Marine Corps ‘Shifting Threats’ Campaign Highlights New Technology Focus

The Marine Corps’ adaptability is necessary for the changing world, according to the service’s new recruiting campaign, which launched online Thursday and will air Saturday during the University of Georgia vs. University of Florida football game.  The advertising campaign, “Shifting Threats,” features Marines as they adapt to the more technologically sophisticated world in scenes that look […]

Still image from the Marines’ ‘Shifting Threats’ ad campaign released on Oct. 27, 2022.

The Marine Corps’ adaptability is necessary for the changing world, according to the service’s new recruiting campaign, which launched online Thursday and will air Saturday during the University of Georgia vs. University of Florida football game. 

The advertising campaign, “Shifting Threats,” features Marines as they adapt to the more technologically sophisticated world in scenes that look to be out of a video game. The ad shows modern techniques like how Marines use and destroy drones against the backdrop of traditional Marine Corps missions like amphibious landings, humanitarian aid and disaster relief and infantry operations in harsh weather environments.

“The future is threatened by enemies often unrelenting, unexpected and unpredictable,” the video’s narrator says. “In the midst of an uncertain and evolving world, the need for Marines to defeat these shifting threats is critical because the need to ensure stability for our nation has never been greater. When there are battles to win for America’s future, there is one constant. Marines.”

In designing the ads, the goal was to highlight what Marines are and do in a way that would make sense for the general public but also entice people to join the Marines, according to a release announcing the campaign.

The service is facing a tight recruiting environment, a challenge shared by all branches. The Marine Corps met its Fiscal Year 2022 recruiting goals, with 33,210 new enlisted active-duty Marines and 4,602 enlisted reservists. The Marine Corps also commissioned 1,705 officers, according to a service news release.

The Marine Corps turned its attention to recruiting in the past fiscal year, an effort part of Talent Management 2030, which falls under Force Design 2030. The Marines also hit its retention goals early, the service announced in July.

The service aimed to get 5,820 Marines on their initial contracts to reenlist, while the retention goal for Marines with four to 20 years of service was 5,417, USNI News previously reported.

Under Talent Management 2030, the Marines are beginning to shift away from the small, quick turnover force that has been the standard and instead looking to retain service members for a longer period of time, USNI News reported.

Although the Marines are focusing on retention, the force will still shrink, with Force Design 2030 calling for a reduced force of 175,000 Marines.

The campaign video itself is focused on highlighting aspects of Force Design 2030, including putting technology in the hands of individual Marines to make help decisions on targeting enemy assets.

Featured in the video is the Marine Air Defense Integrated System (MADIS). In 2019, the Marines took out an Iranian drone from 1,000 yards away during a Strait of Hormuz transit using MADIS aboard USS Boxer (LHD-4). The system uses electronic jammers, radars and gun systems, to take out the drone, USNI News previously reported.

A similar situation plays out in the ad with Marines using a handheld device to take out enemy drones. The conclusion of the video shows an infantry Marine helping target an unspecified enemy ship to be sunk by an F-35B Lighting II Joint Strike Fighter.

The Marine Corps video is available on YouTube, and the “Shifting Threats” campaign will use online and television advertising as well as social media. Unlike the Navy, the Marine Corps still advertises on television.

Marine Corps Exceed Retention Goals Early, Hit More Than 100 Percent

The Marine Corps hit retention goals early for the first time in 10 years, the service announced last week. Over the past nine years, the Marine Corps reached approximately 97.2 percent of its retention goal. However, for Fiscal Year 2022, the service already hit 101.1 percent of its goal, said Yvonne Carlock on behalf of […]

11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) celebrates the Marine Corps 246th birthday on the flight deck of the amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD-2) on Nov. 10, 2021. US Navy Photo

The Marine Corps hit retention goals early for the first time in 10 years, the service announced last week.

Over the past nine years, the Marine Corps reached approximately 97.2 percent of its retention goal. However, for Fiscal Year 2022, the service already hit 101.1 percent of its goal, said Yvonne Carlock on behalf of Manpower and Reserve Affairs.

The goal for FY22 for Marines on their initial contracts was 5,820, Carlock said in an email. For Marines with four to 20 years of service, the retention goal was 5,417.

Carlock was not able to provide retention goals for FY 2021 in time of publication. It is unclear if the retention goals for this year are higher or lower than in the past.

It was also unclear the effect of COVID-19 on retention, Carlock said in the email. The Marine Corps has separated ​​3,069 Marines due to refusal to get vaccinated against COVID-19, according to the most recent report.

Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. David Berger’s Force Design 2030 calls for a reduced force of 175,000 Marines, USNI News previously reported. Force Design 2030 also calls for a focus on retention, going against the traditionally high turnover that is associated with the Marines.

The Marine Corps, like the other military branches, is struggling with recruitment due to a competitive marketplace. The service cannot recruit itself way out of talent challenges, Gen. Eric Smith, deputy commandant of the Marine Corps, said Monday. But the service can use retention to solve some of the problem.

The Marine Corps is changing how they retain, Smith said at the Center for Strategic and International Studies event. Before the service would often wait until it received all the interest for reenlistment before racking and stacking each Marine.

Now it is making the process more streamlined, with one step instead of 22, and making it more appealing for people to stay.

As an example, Smith said the service wants to be able to have conversations to figure out how it can keep Marines. If a service member says he or she would stay if they could stay in the same location for a couple more years, that could be a concession the Marine Corps makes in order to retain someone, Smith said.

But Marines should not expect to ask that they stay in the same location for 20 years, Smith said.

The Marines are also putting retention responsibility on leaders through the Command Retention Mission (CRM).

“In support of the CRM, Enlisted Assignments and Retention Branch created multiple avenues to coach and education commanders,” Carlock said in the email. “The on-the-road Key Leader engagements and multiple virtual engagements as well were used to strengthen relationships and communication throughout the Marine Corps.”

While the service started its retention campaign before Talent Management 2030 was announced, the service was able to benefit from the attention to retention, Carlock said.

