SIMI VALLEY, Calif. — Since taking over as commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps, Gen. David Berger hasn’t been shy about saying the service must update its inventory and adapt its force structure to fight future conflicts.
But at the Reagan National Defense Forum on Dec. 7, Berger laid out his most detailed comments yet on what equipment he sees as winners and losers going forward, while promising that the Corps’ 2022 budget will look different from its 2020 request.
“We have to get rid of legacy things in the Marine Corps. We’ve got to go on a diet” he told reporters during the event, noting that a large-scale review of the service will be rolled out in roughly 60 days. “We’ve got to become expeditionary again, which we know how to do.”
Asked to highlight the type of equipment he thinks the Corps must dump, Berger called out “big, heavy things” such as manned counter-armor assets.
“Big, expensive things that we can’t either afford to buy or afford to maintain over the life of it. Things that don’t fit aboard ship, things that can’t fire hyper-velocity projectiles, things that can’t have, don’t have the range that we’re going to need, the precision, but are also mobile, expeditionary enough [that] we can operate from ship or ashore and move back and forth freely. Manned things, manned logistics vehicles, manned logistics aircraft — all those things we’re going to trim down.”
In an op-ed published Dec. 12, Berger outlined 11 areas where Marine Corps investments must improve, largely through high-end technologies that better match up with China. Those include lethal unmanned aerial, ground and amphibious vehicles, large undersea vessels, and loitering munitions.
Berger underlined that op-ed in his comments, once highlighting unmanned transports and unmanned logistics systems on the ground and in the air. Several times during his comments, the commandant stressed the need to focus on logistics enablers, at one point calling logistics “the area we’re farthest behind.”
“It’s not fun to talk about, but if you’re going to operate in this contested area, you’d better be able to sustain that force,” he said. “Think unmanned, think expeditionary, think very light. Think things that we can sustain forward without a huge logistical train.”
The commandant also described how unmanned investments could benefit Marines going forward: “Picture in your mind some kind of vehicle, unmanned, perhaps autonomous, but let’s just talk unmanned — moves from this point to that point, whatever, on its own. Inside it, it’s got more unmanned systems, ground or air. It’s launching and recovering them, bringing them back as a mothership, coming back, and you have these all over the place.”
“This is your Marine Corps. We are that forward force. We got to paint the picture. We are the Marines all over the place,” he explained. “In the area we got to operate in, the human beings will absolutely be there. I just don’t need them driving a truck delivering chow. If we can replace that with an unmanned [platform], why would we not do that?”
Beyond equipment, Berger promised that his larger review of the Marine Corps includes going after basic assumptions such as: “What does the squadron look like? What does a battalion look like? Every part of our air, ground team. That’s what will be finished and of course associated with that, the equipment, from individual equipment to crew-served to F-35s, and everything in between. Define the force and how it needs to fight as a naval force — that directly ties to all of our programs.”
Aaron Mehta was deputy editor and senior Pentagon correspondent for Defense News, covering policy, strategy and acquisition at the highest levels of the Defense Department and its international partners.
Jeff Martin is the Associate Editor for Multimedia and the host & producer of Defense News Weekly, airing online and on American Forces Network worldwide. In his role as Associate Editor, he reports worldwide on the military and defense industry and leads a market-leading multimedia team.