New Marine Littoral Regiment Key to Expanded Pacific Security Cooperation, U.S., Japanese Leaders Say

The 12th Marine Regiment will become the 12th Marine Littoral Regiment as the United States upgrades its forward-deployed forces in Japan, as part of an expansion of U.S. and Japanese security cooperation as China continues to expand its influence in the Western Pacific. Officials from Japan and the U.S. announced the expansion following the 2023 […]

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin speaks during the 2023 U.S.-Japan Security Consultative Committee meeting co-hosted with Secretary of State Antony Blinken hosting Japanese Foreign Minister Hayashi Yoshimasa and Japanese Defense Minister Hamada Yasukazu, at the Department of State. Washington, D.C., Jan 11, 2023. DoD Photo

The 12th Marine Regiment will become the 12th Marine Littoral Regiment as the United States upgrades its forward-deployed forces in Japan, as part of an expansion of U.S. and Japanese security cooperation as China continues to expand its influence in the Western Pacific.

Officials from Japan and the U.S. announced the expansion following the 2023 U.S.-Japan Security Consultative Committee (“2+2”) meeting in Washington on Wednesday. The meeting between Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi and Japanese Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada comes after Japan announced in December a revised National Security Strategy, National Defence Strategy and intention to increase its defense spending.

The future 12th Marine Littoral Regiment will be one of three planned for the Indo-Pacific region, USNI News previously reported. The Marine Corps reorganized the 3rd Marine Regiment into the 3rd Marine Littoral Regiment in March.

“We’ve decided that the 12th Artillery Regiment would remain in Japan and be reorganized into the 12th Marine Littoral Regiment by 2025,” Austin said.
“We will equip this new formation with advanced intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, as well as anti-ship and transportation capabilities that are relevant to the current and future threat environments. These posture updates adhere to the basic tenets of the 2012 realignment plan, and they will strengthen our Alliance’s ability to maintain regional peace and stability.”

Along with the 12th Marine Littoral Regiment, the 3rd Marine Division Headquarters will also remain on Okinawa rather than be relocated under the 2012 Defense Policy Review Initiative Realignment Plan.

The decision to keep the 3rd Marine Division Headquarters on Okinawa was a reaction to the increasingly severe security environment, Hamada said. The Japanese defense chief added that both the U.S. and Japan will work on mitigating the effect of the military presence in Okinawa and obtaining the buy-in from the local community.

Japan’s efforts to increase its military presence and facilities around its southwestern islands has previously faced opposition from the local population. China’s activities around the area, particularly around the disputed Senkaku Islands administered by Japan and claimed by China and Taiwan, resulted in increased support among the population there for the military build-up.

A Marine Corps release stated that the service remains committed to the basic tenets of the 2012 Defense Policy Review Initiative Realignment Plan, which includes the relocation of approximately 9,000 Marines and their families from Okinawa to commence in 2024.

Marines with 3d Marine Littoral Regiment, 3d Marine Division present arms during the redesignation ceremony of 3d Marines to 3d MLR aboard Marine Corps Base Hawaii, March 3, 2022. US Marine Corps Photo

“This week’s announcement does not impact previous sites addressed in land return agreements,” according to the release, which added that no new units will be added to Okinawa under the agreement.

Units identified to remain in Okinawa per the previous agreement will be strategically dispersed throughout the Indo-Pacific Theater, with Guam to serve as an important logistics hub in the future

“The Marine Corps will continue to maintain a persistent presence to bolster deterrence and improve and expand our network of allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific,” Gen. David Berger, commandant of the Marine Corps, said in the release, “Our enduring and undivided relationship with the Government of Japan is key to the development of new operational concepts that will ensure we are fully prepared to deter aggression in the region.”

The release added that 12th MLR will add to a ready and capable stand-in force in the first island chain, prepared to support the U.S-Japanese alliance, bolstering the Corps’ ability to support deterrence efforts and respond to contingencies, while the 3rd Marine Division HQ will provide command and control capabilities.

China, Russia and North Korea have caused a new era of strategic communication, according to a joint statement from the meeting. During the joint press conference, officials from both countries said the United States and Japan were united in aligning their strategies and efforts.

U.S. Marines with 1st Battalion, 2d Marine Regiment, currently attached to 4th Marine Regiment, 3d Marine Division, demonstrate expeditionary advanced basing capabilities Oct. 7 to 8, 2020, as part of Exercise Noble Fury, from Okinawa to Ie Shima and across surrounding waters. U.S. Marine Corps Photo

The joint statement stated that the four officials concurred that China’s foreign policy seeks to reshape the international order to its benefit. Japan and the United States, along with other members of the international community, are concerned about how China plans to employ its growing political, economic, military, and technological power.

China represents the greatest strategic challenge in the Indo-Pacific region and beyond, according to the joint statement.

The statement also said that The United States reaffirmed that Article V of the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty applies to the Senkaku Islands. North Korea was condemned for its ballistic missile launches and Russia for its war against Ukraine. Russia’s growing and provocative strategic military cooperation with China, including through joint operations and drills in the vicinity of Japan, was also of concern to the ministers.

Among other initiatives decided upon as part of the modernization of the U.S.-Japan alliance was the invocation of Article V of the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty under specific circumstances in relation to attacks to, from or within space, an increase of bilateral exercises and training in areas including Japan’s southwest islands and deepening bilateral cooperation toward the effective employment of Japan’s counterstrike capabilities in close coordination with the United States.

Increased training and exercises along with further expanding cooperation with Australia and the Republic of Korea is also targeted, according to the joint statement.

