The Complex

The future of amphibious warfare is airborne

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 strategically."

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 McKenzie.

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.

(Click here 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 raider force.

"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.

Click here 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

The Complex

U.S. Gov't: Laws of war apply to cyber conflict

This week, the Tallinn Manual -- a NATO initiative by which legal experts have articulated laws for the cyber battlefield -- is set to make its stateside debut. But the United States says it is already ahead of the document's recommendations: it insists the existing laws of war are sufficient to govern the use of cyber weapons.

"Existing international law applies to cyberspace just as it does in the physical world," said Christopher Painter, the State Department's coordinator for cyber issues, during a forum at George Washington University last Thursday. "That is a very important concept. It means a couple of things. First, it means we don't need new norms in cyberspace; we apply existing norms."

The United States is trying to establish international rules of the road in cyberspace that are accepted by other nations, but it believes they should reflect rules that are already on the books, such as the law of armed conflict.

"It is the clear and consistent policy of the United States that the Law of Armed Conflict applies to our operations in all domains, including cyberspace," a Pentagon official told Killer Apps when asked about the Tallinn manual. "The cyber activities of the Department of Defense are always undertaken in accordance with existing policy and law and executed under specific authority."

Adhering to existing law, according to Painter, means that militaries should recognize the distinction between soldiers and civilians and exercise proportionality in using force. They should not target civilians, and nations should be held accountable when proxy cyber groups use force on their behalf.

The Tallinn Manual was commissioned by NATO, but it was produced by independent legal scholars and practitioners and does not speak for any government. But the Pentagon official said that "the department values the contributions that independent reports like the Tallinn Manual for Cyber Law bring to the dialogue and important work being done in the realm of Cybersecurity."

(Click here to read remarks a State Department lawyer gave regarding the law of armed conflict and cyberspace during a speech at U.S. Cyber Command last summer.)

U.S. officials say the process of formalizing rules for cyberspace will likely take decades given the differing priorities among various governments. For example, the U.S. and its allies want to focus on things like fighting intellectual property theft and banning destructive cyber attacks during peacetime, while nations such as China and Russia want to be free to censor information and monitor what their citizens do online -- a stance U.S. officials call a "nonstarter."

Painter said that, while nations continue to discuss such issues, they may want to develop cyber hotlines so that government leaders can communicate freely and directly about cyber incidents.

"You can do confidence and transparency measures for those states where there may be some distrust, just understanding how they're organized, maybe having hotlines between them. I think that's an important part of the political-military bucket," he said.

The notion of a cyber hotline, similar to the nuclear hotline between the White House and the Kremlin, is something yours truly has also heard suggested by senior foreign officials, who wished to remain anonymous.

U.S. Air Force