While the entire world is shuddering from the pandemic, we marine corps is undergoing one of its most radical reforms in the past thirty years. What is the essence of reforming the legendary units of the American armed forces, why do they look so revolutionary and how does this relate to the US plans to fight with China?
Strictly speaking, there is no marine corps in the United States. What we call such words is actually called the United States Marine Corps (USMC) – “the United States Marine corps” and is the Navy’s expeditionary force for conducting operations on the ground.
Of course, the main task of this organization is landing on the beach, but this task is not even close to the only one. The corps also has its own fighter-attack aircraft (for which the Navy provides its own aircraft carriers), there are attack aircraft with short take-off and vertical landing, flying from large universal landing ships, a mass of combat and transport helicopters and tiltrotor planes, its own special forces brigade with parachute training (Marine raiders). But the basis is, of course, mechanized infantry units trained in marine landings, engineering and logistics units, as well as tanks. The corps outnumbers many of the world’s armies and is able to defeat them in a war with minimal support from other types and branches of the US armed forces.
From a cultural point of view, for the United States, the corps are a legend and in some sense part of the American identity. If the Russian people are particularly important to the epic battles of the great Patriotic war and the feat of the army units that won these battles, then the Americans have the same emotions cause stories about heroic Marines who knocked out the Japanese from one island after another on their way to Okinawa. The famous photo “the Raising of our flag by the Marines over Iwo Jima” is just the same symbol of the country as the Statue of Liberty, immortalized in the same famous monument. Americans love their Marines for real. This applies to the actual infantry, and to other members of the corps, there are no distinctions. In American fiction, Marines fight even in space in the distant future. The corps is a truly elite military structure, with very deep and strong military traditions and the highest combat capability. It is adored in American society, and much stronger than the airborne forces in our country.
There are, however, questions about this structure in American society. For example, years of war in places like Iraq and Afghanistan have largely erased the distinction between the army and the marine corps. They perform the same tasks in the same places on the same equipment. As then-Secretary of Defense Robert gates said in 2010,” the corps has become a second army.” America does not need two armies and calls for reform that can give the corps a meaning have been made there for a long time. But a reformer was needed. On July 11, 2019, such a reformer assumed the position of commandant (commander) of the marine corps. It was General David Hilberry Berger. Berger is an extremely interesting person. In our terminology, he has a civil engineering degree and two academic degrees, equivalent to a Ph.D., in political science and military science. The list of military schools where Berger studied is very long. He passed basic officer training in one educational institution, studied staff work in another, took advanced training courses as a senior officer. But in addition, he is trained as a paratrooper-Ranger, scuba diver, trained to conduct special operations, amphibious assault operations, conducting reconnaissance to a great depth behind the front line. The fact that he has a variety of combat experience at different levels of command is not even worth talking about.
Apparently, in order to at least try to give the corps a new quality, it had to be headed by such a versatile person. But there was a very negative attitude to Berger’s announced plans in American society. There are also those who call him the gravedigger of the corps, after which the Marines will only have to disband.
In fact, everything is not so clear.
Any description of a new reform usually begins with planned cuts. The list of them is extensive – Berger is going to eliminate the military police battalions included in the corps, is going to completely remove tanks from the corps, part of the engineering units, some ground, and aviation units will also be reduced completely. Each squadron of short takeoff and vertical landing F-35B aircraft will be cut from 16 to 10 vehicles. Field artillery will be significantly reduced – the number of batteries will fall from 21 to five. In General, the corps will lose 12,000 people and decrease by 7%. This is what has caused a storm of criticism against him, despite the fact that he has the support of the country’s political leadership in his reform. The timid defenders of the plan, Berger is trying to explain the fact that, first, real non-nuclear war with a strong opponent does not, and hence nowhere to land, but will be budget cuts and we need to have a less costly structure suitable for semi-colonial operations in underdeveloped countries.
We need to put all the dots on the i-Berger’s plan is completely different. To understand this fact, however, you need to look at where and with whom the Americans are going to fight. The goal of Berger’s reform and he has repeatedly said this, is to prepare for battles with the Chinese on the so-called first chain of Islands-a chain of archipelagos that cut off China from direct access to the Pacific ocean, as well as on Islands in the South China sea. Some of these Islands will be under the control of either the Americans or friendly countries by the beginning of hostilities, some will not. Some of them are critical for ensuring the mobility of troops – they have berths and airfields. Others are just rocks or sandbanks on the shallows. The goal of the Berger reform is to prepare the corps for fighting in such places and eliminate its duplicative US army functions. And from the point of view of a hypothetical collision with China, this is quite the right course.
Moreover, Berger’s ideas have a kind of revolutionary approach.
The fact is that traditional military science requires that before conducting an amphibious operation, air supremacy over the zone of operation and communication lines of landing troops, and if the landing is marine, then also the domination of the sea. Berger’s plan is to create a force capable of fighting without achieving absolute control of the sea and air. This goes against the postulates of tactics and operational art, but it seems that the Americans are going to do it. And if you ignore the reduction in numbers and look at the need to fight in archipelagos with a lot of small, often roadless Islands, the situation begins to play with other colors.
According to Berger’s plan, the main tactical unit in the corps should be the so-called littoral regiment, aka Marine Littoral Regiment (MLR). Three such regiments should become the basis of the Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF) – an expeditionary force of a divisional scale (we, without further ADO, call such formations “divisions”, although this is somewhat more than just a division), of which there will be two in the corps. Also have some expeditionary units, Marine Expeditionary Units (MEU). In Russian documents, they are persistently referred to as expeditionary battalions, although the MEU is a regimental tactical group consisting of a reinforced marine battalion, a rear battalion, and an aviation group with a long list of auxiliary units and reinforcement units, with a strength of approximately two thousand people. Such expeditionary detachments are the basis of the corps now, and they will remain in service and continue to interact with the”littoral regiments”. They will simply have no tanks and much fewer guns. Berger also believes that it is necessary to stop with gigantomastia and get a large number of relatively small landing ships.
The tasks of the corps units will be to prevent the actions of the Chinese Navy and ground units in the disputed waters. This will be achieved by using weapons on them from the captured Islands. And here it suddenly turns out that Berger is not so wrong in his abbreviations. So, for example, the question arises whether tanks are necessary in these conditions. If the Americans were planning to storm the Chinese fortress Islands, as was the case with the Japanese in world war II, the tanks would definitely be needed, but the Americans are going to pre-empt them and not allow them to land themselves. And here, on small rocky Islands, tanks are not-so necessary (although a complete rejection of them is, rather, a mistake). The Americans are going to conduct small-scale amphibious operations against the Islands, which are defended by small forces. And here it turns out to be superfluous and numerous artillery-it is banal not enough range to support the fire of troops on one island with fire from another. And so on each point. Suddenly, when analyzing the cuts, it turns out that they cut those parts that are not needed for the initial stages of fighting on the Islands.
What is Berger going to use instead? First, in his opinion, paratroopers should be able to deliver accurate and powerful strikes over long distances (just between the Islands). To do this, it is planned to increase as much as three times the number of humans multiple launch rocket systems, which, as is known, are able to use small-sized cruise missiles that can very accurately hit small-sized targets. It is assumed that the corps troops will be armed with anti-ship missiles. It is also planned to dramatically increase the number of UAVs so that the troops have a good level of situational awareness and know where the enemy is and what they are doing. Berger plans to invest in a wide range of guided missiles for various purposes, including barrage missiles that can wait for the command to strike in the air and attack designated targets within minutes of receiving the command.