Looking ahead to fiscal year 2023, the service is applying the Commandant’s Retention Program, which uses the Headquarters Marine Corps to screen Marines and pre-approve them for re-enlistment, Carlock said.

The retention team screened 24,680 and was able to pre-approve nearly approximately 2,500 for re-enlistment, she said.

“All these Marine[s] have to do is agree to reenlist, choose a unit option, and execute their reenlistment,” Carlock said in the email. “The other 20 steps in the process have been completed for them. Would we have wanted to do more than 2,500? Yes! But that was the maximum our team could process for now. We are looking at ways to increase that number.”

Marines Ready to Double Down on Pacific Presence, Says General

The United States will not be moving its military presence from the Western Pacific any time soon due to Beijing’s “continued bad behavior” toward Taiwan and its bullying of immediate neighbors like Japan and South China Sea nations, the Marine Corps second in command said on Monday. America needs to be able to “get to […]

U.S. Marines with 3d Marine Littoral Regiment, 3d Marine Division, post security during a field training exercise at Marine Corps Training Area Bellows, Hawaii, May 30, 2022. US Marine Corps Photo

The United States will not be moving its military presence from the Western Pacific any time soon due to Beijing’s “continued bad behavior” toward Taiwan and its bullying of immediate neighbors like Japan and South China Sea nations, the Marine Corps second in command said on Monday.

America needs to be able to “get to the fight” in the vast Indo-Pacific, access provided by already present stand-in forces, Gen. Eric Smith said during remarks at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and co-hosted by the Naval Institute. The Marine Corps and other services are also reviewing logistics chains to overcome those distances in a Western Pacific potential conflict.

Marines have reduced units’ signatures, making them more difficult to find while also increasing their lethality with High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems [HIMARS], adding advanced anti-ship missiles with 100-mile plus ranges and loitering munitions, similar to Switchblade now used in Ukraine, Smith said, citing the updated Force Design 2030 guidance.

“What’s different today [with the Marine Littoral Regiments vs the past] is the threat,” Smith said. “That unit must be organized to fight tomorrow. …You can’t wait until it is full baked” to determine what might be needed in organization, equipment and training.

He said the Marines are taking back valuable lessons from its exercises in Luzon, Philippines, that can be adopted in the future as the organizing concept spreads across the force.

The process of what’s needed and size of units begins with a concept that is then wargamed and experimented with in the field, Smith said. The feedback loop leads to necessary changes like recognizing the projected size of an infantry battalion of 730 was too small but 860 would work. That sized battalion also would also require added transport and artillery.

“[Littoral regiments] have to be able to fire and move,” Smith said in combat today. The six- or seven-minute window to escape with towed artillery no longer exists. Loitering munitions, like Organic Precision Fires – Infantry and Organic Precision Fires – Mounted, have been successfully field tested and now “it’s how much we can procure” in future budgets, Smith said.
“If you’re static, you’re not going to do too well.”

He added the Marines also have just tested Israel’s Iron Dome air defense system as part of its upgrading cruise missile and manned and unmanned air defenses.

The Marines now have an “airborne quarterback,” capable of sensing what’s out there and pass that intelligence “to the best qualified shooter” for quick action even when space communications have been disrupted thanks to the ability to better “see” threats using MQ-9A unmanned aerial system, he said. Another advantage the medium- to high-altitude, long endurance hunter-killer drone has is cataloguing information to precisely identify threats and target.

“I’m able to pass that data … to everyone.” Smith said. This was successfully tested with the Army’s Future Command field experiment of its Project Convergence, the Army’s testing way to achieve Joint All-Domain Command and Control [JADC2].

Marines with 1st Platoon, Charlie Company, 3rd Assault Amphibian Battalion, 1st Marine Division and Japan Ground Self-Defense Force (JGSDF) soldiers with 2nd Amphibious Rapid Deployment Regiment receive a safety brief prior to executing amphibious operations during Exercise Iron Fist 2022 at the Del Mar Boat Basin, Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California, Jan. 11, 2022. US Marine Corps Photo

As for Marine possessing armor units, Smith said a large issue comes down to weight. With advanced protective systems used by the Army its M1-A2 tanks, the vehicles’ weight is 74 tons, making it extremely difficult to move from ship to shore. He noted that if Marines needed armor the Joint Task Force commander could order the Army to send them over as was his experience in Iraq.

The Navy and Marine Corps agree that naval services require 31 amphibious vessels, 10 large deck, Smith said. When asked about an amphibious readiness group not being able to answer a request from European Command to respond in wake of the invasion of Ukraine, Smith said the Marine Expeditionary Unit was ready to go. The ship was not.

“The readiness of our vessels is a challenge,” with many of the nearing the end of their service life, he said.

Baltic States Need More NATO Forces to Deter a Russian Invasion, Says Estonian Official

Despite the Kremlin’s heavy losses in invading Ukraine, the Russians are “going to come back stronger” in a year or so to threaten the Baltics, Estonian Ministry of Defence Permanent Secretary said on Thursday. Speaking at a Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessment event, Kusti Salm said that even given Moscow’s rising number of casualties, […]

U.S. Marines with 2d Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion attached to Task Group 61/2.4, speak to a UH-1Y crew chief with Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 264 before boarding near Saaremaa, Estonia, May 22, 2022. US Marine Corps Photo

Despite the Kremlin’s heavy losses in invading Ukraine, the Russians are “going to come back stronger” in a year or so to threaten the Baltics, Estonian Ministry of Defence Permanent Secretary said on Thursday.

Speaking at a Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessment event, Kusti Salm said that even given Moscow’s rising number of casualties, destruction of armored forces and depletion of precision-guided weapons, the Kremlin can still mass fires as it is showing in fighting in eastern and southern Ukraine.

He called NATO’s “trip-wire” strategy and even its “forward presence” in limited numbers obsolete in light of Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine.

Because the Baltic nations are on Russian borders and small, they could be quickly overwhelmed in a full-scale Russian invasion.

