Testifying before the Senate Armed Service Committee yesterday, Lt. Gen. Robert Walsh painted an alarming picture of the most versatile fighting force in U.S. history: After more than 15 years of almost-constant combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Marine Corps is ill-prepared for future conflicts in the changing geopolitical order.
“We are at an inflection point,” Walsh, Marine Corps Combat Development Command commanding general and Combat Development and Integration deputy commandant, told lawmakers on June 6. “We risked modernization to ensure the combat readiness of deploying Marines. While our focus was elsewhere, our potential enemies modernized, reducing the technological advantages American forces once took for granted.”
To prepare for the modern battlefield and beyond, Lt. Gen Walsh told lawmakers that the Corps requires not recruitment — the branch is focusing on personal growth in intelligence, electronic warfare, cyber and information warfare — but equipment. So it’s a good thing that the Marine commandant, Gen. Robert Neller, sent Congress a $3.2 billion “unfunded priorities list” (read: a military-industrial wish list) for an arsenal of warplanes and other very new, very shiny, very lethal equipment. And just a few days later, Walsh hit up lawmakers with his own wish list of amphibious vehicles, small drones, and Humvee replacements.
If Neller and Walsh get their way, it’ll be an early Christmas for the Corps. So let’s take a look at everything the Marines have a boner over:
The future of the Marine Corps depends on its amphibious vehicle fleet
U.S. Marines from Amphibious Assault Vehicle (AAV) Platoon, Battalion Landing Team 3/2, 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), drive their AAVs from the USS Carter Hall (LSD 50) to shore during a simulated mechanized amphibious assault in the 5th Fleet Area of Operation, April 20, 2013.Photo via DoD
The top priority of a Corps-wide combat and tactical vehicle upgrade is “the modernization of the assault amphibian (AA) capability with a combination of complementary platforms,” Walsh told the SASC.
According to Walsh, the branch’s Amphibious Assault Vehicle Survivability Upgrade (AAV SU) and the Amphibious Combat Vehicle (ACV) programs would overhaul 6 of the Corp’s 10 AA companies and supporting units. The service is currently awaiting the delivery of 16 prototypes from BAE and SAIC for experimental testing before modernizing the remaining AA companies.
No more Humvees
A Humvee launches from a landing craft utility assigned to amphibious dock landing ship USS Whidbey Island (LSD 41). Whidbey Island is deployed as part of the Bataan Amphibious Ready Group, supporting maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility.Photo via DoD
The next priority in the coming amphibious makeover is to replace one-third of the Corp’s aging Humvee fleet — a 5,500 vehicle order fully funded through 2022, per Walsh’s testimony — with the brand-new Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV). According to Walsh, the Humvees’ days are numbered, as future funding requests “will address the remainder of the HMMWVs.”
This is probably for the best. Despite early successes in Panama and the Persian Gulf and civilian adoration, the Humvee was ill-equipped for the IEDs and urban combat of the twin wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, its lack of armor eliciting the now infamous response from then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in 2014: “You go to war with the Army you have.”
“At the beginning of 2005, the Army responded to complaints … with an armoring spree,” Adam Raymond reported for Task & Purpose. “But the attempt to make Humvees safer with add-on armor kits wound up taxing their suspensions and slowing them down … The bigger problem with reinforced armor though was that it did little to reduce the damage inflicted by an improvised explosive device.”
In contrast, JLTV "carries forward the MRAP legacy of survivability in the era of IED, but also attempts to restore the battlefield mobility of the Humvee," as Christian Beekman wrote for Task & Purpose. "With this comes more advanced computer-controlled engines and safety systems. The Oshkosh L-ATV is much more of a weapons systems than the simple tactical truck it is replacing."
Radar that can see more
To improve command and control for the Marine Air-Ground Task Force (MAGTF), Walsh raised the need for a shift to the trailer-mounted Ground/Air Task Oriented Radar (G/ATOR) to boost air defense and counter-battery systems and Common Aviation Command and Control System (CAC2S) to replace legacy Command and Control solutions. Walsh also expressed a need for better networked digital communications capabilities for most vehicles and aircraft, which the Corps hopes to address with commercial technology by 2025.
Drones. Lots of drones
Cpl. Evangellos Kanellakos, a field radio operator with the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit, launches an RQ-11B Raven small unmanned aerial system during Exercise Alligator Dagger.Photo via DoD
According to Walsh, the Corps wants outfit every infantry battalion with Small Unmanned Aerial Systems (SUAS) — dainty little drones — to augment existing intelligence and surveillance equipment and, in the long term, actively assist troops during a firefight.
This past February, the Corp’s 3rd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion “conducted a proof of concept during training using SUAS as the primary observer for the adjustment of mortar fires,” said Walsh, and Corps planners are utilizing “commercial off-the-shelf systems as well as systems produced through the use of additive manufacturing.”
Also, boats. Plenty of boats
The current Navy shipbuilding plan aims to boost fleet size to 355 vessels over the next 30 years, and the Corps wants a good hunk of that for itself. The two branches have agreed upon the addition of 4 new amphibious vessels to boost the current Corps AA fleet to 38.
And aircraft. Lots and lots of aircraft, please
Marine Corps MV-22 Ospreys with Marine Tiltrotor Squadron (VMM) 161, Marine Aircraft Group (MAG) 16, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward), fly over the Arabian Sea Sept. 6, 2012. VMM-161 was transferring their aircraft to VMM-261, 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, USS Iwo Jima.Photo via DoD
Walsh, like an excited kid poised on Santa’s lap, saved his biggest ask for last: enough warplanes to blot out the sky over Raqqa. Although he didn’t mention the branch’s preferred aircraft by name, Walsh insisted that “the ability to project credible power from the sea is contingent upon the availability of high speed, heavy lift, long range surface connectors that allow future expeditionary force commanders the flexibility to operate in contested environments.”
Among the aircraft requested by the Corps in Neller’s $3.2 billion wish list: six F-35 fighter jets (four F-35Bs and two F-35Cs), four KC-130J Hercules propeller planes, two of the brand-new and extremely expensive CH-53K King Stallion heavy-lift helicopters, two C-40A Clipper jets, seven AH-1Z Viper attack helicopters, four UC-12W Huron propeller planes, and two of the beloved MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft.
I can’t wait to see what turns up under the Corps’ tree at Quantico this winter.