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Part ofU.S. Military pressures in FY 2021.

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The naval Corps starts a major restructuring to develop capabilities for good power problem after two decades of conducting counterinsurgency ashore. The spending plan cuts units and also personnel to pay for these brand-new capabilities. However, numerous commentators problem that the restructuring will certainly make the naval Corps too narrowly focused.

Key Takeaways

General Berger’s new guidance intends to reclaim the maritime Corps to its naval roots after two decades of work ashore, invest in capabilities concentrated on good power dispute in the Pacific, and divest unneeded forces.To pay because that this, the maritime Corps’ active-duty end strength starts a decline to around 172,000, the level before the battles in Iraq and Afghanistan.Despite a proceeding high operational tempo, the maritime Corps is pursuing modernization over expanding force structure.Ground pressures would obtain long-range precision fires however give up 3 infantry battalions, tanks, and some counterinsurgency capabilities. Many artillery would transform from cannon to missile unitsUAVs would increase in number, however the naval Corps is far behind the Air force in this regard and the maritime Corps’ UAV advancement program is in disarray.The amphibious fleet will certainly include big numbers of irradiate amphibious warships (LAWs). These will certainly provide more distributed capability that have the right to implement the maritime Corps’ intention to it is in a “stand in” pressure that have the right to operate inside an adversary’s protective bubble. The trade-off is that, since of the LAWs small size, they will certainly not be able to support the customary level of global forward deployments, which may decline as a result.The restructuring has been criticized for concentrating too much on a maritime project in the western Pacific, skip other an international conflicts, and also relying top top unproven to work concepts.

The FY 2021 spending plan is one interim action as the naval Corps seeks to implement a significant restructuring. This restructuring would shed capabilities designed because that counterinsurgency and sustained operations ashore and also cut a slice across the whole Marine Corps to pay for brand-new capabilities. Because the restructuring plan came out after the FY 2021 budget, full implementation is supposed in the FY 2022 budget and also its connected five-year plan.

End toughness in FY 2021


In FY 2021, the naval Corps to reduce active-duty finish strength by 2,100. This is the an initial increment the a bigger decrease come pay because that the commandant’s restructuring.

Marine Corps Reserve finish strength remains level at 38,500, whereby it has been for numerous years. ~ above the one hand, the retention and also recruitment challenges of widening are too great. (The marine reserves got into part trouble in the past when they do the efforts to increase to end 40,000.) ~ above the other hand, the requirements of preserving a complete division-wing structure protect against it from acquiring much smaller. General Berger’s guidance hints at some transforms in the future: “We will check out the efficacy of completely integrating our reserve units within the energetic Component, as well as other business options.” However, the is tho pending.1

Marine Corps civilians boost slightly, as with Department that Defense (DOD) civilians overall, reflecting the emphasis on rebuilding readiness and the substitution that civilians for military personnel in support activities. Marine Corps civilian toughness levels have actually been fairly level for numerous years. One notable suggest is the the number does no go down, at least yet, together the active-duty force gets smaller.


Not so lengthy ago, the maritime Corps had actually talked around expanding the active-duty force to 194,000. That level would have permitted the marine Corps to build brand-new capabilities there is no sacrificing the old. However, flat budgets forced some trade-offs.

The forecast in the FY 2021 budget shows a tiny decrease compared to the FY 2020 projection. However, critical year, general Berger said: “If listed the chance to secure added modernization dollars in exchange for pressure structure, i am all set to carry out so.”2 His restructuring plan, which came out ~ the spending plan was published, described cutting active-duty end strength through “about 12,000” to pay for the brand-new capabilities envisioned. That would certainly take the active-duty naval Corps under to 172,000, a reduction that will likely be integrated into the FY 2022 budget.

Even at the level, the marine Corps would certainly be coming out of the battles at about the very same level (172,000) that it walk in (172,600).

The McKenzie group of 2013 (named ~ its leader, then-Lieutenant general Kenneth F. McKenzie, now general McKenzie, command of CENTCOM) argued that front presence and crisis response were the marine Corps’ primary force drivers because of the strain that deployments put on the force. This might have additionally been a have fun of the time, at the very least in component driven by 10 years of high wartime operational tempo (OPTEMPO).3

In any type of case, that dispute has disappeared. Basic Berger go not cite high OPTEMPO or personnel anxiety in his annual posture statement come Congress.4 that is a adjust from explanation pre-2016, as soon as the commandants regularly cited the anxiety of lot of deployments.