“Deterrence by denial,” Salm said Wednesday, cannot be achieved by a battalion of NATO troops in his country or any other Baltic member of the alliance. He called it “a joke” that “the second largest nuclear nation would be deterred by a battalion.” The presence “has to be at the divisional level” to “be able to project power across the Russian border.”

Force structure on NATO’s eastern and southern flanks is expected to be high on the agenda at the alliance’s summit meeting later this month in Madrid.

In the first quarter of 2022, Salm added that Estonia has seen the need to “punch above [its] weight” and has been spending about 3 percent of its gross domestic product on defense. Among the systems he mentioned were anti-ship, anti-tank and anti-armor. At the same time, it has doubled its territorial defense force to 20,000 and is training and equipping it to defend against invasion.

The CSBA report on Baltic deterrence calls for the three nations to raise defense spending to 3 percent.

Salm said that the attitude of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania toward Moscow now is “if you want to fight one Baltic state, you’ll fight all the Baltic states and NATO.”

He added later, “There is no stepping back” from Estonia’s building up its defenses and NATO’s need to remain unified. “We feel that the notion is there: ‘Let’s get it done’” when it comes to assisting Ukraine and raising the alliance’s capabilities.

Chris Bassler, one of the authors of the CSBA report on Baltic deterrence, said some of the larger powers inside NATO need to be asking “what are the front line states asking for” to deter Russia from turning on them.

He added that with so many weapons like Javelins, Stingers and sophisticated drones going to Ukraine, the United States could not be the single supplier of systems to the alliance, but all members needed to rebuild their stocks and lay aside prepositioned equipment for follow-on forces.

USS Kearsarge (LHD-3) in port in Tallinn, Estonia, on May 27, 2022. US Navy Photo

The report, prepared before Finland and Sweden applied for NATO membership, states, “While full integration of the national defense plans is likely not an attainable goal, the Baltic states should start by focusing on further coordination of regional investments in [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance], air and missile defense, and longer-range fires capabilities.” By doing this, they could reduce costs and increase interoperability with other alliance members.

Looking at continuing gaps in command and control among NATO forces, especially for forces that rotate between host nations, Jan van Tol, another author, said basic questions like “who’s going to be where” and when need to be addressed. Another important question is whether alliance forces now rotating in the Baltic should be permanently stationed there, he added. The report calls for doubling the number of NATO forces in the three Baltic nations, he added

CSBA also recommended rotating F-35 Lightning II Strike Fighters to the Baltics to better coordinate air defense and policing. Bassler said the F-35s provide “instant interoperability.”

Van Tol said that maritime defenses were not addressed in detail because the report was finished before Finland and Sweden applied for membership. A lesson the Baltics could learn from Ukraine is the value of anti-ship missiles. Ukraine’s use of these missiles has made Russian ship captains feel more threatened after the sinking of RTS Moskva (121) and has been a factor in fighting there.

He added another lesson for the Baltics would also include “mines are a poor man’s weapon” in naval defenses.

U.S. Warships Now in the Baltic Ahead of BALTOPS as Sweden, Finland Move Through NATO Membership Process

At least three U.S. warships are operating in the Baltic Sea ahead of two weeks of international drills in the region, according to U.S. 6th Fleet. Big deck amphibious warship USS Kearsarge (LHD-3), amphib USS Gunston Hall (LSD-44), guided-missile destroyer USS Gravely (DDG-107) and command ship USS Mount Whitney (LCC-20) are operating in the Baltic […]

USS Kearsarge (LHD-3) in port in Tallinn, Estonia, on May 27, 2022. US Navy Photo

At least three U.S. warships are operating in the Baltic Sea ahead of two weeks of international drills in the region, according to U.S. 6th Fleet.

Big deck amphibious warship USS Kearsarge (LHD-3), amphib USS Gunston Hall (LSD-44), guided-missile destroyer USS Gravely (DDG-107) and command ship USS Mount Whitney (LCC-20) are operating in the Baltic Sea ahead of the BALTOPS 22 exercise series, USNI News has learned.

Gunston Hall and Gravely made a port call in Helsinki, Finland on Friday.

“Prior to their port visit, Gunston Hall and Gravely conducted extensive operations with Allies and Partners in the Baltic Sea, including a series of maneuvering exercises with the Finnish and Swedish navies,” reads a statement from 6th Fleet.

Last week, Kearsarge and elements of the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit drilled in the Estonian-led Siil – Estonian for hedgehog – exercise around the island of Saaremaa, the city of Pärnu on Estonia’s western coast and the town of Võru, about 15 miles from the Russian border.

“The exercise scenario will consist of an amphibious landing followed by a multi-day force on force exercise, as well as the execution of a vertical assault raid,” reads a Navy release about the Estonian-led exercise.

Since the late February invasion of Ukraine by Russia, the U.S. has surged ships to Europe.

Guided-missile destroyer USS Gravely (DDG-107) and the Whidbey Island-class amphibious dock landing ship USS Gunston Hall (LSD-44) sail in formation behind the Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge (LHD-3) during a maneuvering exercise with the Finnish and Swedish navies in the Baltic Sea on May 17, 2022. US Navy Photo

The drills with the Baltic nations come ahead of the NATO-led BALTOPS 22 exercise, which will be hosted in Sweden this year.

In addition to the U.S., countries in the exercise include Belgium, Bulgaria, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Sweden, Turkey and the United Kingdom.

“Over 45 ships, more than 75 aircraft, and approximately 7,000 personnel will participate in BALTOPS 22,” reads a NATO release.
The exercise will include “amphibious operations, gunnery, anti-submarine, and air defense exercises, as well as mine clearance operations, explosive ordnance disposal, unmanned underwater vehicles, and medical response.”

The U.S. contingent for BALTOPS will include Kearsarge, Gunston Hall and the Rota, Spain-based guided-missile destroyer USS Porter (DDG-78), Navy officials told USNI News on Tuesday.

The 51st iteration of the exercise comes as long-time participants Sweden and Finland have started the process to join NATO amidst Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine. Swedish officials, in particular, have made calls for the U.S. to operate more in the Baltic, a move that Navy and Marine Corps leaders have endorsed, reported USNI News.

