Marine Corps is not ready for coming global power struggle, says Commandant

WASHINGTON — The Marine Corps is preparing to make large structural changes to the way it trains soldiers and supports other branches of the military to meet the coming challenges of a global power struggle in the Pacific as China emerges as a top military power, the Marine Corps commandant said Thursday.

“We need to reimagine how Marines will train and fight,” Gen. David Berger said. “Your current Marine Corps is not optimized for great power competition, to support naval campaigns, to support the naval fleet or to deter great power threats.”

Berger, who became the Marine Corps’ 38th commandant on July 11, told an audience at the conservative Heritage Foundation, that the adjustments to the force’s mission and training tactics will begin to be in place as early as 2021.

“There is a clear sense of urgency. If we do not make a change right now, then the balance is not going to work in our favor,” he said.

A major element of Berger’s plan is to re-establish the Marine Corps’ identity as a naval expeditionary force and to enhance its working relationship with naval fleets. In practice, this would include operations like equipping ships with weapon systems, and posting Marines to smaller sites where they would assist in re-arming and refueling Navy units.

In August, the amphibious assault ship Boxer, which belongs to the Marine Corps, sailed through the Strait of Hormuz with an armored vehicle strapped to the deck, a Marine Corps spokesperson said. The Corps has been experimenting in similar ways since last year to help ships fight off attacks.

To become more survivable and difficult to detect, Berger said, it’s necessary to redistribute Navy and Marine forces across larger areas of the world’s oceans to maintain power projection across more territory and to make it harder for adversaries, including China, to focus on only a few targets.

“This is a competition,” Berger said of global military posturing. “The Marine Corps’ role going forward is to elevate the level of fighting of the naval fleets. We are asking, what can the Corps do to make the fleets more powerful?

The Marine Corps training plans and systems in use today were developed in the 1990s, when there wasn’t an “existential threat or pressing need to change,” the commandant said.

In his July 17 Commandant’s Planning Guidance, a strategic plan released by new commandants at the start of their term. Berger prioritizes force design, warfighting and the education and training of Marines by planning where he wants the Corps to be in 2030, and working backwards.

“We will have to be flexible because the adversary is obviously making decisions, and the world changes in those 10 years. So we will have to adjust along the way,” he said.

Though Berger conceded that his plans are ambitious, he said that he intends to work within the current budget because military spending is unlikely to increase over the coming decade.

In the short term, however, the annual Marine Corps budget would rise by more than 5%, to $45.9 billion, in fiscal 2020 if Congress approves, the Marine Corps confirmed.