A brand-new Force Structure

When basic Berger ended up being commandant, that issued planning guidance with four major themes: to reestablish the marine Corps’ naval roots after years of work ashore in Iraq and also Afghanistan; to construct structure and also weapons for an excellent power conflict, particularly in the Pacific; to remove legacy capabilities that did not fit with a brand-new concept; and also to keep a high level of individual warfighting prowess.5 this themes were constant with the National Defense Strategy (NDS) and also previously published Marine concepts such together Expeditionary breakthrough Base Operations and also Littoral to work in a disputed Environment. The Marine concepts envision a transition to spread operations and the maritime Corps contributing to sea control in a naval campaign through shore-based aircraft and also fires, not just by projecting power ashore.

In in march 2020, the marine Corps announced the specifics of the restructuring in Marine Corps 2030.6 The sections listed below contain details.

Unlike the Navy’s propose restructuring, general Berger stated, “I look for no additional resources for this effort.”7 Thus, the restructure cuts countless force aspects to create savings to acquire new capabilities. Implementation will be a 10-year effort, though part changes, such as the retirement the tanks, have actually taken place immediately. The file and general Berger’s statements because its issuance emphasize the this is one ongoing process with ongoing experimentation and also wargaming. In particular, the logistics structure, reserves, and also elements that aviation are unresolved.

The restructuring maintains the three active-duty maritime Expeditionary forces (MEFs): I and also II MEFs located in the continental United claims (California and North Carolina, respectively) and III MEF ~ above Hawaii, Okinawa, and also mainland Japan. Today, the MEFs are nearly identical, despite they have actually minor variations, and also III MEF is a bit smaller since of its overseas basing. However, Marine Corps 2030 notes the the MEFs might not be identical in the future.

The restructuring likewise maintains the make reservation division-wing team, headquartered in brand-new Orleans however spread end the whole country. (The reserve division-wing team lacks the headquarters to do it an MEF. Due to the fact that the reserves space employed at lower unit levels, together a headquarters is not needed.) The marine Corps reserve, prefer the army National Guard but unlike the other reserve components, mirrors the company of the active-duty force. No capabilities reside disproportionately in the maritime Reserve (except the small civil to work community, i m sorry is virtually entirely in the reserves).

General Berger’s guidance and restructuring barely cite cyber and also special operations, i beg your pardon raises questions around how lock fit into his brand-new concept because that the naval Corps. Both had actually been uncomfortable fits, with cyber Marines being hard to recruit and special forces Marines siphoning height talent from the regular line units.8

If totally implemented, the restructuring would likewise have a major cultural impact ~ above the marine Corps. Hitherto, the infantry has been the centerpiece that the maritime Corps and the principal instrument through which it wins battles. The mission has actually been clear: “locate, nearby with, and also destroy the enemy.”9 Under this restructuring, the naval Corps would win battles using long-range fires indigenous artillery and aviation. The infantry function would be mostly defensive, to safeguard these long-range fire assets.10

Ground Forces

Table 2 lays the end the significant changes the the restructuring would make to marine Corps floor forces. The naval Corps emphasizes that trial and error is ongoing, so additional changes room likely. In particular, the marine Corps is still formulating plans because that logistics and also the reserves. (For a thorough assessment the Marine Corps 2030, see mark Cancian, “The maritime Corps’ Radical transition Towards China.”11)


Infantry: The reduced of 3 infantry battalions shows up to be a bill payer. The press release states that the remaining battalions will be more “mobile” and also reportedly “commando-like.”12 That suggests deleting several of the hefty weapons such together mortars and also anti-tank missiles. On the various other hand, in Marine Corps 2030, which came out later, the commandant says, “I am no confident that we have actually adequately assessed every one of the implications of the future operating setting on the proposed structure of our future infantry battalion.” he directs more experimentation, therefore the company of the infantry battalion is not a closeup of the door issue.

Cutting infantry battalions allows proportional cuts in supporting capabilities—in aviation, logistics, and also fire support―thus developing enough savings to salary for new capabilities.

The infantry has actually long been the love of the naval Corps, so, if implemented, this would be a major institutional as well as force framework change. The three active-duty departments would have actually 27 infantry battalions at complete strength. The infantry battalions have been gaining smaller over time, totaling about 1,050 Marines up until the mid-1980s. This change will take them under to about 725. Thus, the total number of Marines in infantry battalions goes from 28,350 in the early 1980s to 15,200 in the future, a cut of 47 percent because that a naval Corps of around the very same size.