“I look forward to the prospect of Sweden and Finland joining NATO and I foresee a day when we’re actually increasing our maritime operations in the Baltic Sea,” Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro told the House Appropriations defense subcommittee earlier in May.

While the majority of the 30-nation alliance supports the entrance of the two Nordic countries, Turkey continues to raise objections over both Sweden’s and Finland’s protection of what Ankara calls terrorist organizations, including the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), and the halting of arms exports.

On Tuesday, Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said that Turkey would not allow Finland and Sweden to join unless Helsinki and Stockholm agree to “halt their support for the PKK and other groups, bar them from organizing any events on their territory, extradite those sought by Turkey on terrorism charges, support Ankara’s military and counter-terrorism operations, and lift all arms exports restrictions,” according to Reuters.

Report to Congress on Marine Corps’ Advanced Reconnaissance Vehicle Program

The following is the May 27, 2022, Congressional Research Service In Focus report, Marine Corps Advanced Reconnaissance Vehicle (ARV). From the report The ARV and the Marine Corps 2030 Force Design Initiative In March 2020, the Marines undertook a major force design initiative planned to occur over the next 10 years. The Marine Corps intends […]

The following is the May 27, 2022, Congressional Research Service In Focus report, Marine Corps Advanced Reconnaissance Vehicle (ARV).

From the report

The ARV and the Marine Corps 2030 Force Design Initiative

In March 2020, the Marines undertook a major force design initiative planned to occur over the next 10 years. The Marine Corps intends to redesign the force for naval expeditionary warfare and to better align itself with the National Defense Strategy. In February 2021, the Marines updated the Secretary of Defense on the progress on force design initiatives. The March 2020 force design initiative plan raises questions that some have about the role or even the desirability of the ARV in future force design. According to the Commandant of the Marine Corps, General David Berger:

“While I have repeatedly stated that all-domain reconnaissance and counter-reconnaissance will be a critical element of any future contingency, I remain unconvinced that additional wheeled, manned armored ground reconnaissance units are the best and only answer – especially in the Indo- Pacific region. We need to see more evidence during Phase III to support this conclusion before engaging in an expansion of our existing capacity, or committing billions of dollars in procurement funds towards the acquisition of an Advanced Reconnaissance Vehicle (ARV).”

In the Marine’s February 2021 force design update to the Secretary of Defense, the Commandant further noted:

“The 12 Light Armored Reconnaissance (LAR) Companies identified in the initial Force Design Report must be re-evaluated in light of the emerging concept of multi-domain mobile reconnaissance. This may affect the overall requirement for armored land mobility in the form of the Advanced Reconnaissance Vehicle (ARV).”

In the Marine’s May 2022 force design update to the Secretary of Defense, the Commandant directed the Marines to

“[r]eview and validate all assumptions regarding programmed or potential future capabilities, such as the Amphibious Combat Vehicle (ACV)-30 and Advanced Reconnaissance Vehicle (ARV). ”

These three statements arguably raise questions regarding the future of the ARV program, seemingly implying that the ARV might not be the best solution for the Marines’ reconnaissance needs.

Download the document here.

Marines Look Beyond LAVs as Recon Roles Expand

Marines are rethinking how the service does reconnaissance beyond its traditional light armored vehicles as part of the ongoing Force Design 2030 effort, officials said last week. With more unmanned systems on the market and the Pentagon continuing a shift toward potential operations in the Indo-Pacific, the Marine Corps in the next year plans to […]

Sgt. David Seeley, a squad leader with Battalion Landing Team 3/4, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), and a native of Dunwoody, Georgia, walks past a light armored vehicle (LAV) at Camp Hansen, Okinawa, Japan on Feb. 8, 2021. Marine Corps Photo

Marines are rethinking how the service does reconnaissance beyond its traditional light armored vehicles as part of the ongoing Force Design 2030 effort, officials said last week.

With more unmanned systems on the market and the Pentagon continuing a shift toward potential operations in the Indo-Pacific, the Marine Corps in the next year plans to experiment with ways to perform reconnaissance and counter-reconnaissance in a sea environment, according to the service’s most recent Force Design 2030 update.

But the service says it cannot depend on ground vehicles alone to perform the reconnaissance mission.

“Our light armored reconnaissance (LAR) battalions must transition from their current ground vehicle-centric approach to an all-domain mobile reconnaissance approach. Sole reliance on armored ground vehicles for reconnaissance is too limiting, especially in complex littoral environments,” reads the Marine Corps’ latest Force Design update, released earlier this month. “Attributes such as reconnaissance, surveillance, targeting beyond the line of sight, littoral mobility, and equipment that integrates with special operations and joint forces are needed.”

A U.S. Marine LAV-25 light armored vehicle attached to Battalion Landing Team, 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), engages a target with an M242 25mm chain gun during exercise Alexander the Great 2019 in Volos, Greece, Jan. 8. Exercise Alexander the Great 2019 is combined training exercise between U.S. and Hellenic armed forces. US Marine Corps photo

During a roundtable with reporters last week, Lt. Gen. Karsten Heckl, the deputy commandant for combat development and integration, acknowledged that Marines will perform reconnaissance differently, depending on the region and operating environment.

“[Light armored reconnaissance] in the Indo-Pacific with III [Marine Expeditionary Unit] is most likely going to look different than light armored reconnaissance in II MEF,” Heckl said at the annual Modern Day Marine conference.

Heckl’s comments reflect how Marine Corps officials have recently described the service’s ongoing Force Design 2030 effort, which is aimed at preparing the Marines for conflict in the coming decade. The Marine Corps has said III MEF, based in Okinawa, Japan, will look different than I and II MEFs because III MEF is operating as the so-called “stand-in-force” in the range of Chinese weapons.

Marine Corps Systems Command, which is the service’s acquisition arm, has been working on the prototyping effort to replace the Light Armored Reconnaissance vehicle. That initiative includes evaluating a variant of BAE Systems’ Amphibious Combat Vehicle for the reconnaissance mission.

