JUST IN: Marine Corps ‘Ready’ for Peer Adversaries, Says Incoming Acting Commandant

By Laura Heckmann

Marine Corps photo

WASHINGTON, D.C. — If there are any in the Marine Corps worried that the retirement next month of Commandant Gen. David Berger will lead to radical changes for the service, remarks from his nominated successor at the Modern Day Marine conference should put any fears to rest.

Gen. Eric Smith, assistant commandant of the Marine Corps and nominee to be its 39th Commandant, echoed Berger’s emphasis on amphibious ships and logistics, but also delivered a confident message that the Marine Corps is ready to face peer adversaries today.

“If you say, well there wasn’t a whole lot of difference or dissonance” between Smith’s and Berger’s messages, “that’s how that works,” Smith said. “A single vision, [a] single focus, and that focus is lethality.”

Smith used the words “ready,” “responsive” and “resilient” to describe the current state of the Corps, while noting ways the service will build on those qualities moving forward.

“We've always been ready, and we've always been responsive and have always been resilient innovators … do more with less. We still have that in our ethos. That's what hasn't changed,” Smith said.

What they’re ready for, however, has changed, he said.

“Be ready for a peer adversary, which we haven't done since 1945. I'm talking total war since 1945 — to be ready for that,” he said.

Smith said the key to being ready for war is modernizing during interwar periods, “or you will pay for it when the war starts.” An advocate of Marine Corps transformation, including Force Design 2030, Smith said modernization involves concept development, experimentation, wargaming and feedback.

Resizing battalions, specifically reducing the necessary end strength, is one result of experimentation, he noted. That increases readiness as now there are 10 battalions at greater than 100 percent of the necessary size and only five below 90 percent, compared to what used to be 12 below and only five above, he said.

“What that means is you can train like you're going to fight,” he said. “To me, our goal is to have what you're going to have for the fight so you can train with it. That's called being ready.”

Smith also spoke to the Corps’ mission as a global crisis response force, calling it often “diametrically opposed” to its mission of readiness for peer conflict. He said while the balance between the two missions can never be perfect, he feels the Corps is balancing them nonetheless.

Being the nation’s global crisis response force means “you have to be on scene when it matters,” he said. Echoing Berger, he said that means amphibious ships.

“If you can't get to your mission in a time that matters, then you might as well not go. You have to be there early in the crisis before it blows up and becomes a full-blown conflict. That's your goal,” he said.

That goal requires being light and mobile, he added. “That's why you see us press so hard for amphibious warships and landing ship mediums. This is now the bipartisan, bicameral law that says minimum of 31 amphibs. Minimum.”

And not just 31, but 31 in a state of maximum readiness, he added.

Amphibious warships are part of a group of capabilities ensuring organic mobility, he said—meaning independence from U.S. Transportation Command to be first to fight.

“Because if you're not independently mobile, you're not first to fight, you’re second in line at TRANSCOM. We cannot afford to be that,” he said.

Someone in the Joint Force has to absorb the risk on behalf of the rest of the Joint Force to “kick in doors to enable the Joint Force to maneuver into weapons engagement, and that's what we do,” he said.

While Smith said the Marine Corps is ready for a peer conflict, he also spoke to ways the Corps is improving its lethality. In addition to increased battalion sizes, they’re changing the way they train, including an extended Infantry Marine Course, now doubled in length, up to 70 training days.

“That is new, and that is better,” he said.

Smith brought the three R’s, and the foundation behind the Corps’ readiness, back to its strongest asset: it’s people.

“So we're in a pretty good place. The individual Marine, they have never been better,” he said.

Smith added that resiliency starts and ends with people, and recruitment is the most important thing the Corps does, he said.

He called recruitment and training one part of what blends together the three R’s of “ready, responsive, resilient.” Another part is what he called “game-changing technology,” namely 3D printing, or additive manufacturing.

“That is going to change the world,” Smith said. “We're going to be 3D printing significant parts of an F-35 engine, or we're going to pre-stage metal, we're going to bring the 3D printer in a box or on an amphib and they're going to print fan blades.”

Additive manufacturing will change the way the Marine Corps does logistics, he said. “It’s already here, we just have to move faster to get there.”

Smith also said the Corps is more interoperable than ever, working closely with allies and partners on global exercises because “fighting alone is a bad place to be,” but we “have a lot of friends. We have mutual shared interdependencies.”

The Marine Corps is in a “pretty good place,” Smith said. If that sounded like Berger, it should, he said. And not because they compare notes — they don’t have to, he added.

While Smith will assume command in an acting capacity when Berger steps down, it is unclear when he will receive Senate confirmation to remove “acting” from his title.

Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., has placed a hold on military promotions in protest of the Defense Department’s abortion policies. The fate of hundreds of senior officers has been in limbo for months.

Speaking to reporters at Modern Day Marine June 28, Berger said that until Smith is confirmed, he will have limitations on what he can say and do in the role of acting commandant. “We haven't had that in 150 years,” Berger noted.

Topics: Marine Corps News