Fire support: The artillery neighborhood will be approximately the very same size ~ the restructuring, yet it will be dramatically different. Several of the brand-new batteries will be HIMARS, which fire long-range guided and also unguided missiles at land targets. Some will certainly be a new system the fires tactical Tomahawk anti-ship missiles. Since of your guided munitions, missile and rocket batteries have the right to hit ground targets and also ships at lengthy range. However, they do not assistance the infantry with massed and area fires as cannon battery do. This change is a statement that the naval Corps does not intend to face adversary armies close-up ~ above the ground however will instead fight maritime projects at long distances.

Tanks: This has actually been the most visible change. Tanks have actually been part of the maritime Corps because World war II and also have fought in every conflict due to the fact that then. Just like changes to the artillery, it is a dramatic statement that the maritime Corps walk not plan to take part in ground disputes in the future together it go in, because that example, Desert Storm or the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Bridge companies: These service providers are valuable for soil combat maneuver however not top top islands.

Law enforcement battalions: These systems are useful for counterinsurgency yet would have little role in a Pacific marine campaign. The reality that the maritime Corps retains no ability here mirrors the focus on the western Pacific scenario and a determination no to get connected in future counterinsurgency campaigns.

Aviation Forces and also Challenges

Table 3 reflects the existing aviation structure and proposed changes under Force style 2030.


Tiltrotor: The restructuring cuts 3 squadrons due to the fact that they largely support infantry, i m sorry is acquiring smaller. The palliation may produce some stress and anxiety on the staying squadrons since MV-22s have actually been used heavily. The marine Corps has actually purchased all 360 MV-22 aircraft, so that is unclear wherein the cut aircraft will certainly go, probably retained because that the training base (which has used older models) and also future attrition.

Rotary wing—light attack: The naval Corps’ light-attack helicopters (AH-1Zs) are many useful against enemy armor and also infantry. Back the helicopters have actually enough range to take part in sea control, they absence a long-range stand-off weapon and need to acquire close to their target. Because the naval Corps newly completed the to buy of this aircraft, they will certainly likely go into storage for later use. The reduced size and function for attack helicopters raises questions around whether the marine Corps will get involved in the Army’s Future attack Reconnaissance aircraft program.

Rotary wing—heavy: The declared reason for the reduced is that through less heavy equipment and also less infantry, there is much less need because that heavy-lift helicopters. However, the is most likely that general Berger additionally considered the high expense to maintain these large and high-quality helicopters. The cut of 3 squadrons implies a one-third cut to the instead of CH-53K program, which is just entering production.

Fixed-wing fighter attack: The reduction in plane per squadron implies a reduced of about 45 F-35s once training and also maintenance overhead space included. As a key reason for the reduction, the restructuring report points to a pilot shortage and the marine Corps’ inability to solve the shortage. However, the commandant’s guidance additionally signaled a willingness to profession off expensive and manned fixed-wing aircraft for UAVs. Nevertheless, general Berger indicates that the alters are no settled: “I to be not encouraged that we have actually a clear knowledge yet that F-35 capacity requirements for the future force.” that reinforced the point in a later media roundtable.13 cutting F-35s will certainly be controversial due to the fact that of the program’s solid support in Congress, which has actually annually included aircraft to the budget.

C-130 cargo aircraft: This rise likely establish the need to support geographically widespread teams in spread operations. Because C-130 aircraft deserve to land on turbulent airfields, they have the right to supply forces in austere, forward locations. The boost would as such be for the cargo mission and also not for the refueling mission since the variety of Marine aircraft as whole would decline.

UAVs: The naval Corps has actually fallen far behind air Force and Army in fielding armed UAVs as a an outcome of its emphasis on manned plane such together the F-35. This adjust is lengthy overdue but apparently delayed additional by wait for a developmental system. Watch the discussion below.


Marine plane inventories have actually increased for the last few years. The rotary-wing fleet has mostly been recapitalized v the MV-22 and also UH/AH-1 procurements, so that is contemporary and fairly young. The CH-53K regimen will finish that recapitalization. The fixed-wing fleet is in the procedure of recapitalization v the F-35. So, in spite of the high price of modern aircraft, maritime aviation is in pretty great shape, unequal the waiting Force.

The result of Marine Corps 2030 on aircraft inventories is unclear. The will cut rotary-wing, tiltrotor, and also fixed-wing fighter attack but rise UAVs and C-130s. Due to the fact that the pressures being supported gain smaller, the aviation inventory will certainly likely likewise get smaller.

Lag in Fielding UAVs

The marine Corps, having led the way on UAVs in the 1980s, currently lags far behind the other services. Basic Berger vows to readjust this, saying that “starting through POM-22 develop a much more comprehensive family of unmanned systems.”