The ministers welcomed the establishment of the Composite Watercraft Company at Yokohama North Dock, scheduled in 2023, which will further strengthen alliance maritime mobility in Japan, according to the statement. Technological research and industrial cooperation will be further expanded with Austin and Hamada expected to sign new agreements on such during their meeting on Thursday.

On Wednesday, as well, the prime ministers of Japan and the United Kingdom signed a Reciprocal Access Agreement (RAA) for both countries in London, allowing the U.K. and Japan to simplify procedures for the deployment of forces in both countries.

The U.K. has been conducting significant activities with Japan in recent years, most notably the deployment to Japan of the Queen Elizabeth Carrier Strike Group (CSG) 21 in 2021, and recently, members of the U.K.’s 16th Air Assault Brigade, together with paratroopers from the U.S 11th and 82nd Airborne Divisions, Japan’s 1st Airborne Brigade and the Australian Defence Force Parachuting School, conducted the multilateral New Year’s Friendship Parachute Jump exercise on Sunday at Camp Narashino in Chiba, Japan.

HMS Queen Elizabeth sails from Portsmouth on Sept. 7, 2022. UK Royal Navy Photo

Both the UK offshore patrol vessels deployed to the Indo-Pacific, HMS Tamar (P233) and HMS Spey (P234) have conducted visits to Japan in 2022, as well, through the course of their deployment.

“The international security environment is becoming more severe in various parts of the world, as the international order that has been established is challenged by Russia’s aggression against Ukraine and attempts to unilaterally change the status quo by force in the East and South China Seas,” according to a Japanese Foreign Ministry release on the RAA signing. “Against this backdrop, the Japan-U.K. security and defense cooperation will be lifted to new heights and the movement toward the realization of a ‘free and open Indo-Pacific’ will be further enhanced by the signing of this important security agreement between Japan and the U.K., each other’s closest security partners in Asia and Europe.”

The release noted that the U.K. was the second country after Australia to sign an RAA with Japan.

A U.K. release stated that the RAA would be put forth at their respective parliaments for ratification in the coming weeks.

Marine Commandant Will Have More Say in Crafting Navy’s Amphibious Force as Part of New Defense Bill

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The commandant of the Marine Corps will have a direct say in both the requirements for the Navy’s amphibious ships and the force structure, according to provisions in the Fiscal Year 2023 National Defense Authorization Act. One provision in the bill mandates the Marine Corps’ top officer decide the requirements for amphibious […]

Marines attached to the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) wave to spectators as they arrive in Morehead City, N.C., aboard the San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock ship USS Arlington (LPD-24) on Oct. 10, 2022. US Navy Photo

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The commandant of the Marine Corps will have a direct say in both the requirements for the Navy’s amphibious ships and the force structure, according to provisions in the Fiscal Year 2023 National Defense Authorization Act.
One provision in the bill mandates the Marine Corps’ top officer decide the requirements for amphibious ships, while another requires the Navy talk with the Commandant regarding crucial matters pertaining to the amphib force.

“It clearly states from Congress that the role of the commandant of the Marine Corps in defining requirements. That’s a very positive thing. It doesn’t say anything negative about a personal relationship between the [chief of naval operations] and the commandant or the two services are bickering with each other,” Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger told reporters today of the legislation.

“It just says Congress understands that that’s a service requirement so we want to hear from the service what you need. I think that’s not complicated at all. I’m comfortable with the way things are moving forward,” he added, noting the appropriators still have not released their final spending bill.

Asked what the legislation would enable him to do now that he couldn’t do before, Berger said it will allow officials to move past the requirements piece.

Amphibious warship Richard M. McCool, Jr., (LPD-29) on Aug. 4, 2022. USNI News Photo

“We can stop talking about what the requirement is year to year to year and talk more about what we can afford and how to use it and how to maintain it. Because the CNO wants to keep the LPD line hot also. You all know the reasons. We’re in 100 percent agreement there. What it does is stop talking about 31 or 35 or 38 – we know what the minimum is,” he said during a Defense Writers Group breakfast on Wednesday.
“Now let’s talk about what we can afford.”

The conference legislation, released late Tuesday, also sets a floor for the Navy to have a minimum of 31 amphibious ships.

The various provisions come after a budget cycle in which the Navy and Marine Corps appeared to diverge on amphibious warships. The Navy’s FY 2023 budget proposal earlier this year said it would end the LPD-17 Flight II line with the purchase of LPD-32. But Berger placed advanced procurement for LPD-33 at the top of his annual wishlist that followed the budget submission.

The original Navy proposal also sought to retire four Whidbey Island-class dock landing ships, but the conference bill prevents the service from decommissioning the ships.

Asked about the proposed decommissioning of the amphibious ships on Wednesday, Berger said Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday has the best understanding of how much it costs the service to maintain the older amphibs.

“We need to make sure the inventory of amphibious ships, combatant ships, is adequate to do what the president and the secretary need us to do based on the National Defense Strategy. It’s not any more complicated than that. But inventory is more than how many. It’s how many that are working, that are usable. So we can have 100 of something, but if only 20 of them are usable, then 100’s not a relevant number. It’s the 20,” Berger said.

“From our perspective, we have to focus on both – the inventory of amphibious ships and the readiness, availability of those ships. The CNO’s pretty open about it,” he continued. “He’s not very happy with the maintenance part of fixing them and getting them out on time, and then they get underway and break again. He’s not very happy with all of that – making progress, but he wants to hold them accountable. Me too.”

Amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD-2), right, amphibious dock landing ship USS Pearl Harbor (LSD-52), left, and amphibious transport dock ship USS Portland (LPD-27), transit the Arabian Sea on Sept. 13, 2021. US Navy Photo

Berger also cited industrial base capacity as a limitation for how many amphibious ships the yards can build, an argument Gilday has also made in recent months.

