The Marine Corps is planning a “reset,” a top general said Wednesday, shrinking in size but expanding its ability to function as “the tip of the spear” in conflict or crises around the globe.
Recommendations in the draft Force Structure Review, which will be finalized later this year, reinforce the idea of the Marine Corps as a rapid reaction force. Proposed cuts to the 202,000-strong Marines won’t take place in the immediate future, said Lt. Gen. George Flynn, Marine deputy commandant for combat developments and integration, who Wednesday delivered highlights of the Force Structure Review.
“We’re not going to go down in force structure until after our demands in Afghanistan drop,” he said. “The purpose is to anticipate the future. This isn’t about reducing the force tomorrow.”
In an August speech, Defense Secretary Robert Gates had said the Marines at times functioned like “a second land army” during the Iraq war. The Force Structure Review, he suggested then, should focus on re-establishing the branch as an “expeditionary force-in-readiness.”
As fighting in Afghanistan winds down, the plan calls for the Marines to drop to 186,800 — a number still more than 10,000 troops greater than pre-9/11 levels.
The future shrinkage would be accomplished in part, Flynn said, by eliminating 21 headquarters. Some infantry and artillery battalions would also be eliminated, along with some aviation squadrons.
Increases meanwhile would be seen in areas such as cyberwar, intelligence analysis, psychological operations and civil affairs. In particular, Marine Special Operations Command capability would see a significant increase in staffing and capability.
Flynn said the plans aren’t simply about excising parts of the Marine Corps that have grown since 2002. The idea, he said, was to restructure the entire branch for maximum mobility and adaptability, whether fighting enemies or responding to natural disasters.
Decisions on which units would be eliminated have yet to be made. But, Flynn said, “I have to find out rather quickly where those 1,000 Marines will come from to increase our MARSOC capability by 44 percent.”
The Force Structure Review also reaffirms the Marines’ dedication to the concept of amphibious operations, Flynn said. Landings like those at Inchon or Okinawa indeed may be a thing of the past, but sea-based operations remain a critical component of modern war.
The final report is due in about six months after further Pentagon analysis of the recommendations, Marine officials said.