The past decade has been one of major changes for the U.S. military, none perhaps as extensively affected as the Marine Corps; 2012 was more of the same, as the Marines prepared for a combination of reset from Southwest Asia to the Asia/Pacific region, a reduction in size, major budget cuts, a Corps-wide need to modernize and replace equipment after 11 years of combat, and a return to its traditional role as a “force from the sea.”
“We have acknowledged the changing nature of the battlefield by increasing our contribution to special operations and cyber warfare and have lightened the Marine air-ground-logistics task forces by reducing the number of heavy armor and artillery units and through streamlining our organizational hierarchy,” Commandant Gen. James Amos said.
“As our nation turns its attention to the Pacific, the Marine Corps looks forward to reorienting our focus west to this historic area of operations; in doing so, we will continue to respond to crises and contingencies throughout the world as the president may direct. In line with the strategic guidance, we will recommit ourselves to our long-standing forward-deployed and forward-engaged partnership with the Navy, while returning to our fundamental role as America’s expeditionary force in readiness.”
Under the current tight budget restrictions, from an estimated 11 percent cut in the coming year to the looming threat of even further cuts due to sequestration, the Corps began a force reduction in October 2012 from 202,100 to 182,100, reaching final end strength by September 2016.
“As we reduce end strength, we will manage the rate carefully – approximately 5,000 Marines per year – so we reduce the force responsibly,” Amos said. “The resulting 182,100-Marine active-duty force retains the capacity and capability to support current and crisis response operations through rotational deployments and to rapidly surge in support of major contingency operations.”
Even so, Amos told Foreign Policy magazine that end strength was “just barely” enough to meet national strategy expectations. He also warned that the funding cuts are forcing the Corps to adopt a “good enough” standard, from equipment to manpower assignments – “in other words, what will work for us over the next five or six years of austerity.”
“It’s kind of a matter of a culture change and a mental shift,” Amos told the National Press Club in August 2012, adding that sequestration would make matters more difficult, even “dangerous” for the Marines. “If we end up with sequestration, it will disproportionately affect the Marine Corps. Because our numbers are so small, our budget is so small, the effects will actually, in some cases, cause us to end up canceling programs. Quite honestly, it would stunt any kind of modernization.”
As an example of what’s “good enough,” Amos noted the Corps now plans to buy only 5,000 Joint Light Tactical Vehicles (JLTVs), rather than replacing all of its nearly 23,000 HMMWVs, which were generally considered to be outdated but are now categorized as “good enough.”
Nonetheless, Amos vowed not to allow creation of “a hollow Marine Corps,” even if that requires painful cuts in other areas to ensure all Marines have “100 percent of the equipment … and 100 percent of the money they need” to maintain a high state of combat readiness.
In an article he wrote for the November 2012 issue of Proceedings, the commandant warned that the real concern for the Department of Defense (DoD) and the nation is not funding shortages, but continuing to recognize and adapt to ever-changing global threats. It is a vital lesson repeated through thousands of years of conflict, he noted, citing a Roman general who, having easily defeated Germanic tribes in the northern edge of the Empire, returned a few years later only to be soundly defeated by the same enemy, losing both his legions and his life.
“‘Ne cras. Ne cras,’ he was heard to mutter – ‘Not like yesterday,’” Amos wrote. “Our world is full of adaptive threats; thinking foes with no special reverence for the technical capabilities of the U.S. joint force. The largest potential obstacle to future success will not be declining budgets, but failing to recognize a changing world.
“Our success will be measured in how much we learn from our past, how well we observe the changing characteristics of warfare and how we anticipate the ways our enemies will choose to challenge our national interests and the joint force. These enemies, observant and cunning, have studied our every move on the modern battlefield. Industrial Age opponents have evolved Information Age capabilities. Ne cras.”