Infantrymen from the 22MEU (company A) land on a tiltrotor aboard the Kirsarge UDC. After the reform, the role of airmobile units in Marines will grow even stronger.
The United States Marine Corps (USMC), an organization that is called the United States Marine Corps in Russia and which is actually called the United States Marine Corps, is currently experiencing one of the most dramatic moments in its last thirty (at least) years stories. Having gone unnoticed by domestic observers, the Corpus launched a phenomenally deep reform, which, if successful, will turn it into a fundamentally new instrument of war for the Americans, and, most importantly, naval warfare, rather than land war.
Well, in the event of a failure, the United States may lose its legendary military structure almost completely. The ongoing Marines reform is worth talking about.
First is the background.
The American World War (allegedly against terrorism), launched after September 11, 2001, demanded extreme tension from the US Armed Forces. This even touched the Navy: the rotation of the sailors served as soldiers at ground bases in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Orion patrols were involved in reconnaissance missions over land, the Navy deck aircraft inflicted countless strikes on ground targets. This bowl did not pass, of course, and Marines. Being the expeditionary forces of the Navy, designed to conduct battles on the ground, the marines (we will call them that) were among the first to set foot on the land of Afghanistan and Iraq. During the Iraq war during the offensive on Baghdad, the entire American right flank consisted of them.
Subsequently, as a rebel movement flared up on the occupied lands, these troops, together with the US Army, became more and more involved in carrying out the occupation service. They received MRAP wheeled armored cars in order not to move on tracked AAV7 armored personnel carriers optimized for over-the-horizon landing, or on the LAV-25 BRM, which Corps instructions directly prohibit using on the battlefield as an armored personnel carrier due to thin armor (it is only slightly stronger than in our armored personnel carriers, which in the American Armed Forces would not be used because of low survivability). They sat at strongholds and checkpoints, went on night raids on Baghdad or Tikrit, and, in the apt expression of former US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, turned into a second army. This is not to say that America needed a second ground force, and the issues that the American public had slowly but surely matched the status that the Corps came to as a result of the wars organized by the Republicans.
Why does America need another ground force? Why do these ground forces have their own Air Force (deck aviation The corps is stronger than many national air forces in the world. Stronger than most, at least if you look at the numbers). Where and against whom will the Corps demonstrate its landing capabilities? Against mainland China? Not funny. Against Russia? In general, it’s also not funny, and why? Why do we need endless “deployment” (deployment) of amphibious combat-ready groups (ARGs) in the sea? Is it possible to break even Syria with such a group? No. To carry out a special operation on its territory? Yes, it is possible, but the landing forces of the group are excessive for this, and the air forces are insufficient, at least if the Syrians try to interfere.
Questions ripened and in what condition the Corps was.
Overstrain caused by an endless war, in general, in principle, harmed the US Armed Forces. But Marines - especially. So, the flight of the Hornet pilot, assigned to the Corps, fell to a miserable 4-5 hours a month.
There are other problems that will take too long to list. One way or another, the Corps was slowly turning into a thing in itself. Marines’s actual seizure of military power in the United States did not change the situation - at some point, Marine Mattis was the Secretary of Defense, Marine Danford was the chairman of the NSC, and Marine General Kelly was the head of the White House apparatus. The Trinity even arranged photo sessions in uniform at the White House, but there was no sense for USMC: in fact, the only breakthrough was the introduction of the F-35B Corps aviation, which was a serious step forward compared to the AV-8B, on which the Corps pilots flew earlier. And that’s it.
The rapidly changing world, however, required changes in the American war machine. Trump's attempts to break out of the Middle East swamp and focus on strangling China required appropriate tools, and the Corps rivals demanded to give meaning to its existence (and expenses) or subjugate it to the army as army landing forces (an attempt, by the way, in the history of the USA was already under Truman in late forties).
