Retired Marines criticize changes intended to reshape the U.S. Marines for China threat

| February 1, 2023

The Marine Corps Commandant rolled out “Force Design 2030” back in 2020. This plan sees a potential scenario where China attempts to breach the first island chain. In order for the Marines to effectively serve in this scenario, the leadership is eying changes to the way the Marines are set up so that they could take part in such a scenario. However, retired senior Marine officers have criticized this plan.

From the BBC:

Launched in 2020 by the Marine Corps Commandant General David H Berger, the plan is intended to equip the Marines for a potential conflict with China in the Indo-Pacific region rather than counter-insurgency wars like Iraq and Afghanistan.

The new plan sees the Marines as fighting dispersed operations across chains of islands. Units will be smaller, more spread out, but packing a much bigger punch through a variety of new weapons systems. Huge amphibious landings like in World War Two or massive deployments on land – like in Iraq – will probably be things of the past.

Most unpopular is the plan to cut back on foot soldiers and give up all its tanks. Such proposals have led some critics to feel the Corps is turning its back on its past.

While it has close ties with the US Navy it is a separate service which grew dramatically in World War Two and has taken a prominent role in recent campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Public perceptions of the Marine Corps are powerfully influenced by the World War Two experience. Anyone who has seen John Wayne in the 1949 feature film The Sands of Iwo Jima or the more recent mini-series The Pacific produced by Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks will remember the large-scale amphibious operations; men storming ashore from landing craft and so on.

This is not the way the new plan sees the Marines as fighting.

Its traditional role as America’s military first responder, capable of taking on disparate challenges around the globe, is what critics believe could be compromised by the new plan with its clear focus upon China and the Indo-Pacific.

So what exactly is in the plan?

* Some infantry battalions – the foot soldiers – to be cut

* Around three-quarters of its towed artillery batteries replaced by long-range rocket systems

* Several helicopter squadrons are being cut

* Giving up all of its tanks

Money for the new weapons systems, totalling $15.8 billion, are to be funded by the cuts which amount to some $18.2 billion.

The BBC has the rest of the story, and photos, here.

Category: China, Marines

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Is that photo the barracks at 29 Palms?


I thought recruiters office in Chicago.

Hack Stone

The MCCES Barracks after the club closed and the Tankers felt like brawling.

A Proud Infidel®™

Maybe the barracks at Fort [the] Hood TX?!

Old tanker

Oh I can see it now. Going to light infantry as the main force supported by high tech and hard to maintain rocket arty instead of the more robust and easier to use / maintain tubes. Follow that up with reduced air to ground capabilities and zero armor. Yup other than a few helo’s and more accurate rockets, right back to the 1800’s. That’s progress for ya.

USMC Steve

The Navy won’t be able to help much, since they have almost no guns to support, and the guns they have are tiny things. Missiles will rapidly run out and then they are basically large gray targets. Air can only do so much too, and the air wings on carriers are only so large. Making us totally dependent for heavy firepower on an organization that doesn ‘t have that sort of firepower is nothing short of retarded.


The US Airforce and the Navy have 7850 aircraft combined. Setting aside Russia for the moment, that is more than the total of the next 10 countries combined, two of which (Japan/ ROK) are close allies and two of which are NATO allies and several more are fairly neutral. When you add the aircraft of the Marines and the Army in it becomes the next 15 nations combined, including Russia.

I’m not sure what you think they can’t do, but unless we are taking on the entire world it seems likely that they can do as much as needs be done.


Lots of things air can’t do well, in spite of what the AF claims. Close air support at night or in other low visibility conditions, for one thing; 24/7 availability.

USMC Steve

Rather simplistic thinking. Those numbers actually mean absolutely nothing. Not all of those birds are up at the same time even in peacetime. Start shooting holes in them and your numbers go waaay down for availability. They also cannot all be deployed to the same place at the same time. Then there is logistics to support all those airplanes. The Navy takes their airfields with them at sea, but the air force does not, so where are all those airplanes going to operate from? And at least as far as the air force is concerned, I refer you to the two week Desert Storm air war that took over six weeks to complete. They also have a pretty impressive record of fratricide over the years. Goal is not to drop ordnance on your own folks. And those opfor countries have things called AAA defenses. Those shoot down your birds, thus reducing the number available for combat. How about loiter time and turnaround time for the next strike?


