Gates orders Marine Corps force structure review

12 Aug 2010 |

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has ordered a thorough force structure review of the Marine Corps to determine what an expeditionary force in readiness should look like in the 21st century.

Gates gave the order today in a speech here at the Marines’ Memorial Club & Hotel as part of the George P. Shultz lecture series.

The Marine Corps review is part of a much larger effort throughout the department to understand the world as it is today and what the military needs will be tomorrow.

“All of the military services have been challenged to find the right balance between preserving what is unique and valuable in their traditions, while at the same time making the changes necessary to win the wars we are in and prepare for the likely future threats in the years and decades to come,” the secretary said.

There are questions about the mission of the Marine Corps, Gates said. Before World War II, the Marines very successfully conducted ”small wars” in the western hemisphere. The service also developed the rationale and logistics needed to conduct amphibious warfare.

During World War II, the Corps was wholly dedicated to landing on the beaches in the South and Central Pacific. America’s first offensive of World War II was when Marines landed on the beaches of Guadalcanal and began the campaign against Japan in August 1942. Tarawa, Saipan, Peleliu, Iwo Jima and Okinawa are just a few of the landings Marines made.

Since then, Marines have fought on the beaches, mountains and trenches of Korea, the highlands and rice paddies of Vietnam, and the deserts of Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan. Although many of these operations saw Marines initially projected from the sea, “they soon turned into long, grinding, ground engagements,” Gates said.

The nation does not need a second land army, Gates said, but rather forces that can deploy quickly and sustain themselves for a short period of time.

“Looking ahead, I do think it is proper to ask whether large-scale amphibious landings along the lines of Inchon (Korea in 1950) are feasible,” the secretary said. Anti-access technologies, such as more accurate cruise and ballistic missiles, will work to drive the starting point for amphibious operations farther and farther out to sea.

All will gain from a serious and balanced look at military missions, with an emphasis on balance, Gates said. “The United States will continue to face a diverse range of threats that will require a flexible portfolio of military capabilities,” he said. The military must be equally adept in counterinsurgency and full-spectrum operations. Any enemy is going to confront perceived American weaknesses, and how the military responds to asymmetric tactics must be considered, he added.

Gates said he is worried that in a time of austerity, that the Defense Department may be seen by some legislators as a cash cow to fix funding issues in other government agencies. “One of my favorite lines that I have invoked time and again is that experience is the ability to recognize a mistake when you make it again,” he said.

The United States has unilaterally disarmed four times since World War II, and each time it was a mistake, the secretary said. The United States cut its military significantly after World War II, Korea, Vietnam and the Cold War.

“After September 11th, the United States again rearmed and again strengthened our intelligence capabilities,” the secretary said. “It will be critically important to sustain those capabilities in the future – it will be important not to make the same mistake a fifth time.”

The spigot of defense spending that was turned up after the terrorist attacks is closing, Gates said. President Barack Obama has agreed to about 1 percent real growth in the base budget, but the department needs roughly three percent growth. Gates has said he will find the savings and allow the services to reinvest the money in more critical programs.

Part of this effort was his announcement of a series of efficiencies that will eliminate two department agencies and the U.S. Joint Forces Command. His initiative calls for reducing the number of contractors, eliminating 50 general/flag officers and 150 senior executive positions.

This is the first step in an effort to reshape the “corporate culture” at the Pentagon to make every dollar count, the secretary said. The culture must be agile and efficient and such that all personnel look at decisions with an eye to investing in warfighter needs, he said.

Gates worked with Secretary of State George Shultz during the Reagan administration. “For more than six years, (Shultz) and Ronald Reagan formed one of the most successful partnerships of a president and his chief diplomat in modern times, a true model for how the relationship is supposed to work,” he said.

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