The maritime Corps considered acquiring MQ-9 Reapers together an interim capability. That bought 2 MQ-9 Reapers in FY 2020 budget and was going to request one more three in FY 2021 yet did not. Instead, the maritime Corps is waiting for the USMC-developed huge UAV (called MUX) because of that shipboard capabilities. However, the regimen is gift restructured, having fell down from having too countless requirements piled on it. The marine Corps wishes to have actually a family of equipment with miscellaneous fielded in the FY 2023 timeframe however the regime is unsettled.14

This is a cautionary tale around letting the requirements process opt because that the perfect (MUX) over the an excellent (MQ-9).


The fate that the maritime Corps’ RQ-21 Blackjack is unclear. Fielding has been perfect to four operational squadrons, having experienced challenges in advancement and a reduction in planned amounts to 21.15 located at regiment/MEU level, it will be capable of operation both ashore and also from L-class ships. The performs reconnaissance and also surveillance functions but has no assault capability.

However, Force architecture 2030 seems to indicate uncertainty about the future that the MQ-21 fleet. “We require to change from our existing UAS platforms to capability that can operate indigenous ship, native shore, and also be may be to employ both collection and also lethal payloads.”16

The naval Corps likewise fields a wide variety of smaller UAVs (RQ-11, -12, -20) because that tactical reconnaissance and targeting and is experimenting aggressively v integrating together capabilities into tiny unit operations. No one of these systems have strike capabilities, however.

Like the Navy, the maritime Corps has focused on manned aircraft and is much behind the Army and also the Air pressure in fielding UAV capabilities. General Berger desires to go in a various direction, however the maritime Corps MUX regime is in disarray, and also he faces decades of aviation society built about manned aircraft.

Reaction to naval Corps 2030

The proposed restructuring has actually been met v both support and also doubts. Support originates from strategists who see China as the major threat and also would focus defense efforts tightly on that adversary. Castle endorse the brand-new technologies and operational concepts.17

Doubts to happen from 5 primary concerns.18

The focus on China downplays the possibility of disputes elsewhere. Since World battle II, the United claims has fought many regional conflicts yet never a an excellent power conflict. Thus, James Webb, previous senator, previous secretary that the Navy, and also Marine combat veteran, criticized a narrow emphasis on China: “If background teaches united state anything in combat, it is that the war you get is seldom the battle that you video game . . . can permanently alleviate the long-standing mission of an international readiness that for an ext than a century has been the essential reason for visibility as a separate service.”19The new warfighting principles are unproven. The restructure assumes the in a dispute with China, naval forces might move right into the Chinese protective bubble, survive, and also be supported. That briefs well however may not work in a contested environment where logistics need to relocate forward continuously and adversary firepower deserve to strike isolated naval outposts.20A force style for one kind of operation cannot necessarily conduct a different kind of procedure successfully. Thus, a naval Corps designed for an island campaign against China in the western Pacific will certainly be poorly designed for problems elsewhere, an especially regional problems that might occur in Korea or the center East. The U.S. Army of the 1960s that was designed come fight the Soviets on the plains of Germany was poorly positioned to fight insurgents in the jungles of south-east Asia.21Conflicts versus China and also Russia are most likely to run in the gray zone and are no high-intensity and kinetic. The new force style is no well suited for these demands since of reductions come counterinsurgency capabilities and also the reorientation of training come focus exclusively on a high-end fight.22All warfighting requires close-in firepower. The new structure focuses on long-range precision fire, yet the need for close-in fires, including tanks and also cannon artillery, has not unable to do away.23

Marine Air-Ground job Forces

The naval Corps has actually long prided itself on being able to task organize—that is, to placed existing systems together right into temporary teams for a particular purpose. The naval Corps has a standard collection of task force templates because that what the calls marine Air-Ground Task forces (MAGTFs). Every of the typical templates has four elements: a command element, a ground combat element, one aviation element, and also a logistics element. The largest, a marine Expeditionary force (46,000–90,000 Marines), is built approximately the Marine division and waiting wing. The middle-sized force, the marine Expeditionary Brigade (4,000–16,000 Marines), is built about an infantry regiment and air group. The smallest, the maritime Expeditionary Unit (MEU, around 2, 200 Marines), is built roughly an infantry battalion and also composite squadron.24

Two new task pressures have got attention: special-purpose MAGTFs (SP-MAGTFs) and also littoral combat regiments.

SP-MAGTFs: Although not new, SP-MAGTF units stand for a different capability for the marine Corps. Traditionally, the the smallest unit that the marine Corps deployed to be an MEU. To administer rapid solution and persistent existence in AFRICOM and CENTCOM and periodic theater engagement in SOUTHCOM, the maritime Corps developed these land-based special-purpose units, i m sorry are smaller sized than the MEU. That made them both more agile and easier to deploy, despite at the price of logistics and firepower.

