So is Tom Donnelly right that cancellation of the EFV "calls into question the future of the Marine Corps, whether the Marine Corps can function as it has since World War II as a kick-down-the-door force"? Nah. (As a matter of fact: "Naw. Naw, man. Shit, naw, man! I believe you'd get your ass kicked sayin' somethin' like that, man.") Can the USMC keep doing kick-down-the-door missions without the EFV? Sure, just like they could today or yesterday or ten years ago. But amphibious assault is a wasting asset, and everybody from the Commandant to Bob Work to Andy Krepinevich to the SECDEF knows that (no matter what they're saying in press conferences). What that means is that this capability will be neither particularly useful nor tremendously relevant in the future: there will come a day where neither the Marines nor anyone else are kicking down a whole lot of doors from the sea, but that's going to be a result of operational realities and the threat environment, not cancellation of a luxury weapon system.
But as for the future of the Marine Corps... they're on the ropes now, right? Down goes amphibious assault! Down goes amphibious assault! Down goes amphibious assault! Not gonna recover from that one. What the hell good is a Marine Corps that can't perform a forcible entry on a fortified beachhead? We all know a Marine's only as good as his extremely sophisticated, wildly expensive tactical vehicle, right? Yeah, I thought so too, but then here comes Amos just in time to prove us wrong.
The Marines have always been really, really good at public and Congressional relations. Maybe it's the flashy uniforms (uh, yeah, uniforms!) and the excellent recruiting posters and ad campaigns. Whatever the secret, they've needed it: I've yet to meet an active-duty or prior-service Marine who fails to mention how the Corps has had to justify its existence to every new administration and Congress for as long as they can remember. And should we be all that surprised? If you're wielding the budget ax, first on the block is going to be that duplicative 200,000-man ground force, that redundant "second army," the really-not-all-that-apparently-useful naval infantry formation (hell, the Army did D-Day!). But they've worked their pitch to the circumstances, and they've always stuck around.
The 35th Commandant inherited a proud tradition -- not just of leadership, but of salesmanship. He and his speechwriters didn't disappoint:
The Marine Corps is
's Expeditionary Force in Readiness-a balanced air-ground-logistics team. We are forward-deployed and forward-engaged-shaping, training, deterring and responding to all manner of crises and contingencies. We create options and decision space for our Nation's leaders. Alert and ready, we respond to today's crisis, with today's force.TODAY. Teaming with other services, allies and interagency partners, we enable and participate in joint and combined operations of any magnitude. Responsive and scalable, we operate independent of local infrastructure. A middleweight force, we are light enough to get there quickly, but heavy enough to carry the day upon arrival. We operate throughout the spectrum of threats-irregular, hybrid, or conventional-or the shady areas where they overlap. Marines are ready to respond whenever the Nation calls.wherever the President may direct. America
Factoring all aspects of our role in the Nation's defense, the United States Marine Corps affords the following three strategic advantages:
- We provide a versatile 'middleweight' ability to respond across the range of military operations (ROMO).
- We provide an inherent agility that buys time for national leaders.
- We bring an enabling and partnering capability to joint and combined operations of any magnitude.
UPDATE: I was away from the computer on Friday, but I wanted to share Philip Ewing's commentary from Morning Defense, which I think totally misses the point.
BULLISH ON THE CORPS – In true gung-ho fashion, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Amos on Monday put an optimistic spin on the future of a service that could’ve just sulked after the cancelation of its beloved EFV and more delays for its new fighter jet. But the Marines are still America’s ready crisis-response force, Amos said, and America uses ‘em all the time for their specialty: Amphibious operations.The Commandant's pitch was smarter than that, though: everyone knows the Marines can "appear from out at sea, kill people and break stuff," but this EFV drama has underlined the need to justify their existence with a bigger, broader set of roles and missions. By emphasizing non-traditional missions like humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, security cooperation, and defense support for civil authorities, then also giving us a reminder about persistent presence, strategic mobility, rapid deployability, operational adaptability, and combat power, Amos was saying "hey, we're not just about killing people and breaking stuff these days." That's why the Marine Corps remains relevant -- not just because the world still has oceans and beaches.
Amphibious work isn’t obsolete, Amos said – the Navy and the Marines have responded to “crises and contingencies” at least 50 times just since Sept. 11. (Marine Corps leaders have cited a range of numbers for this factoid, depending on how you slice it.) So even though the EFV didn’t work out, the Marines’ basic purpose in life – to appear from out at sea, kill people and break stuff – remains intact and vital, he said.
Another related note from the weekend: in a moment of tragic irony, 27-year old Iraq vet Sgt. Wesley Rice died Friday when his AAV sank in the Del Mar boat basin off the coast of Camp Pendleton. The other five Marines aboard were able to escape the vehicle safely.