With competition for scarce resources running high at the Pentagon, documents such as the US Marine Corpsí Expeditionary Force 21 plan are as much about justifying systems and their costs as they are about strategy.
Still, the plan heralds a thoughtful readjustment for Americaís sea-based crisis response force, which seeks to recast itself in the wake of two land wars.
The document makes it clear the Corps is not only heading back to sea, but operating in a more distributed manner than ever before, with smaller units in more places across larger areas. Thatís key; a smaller force minds a still large and dangerous world.
The plan calls for the service to retain the ability to conduct amphibious landings under fire. But it also acknowledges the growing threat from ever-more-precise guided rockets, artillery and mortars.
Those factors will change how the Marines operate and equip themselves. The concept makes it clear that the Marines are thinking hard about a different future with a different mix of capabilities, not just a smaller version of their pre-9/11 air-ground task forces.
Although the Marines invested billions of dollars in a failed attempt to develop a 36-ton fighting vehicle required to travel at nearly 30 mph over water, the service now wants its future amphibious vehicle to have more modest specifications and be better optimized for land combat. Thatís a welcome change.
The Marines now have two challenges. First, the US Navy may not be able to afford the amphibious ships and littoral connectors the Marines need to do their job. And second, their new ground mobility plans may not fare well with Congress, nor sufficiently offset the dangers posed by hybrid threats.
Without the right ships, connectors and vehicles, a smaller but more widely deployed Corps could find itself at greater risk.