The Marine Corps must contend with two issues – to innovate after a decade of war and to operate under the fiscal pressure faced by the entire Defense Department. It will likely have to reduce its endstrength while adapting to a variety of new threats. These challenges should force the Marine Corps to reconsider some fundamental premises today that will help it effectively adapt to the operational environment ten to twenty years from now.

The Marine Corps must intellectually contest some basic organizational issues. The fundamental structure of the Marine Corps is based on a model that was effective during the World War II and Korea, where high casualty rates, limited communications, and massing of firepower were primary concerns. Is the same organizational structure, particularly the use of enlisted Marines, right for the Marine Corps of 2025 and beyond?

While amphibious operations will be the cornerstone of the Marine Corps for the foreseeable future, it could also find itself in a host of other roles and missions: complete integration into the special operations community, fully distributed operations, partnership building, and even supporting federal law enforcement or intelligence units to counter transnational threats. How will the Marine Corps adapt?

Below are a few “what-if” challenges that should stimulate debate among Marines at all levels on the use of the greatest asset in the Marine Corps, the enlisted Marine, over the next several decades.

What if… the US economy remains flat and unemployment rates climb because automation and robotics have replaced humans in labor-intensive fields? A typical rifle squad of the future may consist of all college graduates and the only difference between an E-1 and O-1 is the training path selected by the Marine Corps. How does the Marine Corps maximize personnel and prevent underutilization of the talent entrusted to it by American society? Harvesting civilian education and skills may become as important as making Marines.

What if… the line between Marine officers and enlisted Marines is erased or significantly blurred? Many retired military officers and scholars alike note the problems with the antiquated military personnel system. Changes in the private sector are often compared to changes that should occur in the military, particularly closing the gap between the roles of officers and enlisted. How can the Marine Corps close this gap? Will 25 different ranks still be necessary to distinguish levels of authority or should the rank structure be compressed?

What if… the 18 year-old private becomes obsolete in infantry units? Given the missions being considered for the Marine Corps and the emphasis placed on smaller, more independent units, should Marine Corps Infantry become more elite? Should an enlisted Marine first be assigned to a support unit for their initial enlistment, then compete for a slot in the infantry when reenlisting? This would create a more mature and highly specialized infantry but it would also create problems with leadership roles if everyone in a unit were an NCO.

Could changes in the compensation system facilitate a more agile organization with qualified personnel filling billets at different echelons or types of units? Consider what an oval vice pyramid enlisted force structure would look like. A Corporal in a line unit may find himself as a Lance Corporal in a more high-end unit, with no loss of compensation. This model is analogous to major league baseball – if a single A player plays well, he moves up to AA, where he will have a decreased role on the team but more compensation, then after improving performance, moves up to AAA ball, where again, he rides the pine for a while.

What if… semi-autonomous or unmanned weapon systems become fully integrated into small units? How will future technology change leadership roles? Integrating and controlling technology may become as important, if not more so, than leading (human) Marines. If so, how do leadership development models change?

What if… the lethality and non-lethality of a small unit increases significantly? A decade from now, infantry units will likely increase both lethal and non-lethal force at the squad level. Advances in nano-explosive technology, directed energy weapons and lasers, and electro-magnetic weapons will cause this change. How would dramatically improved capabilities alter the size of a typical rifle company and officer/enlisted ratios?

What if… human performance enhancing technology is accepted on the battlefield of the future? The concept of creating super-“soldiers” (using super with Marine seems a bit redundant) through robotic or biomedical enhancement is currently under debate. How will the Marine Corps manage civilian integration after conflict? Does the Marine Corps simply escort these military-modified super humans to the front gate and turn them loose on society? Or is Marine for life a future reality?

In 2008, the National Research Council (with LtGen Amos and RDMLs Burke/Davenport as advisors) addressed similar issues for both the Navy and Marine Corps (embeded below). It is unclear to what extent the study’s findings were actually considered within the services.

Service purists will resist any change and argue that the Marine Corps has adapted in the past without any significant change in force structure. However, the Corporals of today will become the Sergeants Major of 2025 and beyond. They must start to consider these issues now to effectively shape the enlisted force of future.

The original version of this post appeared on the Marine Corps Gazette Blog.

Posted by Robert Kozloski in Marine Corps, Maritime Security, Navy, Training & Education

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  • While leadership ability, technical ability, and even experience may not always correspond to rank, ultimate accountability does. See “3 Marine officers fired after fatal training accident”

  • Eric J

    Is this thread still open?

  • Eric J

    I just came across this article. Please forgive any errors, I’m writing this on a train to work.