The naval Corps appears to be reconsidering the mission and staffing the SP-MAGTFs, using deployed MEUs as soon as these room in the an ar and consistent units come meet details taskings. This eases the burden of creating new special-purpose units, even relatively small ones.

Marine Littoral Regiment (MLR): This new kind of unit would deliver anti-ground and anti-ship fires and also be maybe to survive inside an adversary’s (e.g., China’s) protective bubble. These brand-new units harken back to a world War II capability, marine defense battalions, which were designed to protect forward bases native naval and also air attack. The maritime Corps is trying out in Hawaii utilizing troops stationed there. MLRs tentatively consists a combat team, one air-defense battalion, and also a logistics unit, despite their precise structure and numbers space unclear at this point.25

Also unclear is whether MLRs will be irreversible or task-organized units. MLRs look a lot like a specialized MEU, though they space not defined that way.

Guam and also Pacific pressure Stationing

This is a classic good news (Australia) and also bad news (Okinawa/Guam/Japan) story.

Okinawa/Guam/Japan: The naval Corps is involved in a long-term initiative to lull the burden of its pressure footprint on Okinawa by moving forces to Guam, though likewise to mainland Japan, Hawaii, and the mainland joined States. The current plan is because that the number of Marines ~ above Okinawa to be halved, to 11,500, by 2027.26

The federal government of Japan is payment for much of the enormous facility building and construction on Guam, and also construction is going forward, though the timeline has slipped repeatedly.27 In September, the marine Corps christened a brand-new base, Camp Blaz, named for a Marine general of Guamanian descent. Apparently just 1,300 Marines will be permanently stationed top top Guam, with an additional 3,700 coming to the island together a rotational force. This is a change from the original expectation the all troops would certainly be permanently stationed ~ above Guam.28

The re-stationing effort also involves structure a brand-new air facility—called the Futenma replacement facility—in the less occupied northern area that Okinawa at Camp Schwab. This project proceeds to have difficulties, with the completion date pushed the end again, come 2030, and also the price skyrocketing. It shows up unlikely the this will ever be completed.29

The entire re-stationing effort is a cautionary tale to those seeking to move U.S. Forces approximately the globe. Although there are solid strategic factors for such attitude changes, executing them can be extremely daunting in the real world of regional politics, local tensions, and also the inescapable difficulties affiliated with large-scale building and construction projects.

Australia: By contrast to the slow and controversial moves on Okinawa and Guam, the marine Corps’ rotational deployments to Darwin, Australia continue into your tenth year there is no controversy, v six-month rotations top top the soil of about 1,200 personnel each year. Rotations restarted after ~ a pause during the pandemic. The rotations have continued through changes of administration in both Australia and the joined States, so the politics look settled. The disadvantage is the the forces are a great distance from any likely dispute (2,500 miles from the south China Sea).

Amphibious Ships, alternative Platforms, and global Deployments

Amphibious ships: The navy chapter explained how the amphibious fleet will shed some of its deluxe ships, possibly up to 6 helicopter carrier (LHAs/LHDs) repurposed to it is in “light carriers” that complement the “supercarriers (CVNs).” The Navy can curtail the variety of LPD’s trip I and II, back it has not exit specifics. Instead, the amphibious fleet will include 28 to 30 light amphibious warships (LAWs). Each regulation would lug 75 Marines. Due to the fact that such a delivery is much smaller 보다 anything in the existing or current inventory, it will readjust the way Marines organize and also train because that amphibious operations. That is likewise unprecedented in recent amphibious ship style in the it is plan for reasonably short voyages, transit from point A to allude B, and not for permanent deployments.

Global deployments: The full numbers will go up, but the number of ships capable of an international deployments will certainly go down. This new amphibious fleet will not sustain the current structure of seven MEUs (one in Japan, three on the West Coast, three on the east Coast) and also their long-standing forward deployments.

Mark Cancian(Colonel, USMCR, ret.) is a senior adviser with the international Security routine at the facility for Strategic and also International researches in Washington, D.C.

This report is made feasible by basic support come No direct sponsorship added to this report.

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This report is developed by the center for Strategic and also International researches (, a private, tax-exempt institution concentrating on global public plan issues. Its study is nonpartisan and nonproprietary. does no take details policy positions. Accordingly, all views, positions, and also conclusions to express in this publication should be construed to be exclusively those that the author(s).