- Jonathan Marcus
- Professor, University of Exeter, England
The meeting between US and Japanese leaders underscored once again the US military’s commitment to the Pacific Ocean.
The US Marine Corps is the most respected branch of the US military. But there is a bitter debate going on in this group these days.
A retired senior Marine Corps commander is taking shots at current generals one after the other. He has strong opposition to efforts to make changes to America’s most valuable veterans of the military.
Retired players have protested the plan, dubbed Porsche Design 2030. The purpose of this program is to prepare this special branch of the US military for any future war against China.
Ever since talk of the project began, retired generals have been outspoken in the media in an unexpected way. Retired officers also avoid talking to journalists on military matters.
But this time retired officers are openly flouting this new plan in seminars. They call it a disaster for the future of the Marine Corps.
Former US Navy Secretary Jim Webb was a Marine officer in the Vietnam War. In 2015, he ran for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination.
In the US newspaper The Wall Street, Jim Webb described it as ‘a flawed scheme without experimentation’.
In a cautionary tone, he raised serious questions about the long-term risks of “dramatic reductions in the structure of the Marine Corps, weapons systems and troop levels.”
Why is the retired general angry?
The program was introduced in 2020 by Marine Corps Commandant David Burger. The purpose of the program is to prepare the US Navy for the possibility of war with China in the Indo-Pacific region. These soldiers have so far only participated in counter-insurgency wars like Iraq and Afghanistan.
In this program, Marines are taught to fight individually on sea islands. These units will be smaller, but because of the new weapons, their firepower will be much higher.
Landing large numbers of troops ashore or stationing in Iraq during the course of World War II will become a thing of the past for the US military.
The most controversial part of the plan was the reduction in the number of infantrymen and the complete elimination of the use of tanks.
The United States Marine Corps is part of the United States Navy, but it emerged as a separate service after World War II. Soldiers of this force have played an important role in the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Much of the Marine Corps’ reputation in the public eye is tied to World War II. Hollywood films have also made several movies on this service of the US military. Recently, Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks have made the series ‘The Pacific Name’.
But in the new plan, marines will never fight like Hollywood movies.
Critics say the biggest impact of the upcoming changes in the Marine Corps will be on the role of these soldiers. Because right now the main focus of the Marine Corps is China and the Indo-Pacific.
So what’s in this plan?
- Infantry cut
- Some battalions will be abolished
- 75 percent of artillery guns will be replaced with long-range rocket systems
- Many helicopter squadrons will be closed
- The Marine Corps will no longer have any tanks
- 15.8 billion US dollars will be spent on new weapons
Where will its money come from?
The money would be funded solely by cutting $18.2 billion in Marine Corps spending.
In addition to new rocket artillery systems, new anti-ship missiles will also be used, which can be launched from land or from drones.
The effort is to prepare the US military for a war similar to the war in Ukraine.
The focus of Force Design 2030 is to reduce large units and teach them to fight on small islands. The plan was for these small units to engage in combat over a large area within a short period of time.
Mike O’Hanlon, director of foreign policy and military affairs at the Brookings Institution in Washington, rejects the argument that a focus on China would interfere with the Marine Corps’ operations in other parts of the world.
Marines say they will go wherever they are needed and will not be affected by the new policy.
Many experts say the transition is essential to prepare Marines for the challenges of future warfare.
Research fellow at the US National Defense University and former Marine Officer Dr. Frank Hoffman says, “Critics are looking back at a glorious past. They are clearly missing the strategic picture in terms of China and technology.”
Much of the criticism is directed at the complete removal of tanks from the Marine Corps.
But Dr. Hoffman says the conclusion is absolutely correct. Even now the Marine Corps has enough armored vehicles, they say, only heavy tanks are being scrapped.
He says, “It is necessary for us to attack any area. That too with high speed and superior firepower. Until now the Navy used air strikes for this job. But now the Navy will have a stockpile of missiles, apart from conventional artillery, to increase their range.
Lessons from Ukraine?
Many experts say all these measures are being taken because of lessons learned from the war in Ukraine.
The war between Russia and Ukraine underscores the importance of drones and rocket artillery. Along with this, the precision targeting and inside strike capabilities of these two weapons are also highlighted.
But there is a big difference between the battlefield in Ukraine and a potential war in the Pacific. A possible war with China would take place over many small islands spread over thousands of miles of ocean instead of dense forests and grasslands.
The Force Design 2030 project continues to evolve. Many changes have been made to this project and there will be more changes in the future.
The project is moving forward in one direction, but there are still some unresolved issues. Foremost among these is the logistical challenge of fighting on islands spread over vast oceans.
The ability to fight simultaneously on water and land will be central to this future war. Nick Child, a senior fellow at Naval Forces and Maritime Defense in London, explains that the battle for land and water will require new types of ships.
Nick Childs says, “Relying only on conventional ships would be expensive because they face sophisticated weapons. Such a war would require many small seaplanes that can be quick and reach anywhere.”
America’s own large shipyards can quickly build smaller ships. But not as fast as the Navy needed.
The US Navy will also need a large number of new warships. It is not known where the funds will come from.
Jonathan Marcus is Honorary Professor at the University of Exeter, UK. He is also a long-time senior BBC correspondent.
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