The Marine Corps’ current plan, Force Design 2030, eliminates critical war-fighting capabilities and radically restructures the Marine Corps as a force to support sea denial operations in a Pacific war with China.
But, a new proposal for the Marine Corps, created by retired Marine generals and available online, offers an alternative approach.
Vision 2035 seeks to restore and enhance the Marine Corps’ principal role as the nation’s premier expeditionary force-in-readiness — organized, trained and equipped for forward presence and global response in support of the combatant commanders and their regional campaigns to compete and win against adversaries across the spectrum of conflict.
At the core of Vision 2035 is the Marine air-ground task force. Each MAGTF has unique and incomparable war-fighting capabilities, which are flexible and scalable. They contain organic aviation, ground and logistic units under a single command element, making them integrated and self-sustaining.
This approach has been used successfully by the Marine Corps, is unique and cannot be replicated by any other service. Using the versatility and expeditionary nature of the MAGTF, commanders can task organize Marine forces to operate globally in support of all combatant commanders.
Unlike Force Design 2030 with its focus on the employment of small, dispersed forces operating in the littorals, Vision 2035 generates MAGTFs capable of conducting theater shaping and sustainment operations prior to hostilities and then quickly shifting to offensive operations for crisis response and contingencies.
As a middleweight force, the Vision 2035 MAGTF can set conditions for the joint/combined force and contribute to the conduct of decisive operations as part of a Naval expeditionary force or for sustained ground combat ashore.
To revitalize the MAGTF’s potency and assume a robust posture for global response, we must build back lost capability. Force Design robbed the MAGTF of key combat and combat support capabilities needed to fight as a combined arms team. Cannon artillery remains essential for units engaged in sustained ground combat.
Ukrainian forces fire 2,000–4,000 shells per day to suppress Russian artillery and support maneuver by Ukrainian infantry and armor units. Standard artillery projectiles cost hundreds of dollars per round while a single HIMARS rocket costs over $100K and a single Naval Strike Missile costs about $1.7 million.
We must also build back the MAGTF’s resiliency and endurance.
Casualties are inevitable in war. Marine infantry battalions, cannon artillery and rocket batteries, helicopter and fixed wing squadrons, and armored protected firepower must possess the organic personnel and equipment to function during combat operations even after taking casualties.
It is essential to reverse cuts in force structure, equipment and personnel that were billpayers for Force Design under a questionable “divest to invest” strategy.
Force Design 2030 is a defensive strategy, while Vision 2035 is an offensive strategy that retains maneuver warfare as a doctrinal approach to war-fighting. It relies on the single-battle concept described in MCDP 1-0, Marine Corps Operations, in which commanders and planners synchronize forces in time, space, event and purpose to maximize opportunities for success across the battlespace.
Force Design 2030 mandated cuts in infantry, cannon artillery, aviation, engineering and armor have degraded the MAGTF’s combined arms capabilities for close and rear battles at the expense of an overemphasis on long-range fires.
Vision 2035′s center of gravity is the individual Marine infantryman. The potency and lethality of the MAGTF will be built back with the capabilities required to support Marine infantry in the close battle where decisive outcomes are achieved and winners and losers are ultimately decided.
An indispensable component of Vision 2035 is to increase the Marine Corps’ capability for global response through forward presence and rapid power projection.
Key enablers include a robust fleet of amphibious ships and strategically located maritime prepositioning squadrons to support deterrence and capacity building with allies and partners, and permit a rapid transition to hostilities if deterrence fails. These capabilities are strategic assets that directly support combatant commanders during military competition and war-fighting. Their current and future funding must be prioritized over lesser programs like the light amphibious warship.
Sufficient amphibious shipping must also be available to support larger expeditionary formations allocated to support multiple combatant and subunified commander’s contingency requirements.
A properly configured and strategically based Maritime Prepositioning Force, comprised of independently deployable squadrons, is required to project military power and support the employment of MAGTFs tailored to meet known and emerging requirements. The numbers of amphibious ships and maritime prepositioning squadrons must be driven by operational requirements and not solely by budgeting considerations.
The mostly unstated premise of Force Design 2030 is that advancements in sensors and precision munitions have rendered maneuver all but impossible. Vision 2035 rejects this conclusion.
For every advance in technology a counter-capability can and will be developed rending the advance either ineffective or obsolete. Ongoing operations in Ukraine show that while advanced sensors and munitions are combat multipliers, they alone are not decisive.
Vision 2035 values innovation and seeks to leverage existing and emerging technologies to make the MAGTF more maneuverable and lethal.
In conclusion, Vision 2035 provides the conceptual approach to restore the Marine Corps as the nation’s premier expeditionary force, mitigates risk in an uncertain world, and provides the foundation for the Corps to meet its Title X and Goldwater-Nichols’ responsibilities. It restores the primacy of the MAGTF with infantry and combined arms as the central components of Marine operations. It ensures the Corps remains ready, relevant and capable of responding to the crises and contingency requirements of all combatant commanders. And finally, it provides an alternative to Force Design 2030, which is on a course to destroy the nation’s 9-1-1 Force. ■
Lt. Gen. Martin Steele (retired) is a career armor officer. His last assignment was as Deputy Chief of Staff Plans, Policies, and Operations, Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps.