Skip to comments.The Marine Corps In 2025
Posted on 04/16/2002 10:35:25 AM PDT by Stand Watch Listen
Evolving Doctrine And New Weapons Platforms Will Position Corps To Meet Diverse, Future Threats
Evolving Doctrine And New Weapons Platforms Will Position Corps To Meet Diverse, Future Threats
By Marty Kauchak
Marine Corps Col. John Dupont, the Marine Expeditionary Unit¹s commander, stood with his amphibious squadron counterpart on the flag bridge of the USS Iwo Jima (LHD-7), as the amphibious task force's units moved into position for a pre-dawn assault on a contested port city. On this April morning in 2025, the two commanders monitored six waves of Landing Craft Air Cushion and Advanced Amphibious Assault Vehicles as they proceeded toward a beach adjacent to the city's port facilities. The early morning quiet was interrupted by the start up on the flight deck of a Short-Takeoff/Vertical Landing (STOVL)-configured Joint Strike Fighter. A flag-bridge radio speaker carried the report of a Navy littoral combat ship proceeding at flank speed to assist a Military Sealift Command high speed vessel--ferrying personnel and equipment between staging points in the joint operations area--that was under attack by an enemy corvette.
This futuristic picture could become reality as a result of innovative and bold activities occurring in the Pentagon's E-ring, the Fleet, and the Naval Services' laboratories. While the Corps' leadership modestly states that transformation is no stranger to their Service, the Marine Corps is, in fact, poised to launch a revolution in warfare that is unmatched since its doctrine evolved to support the amphibious campaigns of World War II. The Marine Corps of 2025 will go into harm's way with several revolutionary new weapons systems that will be fielded alongside some of today's legacy systems. These weapons will support a rapidly evolving set of concepts and doctrine that will enable this Expeditionary Force to fight as a member of the Navy-Marine Corps amphibious team, or in an expanded joint environment.
The Corps will be organized in 2025 much like it is today. The Marine Air-Ground Task Force (MAGTF), the Service's basic organizational structure, is a scalable, deployable, combined-arms team employed across the spectrum of conflict. The Force may vary in size from the Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) with 1,500 to 3,000 members, up to the Marine Expeditionary Force, containing between 20,000 to 90,000 members. Regardless of size, the MAGTFs share four organizational elements: the command element, the ground combat element, the aviation combat element, and the combat service support element. Brig. Gen. (Select) Kenneth Glueck, the director of Marine Corps Combat Development Command's (MCCDC's) Warfighting Development Integration Directorate, told AFJI that while future MAGTFs may be "slightly reorganized" to make them more relevant to accommodate new weapons systems' capabilities and other developments, the Force's basic organization will remain in place into the 2025 era. The MAGTF will help the future Corps achieve objective capabilities--as opposed to becoming an objective force, he added.
2025 SURFACE SYSTEMS
So what are some of the weapons systems and platforms that will support a MAGTF in 2025?
In that era, the Corps will use a mixture of enhanced legacy force and embryonic weapon platforms. One legacy platform will be the venerable Landing Craft Air Cushion (LCAC) vehicle, which will be in service through 2033. To help the craft meet the challenges of the 21st century battlefield, Textron Marine and Land Systems [New Orleans, LA] has launched a service life extension program (SLEP). Paul Addington, Textron's executive director for Engineering, told AFJI that the SLEP is designed to be a total block upgrade of the whole craft that will increase an LCAC's service life from the programmed 20 years to 30 years or more.
The SLEP will provide the craft with major materiel improvements, including an improved fuel system that will extend an LCAC's operational range to approximately 300 nautical miles. Upgraded LCACs will receive significantly enhanced capabilities in communications, navigation, and other missions by replacing electronics technology from the 1970s and 80's with the latest navigation equipment--furnished by Sperry Marine--and a new communications system. This will better integrate each craft into the joint warfighting environment. A partial list of other SLEP upgrades includes modifications to a craft's buoyancy box, the addition of a new skirt system, and new alarm sub-systems for onboard engineering equipment.
The Corps will closely watch the programmatic development of a concept recently approved by the Office of Naval Research for a "heavy lift" LCAC, whose cargo capacity would increase from the current 75 tons to 150 tons.
General Dynamics Land Systems is poised to bring the embryonic Advanced Amphibious Assault Vehicle (AAAV) to initial operational capability during Fiscal Year 2007. The Corps' program of record calls for 1,013 of the vehicles to be manufactured through 2017. The AAAV will be part of the Service's over-the-horizon tactical assault force as it carries 17 Marines into combat at 20 knots through the water, compared to eight knots for the legacy assault amphibian vehicle.
An added dimension to the surface assault picture of 2025 is being honed as the Marine Corps puts Austal Ships' West Pac Express, a high-speed theater support vessel, through its paces with the Third Marine Expeditionary Force. The Military Sealift Command has leased the Australian-manufactured vessel for three years. A West Pac Express-like vessel is envisioned to fill the Service's intra-theater lift requirement. A company information sheet touts the vessel's capability to transport more than 900 Marines and their accompanying cargo at 35 knots. These high-speed vessels may support the Naval Services' embryonic sea-basing concept by providing high-speed, high-volume lift capability between logistical nodes.