Everything was complicated by the delicacy of the topic. Marines in the USA is just a legendary structure, surrounded by a lot more myths than the airborne forces in our country. The entire Second World War in the United States is largely associated precisely with the assaults by the marines of the Japanese fortified islands in the Pacific Ocean. The corps in America is simply adored, it’s enough to recall the famous “hoisting the flag over Iwo Jima” - one of the symbols of America as such. As one journalist said: "The United States does not need the Marine Corps, but the United States wants it to be." They even in computer games about the distant future in space Marines fight. The corps is part of the American identity, not the most important, but inalienable, it is not just troops. And it was so easy not to approach the issue of their reform.
Marines are not just troops, they are a symbol of America, as some Americans think, and it is a symbol that will survive America itself.
But in the end, the reform began, and began from within. On July 11, 2019, the post of commandant (commander) of the Corps was taken by General David Hilberry Berger, a combat general who is the author of the reform currently under way, her father. Good or not, but now the result of the transformations in the Corps will be connected with it.
Berger received military training at the university, on the local analogue of the military department, and from there he went into the army for life. He went through almost all command levels: platoon, company, battalion, regimental battle group, division, expeditionary unit with the division in its composition (Marine Expeditionary Force), all the forces of the Corps in the Pacific Ocean. He participated in the Gulf War in 1991, in operations in Haiti, in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. He served in Kosovo and in the Pacific. He, in general, fought wherever he could. At the same time, he spent about half of his service at headquarters at various levels and in instructor positions. He has training in scuba diver, scout, paratrooper, studied at the army ranger school. The battalion he commanded was a reconnaissance battalion; Berger knows what it means to be behind the front line. Already an officer, he was trained at the Command and Staff College of the Corps and continuing education courses in the so-called School of advanced combat training, also Marine. Against this background, his master's degree in political science at a civilian institution of higher learning is no longer “looking”, but he also has it.
Apparently, such versatile preparation gave Berger the opportunity to generate his extremely radical plan for reforming such an important institution for America. The plan that the American public initially met with hostility.
Because Berger announced his plan with the need for radical reductions, and what!
Rejection of all tanks: quite numerous tank forces of the Corps are disbanded completely, there will be no tanks. Field artillery is being reduced: from 21 batteries of towed guns to five. The number of each squadron of F-35B is reduced from 16 to 10. The squadrons of convertiplanes, helicopter squadrons of shock "Cobra", transport squadrons, battalion control are cut. Many parts are cut completely, others partially. In total, the corps will lose 12000 people by 2030, or 7% of its current strength. It is to the named year that he should take a new look finally.
There were people who called Berger grave digger Corps. Veterans say they will not recommend young people to join his ranks - it is better to join the Army, Navy or Air Force. And this is an unprecedented level of criticism.
Behind the collapse, however, is something interesting.
The reform planned by Berger is inextricably linked with how American strategists see the future non-nuclear (or limited nuclear) war against China.
And the first thing is where they see this war. And they see it on the so-called "First Island Chain" - a collection of archipelagos that cut off mainland China from the Pacific Ocean. At the same time, the specifics of the theater of war are that the chain is already under the allies of the Americans, and the task will not be so much to take these islands by storm, but to prevent the Chinese from doing this when they try to break the sea blockade, for example. A separate issue is the islands in the South China Sea. Often it’s just shallows, nothing more, but control over them allows you to control shipping in a wide area, and the capture of islands on which there are airfields makes it possible to quickly deploy troops within the archipelagos. This is a very specific environment.
Two island chains - two containment lines of China. The Americans want to block it on the first line and then go to the South China Sea. It is also planned to hold Taiwan and the waters around. Departure to the second chain of islands is extremely undesirable and in fact is regarded as a defeat
Berger does not hide, and he has repeatedly said this, that the task of the Corps will be to effectively fight in this specific environment, and not somewhere else. And, I must say, now the organizational and staffing structure of the Corps does not correspond to such tasks.
The main tenets of the Berger plan are:
1. The corps is an instrument of naval warfare; it ensures its success by operations on land. This is an openly revolutionary position. Before that, everything was the other way around: the victory achieved by the Navy at sea opened the possibility of using the marines on earth to achieve victory on earth. Berger simply flips this generally accepted logic.