“I think the department of defense leadership – civilian and uniform – is a lot more aware of, even if we’re not smart enough on, the industrial base than we were five years ago. I don’t think we’re cavalier about it,” Berger said.

“It wasn’t as big of a focus as it is right now. Now, industrial capacity, diversity – this is a discussion like every week and it never was before. Now it is. When you only have so many factories, so many shipbuilding companies – the mergers that took place over time down to get to three or four and there’s not much competition – all this is like now an every week topic of conversation.”

Labor, Berger said, “is one of the main limiting factors,” for amphibious ship production.

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

“I think if the CNO had his druthers, he would double the number of shipyards tomorrow because we need capacity and we need competition and we need both to get the citizens a good price on the ships, right, and quality,” the commandant said.

HII’s Ingalls Shipbuilding, which builds both the San Antonio-class amphibious transport docks and the America-class amphibious assault ships, is currently building three LPDs and one LHA at its yard in Pascagoula, Miss. The shipyard in October won a $2.4 billion contract to build another LHA – LHA-9 – and in June won a $240 million contract to buy long lead material for a fourth LPD.

Marine Corps, Navy Remain Split Over Design, Number of Future Light Amphibious Warship, Divide Risks Stalling Program

The Marine Corps and Navy remain at an impasse over the future of the Light Amphibious Warship, as skepticism about the program’s viability mounts due to the internal division, sources familiar with the program have told USNI News. While the Marines remain committed to their plan for nearly three-dozen beachable ships that can ferry units […]

Sea Transport Solutions Image

The Marine Corps and Navy remain at an impasse over the future of the Light Amphibious Warship, as skepticism about the program’s viability mounts due to the internal division, sources familiar with the program have told USNI News.

While the Marines remain committed to their plan for nearly three-dozen beachable ships that can ferry units between islands and shorelines in the Pacific, the Navy wants fewer. Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday’s 2022 navigation plan, unveiled in late July, calls for 18 LAWs.

“It’s obviously a big battle within the Marine Corps on where the Marine Corps’s headed and whether the Navy really supports LAW or not,” said one person familiar with the discussions on LAW.

But as recently as last week, the Marine Corps said it wants as many as 35 LAWs to achieve its vision for operations in the Indo-Pacific, which would include smaller units moving between islands and setting up ad-hoc bases from where they could fire anti-ship missiles off of the chassis of a Joint Light Tactical Vehicle.

US Marine Corps Rouge Fires missile system.

“The Light Amphibious Warship is absolutely required – up to 35 of them. Those vessels enable the three [Marine] Littoral Regiments in the Pacific to move tonight, to immediately move to strategic chokepoints and strategic locations throughout the battlespace before the action begins in order to conduct sea denial as part of distributed maritime operations,” Assistant Commandant Gen. Eric Smith said last week at Defense News’ annual conference.

The disconnect between the two services on LAW comes after a contentious budget cycle in which the Navy and Marine Corps presented two different views on the future of larger amphibious ships. The most recent Fiscal Year 2023 submission also delayed the purchase of the first LAW out from that fiscal year to FY 2025, a move Marine Corps officials have repeatedly argued is a risky one for the service and its strategy in the Pacific.

“That risk gets passed onto combatant commanders. So when you don’t have that Light Amphibious Warship for an additional year, that risk is absorbed by the combatant commander and the execution of [operational] plans,” Smith said last week.

The division between the two services largely comes down to survivability, or what types of weapons and armors to place on a ship that would operate in the first island chain, within range of Chinese missiles.

Adding more weapons and armor to LAW makes the ship more expensive. Projections in 2020 called for each LAW to cost $100 million, a number described as unrealistic by the person familiar with program discussions. Now the Marine Corps wants the ship to cost around $150 million a piece so it can buy more of them, while the Navy is pushing for a more survivable ship that would end up costing about $300 million each.

Landing ship under construction at Halter Marine Aug. 5, 2022. USNI News Photo

The diverging views on costs may be driving the different numbers of LAWs the Navy and Marine Corps each say is required, said Bryan Clark, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute.

“At the higher level you’ve got a lot of disagreement and even just outright skepticism that we’re even going to pursue the program. You’ve got a lot of people working on what should this ship look like, what capabilities should it have, how much should it cost, how many might we buy, how will we use it,” Clark told USNI News.

“At the lower levels, you’ve got a lot of activity, a lot of the normal activity. And then at the higher levels I think there’s a lot of people who just feel like this is never going to happen, that the Navy and Marine Corps are not really going to reconcile their competing visions of the program and the financial constraints on the shipbuilding budget are going to keep it from ever achieving launch,” he continued.

Work on the program continues with a requirements evaluation team. The Navy last year issued five companies – Fincantieri, Austal USA, Halter Marine, Bollinger and TAI Engineers – concept design contracts. Austal USA has published a rendering of its LAW design and Halter Marine already builds LSTs – or Landing Ship, Tanks – which are beachable and can carry Marines and equipment.

Part of the debate over the survivability and affordability of LAW may have to do with concerns over past troubled programs like the Littoral Combat Ship, which was not designed to operate in highly contested environments.

“It’s just two competing visions for what that ship does and I think the Navy is unlikely to budge on it because when it comes down to it, they’re responsible for the ship,” Clark said of LAW. “And they’ve been burned before with LCS when they tried to build a ship that was less survivable than its predecessors.”

Dakota Wood, a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation and a retired Marine, said the survivability and affordability questions may show different risk assessments between the two services.

