also contribute to an integrated operational architecture and enable information environment operations. Friendly forces must be able to disguise actions and intentions, as well as deceive the enemy, through the use of decoys, signature management, and signature reduction.
“Preserving the ability to command and control in a contested information network environment is paramount.” (page 12).
The Commandant has delivered a very coherent and timely statement of the way ahead, which fully underscores the strategic shift from the land wars to full spectrum crisis management.
But nowhere so when he brings together his thinking with regard to the sea base, the amphibious task force, or reshaping the force to leverage new capabilities, which enable full spectrum crisis management.
“The amphibious fleet and littoral maneuver craft also require significant future force development. The amphibious fleet must be diversified in composition and increased in capacity by developing smaller, specialized ships, as a complement to the existing family of large multipurpose ships. Doing so will improve resilience, dispersion, and the ability to operate in complex archipelagoes and contested littorals without incurring unacceptable risk. Initial options for examination include:
- A “hybrid” amphibious ship to transport landing craft and enable the ability to fight in a contested littoral.
- An inexpensive, self-deploying “connector” capable of delivering rolling stock on or near-shore in a contested littoral.
- Considering how a wider array of smaller “black bottom” ships might supplement the maritime preposition and amphibious fleets.” (page 12)
And the mix and match capability he has in mind for the evolving amphibious task force and tailored to a wide variety of force insertion settings is suggested in his treatment of sensors and remote systems.
He has in mind that the use of so-called unmanned systems are integrated within the task force not so much to replace current manned systems, but actually to do what a remote can do – operate as a target, or assisting targeting in determining how best to guide and operate in the insertion force operating in a crisis setting.
“Creating new capabilities that intentionally initiate stand-in engagements is a disruptive “button hook” in force development that runs counter to the action that our adversaries anticipate.
“Rather than heavily investing in expensive and exquisite capabilities that regional aggressors have optimized their forces to target, naval forces will persist forward with many smaller, low signature, affordable platforms that can economically host a dense array of lethal and non- lethal payloads.
“By exploiting the technical revolution in autonomy, advanced manufacturing, and artificial intelligence, the naval forces can create many new risk-worthy unmanned and minimally-manned platforms that can be employed in stand-in engagements to create tactical dilemmas that adversaries will confront when attacking our allies and forces forward.
“Stand-in Forces will be supported from expeditionary advanced bases (EABs) and will complement the low signature of the EABs with an equally low signature force structure comprised largely of unmanned platforms that operate ashore, afloat, submerged, and aloft in close concert to overwhelm enemy platforms.” (Page 10).
In short, the Commandant’s guidance is decidedly not what passes for strategy often inside the Beltway, metaphysical phrases that have no real meaning: the third offset comes to mind.
Rather it is clear statement, which responds both to the threat environment, and to the evolving capabilities of the USMC and US Navy team, and key elements of the joint force as well.
It prioritizes a strategic shift to full spectrum crisis manament and lays out a realistic path to get there.
And he certainly has grasped that the nation does not have forever to get there – it is is the priority for military transformation over the next five years.38th-Commandant-s-Planning-Guidance-2019