This is not to say that before him no one had come up with this. In a series of articles "Building a fleet"in the article “We are building a fleet. Attacks of the weak, loss of the strong the author formulated one of the principles of naval warfare by the weakest side, which had previously been used more than once in history:
Thus, we formulate the third rule of the weak: it is necessary to destroy the enemy's naval forces by ground forces and aviation (not sea) in all cases when this is possible from the point of view of the predicted effect and risks. This will release the forces of the Navy for other operations and reduce the superiority of the enemy in forces.
The Americans, being the strongest side, plan to do the same to further widen the gap in power between themselves and China. How Berger is going to use troops against the enemy fleet, this is a separate conversation, and it is ahead, for now, we note the revolutionary nature of the new reform. By the way, one of the innovations voiced by Berger will be a much closer interaction of the Navy in the course of the fulfillment by the latter of their tasks to establish dominance at sea.
It is interesting, but in the same article it was predicted that the Americans would develop in this direction:
It is especially worth mentioning that such operations are the “hobby” of the Americans. We can believe in such opportunities or not, but they will do it in droves, and we should be prepared for this, on the one hand, and not be “embarrassed” by doing it ourselves, on the other.
And so it turns out in the end.
One of the important aspects of the first paragraph is that Berger withdraws the Corps from the position of the "second Army" - now the Army will do what it used to do, but the Marines will do completely different things, which are necessary in principle, but inaccessible to the Army. This closes the question of the usefulness of the Corps for the country, not only in the ideological field, but also in practice.
2. The corps must carry out its tasks in conditions of dominated by the adversary at sea and in the air (contested environment). This is also a revolutionary moment - and earlier, and now the conditions for conducting an amphibious landing operation are to achieve dominance at sea and in the air in the area of its conduct and on the communications necessary for its conduct. Of course, history knows many examples when relatively successful landing operations took place without all this, at least the same German landing in Narvik, but these were always marginal examples - examples of how, generally speaking, it was not necessary to do it, but it was lucky. The Americans are going to create forces that will so regularly fight. This is something new in military affairs.
These two requirements lead to the fact that the Corps must change beyond recognition - and this is what is happening.
We ask the question: do you need a lot of tanks in conditions when the task of the Americans is to disrupt the enemy’s landing on "their" islands? Most likely, a complete rejection of them is a mistake, but in general they do not need a lot.
And the barrel artillery? Again, there may be a situation where it is really needed, here the Americans are taking risks with landslide reductions, but let's admit that it will not be needed as much as in a regular ground war. Yes, and do not completely eliminate it, just cut it.
Or we will consider the same questions in relation to the capture of the Chinese bulk islands: where are the tanks to disperse there? And isn’t it too difficult to deliver them there? And the numerous barrel artillery? Ammo to her? And can this artillery, based on one island, support fire troops on another, say, 30 kilometers? No.
Or such a question as the reduction of the staff of the battalion as a whole. This is currently being studied in the United States, but the question that the battalions are "losing weight" is a settled one, the question is only how much. It seems stupid, but the small and dispersed parts are much more stable when using nuclear on the battlefield weapons, and this cannot be ruled out in the war with China. And it seems that the Americans want to be prepared for this as well.
In general, the new states of the Corps promise to be very well adapted to nuclear war. Few people comment on the reform from this side, but it has this side, and it is impossible not to notice it.
In fact, if we consider Berger’s beginnings precisely through the prism of the US war with China and precisely on the first chain of islands and in the South China Sea, it turns out that he is not so wrong. It can be argued whether five artillery batteries would be enough or if there should have been at least some tanks left. But the fact that hundreds of tanks and 21 batteries of barrel artillery is not needed for such a war is undeniable.
And what you need? We need equipment and weapons, completely different than the Corps is using now. And this is also taken into account in Berger's plan.