  • Eric J

    I fully agree with the premise of this article, the USMC needs to move away from a Cold War/large formation model & embrace the margins between Special Operations & Major Combat Operations; which is why most people can’t distinguish between us & a land army. We can embrace Specialized Missions while, for the most part, maintaining our traditional force structure tht allows us to be effective in MCOs.

  • Eric J

    This however is where we begin to part ways. I wrote several posts on different sites over the last few years on this.

    1. We both agree the Infantry should be treated with the respect it deserves. Everbody who signs the dotted line for SOI at a recruiting station isn’t necessarily built for the Infantry especially a Specialized Infantry.

  • Eric J

    We both think a slot in future USMC Infantry should be earned, however I don’t think the answer is nor could the USMC afford to do recruit Infantrymen out of support units after a year or 2 in the fleet; Recon found this was inefficient.

    I think similar to Recon, recruits should have an Open Contract/Guaranteed Infantry Option that guarantees the a slot in a post boot camp Infantry-Indoc administered by SOI but every Marine who’s interested should have the opportunity to Indoc after boot camp. It would basically be a version of the IOCs Indoc.

  • Eric J

    I don’t believe a 1-2yr maturation in a support unit is necessary. Study after study has found these young Sgts to PFCs were far more capable then they’re trained to even in the D.Ops trials.

  • Robert Kozloski

    Great comments, Eric and I don’t think our views are that far apart. However it appears that you don’t see a significant shift in missions over the next decade and beyond.

    A second aspect of a having a more mature force is more time could be devoted to mission training and less time spent dealing with the issues of young men right out of high school. It would be interesting to compare the % of minor disciplinary problems among a SEAL platoon/SF Team and the equivalent number in a line infantry unit. I also think freeing-up time would result in a tactically superior SNCO Corps.

    Finally, and this is certainly an academic exercise, but what could you accomplish with an entire company of Marines between 25-30 y/o with 5-10 years of experience (basically an EWS class). Could a 10 man squad accomplish as much as 12 man squad today? If you look at some high-end SWAT/special mission LE teams there are comprised of mostly 30-40 y/o operators. This would never happen in the rank-centric culture of the USMC.

    • Eric J

      Sorry that’s barely half of what I wrote. For some reason it says waiting for moderator approval & never posts. I’ll see if I saved the other half.

  • Eric J

    (continued from my last post)

    I don’t believe a 1-2yr maturation in a support unit is necessary. Study after study has found these young Sgts to PFCs were far more capable then they’re trained to even in the D.Ops trials. The 1s who would benefit the most from ageing would be the leadership: 6yr Sgt/Squad Leaders, move the Staff Sgt to Plt Guide (more about that later), & make GySgts Plt Sgts (dreaded move but necessary). The Plt Cmdr can remain as is he’ll have plenty of experience in the Plt to draw from.

  • Eric J

    With the exception of SF, MARSOC, & Tier 1 SMUs. The other SOF units recruit out of Boot Camp, SEALs, AFSOC both recruit out of BC. The difference is selection (key) & the number SNCOs. There’s about an equal number of boots as NCOs as SNCOs on a SOF team. But they do recruit fresh out BC, its just by the time they make thru their pipeline to their 1st deployment they’ve been in 2 yrs.

    I don’t think an enhanced Rifle Plt needs a perfect balance like a SOF team but it should be more top heavy then it currently is.

    If you have a higher number of senior troops (at least 3, 2-SNCOs+ Officer) integrated in a Plt with the younger, combined with more mature NCOs, better selection, & a longer pipeline you can run the Mission sets envisioned while maintaining a more sustainable personnel flow.

    The difference would be in the selection & training:

    -Make Infantry Indoc similar to IOC selection, physically grueling with little direction from the staff & no interaction between the men. This will identify those suited for Distributed Ops, young men with natural maturity who excel with little to no supervision. It should be grueling but not a push up contest, not looking for PT studs but Strong backs, Hard feet, & Good decision-making capability.

    -SOI should be a 13wk continuation on that concept pushing leadership thru patrolling & independent action thru individual responsibility. It shouldn’t be a continuation of Boot Camp pushing guys thru telling what to do by the numbers. Those that can’t keep up or constantly need to be told wht to do will be remediated or dropped.

    -The next 12mths would be the 1st in the fleet, a Block 3 & 4 standard training pipeline; 6mths of unit training (Starting w/D. Ops leading up to MCOs, CAX, & large scale exercises). Followed by 6mths of specific PTP (Predeployment Training Phase) (MEU, SPMAGTF-CR, etc). SEALs & Force Recon use an 18mth predeployment work up.