“It would reveal the two different perspectives on risk. You put a Marine unit on the ground, they have to engage with an enemy in close combat. I mean, you just have to do that. And so there is a service culture that says we’re going to assess the risk. We’re going to do everything we can to mitigate that risk – to lessen it – but you cannot eliminate it and it just comes with the territory of ground combat that you are going to lose people,” Wood said.

“On the Navy side, they have a relatively small number of ships – and relative meaning relative to task, the size of the world, how many ships you have in the water and all that stuff – so each one of those things represents a fairly significant percentage of naval power,” he continued. “You lose a ship, it’s a billion dollar plus investment, all the sailors aboard that ship. And so the Navy hasn’t had to operate truly in a threat environment for a very long time.”

While the services work out their differences over LAW, the Marine Corps is using a leased stern landing vessel to experiment with how it could use the platform. Smith said the Marine Corps is leasing one and has a contract that could increase that number to two or three vessels.

USNS Carson City (T-EPF- ) entering the Black Sea on Aug. 15, 2018. Photo by Yörük Işık used with permission

“What we expect from them is how’s the load out? What is your ability to move from point A to Point B? What is your ability to hide yourself electromagnetically and physically? How quickly can you onload and offload?” Smith proposed as questions to ask the Marines experimenting with the leased stern landing vessel. “What do you do to connect fuel when you need fuel from a different source – KC-130 putting fuel in? What did you forget to bring with you? What did your supply chain look like? And can you use that vessel to both support you for organic mobility and can it be used for periods of time to support the joint force logistically?”

The Navy has also pitched the LCS, which has frequently deployed to the Western Pacific, as an option to move Marines around the region to conduct Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations. Clark said the Expeditionary Fast Transport, or EPF, the Landing Craft Utility and used Army watercraft could also fulfill some of the missions the Marine Corps envisions for LAW.

“You’re already hearing out of III [Marine Expeditionary Force] and out of [Marine Corps Combat Development Command] the fact that they’re looking at alternative platforms and theoretically this is designed to inform the lAW effort, but it might also identify ways that you would be able to do this without necessarily having the dedicated LAW” program, Clark said.

Report to Congress on Marine Littoral Regiments

The following is the Aug. 25, 2022 Congressional Research Service In Focus report, The U.S. Marine Corps Marine Littoral Regiment (MLR). From the report On March 23, 2020, the U.S. Marine Corps (USMC) announced a major force design initiative planned to occur over the next 10 years referred to as “Force Design 2030.” As part […]

The following is the Aug. 25, 2022 Congressional Research Service In Focus report, The U.S. Marine Corps Marine Littoral Regiment (MLR).

From the report

On March 23, 2020, the U.S. Marine Corps (USMC) announced a major force design initiative planned to occur over the next 10 years referred to as “Force Design 2030.” As part of this initiative, the Marine Corps aims to redesign its force to place a stronger emphasis on naval expeditionary warfare and to better align itself with the National Defense Strategy, in particular, the strategy’s focus on strategic competition with China and Russia. As part of this redesign, the Marines plan to establish at least three Marine Littoral Regiments (MLRs) organized, trained, and equipped to accomplish a number of missions within contested maritime spaces.

MLR Missions

According to the Marines, the MLR is to be capable of the following missions:

  • Conduct Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations (EABO) which is a form of expeditionary warfare involving the employment of naval expeditionary forces with low electronic and physical signatures, which are relatively easy to maintain/sustain. These forces are to be arrayed in a series of austere, temporary locations ashore within a contested or potentially contested maritime area to conduct sea denial, support, sea control, and fleet sustainment operations; · Conduct strike operations with a variety of systems;
  • Coordinate air and missile defense operations;
  • Support maritime domain awareness;
  • Support naval surface warfare operations; and
  • Support information operations.

The MLR’s Operational Environment

The Commandant of the Marine Corps’ May 2022 Force Design 2030 Annual Update states:

The security environment is characterized by proliferation of sophisticated sensors and precision weapons coupled with growing strategic competition. Potential adversaries employ systems and tactics to hold the fleet and joint force at arm’s length, allowing them to employ a strategy that uses contested areas as a shield behind which they can apply a range of coercive measures against our allies and partners.

Operating in this environment, MLRs are envisioned to serve as what the Marines call a “Stand-In Force (SIF),” primarily to “help the fleet and joint force win the reconnaissance and counter reconnaissance battle within a contested area at the leading edge of a maritime defense-indepth.”

Download the document here.

Senate FY 2023 Appropriations Bill Adds $4B to Navy Shipbuilding, Money for New Amphibs

The Senate Appropriations Committee included advanced procurement dollars for two new amphibious warships as part of a $32 billion shipbuilding budget, according to the defense subcommittee’s Fiscal Year 2023 appropriations bill released on Thursday. The FY 2023 bill shipbuilding and conversion portion appropriates $250 million in advanced procurement for a new San Antonio-class (LPD-17) amphibious […]

The future USS Fort Lauderdale (LPD 28) departed Huntington Ingalls Shipyard to conduct Acceptance Trials in the Gulf of Mexico. US Navy Photo

The Senate Appropriations Committee included advanced procurement dollars for two new amphibious warships as part of a $32 billion shipbuilding budget, according to the defense subcommittee’s Fiscal Year 2023 appropriations bill released on Thursday.

The FY 2023 bill shipbuilding and conversion portion appropriates $250 million in advanced procurement for a new San Antonio-class (LPD-17) amphibious transport dock and $289 million more than the Navy’s initial $1.08 billion requested funds for the next America-class big-deck amphibious warship, LHA-10, according to the bill’s explanatory statement.

The advanced procurement for what would be LPD-33 extends the San Antonio line beyond where the Navy sought to end the class at LPD-32. In his unfunded request to Congress for the Marine Corps budget, Commandant Gen. David Berger asked for the advanced procurement for LPD-33 as his number one priority.