Nearly 8000 military aircraft mean nothing? I can’t find the hole in that logic….

USMC Steve

Then you better go back and try reading the post for comprehension, and stop being obtuse.


See the other article about securing additional access in the PI…

This is not the Commandant making decisions on a whim- this is something coming from MCCDC working with their counterparts in the Navy as well as the Joint Staff. Marine air will certainly have a role in the future, just not as big a role as it does now. It’s all about trade-offs.

Part of the calculus is enemy A2AD (Anti-Access Area Denial) capability. The projections are that no 4th Gen fighter will survive against S300/400s, and combatant vessels will have to stay beyond the horizon (and they still won’t be safe).

Remember that within 6th months of Pearl Harbor there were 8 carriers and several capital ships on the bottom of the Pacific- now we have over the horizon ship killing hypersonic missiles targeted by AI. s

[Also, per Joint doctrine and regulation, Marine Air was not part of the Desert Storm ATO, they serviced Marine targets, just like Army Apaches serviced Army targets.]

Honor and Courage

Tell that to the QRF for Benghazi!


The Marines have always been primarily light infantry, and tanks/AMTRAKs (a death trap once onshore) and LAVs have very little utility and would be very difficult to transport and maintain in the new concept.

The operating concept calls for the Marines to influence large areas of ocean with long range precision fires that can not only sink ships but also shoot down aircraft.

The first Marines to fight in WWII (Wake Island) were from a Marine Defense Battalion, built mainly around Air Defense and Coast Artillery.


Good to see you posting, Steeleyl.


So, a primarily defensive orientation. And what about short range and/or long duration precision fires? What do final protective fires from long-range missiles/rockets look like? How long can missiles maintain those fires?

Missiles are more expensive and not as plentiful as artillery ammunition.


Yes. If you sink the ships over the horizon you don’t need final protective fires, so there is no need to maintain them. Clearly there are fewer missiles than artillery projectiles, but the USMC light artillery (towed M777 155s) is essentially useless in the type of conflict they anticipate. Excalibur has a range of maybe 40k, the ERCA rounds are short of 100k.

USMC Steve

Most of the M777s are going away due to the commandant thinking we don’t need arty.

USMC Steve

Both are irrelevant when you have nothing to fire them out of.


The M777s are going away because they don’t have a role in the concept- they are short ranged and can’t sink ships.

USMC Steve

If they can hit them they can hammer them, just like any other munition. And we don’t try to sink ships. That ain’t our mission. Range with Excalibur is 25 miles. Range with standard munitions is 13 miles.


It is now.


‘If they can hit them’. Exactly. Excalibur doesn’t have the range nor the firepower to sink a ship.

Sinking ships has been part of Marine missions in the past- the Marine Defense Battalions in WWII had coast artillery guns for that very purpose- in fact, the Marines at Wake Island sank two destroyers and multiple landing craft and patrol boats.

The Army and Marine Corps are developing long range rockets and missiles that can sink ships- both have already demonstrated the capability.



USMC Steve

Except when you are going up against enemy forces that are organized around mech and armor assets, and you cannot kill them fast enough with AT4’s and Javelins and such. Actually, the Marines need something like a light/medium close support tank type vehicle. And the amtrack was not intended to be used as armor, nor is it.


I don’t disagree, but the Chinese are faced with the same physics problems we are. You can’t land mass troops and armor without amphibious lift, which must be protected by firepower, all of which has to move over the ocean, all of which is subject to long range precision fires targeted by a multitude of naval, ground, air, space, and even cyber sensors.

Javelins are pretty cool, but Hellfires fired from UASs or a remotely operated weapons system are even better. Consider that NMESIS is mounted on ROGUE (I forget what that stands for but it is pretty cool), which itself is remotely operated.

