Cut To The Corp

Given the news that the US Marines are likely to be heading up the beaches of Libya very soon – the timing of an announcement on Marine Corps cuts seems a little ill timed.

However With the winding down of combat operations in Iraq, it has been stated that the US Marine Corps is facing a major restructuring, with 15 000 fewer troops, 20% less artillery and nine fewer aviation squadrons. Its special operations element will, however, be expanded.

The force structure review outlining cuts was released by the Marine Corps after the specially created Force Structure Review Group examined the organisation and abilities of the Corps.

Secretary of Defence Robert Gates last year directed the USMC to conduct the review to ensure the Corps did not devolve into an expensive ‘second land army’ following September’s announced end of combat operations in Iraq.

In August last year Gates said the Marine Corps was “to be at the ‘tip of the spear’ in the future, when the U.S. military is likely to confront a range of irregular and hybrid conflicts.” He added that the “the maritime soul of the Marine Corps needs to be preserved.”

The Force Structure Review summary calls for a shrinking of the active duty component of the Corps from 202 000 to 186 800 troops, with an additional 39600 troops in the reserve component. However, this reduction will only occur when operations in Afghanistan warrant it.

Marine Commandant General James Amos introduced the summary and said the downsizing will better allow the Corps to accomplish its dynamic mission within the Department of Defence.

“The Marine Corps’ force structure must provide a strategically, mobile, middleweight force optimised for rapid crisis response and forward-presence,” he wrote. “It must be light enough to leverage the flexibility and capacity of amphibious shipping, yet heavy enough to accomplish the mission. Larger than special operations forces, but lighter and more expeditionary than conventional Army units, we must be able to engage and respond quickly — often from the sea — with enough force to carry the day upon arrival.”

To achieve this ‘lightness’, Amos recommended combining a Marine Forces headquarters with one of the three Marine Expeditionary Force headquarters. His other recommendations included: a 13% reduction in ground combat forces, including an 11% reduction in infantry, 20% reduction in cannon artillery and 20% reduction in armour companies; 16% cut in fixed-wing tactical aviation squadrons; 9% cut in logistics; 7% cut in Marines assigned to non-operational billets; and 13% cut in the civilian workforce.

These proposed cuts will mean disposing of three of the Marine Corps’ 27 infantry battalions; cutting the number of artillery battalions from 11 to nine; removing nine of its 70 flying squadrons; and getting rid of all three wing support group headquarters.

Alongside the increases are also increased and plans call for a 44% increase in Marines for Marine Special Operations Command; increased capacity for cyber defence by enhancing the structure of Marine Corps Forces Cyberspace Command, and the creation a law enforcement support battalion within each marine expeditionary force.

According to Lieutenant General George J Flynn, the Corps’ near-term priority remains operations in Afghanistan. “We’re not going to go down in force structure until after our commitment in Afghanistan has come down,” Flynn said earlier this month. He added that some changes do not impact combat operations and some changes are already underway, especially with respect to the command, aviation combat, and logistics combat elements.

A further review and assessment will be made of the Corp’s doctrine, organization, training, materiel, leadership and education, personnel facilities and cost (DOTMLPF/C). The results of the DOTMLPF/C analysis will be available in July before the Force Structure Review is finalised

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