    The Distributed Ops Plt as originally envisioned by Gens. Hagee & Mattis with some minor tweaks would be the model:

    -It was 43 Marines 1 sailor. In the Hagee/Mattis model the 13 man squad became 12men; two 4man maneuver FireTeams & a 4man HQ FireTm lead by the Squad Leader/Sgt. The 3rd FT Leader-Cpl became Assistant Squad Leader/Squad Fires Chief.

    -The 1 jr man that each squad lost went to form the two 4man Plt HQ tms; 1 lead by the Plt Cmdr the other by the Plt Sgt.

    This was the construct that deployed to Afghanistan in ’06 & performed at a high level.

    The only force maturing I would do would be in the leadership:

    -6yr Sgt/Squad Leaders. The Corps is actually addressing this now. 2nd term Cpls & Sgts will have a 4yr contract; 2yrs as SOI Instructors before returning to the fleet as Squad Leaders for the last 2yrs. The 2yr tour at SOI also affords time for advanced individual training slots.

    -Gunnys as Plt Sgts. This is probably the most hated move but its 2-fold. 1) is obvious seniority & experience. This Plt will have access to up to $100k of organic equipment; GUSS, Big Dog, micro UAVs, etc. the GySgt will shoulder that weight. 2) it will be part of a two part development starting w/the SSgts.

    -Move SSgts to Plt Guide. The Hagee/Mattis DO Plt had both the Plt Cmdr & Plt Sgt trained as JTACs to operate 24hr Fires/CAS thru the Plt HQ tms A&B. This would change to only the SSgt being certified. The Plt Guide takes on an expanded role; JTAC, Intelligence/Information/Sensitive Equipment manager. He still goes to 0369 IULC as well as a course designed for the new PG.

    As the SSgt grows to become the GySgt the Gunny/Plt Sgt still goes to Infantry Ops Chief Course b/c Ops planning has migrated to the DO Plt, he refreshes CAS running Plt HQ tm A, while SSgt runs tm B, the Plt Cmdr coordinates with HigherHQ, locals, etc.

    Take a look at the CAP Plt of Vietnam 15men led by an E-5/Sgt. They were placed in hamlets of 500-1500 builders ran by that Sgt like a micro-AO.
    -They raised & trained a local militia.
    -Advised the attached 50man PF Plt.
    -Conducted local HA/DR for the village.
    -Developed a local Intelligence network.
    -Planned offensives & actively engaged local VC networks & coordinated large scale Ops with HHQ.

    Iraq saw Squads owning their own neighborhoods operating autonomously in 3 Block War Urban Isolation. Afghanistan had autonomous squads isolated by several miles & terrain.

    This NYTimes story is about a Marine Cpl & Lance Cpl Operating a lone COP deep in the Korengal Valley Advising an Afghan Plt.

    Training Afghans as Bullets Fly – A Young Marine’s Dream Job: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/01/world/asia/01firebase.html?pagewanted=all

    There were dozens of young Cpls just like him isolated leading Afghans. He is the Strategic Cpl the Corps has been developing.

    You don’t need a Plt of 30yr olds with college degrees or guys maturing in support units. You need him, Tactically savvy, he’s ready now but in 2 years he’d be a Sgt leading a DO squad.

    That Sgt would be key, you wouldn’t need a whole Plt of them but 3. To be nodes, the base, force multipliers leading 3 Cpls like Conroy, who would in turn be leading 3 LCpls like Murray. All independent minded, tough, & Tactically savvy, growing & learning in the unit to become Operationally savvy Sgts, then JTAC-SSgts, then GySgts.

    You need a selection process that selects tough minded, natural leaders early, then trains them to task.

    • Robert Kozloski

      Great ideas! It sounds like most could be implemented tomorrow with no real barriers except culture.

  • Eric J

    Culture..yes exactly!! There was so much I wanted to say last post but it would’ve read like a dissertation & not a post.

    But to your point about culture & the point you made in your last reply comparing the % of disciplinary problems between Infantry & SOF never underestimate the value of Expectation.

    When your in a SOF team/Plt & there are 3 or 4 SNCO/Officers to 3-4 NCOs to 3-4 boots the expectation is set high, you are with men behave like one.

    The DO Plt would never duplicate that balance of rank but ageing the leadership, selection, & training to task would set Expectation.

    Culture & ‘training to task’ have a cause & effect relationship.

    The days of hazing would have to be done, treating men selected to Infantry like boys are done, hand holding & teaching by the numbers is done.

    The culture of an Enhanced/DO Marine Infantry would have to change to reflect the Expectation of individual responsibility. If your not fit for that your removed.

  • Eric J

    Is this discussion still open?