Monday, July 22, 2019

The Commandant of the Marine Corps Just Changed the Game

Ready to start your week off right? No better way than a Monday guest post by Bryan McGrath.

If you have not read the 38th Commandant's Planning Guidance yet, after reading Brian's post below, you can find it at the bottom of the post.

Here and on Midrats we've spoken often about the need to have more thinking at a higher, structural level. It looks like General David Berger, USMC has done doing exactly that.

Brian, over to you.

When one’s life is spent thinking about American Seapower—specifically, its importance to the security and prosperity of the nation and how best to provide more of it more effectively—a great number of articles, papers, speeches, doctrines, concepts, and statements must be digested and sometimes produced. The overwhelming number of these efforts are pedestrian, self-evident, banal, controversial for the sake of being so, and or repetitive. And while the cause of American Seapower is advanced by some of them, the gains made are glacial and incremental. Until now.

The Commandant of the Marine Corps, General David Berger, recently issued the single most consequential bit of thinking to guide American Seapower since the series of articles and briefings that accompanied the Maritime Strategy of the 1980’s. Known as the Commandant’s Planning Guidance, the document is by definition, Berger’s statement of intent for the next four years, and the kind of thing new service chiefs promulgate in order to align their services behind their vision. If that were all this document is, it would be worth reading, if for no other reason than as is customary with the Marine Corps, 180,000 plus Marines and their enablers will read it and cite it as gospel. But that is not all it is. This guidance is a roadmap for the embrace of Integrated American Seapower, considerable Department of the Navy reform, tectonic shifts in the Marine Corps narrative, and innovative capability evolution. As soon as the new CNO (VADM Mike Gilday) is in office, he, Berger, and Secretary Spencer should head off to some secluded hideaway for ten days and figure out how to expand this guidance into authoritative vision for the entire Department. It is that good, it is that insightful.

There is a good bit on the back end of the document that I won’t cover here, not because it is unimportant but because it is less important to the purposes I have. Fitness reports, parental leave, training, recruitment, talent management, etc., fall into this category. I am concerned with the Marine Corps’ sense of self, its warfighting ethos and concepts, its force design, and its command and control. These subjects are front and center and form the most interesting portion of the document.

First, and this cannot be understated, General Berger has clearly articulated the Marine Corps’ role as a naval weapon system, a component of integrated American Seapower that influences from the sea to the land and the land to the sea. He has tied the Corps’ operational command and control to a unified joint functional commander (citing the Joint Forces Maritime Component Commander—more on this here) with control of all elements of the maritime force, and has settled (forever, if USMC history is to be cited) the place of tactical level USMC forces within the Navy’s Combined Warfare Commander (CWC) concept. While USMC leaders have for a decade now, talked about “returning to our naval roots” after years operating as a second land army, Berger has cast his lot with the Navy in a warfighting partnership that offers considerable effectiveness and lethality to the nation’s defense strategy at the expense of what many will perceive as Marine Corps autonomy. Those who reach this conclusion are in error; what Berger is advocating places the Marine Corps advantageously within the naval force and will provide it with more influence as to how that force will be planned, composed, developed, acquired, exercised, postured, and employed.

To that end, Berger has walked away from the “requirement” for 38 amphibious ships and 2.0 MEBs worth of lift as the two most important statements out of any Marine’s mouth when talking about force structure. Ghosts of Commandants past are rolling in their graves as easily understood planning factors are eschewed in favor of a more complex understanding of force packaging and capability flexibility. This alone is perhaps the riskiest part of Berger’s vision, as it substitutes well-understood and easily understandable concepts for more fluid and situational modalities, and I do not envy USMC force planners the job of attempting to define and aggregate these ideas into service programs. That should not stop them from doing it.

As for service programming, Berger identifies a problem within Department of the Navy planning and programming, one that I have written about in the past, and that is the degree to which the two services build their Program Objective Memoranda (POM) in silos. Here is Berger (p.2): “In addition to the recent focus on operational integration, I intend to seek greater integration between the Navy and Marine Corps in our Program Objective Memorandum (POM) development process. We share a common understanding of the NDS, the pacing threat, the future operating environment, and of those capabilities that provide the greatest overmatch for our Navy. We must strive to create capabilities that support fleet operations and naval campaigns. We will integrate our POM wargaming efforts with the Navy’s, thereby, ensuring a common understanding and common baseline from which each Service can communicate their needs to the Secretary of the Navy, and ultimately, the Secretary of Defense.” Moving toward a common POM for Integrated American Seapower will likely require DoN, USMC, and USN re-organization, but this is something SecNav and his service chiefs can iron out at their aforementioned offsite.

The paragraph that knocked me back in my chair—for its bravery, its integrity, and its common-sense, is this one (p.2): “In 1933, the establishment of the FMF under the operational control of the Fleet Commander generated great unity of effort, operational flexibility, and the integrated application of Navy and Marine capabilities throughout the maritime domain. The 1986 Goldwater Nichols Act, however, removed the preponderance of the FMF from fleet operational control and disrupted the long-standing Navy-Marine Corps relationship by creating separate Navy and Marine Corps components within joint forces. Furthermore, Navy and Marine Corps officers developed a tendency to view their operational responsibilities as separate and distinct, rather than intertwined. With the rise of both land and sea-based threats to the global commons, there is a need to reestablish a more integrated approach to operations in the maritime domain. Reinvigorating the FMF can be accomplished by assigning more Marine Corps forces to the Fleet, putting Marine Corps experts in the fleet Maritime Operations Centers, and also by shifting emphasis in our training, education, and supporting establishment activities.”

How often in today’s world does a leader come forward and state that what enshrined his organization’s autonomy and full-partnership—went too far and diminished overall effectiveness? This is the statement of a man with the confidence provided by having a good story and the right set of answers and questions. Berger gets that future fights require a different Marine Corps. Berger gets that those fights require a stronger brand of Integrated American Seapower. Berger gets that the USMC may have to shed what have become traditional and much-loved capabilities—not only because they are less related to maritime functions, but because others can do them better—in order to achieve new and critical naval capabilities, and Berger gets that the USMC is now—33 years after Goldwater Nichols—a strong enough bureaucratic force to advocate for these changes without any diminishment of its service culture or role.

If it sounds like I am excited about this guidance, I am. For its goodness to be realized, CNO Gilday will have to meet Berger in the middle, and the Secretary of the Navy is going to have to be there with them. This “Maritime Holy Trinity” can – if aligned—accomplish great things for this country. If Berger isn’t met, antibodies will appear in the form of USMC traditionalists, jealous Navy interests, and confused politicians, and Berger’s visionary stance will become just another howl at the moon destroyed by the smallness of Washington DC. I urge all involved not to let that happen.

Bryan McGrath is the Managing Director of The FerryBridge Group where he provides consulting services to the Navy. He is also the Deputy Director of Hudson Institute’s Center for American Seapower. The views expressed here—and everywhere else for that matter—are his.

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