In a discussion between the US and Japanese leaders at the White House, the US military commitment to the Pacific was emphasized. However, Jonathan Marcus, a security analyst, believes that this heightened attention on Asia has provoked a heated dispute within one of its most illustrious armed forces.

One of the most revered institutions of the US military, the US Marine Corps, has become the scene of a terrible family feud.

The present leadership is under fire over plans for its reformation from a number of its former top commanders.

In question is a Force Design 2030 plan to modify the service for a hypothetical battle with China. This idea has been criticized almost from the beginning, with a group of retired generals using the rare tactic of venting their anger to the media.

Senior retired officers have been frequently convening, speaking at think tanks and seminars, and developing their own alternative to a plan that they believe will be disastrous for the future of the Marine Corps.

Jim Webb, a former senator for Virginia and former US Navy secretary who fought as a Marine commander in the Vietnam War and sought for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2015, is one such critic.

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He characterized Force Design 2030 as being “intrinsically faulty” and “insufficiently tested” in a Wall Street Journal article. He issued a dire warning, stating that the proposal “raised fundamental doubts about the rationality and long-term risk of dramatic reductions in force structure, weapons systems, and manpower levels in units that would take steady casualties in most combat scenarios.”

What then is making them all so upset?

The Marine Corps Commandant General David H. Berger unveiled the strategy in 2020 with the goal of preparing the Marines for an Indo-Pacific confrontation with China rather than counterinsurgency warfare like Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Marines will fight scattered operations throughout chains of islands, according to the new strategy. Units will be more dispersed and smaller, but thanks to a number of new weaponry systems, they will be considerably more potent. Massive land deployments or amphibious operations on the scale of World War Two or Iraq are likely to become a thing of the past.

The idea to reduce the number of foot soldiers and abandon all of its tanks is the least liked. Some critics believe the Corps is abandoning its past as a result of these initiatives.

It is a separate military that grew significantly during World War Two and has played a significant part in subsequent battles in Iraq and Afghanistan, while having close ties to the US Navy.

The experience of World War Two has a significant impact on how the general public views the Marine Corps. Anyone who has seen John Wayne in the 1949 action movie The Sands of Iwo Jima or in the more recent miniseries The Pacific directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Tom Hanks will be able to recall the massive amphibious operations, Marines storming ashore from landing boats, and other similar events.

Scene from the miniseries The Pacific
Image caption: A scene from the television show The Pacific
The new strategy does not envision the Marines fighting in this manner.

Critics worry that the new plan, with its obvious emphasis on China and the Indo-Pacific, could damage its traditional position as America’s military first responder, capable of taking on diverse threats throughout the world.

What exactly is the plan then?

Long-range rocket weapons will replace the towed artillery batteries in a few infantry battalions, or the foot soldiers.
Giving up all of its tanks, some helicopter squadrons are being eliminated.
The cuts, which amount to about $18.2 billion, will pay for the $15.8 billion in new weapons systems.

There will also be new unmanned aircraft systems and land-based anti-shipping missiles in addition to the new rocket artillery weapons. The Marine Corps will be outfitted and trained for a new type of combat that the conflict in Ukraine has already foreshadowed.

The Marines’ Commandant refers to distributed operations, which divide huge forces into widely dispersed smaller groups while ensuring that they have the military heft to actually make a difference. This is the main guiding principle of Force Design 2030.

According to US authorities, the Marines stationed on Japan’s Okinawa islands, which are close to Taiwan, are already putting these concepts into reality.

Joe Biden, the US president, and Fumio Kishida, the prime minister of Japan
Image caption: US President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida
a military expert Mike O’Hanlon, director of foreign policy at the Brookings Institution in Washington, DC, disagrees with the main complaint that the Marines’ operations overseas may be hampered by the new emphasis on China. He asserts that the Marines will follow orders and that the new plan probably won’t have as much of an effect on operations as some have speculated.

“What actually has mattered in this regard is the pullout from Afghanistan and Iraq in recent years — THAT is the big change, regardless of (and mostly before) General Berger’s vision was even created,”

Change, according to many experts, is necessary if the Marines are to meet the demands of the contemporary battlefield.

Former Marine officer Dr. Frank Hoffman is currently a Distinguished Research Fellow at the US National Defense University. The detractors, he believes, are “leaning backwards to a gloried past” and “fail to comprehend the geopolitical picture vis-à-vis China and technology in a profoundly disheartening way.”

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Dr. Hoffman thinks it is the proper course of action, despite the fact that the removal of the Marines’ tanks has received significant criticism. He contends that there will still be a large number of armored vehicles, but not “the huge tanks and their attendant cast of refuellers.”

“It’s an adaption to use a more precise blend of weaponry to cover a larger area, similar to what we see in Ukraine. The Corps has previously utilized its aviation component to achieve this range, and it will now combine conventional artillery with a family of missiles to improve the lethality and range of its fire support.”

Many would argue that these actions are all justified by the lessons learned from Ukraine.

The Russia-Ukraine war highlighted the value and significance of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), rocket artillery, and the capability to strike at vast range with excellent accuracy, all of which are heavily incorporated into the Marines’ new plans. They do not, however, envision the forests and steppes of Ukraine as the battlefield, but rather a series of islands spanning the huge Pacific Ocean.

The program Force Design 2030 is constantly changing. Changes have already occurred, and more are on the way. A force that is expected to be dispersed over a large region has logistical difficulties that must be overcome even after the general direction of travel has been determined.

At a joint drill with Japan, a US Marine Osprey arrives in Gotemba.
US Marine Osprey landing in Gotemba during cooperative training with Japan, image caption
Here, amphibious shipping will be essential. New types of ships will also be required, as explained by Nick Childs, Senior Fellow for Naval Forces and Maritime Security at the IISS in London.

He claims that if they only relied on their usual massive amphibious ships, they would be too susceptible to the kinds of modern weapons they would probably encounter. So that the Marine Corps may operate in a more nimble and scattered manner, new types of smaller ships in greater numbers will be essential.

But it won’t be simple to acquire more ships. Smaller ones can be constructed swiftly and in a variety of shipyards, but not always at the required rate. The US Navy also requires a sizable number of new warships, though it is far from certain that there are the necessary cash or shipyard resources.

It is the age-old issue of allocating resources in accordance with strategic priorities. The Ukrainian conflict also serves as a reminder that old threats can resurface just when an organization is attempting to concentrate its efforts in a brand-new direction.

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