So, you could have a relatively small number of hard to find and kill boots on the ground operating long range precision munitions that are targeted by sensors elsewhere controlling large areas of land and sea.


“all of which is subject to…”

Just like ours is. Does the Marine Corps advocate scrapping all our amphibs?


I don’t disagree, but the Chinese are faced with the same physics problems we are.”

The whole concept is to create small, mobile, lethal, units that can interdict shipping and aircraft over long distances.

To do this, the force must be very lean and rapidly transportable by aircraft and .

USMC Steve

If we have to count on the Air Force to get us there, we have already lost the war.

Find the aircraft somewhere else, or fatten up the Air Wing.


The Air Wing is not capable of liftiing these systems Long distances


Dude, western Pacific has a lot of islands/water… and there’s going to be more amphibious ops than a handful of over-priced helos/ospreys can handle.

It’ll be a whole sh*tload more like World War II (e.g., Iwo Jima) for the Marines than what they’ve seen in the last 50 years… it just won’t be big armadas of large boats dropping them off (smaller forces that’re less attractive targets to Chicom long-range fires, sure) but the same stuff will happen.

Yup, they had tanks at Iwo, too. Abrams too big to be landed on a beach, so they’ll need something smaller that can be.

Last edited 1 year ago by Anonymous
USMC Steve

Not true. The LCAC’s could carry four M1 tanks each, and they move reeeal fast.


Not faster than a hypersonic missile fired from over the horizon.

USMC Steve

And certainly not as fast as the shock wave from a 20 megaton nuclear bomb. I will see your hyperbole and raise you.


It’s not hyperbole, it is reality.

Talk to a Navy SWO- where they used to have minutes to orient, decide, and act, they now have seconds. A ship approaching an island in the Pacific will be tracked by a multitude of sensors and can be attacked by hypersonic or cruise missiles and rockets fired from hundreds of miles away.

Talk to a Raptor pilot. These guys are essentially invisible to 4th Gen aircraft and Air Defense, but they take a deep breath when you talk about penetrating modern A2AD systems.


I think I see. All our stuff works perfectly as advertised; all their stuff doesn’t work at all.


Never said that, don’t think that. Not sure how you are coming up with that.

This level planning assumes that everything works (unless we have specific intel to the contrary).

We do have better systems for the most part, operated by a volunteer force trained in Joint and Combined warfare at just about every echelon.

USMC Steve

Partially agree, but you want to neither under nor overestimate your enemy. You want to realistically estimate them.


That is exactly what the Joint, Navy, Marine, Army, and Air Force Staff has done. That is what drives these concepts.


Would like to see ’em do this:
comment image


This is precisely why the Marines are going to a concept that can control large areas of the sea lanes. The intent is to keep the PLAN bottled up inside the first and second island chain. Army and Marine forces on these little islands armed with over the horizon, ship killing missiles (look up NMSIS and PrSM).


“The intent is…”

And, as we all know, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions”.

The enemy doesn’t really give a rat’s ass what the Commandant’s “intent” is; they have their own intent.


Every Operations Order has a Commander’s Intent paragraph. It has been a integral element of American military doctrine since at least WWII. It is even more important in modern warfare, especially in Mission Command, adopted from the German concept of Auftragstaktik.


“Auftragstaktik. “

Wow! German! and in bold, too!
You’ve run circles around me, logically.
You win.


Jawohl, mein Herr!

Abwarmen der Panzers, Fritz– wir reisen nach Paris! /sarc


Of course, the Germans did take Paris, thanks mainly to their combined arms maneuver and auftragstaktik.

USMC Steve

And absolutely awful WW1 style lack of leadership on the part of the French.


It’s not logic as much as basic US doctrine taught to NCOs and Officers for decades at this point.

The Commander’s intent is arguably the most important part of an order (next to the mission statement).


Exactly. As Gangsta Crizzab said: B*tch, I don’t give no f*ck!

Last edited 1 year ago by Anonymous

Too ghetto?

USMC Steve

Marines don’t control anything at sea, that is the Navy’s job. We control stuff on land, if we don’t get hammered by superior forces doing it. And I don’t know about the Army, but the Marines have not one of those fancy expensive baubles you are talking about.