New weapons policy
To conduct battles in such an environment and with declared goals, the Corps will need a new approach to weapons systems and military equipment. This is due to the following specifics.
Firstly, we need the ability to suppress the actions of enemy (Chinese) Navy from the ground. This requires anti-ship missiles. Secondly, it is necessary that the troops can support each other with fire at a great distance, when a supported unit on one island, supporting on another, for example, 50 kilometers. This requires long-range weapons, naturally missile.
For firing at such ranges, it is necessary to have powerful intelligence in order to have accurate information about the enemy, both at sea and on the islands.
And you also need to have a lot of ships that provide landing operations, while taking into account the need to act until sea supremacy is achieved, these should be cheaper, “consumed” ships, with a smaller landing party, smaller, but in larger numbers. At least in order not to lose thousands of people on every ship sunk by the enemy.
Actually, all this is laid down in a new vision of the future Corps and has already been voiced. To combat the enemy Navy, marines must receive ground-based anti-ship missile installations.
In order to support each other’s fire on neighboring islands - missile launchers, so far as a first approximation they will be the HIMARS MLRS, capable of using not only unguided, but also small-sized cruise missiles, over a distance of hundreds of kilometers. Berger has already announced a threefold increase in the number of such systems in the Corps.
Exercises on the use of MLRS HIMARS during the raid (!) Marines ashore
The next important program announced the creation of a powerful line of high-precision long-range munitions, including barrage missiles, capable of being in the air for some time until they receive target designation and command to strike. It is assumed that during the assault operations such ammunition will be literally “over the head” of the attacking forces and at the first request fall upon the enemy, which will give a few minutes between the request for a strike and the strike itself, and without any aviation, which is also a new trend for the US Armed Forces .
It is also planned a jump-like increase in the number of different UAVs and a simultaneous increase in their performance characteristics, this applies to strike drones and reconnaissance drones, which are supposed to obtain data for the marines about the enemy, which will then be destroyed by missiles.
And, of course, Berger has already announced aloud the need to have smaller amphibious ships than the current San Antonio, though it hasn’t come to specifics yet.
And of course, so specific troops need specific staffing and doctrine of combat use.
New troops for a new war
The reductions in Corps that Berger planned were not just reductions, but a reduction to new states — fundamentally new.
According to his plan, the main combat unit of the Corps should be the so-called Marine littoral regiment - Marine littioral regiment, MLR. This part of the three-battalion squad will become the basis for future MEF, Marine expeditionary force - an expeditionary force, usually consisting of a marine division and various reinforcement units (our home translators, usually without further ado, translate MEF as a “division”, although this is not so , MEF is more than a division).
Now, several MEFs will act as a “wave” of regiments, which promptly, anticipating the enemy and not waiting for the complete defeat of his Navy, will have to occupy the key for the need to provide maneuver with the troops of the island.
Further, the regiments will have to base what Berger’s doctrine calls the Expeditionary advanced base. This is a stronghold on which, due to rapidly deployable devices and systems, refueling points for helicopters and convertiplanes, rocket firing positions for attacks on other islands and surface ships, and air guidance posts will be based. The key content of such a base will be FARP equipment - Forward arming and refueling position - the offensive position (point) of ammunition and refueling, on which helicopters and airmobile units and units will rely when attacking other islands.
When the enemy attempts to dislodge the American landing force, regiment anti-ship missiles, which will not allow the enemy to approach the shore, will have to enter the case. If some enemy units can still gain a foothold on the coast, then a massive missile attack by all types of missiles should fall on them - from guided cruise missiles to the good old MLRS missiles, “pack” for “Packet”, and then mechanized infantry at an extremely fast pace Corps must destroy these enemy troops in a swift attack.
Relying on such an advanced base, other units, using primarily tiltrotors and helicopters, should capture the following islands during the American offensive, where a new littoral regiment or units of the already fighting regiment will then be pulled.