“My opinion is none of that works in the Indo-Pacific,” Heckl said of the vehicles. “I think LAR would look something more like a lot of unmanned in multiple domains.”

After several years of struggling to replace the aging LAVs, the Marine Corps embarked on a prototyping effort in 2020 that continued throughout last year.

“We are doing some demos and prototyping right now so we can get ahead and maintain decision space for the commandant as we flesh out what that recon capability’s going to be in the future,” Col. David Walsh, the acting program executive officer for land systems, told reporters. “We’ve now got a head start on if there’s a vehicle that needs to be fielded and bought to support that vision, we’ve now got a couple years head start. We’ve done some competitive prototyping and that vehicle won’t be 5 years out. It’ll be a couple years out from being fielded.”

U.S. Marines with Echo Company, Battalion Landing Team 2/6, 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit, utilize a laser rangefinder during a transit through the Strait of Gibraltar aboard San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock ship USS Arlington (LPD-24), April 26, 2022. US Navy Photo

The Force Design 2030 initiative has included the Marine Corps shedding some of its heavier equipment, like tanks, and investing in capabilities like anti-ship missiles, which the Marines want to fire from expeditionary nodes that smaller units set up on islands and shorelines.

With a heavy focus on reconnaissance, the Marine Corps’ recent Force Design update said the reconnaissance and counter-reconnaissance experimentation will influence how the service pursues ground vehicles in the future.

“Choices made in the maritime mobility discussion above will also affect the [Ground Combat Tactical Vehicle Strategy], as will its integration with our uncrewed systems roadmap. We must continually refine this strategy to ensure it is operationally suitable and logistically supportable,” the document reads.

As the Marine Corps assesses how it will operate in the Indo-Pacific, the service needs to figure out how it will perform the reconnaissance mission across a vast region that mostly includes water.

“What do our organizations already recognize? They recognize that in terms of where the commandant has pointed us, then our focus is on how we operate in and affect battlespace that includes more than land,” said Maj. Gen. Ben Watson, the commanding general of the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab.
“So if we’re going to own battlespace that includes water space, but we can only operate in wheeled vehicles and by walking around, then we are probably incapable of controlling that battlespace and maximizing our influence within it. So we’ve got to diversify the means with which we get ground.”

In addition to the maritime domain, the Marines need a strategy that factors in cyber and other non-kinetic elements, Watson said. Heckl said the MEF Information Groups would likely play a key role in performing reconnaissance missions when it comes to cyber-warfare.

“The biggest eye-opener for me as a new MEF commander was this new thing called MEF information group and the stuff – the scope, scale, breadth of what they were doing was eyewatering,” Heckl said. “But they’re short, we’re dramatically short in all [Military Occupational Safety]’s. They are low-density, high-demand. But I think that kind of highlights for you how much the MEFs are going to have to play into whatever this thing ends up looking like.”

Marines prepare to recover an RQ-21A Blackjack unmanned aerial vehicle after a training flight during exercise Black Shadow at Fort Stewart, Georgia, Jan. 19, 2021. US Marine Corps Photo

Getting after this will also likely include manned-unmanned teaming, which is how the Navy and Marine Corps now describe their unmanned systems strategy. It would pair manned and unmanned platforms together to conduct various missions.

“So how do we leverage manned and unmanned teaming and the characteristics of unmanned systems to enhance the survivability and effectiveness of our more limited manned systems. Because that also speaks to the logistics challenge, right, demand reduction. Nothing consumes more than humans,” Watson said.
“They are problems that are actively being wrestled with and that we are trying to help shape as well as support from headquarters to get after what the commandant’s looking for.”

In its recent Force Design update, the Marine Corps said it will release “an updated and refined” strategy for ground vehicles that take into account how the Marines will get after the reconnaissance and counter-reconnaissance mission.

The update also calls for the Marines to start shifting their light armored reconnaissance battalions “to mobile reconnaissance battalions,” beginning with the 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion.

The Marines have been told to use the work done by Task Force 61 Naval Amphibious Forces Europe/2nd Marine Division, recently created by U.S. 6th Fleet, as a springboard.

“Mobile reconnaissance battalions do not have to be mirror-imaged,” the update reads.  

Swedish Officials Ask Pentagon to Increase U.S. Naval Presence in Baltic Sea

Swedish officials are requesting a larger U.S. naval presence in the Baltic Sea as part of the ongoing diplomatic push for Sweden and Finland to join NATO, two defense officials told USNI News on Thursday. The Swedish contingent now in Washington is asking to increase bilateral and multilateral exercises with the U.S. Navy and Marine […]

USS Kearsarge (LHD-3) transits through the Danish Straits and enters the Baltic Sea on May 13, 2022. US Navy Photo

Swedish officials are requesting a larger U.S. naval presence in the Baltic Sea as part of the ongoing diplomatic push for Sweden and Finland to join NATO, two defense officials told USNI News on Thursday.

The Swedish contingent now in Washington is asking to increase bilateral and multilateral exercises with the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps and flow more ships into the Baltic, the two defense officials said.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Swedish Defense Minister Peter Hultqvist met in the Pentagon on Wednesday as the formal submission of Sweden and Finland’s membership to NATO occurred the same day in Brussels.

“They underscored the importance of security and stability in Europe and transatlantic unity,” according to a Wednesday readout of the meeting.
“The two looked forward to deepening bilateral cooperation.”

The Pentagon is now considering how the U.S. could increase its naval presence in the region, the officials told USNI News.

The request comes as U.S. warships in Europe are at a level not seen in years. Ahead of Russia’s late February invasion of Ukraine, the U.S. began sending more ships to both the Baltic and the Mediterranean seas for deterrence missions. In December, Austin ordered the Truman Carrier Strike Group to stay on station in the Mediterranean and will remain until August, USNI News reported.

As of Monday, 28 U.S. warships were deployed to Europe, compared to 20 in early January, according to the USNI News Fleet and Marine Tracker.

