“We really focused on COIN
[counterinsurgency] while in Iraq
and Afghanistan. We were focused
on developing our thinking to deal
with that, and we got away from
looking forward and how can we
better conduct amphibious operations,” he said.
That led to the creation of two
very important strategy documents.
The first is “Expeditionary Force 21,”
a Marine Corps-focused document
that laid out what the service would
look like in the future, and “A
Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower,” an update to the
Navy-Marine Corps-Coast Guard
document that focuses on, among
other things, how the Navy and the
Corps would approach the amphibious environment together, such as
with sea basing and the different platforms that would serve as cornerstones for accomplishing objectives.
But there is one aspect to the
return to amphibious roots that remains a difficult topic
for the Marine Corps: a lack of amphibious warships.
For years, the Marine Corps has been beating the drum
for more amphibious ships, arguing that the need is for
38 ships at a minimum. The Navy, however, has asked
the Corps to make do with just 33 — and it will not
have that many for years because of budget constraints.
“The Navy is aware of our desire and concern about
the number of warships,” Balzer said.
But there is some good news on the equipment
front, not the least of which is the fact that the F-35B
short-takeoff, vertical-landing variant of the joint
strike fighter has just been declared operational, giving
the Marines an asset that can be flown off of amphibs
and lessening their dependence on the Navy’s aircraft
carriers. Then there is the solidification of the V- 22
Osprey’s presence, which “enables a much bigger reach
and speed operating from warships,” Balzer said.
And some exciting assets are on the horizon, including the Amphibious Combat Vehicle, which is in development and finally will get the Marines a replacement
for the Vietnam War-era Assault Amphibious Vehicles.
Bryan Clark, a senior fellow at the Center for
Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, said the Marines
may employ some creative techniques for dealing with
that amphibious ship shortfall. For one thing, they
have a wider variety of ships at their disposal, includ-
ing the joint high-speed vessel (JHSV), the littoral
combat ship (LCS), the afloat forward staging base and
the mobile landing platform. And they may even seek
to deploy on foreign ships to further increase their
presence — not ideal for a highly independent force
like the Marines, but it’s at least a way to deal with the
lack of amphibs.
Their participation in exercises has helped to get
Marines back on ships and focused on amphibious
ops, he said, noting that Dawn Blitz was added to their
repertoire just a few years ago, in 2010. They also have
increased their participation in international exercises,
such as Talisman Saber in Australia, “which is expand-
ing each year and included 30,000 Sailors and Marines
Now that operations in Iraq and Afghanistan are over,
the Marines have been able to turn their focus to crisis
response operations around the world, and units are
currently stationed in the Mediterranean and the Pacific,
as well as those that are with Amphibious Ready Groups
(ARGs) out at sea.
“A much larger portion of deployed Marine forces are
at sea than during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan,”
Some future developments include the new force in
Darwin, Australia, expanding to the size of a full MEU,
or about 2,500 Marines, in just a few years. This will provide the Navy with a force that can quickly respond to
situations in Southeast Asia with amphibs, the LCS and
JHSVs. And by 2020, Clark added, there will be a second
ARG that will operate in the Pacific continuously. ;
Assault Amphibious Vehicles with 1st Platoon, Charlie Company, 2nd Assault
Amphibian Battalion, 2nd Marine Division, drive ashore at Onslow Beach, N.C.,
during beach operations training aboard Camp Lejeune Nov. 4 as part of
Exercise Bold Alligator 14, a scenario-driven exercise designed to improve
naval amphibious core competence.