The result should be a sort of “frog jumping” scheme — storming the island or occupying it without a fight — landing of the main forces of the “littoral regiment” —creation by the forces of the regiment (including ground anti-ship missiles) and carrier-based aircraft of a zone for denying access around the island, creating a base for assault units, who must attack the next island - an attack on the next island, for example, by airborne airborne forces and everything from the beginning.
Something like this: small-sized landings with long-range weapons, an airborne assault operation against an island with an aerodrome (a landing on convertible planes, special forces from Marine Raiders on parachutes, but you shouldn’t understand it too literally), the F-35B attacks an enemy ship - dominating the sea not yet. Many small American ships around. So they see it
What will act as an assault element of the new forces? What forces will precisely attack the islands occupied by the enemy, relying on long-range missiles and the rear infrastructure of the "littoral regiment"? Firstly, the regiment can technically do this on its own - one of the three battalions may well go on the assault. You need to understand that the “base” that the regiment must establish is simply trenches, soft tanks with jet fuel (if not a tanker at all) and dumped ammunition boxes in the ground, at best, a mobile command and control tower for assistance in takeoffs and landings of their helicopters, nothing that would require a lot of people to service or a lot of time to deploy there is not planned. So, the regiment can devote part of its forces to the offensive.
But. in addition to the littoral regiments, Berger considers it necessary to leave in the ranks and expeditionary units - Marine expeditionary units. MEU is a battalion combat group consisting of a marine corps battalion, a rear battalion, many different reinforcement and command and control units and an air group, the composition of which often turns out to be unstable (for example, it may have vertical take-off and landing attack aircraft, but may not, but usually there is).
Berger has already announced that the expeditionary forces remain, but their staff can also change. That MEU and MLR will interact with each other has also been announced. So to storm the islands, relying on the support bases created by the "littoral regiments", there will also be someone.
It should be noted that this is likely to be a working scheme. And it is focused precisely on an extremely fast offensive operation in the archipelagos, so fast that the enemy still does not have time to dig in and transfer sufficient forces to the defended islands, does not even have time to occupy those islands that are not controlled by them at the start of hostilities. Anything that can slow down such an operation, “extra” armored vehicles, for example, Berger is about to quit. Tanks cannot conduct airborne assault operations from helicopters and convertiplanes.
It should also be noted that on the islands of the South China Sea, the Corps will most likely not meet either numerous defending troops (there is nowhere to place them and nowhere to get the right amount of drinking water), nor armored vehicles (the islands are small and often lack vegetation in which to mask themselves, especially bulk islands), but there will be a problem of continuous raids of the enemy’s fleet's light forces, and here the ground-based RCC of the Hull, and the deck F-35B, will have to say their word.
Oddly enough, the repeatedly criticized "littoral warships", LCS, can say their word in such a war. The presence on board each of them of a helicopter capable of both providing anti-aircraft defense and carrying guided missiles (RCC Penguin and ATGM Hellfire), the ability to place an attack or multi-purpose helicopter on them, and before the infantry platoon, will also be very useful. Naturally, after all these ships are equipped with NSM anti-ship missiles, the installation of which is currently underway.
And even a reduction in the number of F-35B squadrons in practice will not reduce their combat effectiveness, but rather increase them. Berger very vaguely comments on issues related to changes in the states of the carrier-based deck aviation, but here his comments are not particularly needed.
In 2017, as part of its usual pressure on China in the South China Sea, the United States sent not the aircraft carrier, but the Uosp UDC, which was supposed to act as a light aircraft carrier, for planned exercises with the Philippines.
In preparation for the campaign, it turned out that it was impossible to operate with large air forces with the UDC - it was unsuccessful just like an aircraft carrier, it has a small hangar, there are no resources for repairing aircraft at the proper level, a cramped deck, despite 40000 tons of displacement. It turned out that the limiting number of the air group, which can use all its forces and carry out combat missions, is a group of ten F-35Bs, four Osprey tilt planes with a rescue squad that can be used to evacuate downed pilots from enemy territory (however, for delivery to the rear of the enemy is special forces groups), and a pair of search and rescue helicopters for lifting pilots from the water, catapulted over the sea.
