ARLINGTON, Va. — Marines amid recent experiences, unit and equipment changes can look to the Ukraine conflict for real-life glimpses of how the Corps’ combat concept might play out in future combat. .
Small units using devastating weapons to destroy large enemy formations. Sink ships from the shore then quickly fade into the background. Recycling information so quickly the enemy cannot keep up, breaking the ability to execute effective combat plans. All of these scenarios are happening now as the Ukrainians fight the Russian military invasion.
But they could also be drawn from the pages of a variety of combat concepts and force design overhauls that the Marine Corps began nearly three years ago.
Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger and Marine Corps Sergeant Major Troy Black spoke to reporters at the Pentagon on Thursday ahead of the service’s Monday release of its 2022 annual update on Force Design. 2030 – the blueprint for how the Corps will adapt to a new landscape of warfare.
Berger first warned that many lessons from Ukraine have yet to be learned, but are valuable even at the start of the conflict.
“I’ve learned to be a little patient in discovering conflict as it unfolds in my career,” Berger said.
And there are themes in the conflict that resonate with recent force changes, but no one answers all of the force design questions.
“I wouldn’t say that anything, any single event in Ukraine validates or invalidates the force design or any aspect of it,” Berger said.
But the way the Ukrainians were able to “close the chain of destruction”, using information, sensors and a ground-based anti-ship missile to sink the Russian cruiser Moskva on April 14 in the Black Sea, showed what the Marines will do in future conflicts.
“That’s the direction the Marine Corps is going as part of what the nation needs us to do in sea control and sea denial,” Berger said. “This serves as an example of the vulnerability of ships, write big, to missiles.”
Ukrainian officials said they sank a second Russian ship in the Black Sea on Saturday with a drone strike.
Several media outlets reported that the United States shared intelligence with the Ukrainians, which helped sink the ship. Berger did not comment on the details of this or other incidents in Ukraine and any US involvement.
Navy leaders have repeatedly been asked if their force design is too narrowly focused on China and Indo-Pacific command. But Berger, his top generals and his staff said the changes, while targeting China as a “stimulating threat”, apply to all adversaries in various regions.
Black told reporters that the largest exercise the Corps has conducted this year was actually in Europe with Cold Response, a NATO-led exercise with 30,000 troops from 27 countries operating primarily in Norway.
“So the idea of the Marine Corps being one-theater focused, it’s not,” Black said.
The top sailor said he himself had taken quick lessons poorly in the past, as have others. But there were lessons analysts have already learned that can be fed back into the force.
First, he saw that smaller, more widely distributed units with their own way of detecting the enemy have proven themselves in Ukraine.
Add to that access to deadly tools, whether in unit or on call, and those small teams can be devastating.
And small units can outperform “large, bulky formations that have a huge logistical footprint.”
It’s a nod to how Ukrainian teams harassed, slowed down and stopped long convoys of Russian military vehicles in their tracks.
Second, the value of ground forces, he said.
For two or three decades, the thinking in some circles saw a future where units would simply stand at a distance and throw ammo at each other, making close combat a relic.
“Not so much,” he said.
On Wednesday, Lt. Gen. Karsten Heckl told an audience at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington that the concept of combined arms had changed. It’s everything from tanks, artillery and aviation to cyber, space and information that influences how leaders use these tools.
In recent years, the Marine Corps created the Marine Expeditionary Force Information Group, or MIG, to manage information, its use, and influence on the operations of the MEF and subordinate units.
The Corps is also expected to issue a new doctrinal release in the coming weeks specifically on the information, according to Force Design 2030 Annual Update 2022.
The third lesson shows some of the biggest changes the commander has seen in his four decades: the use of information, which has always been valuable but not as fast or shared as widely.
“But I’m watching this conflict unfold and the way the Ukrainian civilians and military used the information in the face of the adversary, in other words, at a faster pace earlier and a faster cycle, it seems like the Russians can’t quite catch up and get past it,” he said.
The Russians simply cannot keep up with the Ukrainians on the information front.
“This is the first time in my career that we’ve shared the volume of intelligence we have so openly and so quickly, for good reason,” Berger said.
This must continue, the four-star said, especially with allies and partners facing adversaries like Russia or China.
The information challenge is central to how Corps force design focuses on reconnaissance and counter-reconnaissance.
In a separate chat with the media on Friday, Heckl, Maj. Gen. Benjamin Watson and Maj. Gen. Eric Austin shared the role detection plays in this information environment.
Watson noted that the Corps has historically been slow to develop its own detection capabilities, instead relying on other services to provide them.
“It’s a position we’d rather not be in, that it wasn’t the only option,” Watson said.
The expanding MQ-9 Reaper drone program is finally giving the Marines a resident drone capability that they plan to adapt with new sensors and other equipment.
This should go well with the Marines’ new role as ship killers.
“If we have a missile that fires 100 nautical miles, then we want a sensor, organic to us, that can find a target way beyond that,” Watson said.
Todd South has written about crime, the courts, government and the military for several publications since 2004 and was named a 2014 Pulitzer Finalist for a co-authored project on witness intimidation. Todd is a Navy veteran of the Iraq War.