The Marine Corps’ Force Design 2030 effort has come under considerable scrutiny. Supporters and detractors have waged a public debate on the merits of Commandant David Berger’s 10-year modernization effort to adapt the Marine Corps to current and future national security threats.
I commend my Marine veteran colleagues in the House and Senate for their recent Wall Street Journal op-ed focusing on the bold, innovative effort Gen. Berger is leading, and I agree with most of their points. But the actual success of Force Design — scheduled for completion by 2030 — depends on addressing three key areas my congressional colleagues did not mention.
First, the Marine Corps must carefully manage the gap between divestment of current combat capability and future combat capability development — and the significant risk that entails. This is critical so as to not leave the Marine Corps less combat capable at a time when such capabilities are needed most, for example, around the second half of this decade when many see a heightened risk of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan.
Specifically, the Marine Corps has gotten rid of its tanks and bridging units as well as a significant portion of its cannon artillery and aviation units so it could buy mobile anti-ship missiles, anti-aircraft systems, loitering munitions and unmanned aerial vehicles. But many of these systems have not been purchased yet and some are still going through testing and development and field integration with newly developed Marine Corps units.
The risks inherent in this combat capability gap could be substantially mitigated if the Marine Corps had a more robust budget, allowing them to modernize the force before getting rid of proven weapon systems.
The commandant recently acknowledged this fact during a May Senate Armed Services Committee hearing. But the Biden administration continues to send Congress inflation-adjusted budget cuts for the Marine Corps and all other services, forcing the commandant to substantially divest current capabilities to pay for future ones.
Indeed, that is one of the underlying assumptions of Force Design 2030, that the Marine Corps’ bold modernization efforts would have to be undertaken with flat or declining defense budgets. Such budgets are clearly not commensurate with global threats facing our nation and require the services to make the difficult choice between current combat readiness and force modernization for future foes, while managing the resulting risk.
Second, Force Design’s success depends on the U.S. Navy, both in terms of greater Marine Corps-Navy integration and the Navy’s critical role in delivering and sustaining Marine Corps stand-in forces to fight from remote littoral areas in the Indo-Pacific and across the world.
Presently, the Navy’s enthusiasm for these innovative, and likely dangerous, Marine Corps operations appears non-existent. None of the Navy’s current strategy documents mention, let alone highlight, its important role in supporting concepts like Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations and stand-in forces, which are the essential operational components of Force Design. Without robust Navy support and buy-in, the Marine Corps Force Design efforts and strategy will fail.
Finally, although appropriately focused on China, Force Design must deliver what the American people have come to expect from the Marine Corps: a global force ready to deploy to any clime and place on Navy ships to deliver a lethal combined arms, kick-in-the-door capability in response to a major national security crisis.
It is for that reason I am introducing bipartisan legislation for the upcoming National Defense Authorization Act to require a minimum of 31 amphibious ships in the Navy fleet to ensure the continuing global response capability of the Marine Corps both during and after Force Design 2030.
Dan Sullivan, a Republican, represents Alaska in the United States Senate. He is a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and a colonel in the Marine Corps Reserve.