How's the United States Marine Corps, which bills itself as
an amphibious force, going to fight in a world where potential U.S. enemies are
stockpiling radars and missiles to keep ships that carry Marines far from their
shores? They're going to come in from the sky, according to Maj. Gen. Kenneth
McKenzie, the Corps' representative to the Quadrennial Defense Review.
"I think the best example of what being amphibious means to
the Marine Corps is Task Force 58. I think it's Brigadier General Jim Mattis launching
off the Pakistan coast, striking deep into southern Afghanistan. No amphibious
vehicles crossed a beach in that operation," said McKenzie during a breakfast
with reporters in Washington this morning.
The Marines of Task Force 58 conducted the longest-distance
helicopter raid in history to establish one of the first American bases in
Afghanistan in November 2001.
"You strike at a time and place of your choosing with
overwhelming force, from a sea base. That is an example of a modern amphibious
operation," said the two-star. "You find a weakness in your enemy's defenses,
and you go where they're not expecting you, and you go deep and you strike
He noted that the Corps didn't have the MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor
aircraft in 2001, a weapon that expands the service's ability to perform long-distance
raids. "With the V-22 those capabilities would be even more pronounced," said
Not quite what most people have in mind when they think of
amphibious warfare. Remember, the Corps still has tons of amphibious armored
vehicles, hovercraft, and landing craft designed to bring Marines from their
ships to the shore (something McKenzie called an important capability). Still, the 2011 cancellation of the Corps' decades-long
effort to buy a new armored vehicle -- the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle,
which could transport troops ashore from ships that are beyond the range of
enemy weapons -- shows how difficult the notion of a traditional amphibious
assault has become. (The service is still looking at ways to field a 21st Century amphibious assault vehicle.)
"Nobody thinks of the Pacific battles of World War II as a
model for the way we want to do business today," McKenzie added.
Throughout the breakfast he maintained that the Corps will
promote its role as a lightweight force capable of rapidly deploying around the
globe to do everything from providing disaster relief to establishing a
foothold in combat zones for the "nation's strategic decisive force" -- the
Army -- to move into.
to see what he told FP's Situation Report
in January about the future of the Corps as a light fighting force.)
For example, when asked about his service's role in the
Pentagon's air-sea battle concept, McKenzie said it was as an expeditionary
"Air sea battle looks very hard at the kill chain, technical
answers to technical problems. We think you probably need to look beyond that
and to think about other operational approaches that don't supplant the
technical issues but you want to have tactical answers too. If you take away a
base, for example, then you take away the ability to launch a missile," said
McKenzie. "That talks about expeditionary operations, that talks about raids
and seizures of different places. You want to get the discussion on more than
just a technology level."
McKenzie pointed out that the service isn't abandoning coastlines;
it will still "play in the littorals." But these missions will likely be
oriented toward training other militaries and responding to humanitarian
emergencies more than major combat operations.
to read the FP article by McKenzie's fellow Marine, Lt. Gen. Richard Mills, on
the types of coastal missions the amphibious service is likely to be tasked
with in the future.
U.S. Marine Corps