Commandant Gen. Jim Amos is expected to make a major speech tonight in San Francisco that could provide significant new details about what the future Marine Corps looks like.
Marine officials obviously don’t want to get out front of their commandant, but the speech has been teased to media as focusing on “his vision” for what the service should do next. It will take place at the Marines’ Memorial Club, where Defense Secretary Robert Gates said last August that he was ordering a broad-based review of the Corps’ mission and purpose.
The setting of Amos’ speech is significant. In many ways, it looks like his public answer to Gates’ challenge to redefine the service. The commandant will likely unveil a number of decisions that stem from a Force Structure Review Group that met for three months late last year, considering the future of the Corps.
Considering what we know already — and guidance issued last year to those conducting the force structure review — here are some things we might hear:
More details on the drawdown
Gates already announced Jan. 6 that the Corps would shed 15,000 to 20,000 Marines beginning in 2015, dropping the size of the service to between 182,000 and 187,000 Marines. He didn’t provide details then, saying it would depend on the result of the force structure review.
Those details could come tonight. In fact, Inside Defense reported this morning that Amos will call for a 15,000-Marine reduction, with the elimination of three infantry battalions, an artillery battalion and associated headquarters elements.
The cuts wouldn’t be shocking, and wouldn’t take place until at least 2015. And let’s face it: The Corps always saw this as a possibility.
When the service began expanding a few years ago from 175,000 Marines to 202,000 in the face of deployment stresses, it activated numerous units that had been dormant for years, including three battalions at Camp Lejeune, N.C., that had fallen underneath 9th Marine Regiment during Vietnam.
However, instead of activating the regimental headquarters, it assigned the units — 1st Battalion, 9th Marines; 2nd Battalion, 9th Marines; and 3rd Battalion, 9th Marines — to other regiments. Currently, 1/9 reports to 8th Marines, 2/9 reports to 6th Marines and 3/9 reports to 2nd Marines.
Kind of sounds like a temporary set-up, doesn’t it?
More on MARSOC
This will come as no shock to those following along, but an expansion to Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command is widely expected.
Officers involved in the force structure review group were instructed to consider options for a future service position on how to provide forces to Special Operations Command, whether MARSOC’s structure should be increased by 1,100 support troops, and if MARSOC Marines in the field should be supported by conventional Marine forces, or operate independently with their own logistics support.
That’s a lot to consider. Add in that Amos has been reviewing a plan to set up a complete career path for Marines interested in spec-ops, and it’s clear MARSOC will be priority for years to come.
Changes are coming to the Marine braintrust in D.C.
With headquarters elements in the Washington, D.C., area everywhere from the barracks at 8th and I streets to the sprawling Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., to the south, Headquarters Marine Corps can sometime seem like a maze.
Again based on the review group’s planning guidance, Amos may address that.
Now-retired Commandant Gen. James Conway ordered officials involved in the review to to consider altering the role and composition of several major Washington, D.C., area commands, while preserving units and programs that give the service its unique ability to strike rapidly by land and sea.
Multiple D.C.-area commands were specifically named, including Marine Corps Combat Development Command, Marine Corps Recruiting Command, Training & Education Command and Marine Corps Systems Command. Marine Corps Logistics Command, a three-star command based out of Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany, Ga., also could be affected.
Thousands of Marines and civilians work at those commands. MCCDC and LOGCOM are three-star commands, MCRC and TECOM are headed by two-star officers and MARCORSYSCOM, responsible for Marine acquisition, is overseen by a one-star general.
New amphibious plans
It’s hard to picture the commandant making a major speech about the future of the Corps without touching on its amphibious role and what it will need to continue in that capacity.
The review charter tells officers involved to assume that there will be at least one Marine expeditionary unit afloat in the U.S. Central Command area of operations for the foreseeable future, with periodic stops ashore through 2016. It advises officials to assume there will be 33 amphibious assault ships in the Navy’s fleet by 2016, and that the Corps will continue to maintain three prepositioned squadrons of ships, each with the equipment for an entire Marine expeditionary brigade to use when needed.
“Requirements for Marine Corps forces needed for power projection from the sea will not be changed,” the charter said.
The officers also were advised that the Corps must maintain a force that can deploy at least four MEUs at any one time, with two additional MEUs based in the U.S. Currently, there are three MEUs on each coast, along with a seventh based out of Okinawa, Japan. The charter does not specify whether a MEU will remain in Japan or Guam, but it advised that the review group should consider “the lay down of Marines in the Pacific.”
It’d also make sense that Amos will revisit the recent cancellation of the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle, and the Corps’ plans to develop a new, cheaper amphibious vehicle for the 21st century. That wasn’t in the force structure review charter, but the timing seems right.