In line with the Senate and House authorization bills released, the bill puts $6.9 billion toward the purchase of three Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers (DDG-51), $4.5 billion for two Virginia-class nuclear attack boats (SSN-774), $1.13 billion for a Constellation-class frigate (FFG-62) and $1.6 billion for a San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock. The bill also added $645 million for two ambulance variants of the Spearhead-class Expeditionary Fast Transport ship and funds for three additional Ship-to-Shore Connectors over the Navy’s request for one, for a total of $264 million.

The committee also directed the Secretary of the Navy to submit a report on Fiscal Year 2024 domestic shipbuilder suppliers, “identifying critical components that are available from only one or a few suppliers in the United States; and, providing recommendations to expand productive capacity in the United States,” reads the explanatory language with the bill.

The committee’s bill also appropriates $1.96 billion for 16 carrier-capable F-35C Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters for the Navy and Marines – three more than the Navy requested. The bill added funds for 18 F-35Bs for the Marine Corps – three more than the Marines requested. The bill also added five V-22s for $619 million and no money for additional F/A-18E/F Super Hornets. The Navy did not ask for any Super Hornets in the budget request because the service wants to end the line.

The topline for the total bill was $792.1 billion – a$32 billion increase in the topline as part of the FY 2023 request.

Marines Pitching Service as Western Pacific Recon Asset for Combined Joint Force

MARINE CORPS BASE HAWAII — As the Marine Corps reshapes its force for a future conflict in the Western Pacific, the service is refining how to meet the reconnaissance mission for the wider U.S. military. The Marine Corps is a year away from the initial operational capability milestone for the Stand-in Forces concept, meaning Marines […]

Marine Corps Cpl. Alexander Tran, intelligence specialist with 1st Battalion, 12th Marines, 3rd Marine Division, launches a RQ-20B Puma at Pōhakuloa Training Area, Hawaii, July 20, 2022. US Marine Corps Photo

MARINE CORPS BASE HAWAII — As the Marine Corps reshapes its force for a future conflict in the Western Pacific, the service is refining how to meet the reconnaissance mission for the wider U.S. military.

The Marine Corps is a year away from the initial operational capability milestone for the Stand-in Forces concept, meaning Marines would have the capabilities needed to deploy for missions in the region.

In a recent interview with USNI News, Col. Stephen Fiscus, the assistant chief of staff for force development at Marine Corps Forces Pacific, described the vision for SIF as having nearly all of the service’s force laydown in the Indo-Pacific acting as the reconnaissance arm for the combined joint force.

“To be inside and to be able to understand and report on what the enemy is doing, basically to be able to … the wonky way of describing it is the ability to gain and maintain custody of high-value targets and hold them at risk, with our own resources or joint force resources,” Fiscus said.

“[Special Operations Forces] has the capability to do that, but certainly the Marine Corps has the capability to do that at much greater scale, and with much greater persistence. SOF can’t do it at scale and at the capacity that we can,” he added.

The Marines argue that because they’re already operating in places like Okinawa, Japan, part of the first island chain that is in the range of Chinese weapons, they are in the position to perform the reconnaissance and counter-reconnaissance missions in a potential conflict.

“As part of the Stand-in Force, what that really means to the [Marine Littoral Regiment] is, we look at it to deter malign behavior, to operate inside the enemy’s weapons engagement zone, to support sea control and sea denial operations and then ultimately … to set the conditions for joint force and combined follow-on actions as part of that Stand-in Force,” Col. Timothy Brady, the commanding officer of the recently re-designated 3rd Marine Littoral Regiment, told USNI News.

While the new 3rd MLR is a piece of the Stand-In Force, the concept would employ most of the Okinawa-based III Marine Expeditionary Force and the Marine Expeditionary Units embarked on the Navy’s amphibious ships and operating in the Pacific.

“The Stand-in Force … pretty much requires almost all of III MEF, elements of I MEF, and the transiting MEUs in order to make it fully capable. It requires almost all of the [U.S. Indo-Pacific Command]-assigned force. And the infrastructure from Marine Corps Installations Pacific that enables that is pretty key to that as well. So it requires all of it. So to focus on just, on one entity is kind of missing the totality. The whole MAGTF, or Marine Air-Ground Task Force concept, is applicable to the Stand-in-Force,” Fiscus said.

The ability to see and realize information, Fiscus said, is the cornerstone of delivering the type of lethality the Marine Corps is historically known for bringing to conflict.

Landing Craft, Air Cushion 76 assigned to Assault Craft Unit 5, prepares to land on Marine Corps Base Hawaii, during Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) 2022, July 11, 2022. US Marine Corps Photo

“It’s understanding what your target is, where it is, and the effect that it’s going to have on the network that you’re influencing. You can translate that directly from what we were doing in counter-insurgency operations with the effect on an insurgent network, all the way down to a peer and pacing threat,” he said.

“And what’s going to happen when you take this asset out? It’s fairly easy to be lethal, to pull a trigger – whether that trigger is the 566 from a rifle or all the way up to using a Naval Strike Missile or a [Tomahawk Land Attack Missile], or some other huge asset and you’re targeting a capital asset. The need is to understand what you’re doing and understand immediately what’s going to happen. And that’s what Stand-in Forces bring, is they bring that whole package to the naval expeditionary force that really closes a pretty significant gap,” Fiscus continued.

3rd MLR Experimentation

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

After converting the 3rd Marine Regiment into the 3rd Marine Littoral Regiment in March, Brady says they now have the relevant units in place to do full-scale experimentation.