Amphibious warships USS Kearsarge (LHD-3) and USS Gunston Hall (LSD-44) and elements of the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit are currently in the Baltic, along with guided-missile destroyer USS Gravely (DDG-107), officials confirmed to USNI News.

Ahead of the current push for NATO membership, momentum has been building for the Navy and Marines to operate in Europe, particularly the Arctic and the Baltic since the 2018 deployment of the Harry S. Truman Carrier Strike Group to the Arctic.

On Wednesday, Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro told the House Appropriations defense subcommittee, “I look forward to the prospect of Sweden and Finland joining NATO and I foresee a day when we’re actually increasing our maritime operations in the Baltic Sea.”

At the same hearing, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday said, “during this ongoing conflict with Russia and Ukraine … we’ve had small units, destroyers operating with allies and partners in the High North to put pressure on Russia to make sure that they know that we’re there with capable platforms,” he said.

Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger at the same hearing said the Marines would likely deploy smaller units to the Baltic and the Arctic more often.

“I think yes, in both Alaska and frankly in Europe, we’re going to more frequently deploy smaller units for two to four weeks at a time, absolutely,” Berger said.

The Marine Corps’ new Force Design 2030 vision calls for small units armed with anti-ship weapons to island-hop in the Western Pacific, a strategy that would overlay well on the small islands and archipelagos that surround the coasts of both Sweden and Finland, officials have told USNI News.

Earlier this month, Lt. Gen. Karsten Heckl, the Marine Corps’ deputy commandant for combat development and integration, said the Swedish military has made it clear they’re interested in working more with the U.S.

“She wants us to come up and exercise,” Heckl said of Chief of Swedish Navy Rear Adm. Ewa Skoog Haslum.

Marines Look to EPFs, ESBs as Interim Solution for Light Amphibious Warship

WASHINGTON D.C. — With the Light Amphibious Warship delayed by several years, the Marine Corps is looking to ship classes already in the fleet as an interim solution to move Marines around the Indo-Pacific. The Marine Corps’ annual Force Design 2030 update, released on Monday, described plans to use the Expeditionary Fast Transport and Expeditionary […]

Expeditionary fast transport ship USNS Brunswick (T-EPF 6) departs Naval Base Guam, passing the MSC expeditionary fast transport ship USNS Fall River (T-EPF 4) and marking the start of Pacific Partnership 2019. Navy photo

WASHINGTON D.C. — With the Light Amphibious Warship delayed by several years, the Marine Corps is looking to ship classes already in the fleet as an interim solution to move Marines around the Indo-Pacific.

The Marine Corps’ annual Force Design 2030 update, released on Monday, described plans to use the Expeditionary Fast Transport and Expeditionary Transfer Dock as temporary solutions while the Marine Corps refine the requirements for the LAW program.

“While we await the delivery of [Medium, Landing Ship], which post-dates the planned operational readiness of our MLRs, we will explore a family of systems bridging plan—including, Expeditionary Transfer Dock (ESB), Expeditionary Fast Transport (T-EPF), Landing Craft Utility (LCU), and leased hulls—that can provide a basic level of mobility. Although not optimal, such vessels will provide both operational capability and a sound basis for live experimentation and refining detailed requirements for the LAW program,” the latest Force Design 2030 document reads.

The annual update from Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger details the service’s progress on its modernization overhaul, an effort to make the Marines lighter and able to operate with less of a footprint for distributed operations in a potential conflict with China.

Speaking Tuesday at the annual Modern Day Marine Conference, deputy commandant for combat development and integration Lt. Gen. Karsten Heckl said the Marine Corps has already signed a contract to lease a commercial stern landing vessel so the recently converted 3rd Marine Littoral Regiment out of Hawaii can experiment with the LAW concept. The Marine Corps will receive that ship this year during the late summer or early fall timeframe and will send it straight to the 3rd MLR for “aggressive experimentation,” according to Heckl.

“As you know, the LAW is a few years out. So we’re taking [the] opportunity to do some experimentation and refine the prototyping so that we get what we need – what the Marines need,” he said during a panel at the conference.

The Marine Corps has the option to lease two more vessels, which could help the service as it develops LAW, Heckl said. The Marines have said they need to purchase the LAW quickly, but the procurement has been delayed in the last two budget cycles. The Fiscal Year 2023 proposal now shows the first LAW purchase in FY 2025.

A Landing Craft Air Cushion is launched from the Military Sealift Command mobile landing platform USNS Montford Point (MLP 1) during Pacific Horizon 2015. US Navy Photo

The Marine Corps envisions LAW as a shore-to-shore connector that can haul 75 Marines for $150 million or less per hull. Heckl said he believes ports and large runways will be among the first targets in a potential conflict in the Indo-Pacific, meaning the Marine Corps cannot rely on the ability to offload Marines and gear at a pier. This is where the LAW would come into play, as the ship would have beaching capability. Heckl said the Marine Corps needs 25 LAWs.

“We have five companies doing prototyping now, to figure out what it’s going to be,” he said of the LAW. “This is simply going to inform it and make it a better product. Now obviously having a gap is a risk and in the military world that’s usually bad. We don’t like that kind of risk, but I think there’s a lot of options out there,” like EPFs and ESBs, Heckl added.

The deputy commandant pointed to the Marine Corps using USNS City of Bismarck (T-EPF 9) last year for experimentation during the Koa Moana exercise in Palau.

“That’s a real capability I think we’ll want to keep around. A ship that can do 35 knots, carry a few hundred Marines and their gear with a flight deck … there’s a lot of options,” he said of the EPFs. “I think you’ll see when we get that contracted vessel out in Hawaii and we have the Marines in 3rd MLR and the III [Marine Expeditionary Force], we’re going to probably see great things,” he added.

As for the larger amphibious ships, Heckl again emphasized the Marine Corps’ 31-ship requirement – 10 big-deck LHAs and 21 LSDs or LPDs. As part of the next phase of the Force Design process, Berger called upon the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab to work on a “Concept for 21st Century Amphibious Operations” by January 1, 2023.

