The Marine Corps plan to undergo the most significant changes in the past 20 years to focus on the rising Chinese threat while shifting its focus away from the Middle East.
The plan over the next 10 years is to prepare the Marines for an island-to-island battle in the Western Pacific, General David Berger, the Marine Corps commandant, told the Wall Street Journal. In order to accomplish this, the Marines plan to get rid of all of its tanks and cut back on its aircraft. Berger added that in order to get a higher quality Marine Corps, it must also contract in size, reducing the total number from 189,000 to possibly 170,000.
“China, in terms of military capability, is the pacing threat,” Berger said. “If we did nothing, we would be passed.”
Berger’s plan establishes naval expeditionary units, teams of 50-100, who disperse to small islands in the South and East China Seas using sleek landing craft, Berger said. The Marines would target Chinese warships with anti-ship missiles. They would move islands every 24-72 hours to avoid counter-attacks, he added.
The effort is a part of a broader effort by the Pentagon to focus on what officials refer to as a great-power conflict between China, Russia, and the United States. Included in this effort is a $105 billion request for the research and development of new technologies to help prepare the U.S. military for a potential battle with either China or Russia. The research and development funding request is the largest in 70 years and is a part of the 2021 $705 billion budget request proposal.
Some retired Marines question the new plan’s feasibility while others caution against turning its focus away from other parts of the world, which could result in the rise of conflicts in areas such as the Middle East.
“I think it is a mistake to organize yourself in a way to go after a specific region,” said Anthony Zinni, a retired four-star Marine general who led the Central Command. “Something could happen tomorrow with the Iranians. The answer is to be ready, expeditionary and balanced.”
Mark Cancian, a retired Marine colonel with the Washington-based think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies, warned not to underestimate the challenges of logistics.
“With this concept, the Marines need to figure out what in fact is viable and hedge for the possibility that they got it wrong,” Cancian said.
However, Berger acknowledged that some of the plans at the beginning might not pan out while they adjust over the next 10 to 20 years.
“Some of the capabilities we assume might pan out, will not pan out, and other technological things will come along that we have not even considered,” he said, adding that the Marines will use their new plan “as an aim point and monitor the threat all along as we go.”