The MLR consists of a Littoral Combat Team, a Littoral Logistics Battalion, and a Littoral Anti-Air Battalion. In June, the Marine Corps converted 1st Battalion, 3rd Marines into the 3rd MLR’s Littoral Combat Team and also re-designated Combat Logistics Battalion 3 into the Littoral Logistics Battalion that is now under the 3rd MLR, Brady said. That means the 3rd MLR now has all three units operating under the new construct.

“This provides us the opportunity – as we continue to train and experiment moving forward – with all of the primary capabilities now being organic to the MLR, to be able to develop our concepts of employment for our future Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations,” Brady said.
“Because it will take portions of all those different units to provide the capabilities necessary to be able to do the sea control and sea denial operations, to be able to provide the long-range precision fires, to be able to provide the air direction, air control early warning activities, to be able to provide the sensors necessary to the joint force,” he continued. “It will take an aspect of each one of those battalions to be able to actually produce the capability for it in the battlespace. So for the very first time, we have all of those capabilities as part of this unit and that’s what we’re looking forward to training in the future with.”

The Hawaiian islands, where the 3rd MLR is based, are uniquely suited to experiment with the Marine Corps’ Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations concept – which would see Marines quickly moving between islands and shorelines to set up ad-hoc bases and fire anti-ship missiles – because they are similar to the first island chain, Brady said.

“To EABO in and of itself – to be able to seize and secure key maritime terrain – is not anything new to the Marine Corps. But the purpose of EABO is a paradigm shift. The purpose now is once we do seize and secure that maritime terrain is to look outward, right, to be able to support the naval expeditionary campaign and the larger naval campaign with that battlespace awareness … along with those long-range precision fires,” Brady said.

During the biennial Rim of the Pacific 2022 exercise, the Marine Corps is employing the EABO concept in two different scenarios: to enable an amphibious landing and to enable the transit of a carrier strike group.

“So specifically to RIMPAC, having an amphibious task force as well as a carrier strike group operating in the notional operating environment, we are supporting their maritime maneuver. And ultimately the MLR helps the joint and combined force achieve multi-domain integrated naval power to be able to impose asymmetric threats on the enemy,” Brady said.

Digital Interoperability

A Marine Corps AH-1 Super Cobra participates in a sink exercise (SINKEX) during Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) 2022, from Marine Corps Base Hawaii on July 22, 2022. US Marine Corps Photo

Brady described a layered approach to how his unit is working toward operating with the joint force and ultimately allies and partners, also known as the combined force, which the Marines have the chance to work with at RIMPAC.

But working across the various platforms means they need what the Marines have defined as digital interoperability, or a way for all of the systems from the different U.S. services and other nations’ forces to communicate with each other.

“As we build those kill webs, that digital interoperability, you know the communications and the [command and control] systems, and we’re actually applying all those sensors and eventually the long-range precision fires, is we’re doing that internally to that Stand-in Force, the MAGTF, right, the Marine Corps,” Brady said.

“At the next level we’re really doing that across the joint force and looking at how to do that better. And then what RIMPAC provides us the opportunity to do is to do that with the combined force, right, the allies and partners, because to close those kill webs requires a lot of digital interoperability across multiple different systems, to be able to do it at speed and to be able to do it with all those nations that will be together inside the first island chain,” he continued.

In the type of conflict environment the services are preparing for in the Indo-Pacific, forces need multiple avenues to share information.

“If one type of way form is shut down and we can’t use it, there needs to be other pathways that we can take advantage of to move that information along, again, to generate that tempo for the commander so he can make a timely and accurate decision,” said Maj. Adrian Solis, a fires expert at MARFORPAC.

Future Capabilities

A Marine with 1st Battalion, 12th Marines, 3rd Marine Division, triages a victim during a simulated mass casualty evacuation training event at Pōhakuloa Training Area, Hawaii, July 22, 2022. US Marine Corps Photo

While Fiscus said the Marine Corps has what it needs to communicate with various assets across the joint force to share targeting information and execute missions under the Stand-in Forces concept, he said the Marines need more of the platforms they’re currently experimenting with – like the MQ-9A Reaper used for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.

“A lot of our platforms right now, we have one or two of them. And we have a plan to get more, but we have one or two of them. So we’re fairly finite,” he said.

The service also wants to make some of their capabilities and assets lighter so Marines can move quickly and carry what they need on their backs while moving around islands and shorelines.

“Making them small, deployable forward and getting them out to where [Brady] can access them and tactical commanders can fuse all of those systems is a big part of the experimentation in the systems that we’re doing. We have answers that say yes, we can do that. We can see them. We can put them together,” Fiscus said.

“Doing it sustainably and in austere environments and amidst allies and partners – because remember, we’re standing in, chances are we’re standing in next to somebody. All of the allies and partners that we’re sailing with that he’s working with right now, they by nature of where they’re located are standing in too. So we anticipate being with them on their terrain,” he added.

With IOC a year away, Brady and Fiscus said they’re focused on getting more capabilities to experiment with, like the stern landing vessel the Marine Corps wants to use while the service continues developing the Light Amphibious Warship. LAW is meant to have a beachable capability to shuttle Marines directly to islands and shorelines without needing to pull into a pier and a leased stern landing vessel will allow the Marine Corps to experiment with the capability in the interim.

I MEF in southern California will start the experimentation with the stern landing vessel, and then it will head to Hawaii. Fiscus said the 3rd MLR should have the platform within a year.

The service also now has a platoon of several dozen Marines who will do research and development work in Norfolk, Va., on the service’s future Long Range Unmanned Surface Vehicle, or LRUSV, Brady said.

