Where it has not been possible to set in motion initiatives to meet certain future operational needs, the Secretary has identified vectors for the evolution of the force, calling on DoD components to devote sustained efforts toward developing new concepts and capabilities to address those needs. Assessments of future operating environments will continue, with an eye toward refining our understanding of future needs. At the same time, the Department will continue to look assiduously for savings in underperforming programs and activities, divestiture, technology substitution, less-pressing mission and program areas, and other accounts so that more resources can be devoted to filling these gaps.As I was reading through the Marine Corps Operating Concepts third edition, this section of the QDR came to mind. The Marine Corps Operating Concepts third edition document to be released publicly on Tuesday is one of the best documents I have read from a maritime service since I began the blog. If you are frustrated by the lack of specifics and generic speak that often characterizes US Navy documents like the recently released NOC, you will find the Marine Corps Operating Concepts (MOC) document a breath of fresh air. Detailed? You betcha. This document works on the Company CO's chalkboard, or PowerPoint - if you prefer.
In some capability areas, meeting emerging challenges will call for the development of wholly new concepts of operation. Confronting sophisticated anti-access challenges and threats posed by nuclear-armed regional adversaries will pose particularly difficult problems. In recognition of the dynamism of the threat environment and advances in unmanned technologies, the Department will be examining future operational needs in several capability areas, including ISR, fighters and long-range strike aircraft, joint forcible entry, and information networks and communications. Assessments of programmed forces in these areas will center on iterative, interactive war games, in which force planners, operators, and technical experts can explore alternative strategies and operational concepts in an environment that tests forces against an intelligent, adaptive adversary. Insights gained from these efforts will inform future investments in research and development and, over time, will help decision makers to further rebalance future forces.
Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) pg 40-41
The reason this section of the QDR came to mind is because there are still many questions about what Joint Forcible Entry means today - phrase that seems to have direct connotation for the Marine Corps. I think it is interesting that Information Dissemination author LtCol Roger S. Galbraith has been out fighting the perception war on this topic. His recent LA Times op-ed was akin to a rebuttal for the arguments against the Marines in another LA Times article. The discussion point that forcible entry amphibious assault is no longer feasible in the 21st century is becoming a popular meme, but it is also a distraction.
As the QDR stresses in the section quoted - the question isn't whether the nation needs the capability of forcible entry, rather how the capability is executed in the context of the emerging environment. When I read the Marine Corps Operating Concepts (3rd edition), I was very pleased to read that the Marines are taking seriously the necessity to tactically adapt amphibious assault as part of the requirement to retain the tactical necessity for such a capability. Forcible entry in the 1940s and 1950s may have indeed been a large scale beach amphibious assault, but that isn't what it might look like in 2010 and beyond. The Marines seem to understand this, while those outside the Marines are framing the forcible entry discussion in historically accurate but otherwise irrelevant terms within the modern context.
The Marines come out swinging early and often with a focus on two mission areas - assuring littoral access and winning small wars. If first impressions mean anything - my first impression was that the focus on these two mission areas reads like a slap in the face of the Navy who I believe is actively retreating from the littorals at flank speed, and a slap at the Army as a reminder that it is Marines who own the small wars history of the United States. The document reads as a slap to neither in truth, but the Marine brand is strong enough that the first perception existed for me nonetheless.
But as I read the document I immediately found it one of the most insightful operational concept document produced by a maritime service I can ever recall reading. I was engaged with the specific guidance towards a general direction one finds in the issues framed by the contents, and when I finished reading I came away as a reader impressed by the depth and detail. This document is instructive to every Marine, and yet informative to broader defense establishment as well - indeed one could even note how the document gives guidance directly to the defense industry without doing the program centric cheerleading we used to see in the 90s in these types of documents.
For example, when reading through the section discussing the Aviation Combat Element (ACE) I was surprised to see the comment "there may be a requirement for a light-attack platform to add to the ACE inventory" being made as a comment of speculation - the implication being a recognition that the Marines must be open to examining alternatives. How refreshing - read a Navy document and you will never find a discussion of force structure of any kind whatsoever - nevermind a discussion that includes speculation regarding alternatives.
Briefly - a few points. A good portion of the document discusses Small Wars as the core of the Corps. Leveraging the 'small wars' meme (in no small part popularized by brand names) is a pretty smart way to introduce Enhanced MAGTF operations across a broad range of missions and relate it at a generic level with the reader. The detail of size, shape, and guidance towards operational requirements and capabilities is done very well.
But what caught my attention in the document is how the Marines emphasized themselves as a critical piece of assuring littoral access across a range of access environments; permissive, uncertain, and restricted. From a detail perspective I think one could argue the Marine Corps made a better case for US Navy 'joint forcible entry' capabilities at sea and in the air than the US Navy did with their own NOC. There are several pages dedicated to discussing a range of naval capabilities from mine warfare to carrier aviation to strike from the sea - indeed there might be more words dedicated to discussing the value of the aircraft carrier in the MOC than the NOC - and I'm not kidding - the word count will be close.
The MOC does an interesting thing to the reader - or at least this reader - by raising serious questions regarding whether or not the US Navy is capable of having a blunt discussion on forcible entry. That discussion would include topics like technologies and tactics, operational requirements and force metrics necessary to achieve access. The Marines appear willing to have a public discussion on the topic; but if AirSea Battle is any indication - the Navy is not prepared for that discussion publicly.
The open communication approach of the Marines in the MOC leads directly to Annex A - which for me is a critical discussion of Strategic Communications. I believe N3/N5 would do well to copy Annex A from the MOC, change a bit of text to 'navalize' the wording, and directly insert the section into the NOC. Annex A represents the single best discussion of integrating strategic communications into operations in any military document released by any of the maritime services to date, and one of the most important sections missing from the Naval Operations Concept. I highly encourage every US Navy officer, even if they don't give a shit about the MOC, to read carefully Annex A because there is no question that section belongs in every command at sea today.
I want to stress this point. The single most important lesson we can learn from the Israeli maritime blockade of Gaza incident that occurred recently is the role that YouTube played for the Israeli Navy. Without those YouTube videos that highlighted the events from the Israeli Navy perspective, Israel was left absent context and without weapons in an information war being waged against them. With YouTube videos, Israel had ammunition in their fight. Understanding the information and communication context of every operational decision will be critical to Navy leaders who will often find themselves in very difficult situations all alone in distant seas. Annex A emphasizes the role of these communication efforts to operations, and the discussion in the MOC is useful not only to Marines, but to the Navy as well.
I'll post a link to the MOC as soon as I find one, and I encourage everyone to read it. For once, I can recommend a document produced by the maritime services that won't make your eyes bleed, because the MOC is highly informative and a lot more thought stimulating (thanks to detail and depth) than the documents I typically link to from the blog.