Asked about the concept on Tuesday during a roundtable with reporters, MCWL commanding general Brig. Gen. Benjamin Watson said the Marine Corps will work with the Naval Warfare Development Center on the effort because the concept is naval.

“We think it’s important that a lot of the early analytic work and a lot of the differences in Force Design have been focused on how do we operationalize this idea of a stand-in-force. But in doing that – just like the commandant addressed the fact that early we focused a lot on the Marine Littoral Regiment and perhaps not enough on putting that in the context of the MAGTF – we see the same thing with amphibious operations,” Watson said.

“Backing it out and taking a look at the range of amphibious operations from crisis response, in many cases at the lower end of the spectrum of conflict, all the way up to what is still a joint force requirement for forcible entry, within which we believe the Marine Corps then still has a requirement for amphibious forcible entry … We really need to take a look more holistically at the range of amphibious operations in concert with the Navy,” he added.

The construction of the Amphibious Ready Group and the Marine Expeditionary Unit has not changed over the last four decades while the battlefield has changed “dramatically,” Heckl said.

Gunner’s Mate 2nd Class Michael Eberhart, assigned to the amphibious transport dock ship USS Somerset (LPD-25), watches the amphibious assault ship USS Makin Island (LHD-8) maneuver past the Somerset in the Gulf of Oman on March 23, 2021. US Marine Corps Photo

“On the low end of the spectrum – range of military operations – it largely looks the same. But as you progress up that escalation ramp, the divergence is significant,” he said.
“It used to be that when we got in the Marine Corps, we said, ‘25 nautical miles over the horizon, you’re safe.’ Not applicable today anymore so it’s got to change.”

The Marine Corps is also wrapping up an amphibious requirements study, but officials have been explicit in arguing the Navy needs 31 larger amphibious ships.

“That composition and the capacity of the future amphibious fleet does affect how we employ that amphibious force in the future,” Watson said.

As for the larger amphibious ships, Berger on Tuesday made a case for the various ways the Navy could use well decks on the amphibs to perform different missions.

“I think it’s much more versatile than we thought of in the past. As more and more uncrewed technology comes to maturity and the cost of production goes down, I think new capabilities are within reach,” Berger said. “Think for a minute. Marines aboard amphibious ships. That team – that Navy-Marine Corps team – employing unmanned underwater vessels from the ARG/MEU. Dozens of unmanned undersea vessels. You could use them as sensors, perhaps for anti-submarine warfare.”

Berger pointed to finding mines and performing counter-reconnaissance and ways to use the UUVs.

Amphibious Combat Vehicles (ACVs) with the 3rd Assault Amphibian Battalion, 1st Marine Division return to the well deck of amphibious transport dock ship USS Anchorage (LPD-23) during waterborne training in the Pacific Ocean on Feb. 13, 2022. US Marine Corps Photo

“They can be weapons themselves. We could also employ uncrewed surface vessels from the well deck, both for [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance] and for fires. You could do it for logistics,” he said. “Our initial experimentation with the Long Range Unmanned Surface Vessel – armed with loitering munitions, again all unmanned, largely autonomous – has demonstrated already the potency of that kind of capability. What if you operated decoys on the well deck? Electronic warfare capabilities from the well deck? Limited really only by your imagination is the well deck.”

Because what’s inside the well deck is hidden, Berger said an adversary will spend time trying to figure out what’s inside.

“It slows down their decision-making. That’s what we want. I think that’s applicable in the Mediterranean. I think it’s applicable in the Mideast. I think it’s applicable in the first island chain,” he said.

Fewer Marines, More Sensors Part of Berger’s Latest Force Design Revision

THE PENTAGON – Reducing the Marines to 175,000 and adding more sensor capability to smaller units are part of a wide swath of adjustments the Marine Corps is pursuing in the latest iteration of its modernization drive. Released on Monday, the Force Design 2030 annual report is the Marines’ latest refinement of plans to orient […]

Marines with 1st Battalion, 2d Marine Regiment (1/2), 2d Marine Division, board a KC-130J Super Hercules at Yuma Proving Grounds, Arizona, April 22, 2022. US Marine Corps Photo

THE PENTAGON – Reducing the Marines to 175,000 and adding more sensor capability to smaller units are part of a wide swath of adjustments the Marine Corps is pursuing in the latest iteration of its modernization drive.

Released on Monday, the Force Design 2030 annual report is the Marines’ latest refinement of plans to orient the service to face complex threats in the maritime environment within the next decade.

“We’ve gained quite a bit of momentum on Force Design but the learning continues,” Lt. Gen. Karsten Heckl told reporters last week in a roundtable ahead of Monday’s release.

The revision, in line with the latest budget submission, calls for shrinking the service down to 175,000 Marines with an emphasis on developing more mature Marines who stay in the service for longer.

“Over the past two years, we reduced our end-strength by approximately 7,000 Marines primarily through [divestments]. In the next year, we will continue our balanced approach and reduce the number of personnel in the service headquarters, supporting establishment, and component commands by 15 percent,” reads the revision signed by Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger.

At the same time, there is a parallel drive to keep Marines in for longer. The service only retains about 25 percent of the 38,000 Marines it recruits annually past their first term of service.

Marine Corps Gen. David Berger, the Commandant of the Marine Corps, speaks to Marines and Sailors assigned to the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), during a distinguished visit aboard Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD-2) on Feb. 20, 2022. US Marine Corps Photo

Berger and Deputy Commandant for Manpower & Reserve Affairs Lt. Gen. David Ottignon have been vocal about working to change the Marine Corps culture into one that retains its personnel, instead of the high turnover that has characterized the service.

By the summer, the service owes Berger a plan “to change the ‘recruit and replace’ paradigm, we will implement measures to professionalize our career retention force and further incentivize retaining our most talented Marines,” reads the design.

The plan looks to “achieve greater average time in service and thickening of the E-4 to E-7 ranks to support a more mature force, while not disadvantaging or disincentivizing the most talented Marines—who must be allowed to move as rapidly as their talents dictate.”

