By Robert Kozloski
Best Defense guest commenter
When talking about reducing defense budgets, metaphors involving body parts abound -- cutting the fat, giving a haircut, cutting into the muscle (even to the bone), and tooth-to-tail ratios to name a few. Here is another -- the appendectomy.
Natural evolution renders the appendix as one of those body parts humans can do without. Yet, the human body clings to it because the current model has been that way for a long time. The Marine Corps faces a similar situation.
After a decade of war and being aware that the size of the Marine Corps would be reduced from surge-level highs, the USMC Force Structure Review Group identified that the operational "sweet spot" for the Corps of the future is somewhere between traditional army units and special operations teams.
Institutionally committing to this sweet spot and focusing on smaller unit operations provide opportunities for the Marine Corps to deal with the fiscal pressure facing the entire DOD.
Some options to consider:
Eliminate Duplicative Headquarters: If divisions and wings are no longer the right size units, can they be eliminated and battalions and squadrons aligned directly to MEFs and MEBs? Could the entire 0-6 level of command in the operating forces be eliminated?
Think Naval: Consolidate and integrate with the Navy. For example, the Navy Expeditionary Combat Command was created in response to 9/11 and maintains capabilities similar to those in a MEF. Can the two naval forces be better aligned? Should a new Naval Expeditionary Combat Element become the fifth element of the MAGTF, thus creating a true Naval Expeditionary Force? Could the Marines become the naval executive agent for Irregular Warfare for the naval services, while the Navy reciprocates for cyberspace?
SOF Integration: Instead of duplicating existing SOF capabilities, SOCOM should assign missions to the MEU(SOC) while NAVSPECWARCOM could integrate all naval special warfare capabilities. To increase the Marines' SOF presence in the future, ANGLICO teams should replace Air Force personnel on the ground and free the USAF to commit resources to SOF aviation requirements.
Use the Total Force: By requiring "Civilian Marines" to deploy to the field for administrative work, entire military career fields could be eliminated. Non-sweet spot units designed primarily to fight major wars should be moved to the reserves. The Marine Corps should also close the gap between its enlisted and officers. Some of the future high-end missions being considered for the Marines require a more mature and specialized enlisted force.
Marine Aviation: The schism between Navy aviators and ground units isn't what it used to be. Could Navy tactical fixed-wing squadrons be placed in support of Marine units to get the Marine Corps out of the fixed-wing aviation business?
Initial Accessions: Close one of the two recruit training depots. If a Korea, Vietnam, or Iraq type surge is needed, build temporary facilities at 29 Palms, CA or Quantico, VA to augment the throughput.
Defenders of the status quo will resist any significant change to the organizational structure within the Marine Corps. This defense will likely involve using a flawed planning system, rich service history, and unacceptable risk to national security as elements of the defense. However, removing components that are no longer necessary because of the evolution to smaller unit operations may help preserve capacity and resolve long standing problems. Obviously, reducing force structure from the Marine Corps is a measure of last resort and should only be considered after efforts to resolve the excessive overhead problem within DOD have been exhausted.
Robert Kozloski is a program analyst for the Department of the Navy and served in the Marine Corps from 1997 to 2007. He is the author of "Marching Toward the Sweet Spot: Options for the Marine Corps in a Time of Austerity" in the new ish of the Naval War College Review. The views expressed are his alone.
Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.