Washington: With the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan winding down, the U.S. military will need a rapidly mobile, highly lethal force that can respond to any national security crisis around the globe.
The Marine Corps is that force and will be for the foreseeable future, according to service Commandant Gen. James Amos.
In a letter sent to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta today, Amos clearly laid out his vision for the Marine Corps — a “middleweight force” that fits neatly between big Army and special operations forces.
“The Corps is not a second land army,” Amos wrote, attempting to shake the image that has defined the Marine Corps over the past decade in Iraq and Afghanistan. The service is also not a bigger version of special operations forces, Amos added. “Marine Corps and SOF roles are complementary, not redundant,” the four-star general wrote.
That said, the Marines occupy “a unique lane in the capability range of America’s armed forces” Amos said.
A lane, he makes clear, only the Marines can fill at the bargain basement price of only “7.8 percent of the total DoD budget.”
Much of the letter echoes what top Marine Corps leaders have been preaching for some time.
But this statement — sent directly to Panetta himself — is the latest in a series of moves the service is making to position itself for the tough budget battles ahead.
The Marines were the first of all the services to set up a plan for how it will drawdown its forces as operations in Southwest Asia come to an end.
While the Navy continued to send mixed signals to Congress on what it planned to do about its future carrier fleet, Amos and others banged the drum on the need for more amphibious ships.
Furthermore, the Marines created a new working group tasked specifically to come up with statistical proof to back up the service’s arguments for more amphibious ships.
In his letter to Panetta, Amos again made clear that the future of the Navy’s amphibious forces and the future of the service as a whole were intrinsically intertwined.
Amos also took personal ownership over the struggles with the service’s version of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and the cancellation of the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle.
The Marine Corps chief took on a “player-coach” role in getting vertical lift variant of the F-35 back on schedule, personally tracking the ongoing work on the fighter
Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates gave the Navy and Marine Corps two years to fix the F-35 or risk cancellation. Amos has almost guaranteed that the fighter would be ready well before that two-year window closes.
On EFV, Amos boldly stated that he wanted to be able to drive some version of the vehicle’s replacement, known as the Amphibious Combat Vehicle, before his four-year term as Marine Corps commandant was complete.
By doing all these things, the Marines have put themselves in a near-perfect position to push back against those in DoD and on the Hill who are looking to the services to foot part of the national deficit bill.
When spending cuts come, and they will come, the Marine Corps should be ready. We will just have to wait and see if all this work ends up paying off in the end.