Read Title 10 US Code on the purpose and mission of the Marine Corps.

I mentioned this elsewhere, but this is actually a return to one of the WWII USMC operating tenets- the Marine Defense Battalions, like one of the first USMC unit to see action in WWII at Wake Island.

The Marines specifically designed and built NMESIS (Naval Strike Munition) and acquired HIMARS for this purpose. Up until recently they had the most advanced towed howitzer (M777) and Main Battle Tank in the world.


Second island chain is Guam, first island chain we’ll be actively fighting over. Pacific is a BIG place and they gotta get themselves and their ammo there first.

Last edited 1 year ago by Anonymous

P.S. DARPA’s on it– massive cargo-carrying flying boat (like Howard Hughes’ Spruce Goose):


The ChiComs have been inserting their greasy tentacles into the Solomon Islands recently. Imagine Guadalcanal 2.0


They plan ahead.

Anna Puma

MacArthur had an answer for this ‘new’ strategy…

It’s called Island Hopping. You go around and cut off the islands with strong defenses.

The US never retook Wake Island until after Japan surrendered. In another instance airpower and a few PT boats kept some 40,000 Japanese troops bottled up until the war ended.


Exactly. The Marine Defense Battalion on Wake Island sank two destroyers and a couple of patrol boats, by the way.

The Island Hopping concept came out of the Navy/Marine Corps.

In reality, the Pacific was divided into multiple theaters- Nimitz and his Marine generals commanded the Central Pacific and went with the direct assaults which led to high casualties.

MacArther and Halsey were in the Southwest Pacific (SWPA) and utilized the Island Hopping concept, bypassing minor Japanese held islands.

The concept for fighting China in the First and Second Island Chain is to make these small islands very costly to take but also tricky to bypass given the range of the weapons we can move around quickly.


The 2.someodd billion saved on new weapons systems will be used for body bags and survivor benefits. Good thing we still have a good inventory of Purple Heart Medals.


The Marines have a proud history of self-reinvention. Their modularity is one of their most enviable traits to those of us who don’t like the taste of crayon.

I don’t know if this current adjustment is ideal, and I don’t know if they’re adopting something similar to Dulles’s approach to the Pacific theatre, but it certainly seems to be in the same vein as LaJeune’s “leaning on artillery” by defining the reality and applying the best tools at his disposal.

Old warriors, and older generations in general, are reluctant to abandon the tools and methods that worked for them. It’s an understandable myopia, but the younger generations are not always as dumb as we assume and everything changes.

The bodkin arrowhead may have been pivotal at Poitiers. Seven decades later, French armor had evolved to match it and the difference at Agincourt wasn’t made by the arrows they carried – it was solid leadership, terrain, and consistent adherence to the archery training laws.


If you dislike change, you’re going to dislike irrelevance even more.

USMC Steve

And change for the sake of change ain’t progress, it is just change. The format the Corps had was a well rounded one that will work just about anywhere. Turning us into a modified airborne division in capability will just make us speed bumps. And you don’t bastardize your force structure specifically for one narrowly defined mission while shitcanning more one division’s worth of your people and all your heavy ordnance.


The Marines aren’t going to fight a maneuver war on land, and they aren’t going to fight a counterinsurgency in a landlocked country. They won’t be invading China or even Taiwan. They are going to fight the PLA in the First Island Chain.

Also, Marine Infantry is just as light as their Army counterparts. The Marines changed before WWII, they changed after Vietnam, and they changed to fight in Afghanistan and Iraq. They will have to change now.


“The Marines aren’t going to fight a maneuver war on land, and they aren’t going to fight a counterinsurgency in a landlocked country”

You have a direct line to God? Or will the Marines just sit on the sidelines waiting for the correct type of war to come along?


No, but I can read- the history of previous attempts to invade China, as well as the National Security, Defense and Military Strategies and the Joint, Navy, and USMC Warfighting concepts.

