ARLINGTON, Virginia – Marines in the midst of recent experiments, changes in units and equipment may seek the Ukrainian conflict for real reviews of how the Corps’ concept of military action could evolve in a future battle.
Small units use devastating weapons to destroy large enemy formations. Sinking ships from the shore and then quickly fading into the background. Cycle information so fast that the enemy can not cope, impairing the ability to implement effective combat plans. All of these scenarios are happening now as Ukrainians fight the Russian military invasion.
But they can also be downloaded from the pages of various combat concepts and overhauls of the design of the forces that the Marines began almost three years ago.
On Thursday, Marine Commander General David Berger and Senior Marine Sergeant Troy Black met with reporters at the Pentagon ahead of Monday’s launch of its 2022 annual update for Force Design 2030, a plan for how the corps will adapt to new battle landscape.
Berger first warned that many of Ukraine’s lessons had yet to be learned, but were of value even at the beginning of the conflict.
“I’ve learned to be a little patient when I learn about conflict as it happens throughout my career,” Berger said.
And there are topics in the conflict that resonate with the latest changes in power, but no one answers all the questions about power design.
“I would not say that any single event in Ukraine confirms or invalidates the design of the force or any aspect of it,” Berger said.
But the way Ukrainians managed to “close the murder chain” using information, sensors and a surface-to-air missile to sink the Russian cruiser Moscow on April 14 in the Black Sea showed a hint of what the Marines would do in future conflicts.
“This is the direction in which the Marines are going as part of what the nation needs to do in terms of maritime control and denial of the sea,” Berger said. “This really serves as an example of the vulnerability of ships, large inscriptions, to missiles.
Ukrainian authorities say they sank a second Russian ship in the Black Sea on Saturday with a drone strike.
Numerous media outlets reported that the United States had shared intelligence with the Ukrainians, which had helped sink the ship. Berger did not comment on details of this or other incidents in Ukraine and any US involvement.
Marine leadership has been repeatedly asked whether their force structure is too closely focused on China and Indo-Pacific Command. But Berger, his top generals and staff said the changes, while aimed at China as a “threat to the pace”, were applicable to all opponents in various regions.
Black told reporters that the largest exercise conducted by the Corps this year was in fact in Europe with the Cold Response, a NATO-led exercise with 30,000 troops from 27 countries, mostly in Norway.
“So the idea that the Marines are focused on just one theater is not,” Black said.
The senior Marine said he had received wrong turn lessons in the past, as well as others. But there were lessons that analysts have already learned that can be put into effect.
First, he saw that smaller units, more widespread in their own way of perceiving the enemy, had proven their worth in Ukraine.
Add to that access to deadly tools, in the ward or on call, and these small teams can be devastating.
And small units can outperform “large, voluminous formations that have a huge logistical footprint.”
This is a hint at the way Ukrainian teams have harassed, delayed and immobilized long convoys of Russian military vehicles in their tracks.
Second, the value of ground forces, he said.
For two or three decades, thinking in some circles saw a future in which units would simply stand at a distance and throw ammunition at each other, turning the close battle into a relic.
“Not so much,” he said.
On Wednesday, Lt. Gen. Carsten Haeckle told an audience at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington that Combined Weapons as a Concept had changed. That’s all – from tanks, artillery and aviation to cybernetics, space and information, influencing the way leaders use these tools.
In recent years, the Marine Corps has set up an Information Group of the Marine Expeditionary Force or MIG to process information and its use and impact on the operations of the MEF and its subordinate units.
The Corps is also due to release a new doctrinal publication in the coming weeks, specifically for information, according to the 2022 annual update of Force Design 2030.
The third lesson shows some of the biggest changes the commandant has seen in his four decades – the use of information that has always been valuable but not so fast or so widely shared.
“But I’m watching this conflict develop and the way Ukrainian civilians and the military have used information in front of the enemy, in other words, at a faster pace earlier and with a faster cycle, it seems that the Russians can’t catch up and stand forward, “he said.
The Russians simply cannot deal with the Ukrainians on the information front.
“This is the first time in my career that we share the amount of intelligence we have had so openly and so quickly, for good reason,” Berger said.
That must continue, the four-star said, especially with allies and partners when confronting adversaries such as Russia or China.
The information challenge is at the heart of the way the corps’ forces design focuses on intelligence and counterintelligence.
In a separate interview with the media on Friday, Hackel, along with Major General Benjamin Watson and Major General Eric Austin, shared the role that recognition plays in this information environment.
Watson noted that historically the Corps has been slow to develop its own sensory capabilities instead of relying on other services to provide them.
“This is a position we would rather not be in, this is not the only option,” Watson said.
The expanding MQ-9 Reaper drone program is finally giving Marines the opportunity for resident drones that plan to adapt with new sensors and other equipment.
This should go hand in hand with the new role of Marines as ship killers.
“If we have a missile that fires 100 nautical miles, then we want a sensor that is organic to us that can find a target far beyond that,” Watson said.
Todd South has written about crime, the courts, the government and the military in numerous publications since 2004 and was named a 2014 Pulitzer Finalist for a joint witness intimidation project. Todd is a veteran of the Marines in the Iraq war.