The service is weighing how it will develop the more mature force, either by incentivizing Marines to stay on active duty longer in an ‘invest and retain’ model, improving training and education or a combination of both, Maj. Gen. Eric Austin, director of the Capabilities Development Directorate, told reporters last week.


Download document here.

“When you say more mature forces, it’s probably somewhere between an older, more experienced Marine and a better trained Marine,” he said.

Some of that will come from how Marines are trained, Berger told reporters last week. The Marine Corps will still rely on physical aspects and endurance and perseverance already featured in training programs, but the service is also understanding that new Marines learn differently.

“We want to send him to a school for two weeks, and they’re like, ‘Give me half an hour on my own, I got it. If I got a question, I’ll let you know.’ They learn in a different way at a different speed,” Berger said.

Marine Corps AN/TPS-80 Ground/Air Task Oriented Radar system (G/ATOR), assigned to Marine Air Control Squadron 2, 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing (MAW), scans for and tracks aircraft at Siauliai Air Base, Lithuania, April 26, 2022. Marine Corps Photo

In particular, the service wants to retain Marines who are trained in information and cyberwarfare, disciplines that are prized by civilian industry and where service members are heavily recruited for jobs after they’re trained by the military.

In particular, the Marines want to include signals intelligence and electronic warfare Marines in the infantry battalion, “which is obviously kind of a low-density, high-demand skill set. So that’s changing how we train and how many of those Marines we have to train,” Austin said.

A major investment for the service will include more sensors controlled by Marines instead of relying solely on joint tools for targeting awareness for the Marine Littoral Regiments, Marine Corps Warfighting Lab director Maj. Gen. Benjamin Watson told reporters.

“You got to be able to sense the target before you can engage and a complete reliance on non-organic capabilities, like somebody else to do that sensing for us and find the target, confirm it, etcetera as part of the kill-chain is a position we prefer not to be in. We’d prefer not to have that as our only option,” Watson said.
“If we have a missile that shoots 100 nautical miles and we want a sensor that’s organic to us that can find a target well beyond that … What we’re trying to do is develop a balanced portfolio of capabilities that when we try to close kill-chains against a modern, multi-domain adversary, we’ve got the complete tool kit.”

The idea is in line with the Marine Air-Ground Task Force (MAGTF) philosophy in which Marines support other Marines on the ground, in the air and in the logistics chain.

“Our [Marine Littoral Regiments] will possess an organic capability to sense the maritime battlespace in order to gain and maintain custody of targets as a reconnaissance/counter-reconnaissance task and to assure their ability to deliver maritime fires, even when the larger sensor network is degraded or compromised,” reads the revision.

The service’s Ground/Air Task Oriented Radar (G/ATOR) and the future sensor payloads on its emerging fleet of unmanned aerial and surface vehicles will be part of a larger targeting net that will work with the Navy Marine Expeditionary Ship Interdiction System (NMESIS), a converted Joint Light Tactical Vehicle chassis that carries a battery of Naval Strike Missiles and other netted weapons, the new document says.

As part of the ongoing Force Design testing, “with the Strategic Capabilities Office and the Navy, we also conducted a ground launch of a Tomahawk Land Attack Missile mounted on a remotely operated mobile launcher,” reads the report.

US Marine Corps Rouge Fires missile system.

The new revision comes as the service has drawn criticism from retired general officers who have argued that Berger cut too much heavier equipment too quickly in his modernization overhaul and that the Marine Corps is placing too much emphasis on countering China, and not enough on the service’s other missions, like crisis response.

In particular, Berger has been the subject of criticism from former Navy Secretary Jim Webb, who penned an opinion piece criticizing Berger’s decisions, like the Marine Corps shedding its M1A1 Abrams main battle tanks for a lighter force that focuses on anti-ship missiles.

“So I take criticism on my shoulders, not Gen.Heckl’s, but mine, for if it’s not balanced over the last three years, I need to recognize where to rebalance and to push information and to draw feedback from more proactively,” Berger said. “Part of the challenge, as it always has been, is at a certain limit in one or more of those audiences reach a classification barrier that’s a bit of a challenge.”

In its report, the Marines said the service placed too much emphasis on the radical changes that would create units like the MLR, crafted to hunt Chinese surface ships, rather than acknowledging the enduring Marine Corps mission based on larger amphibious ships and the Marine Expeditionary Units.

The service “does not have the luxury of focusing on a single threat, to the exclusion of all others, and basing our design on such a narrow point of view. We are building a force capable of executing our concepts, not a force exclusively tailored to them,” reads the report.

In comments to reporters, Heckl drew a distinction between the MLR and the larger MEU.

“The MEU and the MLR are designed to be complementary, but they’re organized differently and they operate differently. A MEU being a more robust organization that’s designed to operate persistently from amphibious platforms, and execute operations really across the range from humanitarian assistance, disaster relief up to amphibious raids or higher-end combat operations,” Heckl said.
“The Marine Littoral Regiment – although we believe it has applicability globally – it’s not designed to execute operations across that entire range. It’s tailor-made really, to operate as part of a force that stands in close to an adversary that minimizes its vulnerability by operating in small, low signature, highly mobile formations, but packs a big punch, particularly in maritime littoral combat.”

Sailors and Marines man the rails of the Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge (LHD-3) as they depart Naval Station Norfolk, March 16, 2022. US Navy Photo

As the Marine Corps continues to refine the Force Design, a key unanswered question is how many amphibious ships the Navy needs to support the Marines’ mission. Berger and Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday are split over how many large amphibious ships the Navy needs and how quickly the planned Light Amphibious Warship enters the fleet.

“This will require a mix of vessels that are complementary to, but different from amphibious warships. We must conduct a thorough analysis to understand and resource all aspects necessary to realize these capabilities, to include manpower and training, as we consider resourcing these as requirements,” reads the document.

The Navy is currently working with the Marine Corps on an amphibious lift requirement study due to Congress in the next several weeks.