Initial reaction to the selection of aviator James Amos as the next Commandant of the Marine Corps has been almost entirely positive. There is also much support for the apparent decision to make the charismatic Joe Dunford Assistant Commandant. Some insiders suspect that Amos will serve for two years and then the younger Dunford will move up to the top job, although a lot can happen in two years. Perhaps, though, people should be paying more attention to the role Navy Secretary Ray Mabus played in blocking the more forceful and outspoken Gen. James Mattis from being named to the Commandant’s position. Mattis, as Greg Jaffe noted in the Washington Post yesterday, “is widely considered one of the military’s best minds when it comes to waging war on insurgents.”
So why wasn’t Mattis chosen, given the fact that defense secretary Robert Gates believes counterinsurgency warfare is the wave of the future? The main reason probably was that political appointees didn’t think they could control him at a time when they are trying to redefine the role of the Marine Corps. Policymakers are openly questioning the relevance of amphibious warfare to future strategy, and trying to water down the requirements of “forcible entry” — capabilities that are at the core of the modern Marine identity. The cover story for these changes is that Iraq and Afghanistan have taught the joint force lessons that the Marine Corps must assimilate, but the real story is that the Navy doesn’t want to spend all the money needed to field a robust expeditionary warfare capability. Among other things, the Corps wants about 38 amphibious warships, more robust surface fire support, greatly enhanced vertical agility in its air wings, and a more versatile landing vehicle.
The Navy doesn’t want to buy hardly any of this. Its future force posture supplies about 20 percent fewer amphibious warships than Marine planners say they need. The DDG-1000 destroyer, which was designed around long-range guns that could deliver sustained rates of precision fire, will be terminated at a mere three hulls. Navy aviators have been bad-mouthing the Marine vertical-takeoff version of the F-35 joint strike fighter since it was first conceived. And the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle that would revolutionize ship-to-shore landings has been targeted for termination by the Navy secretary. In sum, the Navy leadership is opposed to much of what Marine leaders say they need for the future.
In fairness to those Navy leaders, there are legitimate questions about how successful future amphibious landings can be against well-armed adversaries. The advent of precision munitions and networked warfare has made opposed landings a tougher mission than they used to be. But the larger story is that there is chronic disagreement between the Navy and the Marine Corps about budget priorities, with the Navy preferring to fund what used to be called capital ships over amphibious systems. It’s handy to have the Marines around when politicians question the relevance of the Fleet to future warfare, but that doesn’t mean that admirals are willing to give up a couple of aircraft carriers to keep them happy. So General Amos will have his hands full trying to defend Marine Corps priorities against a Navy Department leadership that would prefer to spend increasingly scarce budget dollars in other ways.
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