The Corps' future lineup of fixed-wing aircraft will include the KC-130J, the X-35B Joint Strike Fighter STOVL variant (which will replace the Corps' F/A-18s and AV-8Bs Harriers) and a yet-to-be determined follow-on aircraft for the Vietnam-era EA-6B jamming aircraft. The Navy's program analysis for replacing Navy and Marine Corps EA-6Bs has produced a short list of options that includes the F-18G "Growler," a new EA-XX, and an electronic warfare-configured Joint Strike Fighter variant, which could be supplemented by a high-altitude, unmanned aerial vehicle with electronic warfare capabilities.
Harry Blot, Lockheed Martin's Joint Strike Fighter vice president and deputy program manager, discussed the capabilities that the X-35B will offer the Service's program managers and warfighters of 2025. One of Lockheed Martin's major achievements in developing the design "is that it is not a stand-alone STOVL airplane. It's the same airplane that the Air Force and Navy are flying, as far as 90 percent of the parts are concerned," Blot told AFJI. He predicted that this accomplishment will reduce the Corps' ownership costs and allow the Navy and Air Force to achieve common logistical support and training savings with their JSF variants. The X-35B variant is expected to join the Fleet in 2010.
The X-35B is touted as a low-observable airplane. "When we get into the battlefield of the future, this airplane has the same extremely low signature [as the two other JSF variants]," Blot noted. With an internal fuel capacity of over 13,000 pounds and one engine, the X-35B "will have a range equivalent to the best of today's airplanes out there, but will still have the ability to take off and land where you want." The STOVL JSF variant "can carry the full inventory" of weapons, Blot said. He cited its "much greater ability [when compared to the current generation of aircraft] to deliver the weapons with the degree of survivability and lethality that you need, because it's a stealthy airplane and you can get much closer to the target without getting fired at. . .it has the most sophisticated sensors that we know how to put on an airplane in today's environment."
The Service is closely monitoring the health of the MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft program. Col. Tom Conant, the Marine Corps staff's director of Aviation, Plans, Programs, and Budget, told AFJI that the Osprey will begin a two-year test regimen this month to evaluate the materiel corrections and upgrades that were recommended by the NASA Ames Research Center review and the Pentagon Blue-Ribbon Panel after a string of accidents and mishaps involving the aircraft. The Osprey's testing program is "event-driven," Col. Conant reiterated, and he declined to say when the first MV-22 might enter the fleet. The Corps plans to buy approximately 360 Ospreys.
Three legacy rotary-wing aircraft will be in service well into the next decade. The large CH-53E Super Stallion is standing in line for a well-earned SLEP "to modernize the aircraft into the glass-cockpit regime" and to provide other improvements, including new engines and rotor blades. Bell Helicopter Textron is rebuilding 180 AH-1W SuperCobra and 100 UH-1N Huey airframes as AH-1Z and UH-1Y models. "The Z is a dramatic improvement over the W version. It allows you to fly three times farther and to carry twice the payload. But what is really important is that it gives you a better weapon system for employment of precision-guided weapons, to the point that we are looking at having some kind of precision guidance even on our rockets."
The UH-1N is the "most critical aviation piece of the MAGTF that we need to replace right now," Conant said. "The Y is very quiet, it's very survivable, and it has a great FLIR [forward-looking infrared] system, which will be another sensor to see what is going on in the battlespace and pass back information."
Despite the addition of the AH-1Z and UH-1Y to the Fleet, Conant forecasted: "We will [ultimately] need to replace the Z and Y, knowing that we will need the capability to keep up with the pace of battle that we envision in the 2025 future fight,' where we will have a lot of maneuver space, where we will be going where the enemy isn't, and where we will be creating our own advantage to his disadvantage."
BYPASSING THE STEEL MOUNTAIN
The Service's doctrine and operational concepts are evolving to support the Bush Administration's effort to transform the military and to match the pace and variety of weapons platforms and systems being eyed for 2025. Through much of US Naval history, amphibious operations have followed a linear chain of events: conducting an amphibious landing; building a "steel mountain" comprised of petroleum products, ammunition, and other materiel required to support the landing and follow-on forces; and continuing to the objective. These operations are about to take on a new dimension. Sea bases have been used to project power ashore since the earliest days of the Navy-Marine Corps team. Military experts describe future sea bases as fully networked and positioned forward. Indeed, fully networked, advanced sea bases are at the center of naval transformation, and will enable the Navy-Marine Corps team to bypass the steel mountain and go straight to the mission's objective, without an operational pause.