And Berger’s plan to reduce the squadron to 10 cars just hints that the Corps is going to use the UDC not so much as landing ships, but as light aircraft carriers with fighters of short take-off and vertical landing. This will dramatically reduce the dependence of Marines on the Navy, which may have some of its other tasks. Of course, UDC is a very dubious aircraft carrier, their effectiveness in this capacity is extremely low, but there are some. On the plus side, they will carry some landing forces in this case too, which means that they will be useful precisely for the purposes of the Corps.
Reform progress and weaknesses in the Berger plan
Currently, Americans are solving practical issues. What should be the staff of the battalion? How should expeditionary units (MEUs) change? Should they all be the same or should the squad staff be different in each area of responsibility? Now these and many other issues are being worked out during various military games. The tradition of war games in the USA is very strong. It cannot be denied that games really allow you to simulate some things that the real world did not yet have. Now they model the battles of parts of the Corps with different states and determine the optimal organizational and staff structures for the form of military operations that they plan to resort to in the future.
With the exception of these questions, which have not yet been clarified, Berger clearly has a clear vision of the future Corps, he does not hesitate to speak live on SIM and confidently answers sharp questions about what he is doing, and we must admit that the sharp critical attitude of American society his reforms are changing very quickly, literally not by the day, but by the hour.
There is also support for the Berger plan from the military-political leadership.
Something, however, raises questions.
So, practice shows that sometimes you can’t do without tanks. If not without tanks, then at least without another powerful armed cannon of a machine capable of direct fire. The absence of such a machine in the plans for the rearmament of the Corps looks like a weak point - at least one or two vehicles in the infantry company should be obliged even during such island operations. And if the enemy can land, then more.
The second question is whether the American industry can provide the right line of missile weapons for reasonable money. There is no doubt that she is capable of this, but she needs to still want to, otherwise it could turn out to be truly golden missiles that replenish corporate accounts with money, but which are not massive enough to fight with them - simply because of the price.
The critical dependence of the troops on communications is obvious. If the enemy "makes" a connection, then the use of all those long-range missile systems that can get one island from another will simply be impossible: there will be no connection between those who request fire at targets and those who must conduct it. The same will happen in the event of a nuclear war. Without communication, Americans will constantly be faced with the need to solve the problem only with the help of rifles and grenades with all the ensuing consequences. They should obviously worry about this.
And the main problem: the new Corps will be suitable for war on the islands. On the first chain of islands in the Pacific Ocean, on the Kuril Islands, on the Aleutians, in the South China Sea, in Oceania. He will be able to fight in sparsely populated areas with poor communications, for example, in Chukotka, or in some areas of Alaska. But it is unsuitable for something else. History shows that troops have to act in a variety of conditions. And if someday the Marines will be required to occupy the coastal fortified city, and they will say that they cannot (and this will be true, for example), then Berger will be remembered. Of course, the USA also has an army, and there is historical experience of landing operations, which were carried out only by the army without Marines (at least Normandy), but, nevertheless, Berger is at risk here. The demonstration of the uselessness of the Corps will be very painfully met by American society, and the narrow specialization in one theater and one enemy is fraught with just that. Although, maybe it will.
There are pros, and not only those listed above. In Russia, things like sea transfer to the threatened direction of coastal missile systems with anti-ship cruise missiles are practiced very widely. They are also used for coastal defense, including on the islands (Kuril Islands, Kotelny - in the latter case, it is clearly not where it is necessary, but it will not be fixed for long - only a few days). And since we succeed, why can't the Americans succeed?
One way or another, but the Rubicon is crossed. Either the United States will lose its expeditionary forces, or they will move to a new quality and give them opportunities that Americans do not have now. And one cannot but admit that the chances of a second outcome with a competent and balanced approach will be much higher than the first. So, we need to closely monitor what the Americans are doing and prepare to oppose their new methods.
Indeed, important for the country archipelagos are not only in China.