“The Long-Range Unmanned Surface Vessel … that’s something that will provide additional reach and availability of weapons and systems well out into the maritime domain,” Brady said. “All of those things are coming in the next couple of years that will further enable us to provide additional capabilities to the joint and combined force.”

Metal Shark is on contract to build several LRUSV prototypes for the Marine Corps through an other transaction authority agreement, the company announced in January 2021.

While the Marine Corps first envisioned the LRUSV to function as an ISR platform and a way to bring more fires to the fight, Fiscus said the service wants to experiment and see what else the platform could do. 

“Its principal mechanism right now, as it was conceived, was the ability to sense and bring additional firepower, organic precision firepower to the totality of the package. But that doesn’t limit it from what it’s possibilities could be once we understand – you know, right now we’re still in that concept phase. But the initial concept the way it was scratched out was for an additional surface ISR and organic precision fires platform,” he said.

While IOC is about a year away and will mean the Marines are ready to deploy under the SIF concept, Fiscus said achieving full operational capability will require the Marine Corps to remain deployed for longer and sustain the force’s operations.

“By achieving IOC of the Stand-in Force, the totality of the Stand-in Force, you will have a deployable and sustainable capability for that to go forward, supported by the full MAGTF. That includes the full sense and make sense. So we will have our Group 5 [unmanned aerial system] – the MQ-9A – up with the ability to connect the whole package and do it. IOC means we have the capability and it’s deployable,” Fiscus said.

The 3rd MLR “be forward doing it, supporting operations, activities, investments – OAIs – but you’ll see the totality of the value proposition fieldable and presentable in its full depth. It may only be for finite periods of time because … the difference between IOC and FOC is depth and sustainability and how long that presence can be forward and impactful.”

Report to Congress on the Light Amphibious Warship

The following is the July 20, 2022, Congressional Research Service report Navy Light Amphibious Warship (LAW) Program: Background and Issues for Congress. From the report The Navy’s Light Amphibious Warship (LAW) program envisions procuring a class of up to 35 new amphibious ships to support the Marine Corps, particularly in implementing a new Marine Corps […]

The following is the July 20, 2022, Congressional Research Service report Navy Light Amphibious Warship (LAW) Program: Background and Issues for Congress.

From the report

The Navy’s Light Amphibious Warship (LAW) program envisions procuring a class of up to 35 new amphibious ships to support the Marine Corps, particularly in implementing a new Marine Corps operational concept called Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations (EABO). The Navy had previously envisioned procuring the first LAW in FY2023, but the Navy’s FY2023 budget submission defers the procurement of the first LAW to FY2025. The Navy’s proposed FY2023 budget requests $12.2 million in research and development funding for the program.

The EABO concept was developed with an eye toward potential conflict scenarios with China in the Western Pacific. Under the concept, the Marine Corps envisions, among other things, having reinforced-platoon-sized Marine Corps units maneuver around the theater, moving from island to island, to fire anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCMs) and perform other missions so as to contribute, alongside Navy and other U.S. military forces, to U.S. operations to counter and deny sea control to Chinese forces. The LAW ships would be instrumental to these operations, with LAWs embarking, transporting, landing, and subsequently reembarking these small Marine Corps units.

LAWs would be much smaller and individually much less expensive to procure and operate than the Navy’s current amphibious ships. Under the Navy’s FY2023 budget submission, the first LAW would be procured in FY2025 at a cost of $247.0 million, the second LAW would be procured in FY2026 at a cost of $203.0 million, and the third and fourth LAWs would be procured in FY2027 at a combined cost of $290.0 million (i.e., an average cost of $145.0 million each). The first LAW would cost substantially more than subsequent ships in the program because the procurement cost of the first LAW would include much or all of the detailed design/nonrecurring engineering (DD/NRE) costs for the class. (It is a traditional Navy budgeting practice to include much of all of the DD/NRE costs for a class of ship in the procurement cost of the lead ship in the class.)

The LAW as outlined by the Navy could be built by any of several U.S. shipyards. The Navy’s baseline preference is to have a single shipyard build all the ships, but the Navy is open to having them built in multiple yards to the same design if doing so could permit the program to be implemented more quickly and/or less expensively. The Navy’s FY2023 budget submission states that the contract for the construction of the first LAW would be awarded in December 2024, and that the ship would be delivered in July 2028.

The LAW program poses a number of potential oversight matters for Congress. The issue for Congress is whether to approve, reject, or modify the Navy’s annual funding requests and envisioned acquisition strategy for the program. Congress’s decisions regarding the program could affect Navy and Marine Corps capabilities and funding requirements and the U.S. shipbuilding industrial base.

Download the document here.

New Navy Fleet Study Calls for 373 Ship Battle Force, Details are Classified

THE PENTAGON – The Navy quietly slipped a new, classified assessment on the number of ships the service needs to meet its missions around the world to Congress earlier this month. The report calls for a battle force of 373 ships – 75 more than in the current fleet. Dubbed the Battle Force Ship Assessment […]

Arleigh-Burke class guided-missile destroyer USS Jason Dunham (DDG-109), left, conducts a replenishment-at-sea with Supply-class fast combat support ship USNS Supply (T-AOE-6), in the Ionian Sea on May 6, 2022. US Navy Photo

THE PENTAGON – The Navy quietly slipped a new, classified assessment on the number of ships the service needs to meet its missions around the world to Congress earlier this month. The report calls for a battle force of 373 ships – 75 more than in the current fleet.

Dubbed the Battle Force Ship Assessment and Requirement, the Fiscal Year 2021 defense authorization bill called for the Navy to generate the report and deliver it directly to Congress.

“The Navy’s Battle Force Ship Assessment and Requirement (BFSAR) report determined that a battle force of 373 ships is required to meet future campaigning and warfighting demands. The report is classified and was submitted to Congress,” reads a statement from the service provided to USNI News.