The Marine Corps will not sit on the sideline. They will be on the forward edge- the first island chain- and would have a pivotal role in a war with China…

…unless they fail to transform. The Marine Corps at its greatest size in WWII was not designed for or capable of sustained maneuver warfare on land- it was and is essentially a light infantry force with very sparse armor and mobility dependent on the Joint Force for sustainment and firepower. Even in WWII the Army conducted more amphibious assaults than the Marine Corps- in the Pacific theater alone…

…nor is it today. There are more tank battalions in a single Army ABCT than the Marine Corps had total- and the Army currently has 11 ABCTs on active duty. These are all sustainable for long term with organic assets.


You can’t have two Marine Corps. If you aren’t careful, you won’t have one at all- to paraphrase Victor Krulak, America doesn’t need a Marine Corps, it wants a Marine Corps. We all know what choice you make the budget is tight and needs and wants compete.

The Marine Corps has to find a unique and relevant role to survive. Being a smaller, less capable yet more expensive Army Corps isn’t that role.


America doesn’t need a Marine Corps, specifically, but she does need some form of amphibious/naval infantry. It would be horribly inefficient to again disband the Marines in hopes of some ham-fisted, overly-bureaucratic attempt by the army to rebuild that capability (or stupidly assuming that USSOCOM could just cover down).

It’s right that the USMC refocus on that raison d’être rather than continuing down the path of a second army. Whether the Commandant is going about it the right way is a legitimate question. Personally, I’m heartened that he’s attempting it… I expect missteps along the way, and I hope he’s allowed the freedom to adjust fire as the plan evolves.

USMC Steve

Again, it is nifty and trendy. But to get rid of 18000 Marines, all your armor, and all your artillery is mentally challenged. To sideline it is reasonable, because when you later find you were wrong and need it, you will have it. He shitcanned massive amounts of assets. Those 18000 people he ditched would have formed another infantry division. Now, what would he need them for in his new narrowly tailored master plan?


This isn’t CMCs ‘Master Plan’. It is his concept to meet Marine missions in the Joint and Navy war fighting concepts.

We’ve become accustomed to fighting in an established theater, with huge log bases and mountains of supply, and being able to move around the battlespace with impunity. Those days are over. The Chinese will contest us at sea, on the ground, in the air, space, and cyber domains. They will come after us here.

Read 2034


No one is talking about disbanding the Marine Corps- the discussion is about keeping them relevant.

The Army isn’t trying to replace the Marine Corps- it has it’s own role (fighting and winning wars on land), which includes amphibious operations-the Army has landing craft too, and conducted more amphibious operations in the Pacific theater than the Marines in WWII.

SOCOM also has a role, and it has nothing to do with sustained land combat with a conventional enemy force in the littoral.



Skivvy Stacker

The plans of men do not survive the first moment of combat.
If the Global War On Terrorism has taught us nothing else, it should be that our enemies are not going to fight the kind of war we want them to fight.
All I can see coming from this is high casualties because there was no back up, and no cavalry to come to the rescue.


Sure. That said, the Marine Corps became what it is today by presciently predicting what WWII in the Pacific would look like and developing the force and doctrine (DOTMLPF-P) that would fight that war.

Also, Cavalry is an Army thing.


Like all old saws, “no plan survives first contact” is not always the sharpest. History is replete with examples of plans that effectively dealt with the fog & friction that so often ruin sub-par commanders.

All plans are based on known and assumed details. The best plans take into account that assumptions may be wrong and that unknowns can throw everything into disarray – and they compensate with contingencies and any of the myriad tools in the woodshed of military science. The best plans will ensure that our enemies WILL fight the kind of war we want them to fight.

The lesson from GWOT isn’t that it’s pointless to try to predict/control the enemy’s moves, it’s that we need to be better at it.

Yes, Mike Tyson was probably correct when he said, “everyone’s got a plan ‘til he gets punched in the mouth.” Some plans, however – especially good plans – account for the fact that the enemy gets a vote and that you might lose a few teeth along the way.


Marines (actual working Marines, not HQMC pogues) are NOT happy about Berger’s plans.
The Krulak Center’s 2019 Essay Contest let them express their concerns. It was not pretty