What would an advanced sea-basing concept look like? One of several thoughts is that Navy carrier battle groups, amphibious force ships, vessels from the logistics force, and future maritime prepositioning force ships would be at sea in a joint operations area, out of range of coastal anti-shipping missiles, deep-water mines, and other threats lurking in the littoral regions. Since these ships could be dispersed over hundreds of miles, networking is the nexus that will link the joint forces.
Future sea bases will have three new capabilities, explained Col. Arthur Corbett, the director of MCCDC's Warfighting Requirements Division. "We will need sea bases to provide at-sea arrival and assembly, selective off-loading, and reconstitution capabilities. These are the things that distinguish what we call advanced, networked sea-basing from what we have traditionally done with sea-based forces." Gen. Glueck added: "Sea bases will allow us to go to the objective and set the conditions that will allow Army forces [to follow us in] and bring in their high-speed ships, to do the things they need to in a benign environment. We'll set the conditions, and we will be the enabler for that joint forces commander to do that."
The migration to a warfighting doctrine that adds advanced sea bases to its menu of stepping-off points into the littoral regions is a monumental strategy shift. The doctrine reduces the reliance on ports and airports and other infrastructure to support amphibious operations. These sites have been deemed so vulnerable to ballistic missiles and other threats that part of the justification for the embryonic sea-based national missile defense strategy is linked to protecting US and allied forces ashore. Increased reliance on sovereign, sea-based capabilities should also be a relief to the DoD-State Department teams that in the last decade have needed to cobble together coalitions of nations to provide land-basing and other rights and capabilities for US expeditionary, follow-on, and support forces.
The Corps does not intend to go it alone in future operations. MCCDC's planning for missions in 2025 and beyond is being accomplished through the prism of joint warfighting at the Center's Joint Concept Development and Experimentation Office, which is fully represented in DoD and other government agency planning processes.
Lt. Col. Doug King, the director of the Experimentation Office, told AFJI, "We have an office at Joint Forces Command's J-9 directorate for concepts and experimentation, as well as a Pentagon office that is part of the [Joint Staff's] JWCA [Joint Warfighting Capability Accessment] process." MCCDC's outward perspective has enabled the Marine Corps to "take our concepts and work them in at the very front end of experiments and to make our concepts joint concepts. Before, we were more reactive. The Experimentation Office's primary focus is the joint world'--how do we fit in and how do we make the best impact for that joint force commander." Gen. Glueck added: "We will be in support of that joint force commander. Whatever the joint campaign, we can lead it, we can enable it, or we can participate in it. We are relevant across the board."
The Marine Corps is also planning future capabilities beyond the traditional joint perspective, so it can operate with other government agencies and US friends and allies.
Innovation and creativity are alive and well at the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory at Quantico, VA. The Lab is the hub of innovation and creativity in the Service. It evaluates new tactics, technologies, and has other missions to help the future warfighter achieve decisive victory. And it is the near- and long-term future that the Laboratory has as its horizon.
Brig. Gen. William Catto, its commander, discussed one research topic at the Lab: unmanned ground vehicles. The focus is on the individual Marine. "Everybody wants to have unmanned ground vehicles. What do they want? Something big enough to climb stairs--they are always 30 to 40 pounds, they are ungainly, and they are too hard to move around. They are too big for an infantryman to move around. So when he goes out [on a mission], what does he want? He wants ammunition and enough food and other supplies."
As a result of the Lab's individual Marine focus, the staff helped develop an unmanned ground vehicle that is light enough so the infantryman can use it and yet has sufficient utility. The end product was dubbed the Dragon Runner, which will provide the urban warfighter with capabilities that include extending the limit of observation, for an around-the-corner perspective. The system weighs 12 pounds and contains an infrared sensor and a low-light, wide-angle video camera. Its handle allows the operator to throw the vehicle up stairs, over walls, and through windows.
TEAM EFFORT NEEDED
The Marine Corps is positioning itself to continue to be the expeditionary force of choice for the warfighting commanders-in-chief. Its strategy and weapons platforms will be tailored to support operations throughout the spectrum of conflict as part of a joint force, or as part of a more traditional Navy-Marine Corps amphibious task force.
The Marine Corps' success in achieving its advanced sea-basing strategy and other goals will rely heavily on the Navy's progress in bolstering a broad range of programs. While the Navy will bring added punch to the littoral battlefield with the embryonic SSGN [converted Trident sub guided-missile launching platform], the Corps is also eyeing the outcome of how much firepower from the barrels of guns and missile tubes will be delivered by the nascent DD(X) destroyer and other members of the Navy's "future family of ships." The Navy's proposed FY03 budget is weighted to support investments in network infrastructures, upgrades in mine warfare, and other previous shortfalls in the Service's ability to conduct operations in the littoral regions.
It will be up to the two Sea Services' leaders to ensure that the courses charted for transforming each of their services intersect as a result of coordinated investment strategies and doctrine. Funding for transformation in future DoD budgets will compete with legacy force modernization, increasing personnel costs, and other requirements. There will not be the resources to get transformation right the second time around.
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