Outside of the fleet total, the service did not provide an unclassified summary of the force structure. In prior years, the FSA has included an unclassified summary of the the required quantities for each type of battleforce ship in the fleet.

The new report is the latest in a long string of force structure reviews since 2016 as the service and big Pentagon have wrestled with the composition of the future fleet.

The requirement in the bill was designed to have the report bypass the Office of the Secretary of Defense and go directly to Congress, several legislative sources have told USNI News. OSD took a more active role in crafting the Navy’s force structure under former Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and senior leadership has continued to be involved in the force structure process.

In February, the Navy rolled out a long-range shipbuilding plan that laid out three different versions of a battle force into 2052, depending on the number of resources the service is allocated. The first option would yield an inventory of 316 ships by FY 2052, the second would yield 327 ships by FY 2052 and the third would yield 367 ships.

Chief of Naval Operations Mike Gilday speaking on Jan. 11, 2022 from his office in the Pentagon. US Navy Photo

Those would be buttressed by emerging unmanned platforms that would extend the range of the Navy’s sensors and deepen magazines beyond its manned ships and submarines.

With those additions, the fleet could grow to 500 hulls or more, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday said ahead of the long-range ship rollout in remarks during the WEST 2022 conference, co-hosted by AFCEA and the U.S. Naval Institute.

The most recent review follows the latest revision of the National Defense Strategy, which refines the Pentagon’s approach to countering China in the Pacific and Russia in Europe. Much of the detail of the updated NDS is classified, with the Office of the Secretary of Defense releasing a scant two-page summary of the overall goals.

The force structure will go through more tweaks before another revision is released later this year.

“The Navy is expected to complete a second BFSAR later this year, which will reflect new analytic work, changes to force design, and the impacts of the 2022 National Defense Strategy released in March on future Navy battle force structure,” reads the Navy statement.

HASC Seapower Mark Saves 5 Ships, Backs Marine Corps Call for 31 Amphibs

The House Armed Services Committee will prevent the Navy from retiring five ships from the fleet and supports the Marine Corps’ call for 31 amphibious warships, according to a summary of the seapower and projection forces subcommittee’s mark of the House’s defense policy bill. The measures in the mark, which reflect the consensus of the […]

USS Vicksburg (CG-69) getting repaired at BAE Systems Norfolk Ship Repair, Va., on April 8, 2022. Christopher P. Cavas Photo used with permission

The House Armed Services Committee will prevent the Navy from retiring five ships from the fleet and supports the Marine Corps’ call for 31 amphibious warships, according to a summary of the seapower and projection forces subcommittee’s mark of the House’s defense policy bill.

The measures in the mark, which reflect the consensus of the HASC, support a call from Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger to set a minimum level for U.S. amphibious forces and keeps four Whidbey Island-class dock landing ships (LSDs) in the fleet – USS Germantown (LSD-42), USS Gunston Hall (LSD-44), USS Tortuga (LSD-46) and USS Ashland (LSD-48).

“There’s strong support for the commandant of the Marine Corps assessment that he needs no fewer than 31 amphibious ships,” a committee staffer told reporters on Monday.
“Prohibiting retirement of the LSDs certainly gets after that plan for that program.”

The mark will require the Secretary of the Navy to consult with the Marine commandant over the size of the amphibious fleet.

In addition, the mark prevents the committee from losing guided-missile cruiser USS Vicksburg (CG-69). Vicksburg and the LSDs were part of 24 ships marked by the Navy for decommission over the next five years.

“The Navy’s provided testimony to the committee that they’re about 85 percent complete on the Vicksburg. We’re well on our way to making major investments into the Vicksburg and also it’s one of the younger cruisers proposed for retirement. The others [that] were proposed, were in accordance with their normal cycle,” a committee staffer told reporters on Monday.

A CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter, assigned to Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron (VMM) 263 (Rein.), flies over the San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock ship USS Arlington (LPD-24) on May 3, 2022. US Navy Photo

Last month, Navy officials told Congress that the service has spent about $300 million per hull to modernize Vicksburg and Tortuga.

The pending legislation supports the Marines’ number one unfunded priority for an additional San Antonio-class (LPD-17) amphibious warship in the next fiscal year.

“[The mark] recommends to the full committee an additional $250 million in advanced procurement toward an LPD. That will be procured in fiscal year 2024,” a staffer said.

The mark is set to authorize a 15-ship multi-year Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer buy. USNI News reported the move last month.

The mark also “directs the maritime administrator to carry out a program to complete the design and construction and United States ship yards of up to 10 sealift vessels for use in the National Defense reserve fleet,” a staffer told USNI News.

Not contained in the subcommittee mark is the fate of the nine Freedom-class Littoral Combat Ships the Navy asked to decommission well ahead of their expected service lives.

The Navy said in its budget request that the cost of correcting a class-wide propulsion issue and the failure of an anti-submarine warfare mission package required the ships to leave the fleet.

“There’s a lot of member interest and that will be addressed at full committee,” a staffer said.

Meanwhile, the HASC strategic forces subcommittee wants to mandate the Defense Secretary give lawmakers “a comprehensive strategy to use asymmetric capabilities to defeat hypersonic missile threats,” according to text of the panel’s mark.

The mark also calls for an evaluation of Guam’s integrated air and missile defense. Within two months of the Fiscal Year 2023 defense policy bill becoming law, the Secretary of Defense must ink a contract “with a federally funded research and development center to conduct an independent assessment” of the capabilities needed to defend Guam.

The subcommittees will mark up their respective bills this week and the full committee is slated to take up the legislation later this month.

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.