Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger has set a goal to transform the Corps from a heavy land army into an agile naval expeditionary force, focusing on adversaries like China.
That vision got a little more real last week with the publication of a detailed new training manual mapping out how the service hopes to get from here to there.
The 180-page “Tentative Manual for Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations” (TM-EABO) is a first effort to refine and test whether the Marines can be more agile, flexible and mobile. In one sign of the changing times, the Corps no longer operates its own tanks, leaving that job to the Army.
Under the plan ordered by Gen. Berger, Marines will develop several small, mobile units capable of specific missions, such as air defense, anti-ship operations, and the seizing of small enemy bases reminiscent of the island-hopping campaigns of World War II.
“The threats we face morph daily, and so this is an initial concept that will only turn into doctrine when we are satisfied that it best blends a fixed body of experiments and data with the flexibility to outpace the threat,” said Lt. Gen. Eric Smith, deputy commandant for combat development and integration.
The manual lays out the reasoning behind Gen. Berger’s controversial order for the Marine Corps to evolve, divesting the tanks and cutting the number of aviation and cannon artillery units in favor of rocket artillery, long-range guns and unmanned systems.
“Rather than a force designed to fight its way into a contested area, the Marine Corps is building a force capable of persisting and operating forward as a critical component of a naval campaign,” the authors wrote.
The new focus of the Marine Corps is expected to be operational by 2030. The manual envisions the advances bases, or EABOs, as being stripped down and temporary yet able to project power while operating so far forward that they may even be within the range of the enemy’s fire.
In one increasingly likely scenario, Marines could be used to isolate and capture China’s network of artificial islands in the South China Sea, using them to provide firing locations for the Marines’ own long-range rockets and artillery.
Like their Army counterparts, Marines have spent the last 20 years fighting in landlocked countries like Afghanistan with minimal connections to the Navy. All that is changing with the Pentagon’s renewed focus on “peer adversaries” like Russia and especially China.
The Marine Littoral Regiment, with about 2,000 Marines and sailors, is at the heart of the reimagined Corps, a concept Gen. Berger has regularly alluded to in the past. Each regiment will feature a littoral combat team, a littoral anti-air battalion and a littoral logistics battalion. According to the manual, a regiment will “maneuver and persist inside a contested maritime environment as part of the naval expeditionary force.”
A Marine infantry battalion, combined with its own indirect fire back-up, will be the foundation for the littoral combat team. The regiments will perform a variety of missions, including conducting surveillance and reconnaissance missions and denying the enemy critical pieces of maritime terrain, according to the manual.
The new document sees the Navy as integral to their operation. It envisions both manned and unmanned ships being used to attack the enemy, ferry troops throughout contested island chains and resupply forces during a fight.
Looming large in the Marines’ new warfighting concept is the Navy’s “light amphibious warfare” (LAW) ship. At between 200 feet and 400 feet, LAWs can support and transport 75 Marine troops.
“Utilizing the LAW to transport forces on the surface reduces the impacts of tactical vehicles on the road network, increases deception and allows for the sustainment of forces during embarkation,” the manual authors wrote. “The range, endurance and austere access of LAWs enables the littoral force to deliver personnel, equipment and sustainment over a widely distributed area.”
With some expecting future military budgets to be flat or even shrink, the Marine Corps is touting their EABO concept as both effective and economical.
“Forces executing EABO are small, numerous, dispersed, relatively expensive and difficult to target, thus inverting an adversaries cost-benefit calculation when deciding whether to engage,” the authors wrote.
The Washington Times obtained a copy of the Tentative Manual for Expeditionary Base Operations. It already has been distributed to fleet officials for their comments.