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The U.S. Marines Just Gave Us a Preview of How They Would Fight China

U.S. Marines China
Lance Cpl. Mitchell Smith, a small arms repair technician with 1st Maintenance Battalion, Combat Logistics Regiment 15, 1st Marine Logistics Group, sights in on a barrel at the 1st Maint. Bn. Marksmanship Trainer Unit on Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California, Jan. 7, 2020. The MTU holds a week-long refresher course about proper holds and techniques with the M16 and M4 service rifle before allowing Marines to re-qualify on their annual range. Smith is a native of San Jose, California. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Alison Dostie).

The Marine Corps recently released the official manual for their new Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations strategy, the tentative first edition of which can be read here.

In contrast to the long grinding mountain and desert land campaigns of Afghanistan and Iraq, the Marine’s new EABO concept would see Marines return to their maritime heritage.

China, Beware 

Distributed throughout the Pacific, small groups of highly trained and autonomous Marines would conduct a variety of missions, including reconnaissance of enemy-held areas and surveillance of enemy shipping, as well as amphibious and airborne assault. 

The new force design hearkens back to the Corps’ World War II-era island-hopping campaigns, which saw Marines seize and hold far-flung and austere specks of land throughout the Pacific.

This time, however, the Marines would be a much more mobile force, with a much flatter leadership structure in order to allow smaller groups of Marines to seize the initiative as they see fit.

A Smart Move? 

It’s a force posture concept that requires the Corps to undergo a great deal of change — and has had its detractors.

One of the most significant changes the Corps has had to go through in order to return to their maritime roots is divesting a number of weapon systems, including all their tank battalions: if it doesn’t swim, get rid of it.

They’ve also invested time and money into several new platforms, including their new Amphibious Combat Vehicle, a replacement for the Corps’ 1970s-era Assault Amphibious Vehicle which has grown long in the tooth after nearly a half-century of service.

The Corps is also experimenting with several long-range, remotely controlled or semi-autonomous platforms that could be equipped with the U.S. Navy’s powerful and long-range Naval Strike Missile to hold enemy ships at bay from increasingly far distances and deny them use of islands or atolls. You can read more about the Marine’s missile-flinging, remotely driven trucks here. 

They’re also getting ready to invest big in their new Light Amphibious Warship in an attempt at force dispersal by moving away from smaller numbers of large amphibious ships to larger numbers of smaller, but still expeditionary ships. 

Still, the Corps needs to validate not only the myriad of new technologies they’re rapidly incorporating, but also make sure that the Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations strategy is fundamentally sound — hence the highly-anticipated EABO codification in manual form.

And, of course, despite the raft of new measures, not everyone is convinced that it is in the Marine Corps’ best interests to prioritize fighting an amphibious conflict against China, which admittedly risks making the Corps into a force perfectly tailored for one specific threat at the expense of capabilities elsewhere.

So while it is too early to say for certain whether or not the Marine Corps’ restructuring will limit their scope of capabilities, the manual makes for a fascinating and insightful read. 

Caleb Larson is a defense writer based in Europe. He holds a Master of Public Policy and covers U.S. and Russian security, European defense issues, and German politics and culture.

Caleb Larson
Written By

Caleb Larson, a defense journalist based in Europe and holds a Master of Public Policy degree from the Willy Brandt School of Public Policy. He lives in Berlin and writes on U.S. and Russian foreign and defense policy, German politics and culture.

17 Comments

17 Comments

  1. Avatar

    mike

    April 17, 2021 at 9:16 am

    Ships will be sunk long before they reach any island target in WWIII. No more amphibious assaults, areas will be crushed by air & sea then simply occupied. Bin Laden’s boys were hiding in mountain caves 200 feet below surface, pin pointed by satellite infra-red sensors, then destroyed by bombs that burrowed 200′ down to get them.

    WWIII will be catastrophic and the world is about to be broken into 3 spheres of influence: West/Europe; Asia; Orthodox Russian. How Muslims fit in is yet to be determined. Globalization is near if the US Nation State is destroyed by America’s Global Communists.

  2. Avatar

    Charlie

    April 17, 2021 at 10:21 am

    For far too long, we have tried to be a better army than the US Army. It’s time we got back to our roots of being the world’s preeminent naval infantry that strikes fear in the hearts of dictators around the planet. I fear that modern Marines no longer remember the term “Soldiers of the Sea.”

  3. Avatar

    Buck Fiden

    April 17, 2021 at 11:13 am

    I’d think the chinese would consider it an acceptable risk to put a small tactical nuclear weapon on each of those small islands.

  4. Avatar

    MarkZ

    April 17, 2021 at 12:57 pm

    US military victories have been a bit thin over the last 60 years. How arrogant for them to assume they can take on the most populous nation on earth with the second largest economy. Anyway, I don’t see China with military bases ringing the globe. Just live and let live, or we all die!

    • Avatar

      Mark Clayton

      April 17, 2021 at 5:16 pm

      Who have the Chinese defeated..?
      They do March in nice lines at parades , as all totalitarian regimes do

      • Avatar

        Former Grunt

        April 20, 2021 at 1:22 am

        Us, above the 38th parallel in Korea; we would have won that one if the Chinese hadn’t flooded in from the North (Truman should have nuked them). It would be foolish to conclude they aren’t a game enemy.

    • Avatar

      Desert Hunter

      April 17, 2021 at 11:55 pm

      No room for cowards. Oorah!!

  5. Avatar

    david

    April 17, 2021 at 2:31 pm

    While I lament the loss of the Marine tank Battalions I believe this is a wise and even a necessary change.

    I think, going back to the organizations roots is exactly whats called for. The USMC is well position to be the perfect light/medium force for a maritime campaign.

    The thought of our Scrappy lethernecks, enabled with the latest technology’s, getting back to their roots makes me a proud American.

  6. Avatar

    Leon Redbone

    April 17, 2021 at 2:56 pm

    They seem to be the only part of our armed forces that are seeing, clear-eyed, the biggest threat to our nation today from a hostile country (China) and is positioning themselves to protect us the best way they know how.

    We are not prepared for what is unfolding before our very eyes. When China moves against Taiwan, we will lose more men and women in the opening salvos the ten 911’s!

    • Avatar

      Mark Clayton

      April 17, 2021 at 5:18 pm

      How China going to invade Taiwan without the world knowing their preparing months in advance..?

      • Avatar

        Bruno Padovani

        April 17, 2021 at 8:21 pm

        The world WILL know, but will do nothing.

        • Avatar

          Mike O'Rangers

          April 19, 2021 at 6:34 pm

          Correct!

  7. Avatar

    Jody

    April 17, 2021 at 11:13 pm

    Yes, decentralized unit operations vs one of the three current adversarial options makes sense given the behemoth of chain of command two of them have embeddedbin their culture. It also evolves the USMC operational considerations from lessons learned against an underpowered yet formidable foe that we’ve just faced for the last 20 years. If it does make Marine units more independently functional in the moment, I think enemy will be constantly seeing noise where cohesive centerlized planning shows more pattern. Inexperienced leaders will have a hard time countering that kind of strategy. This means greater need for quality mid career NCO and Jr. Officer training and selection. I look forward to seeing how aspects of this develop. At the very worst I see a growth in use of Raider/MARSOC tactics and training SOPs across the Marine Infantry. Get some.

  8. Avatar

    Desert Hunter

    April 18, 2021 at 12:20 am

    Outside of a billion screaming Chinese men, militarily they can’t scratch a pimple off a whores ass. Technology wise they’re a joke, just like their outdated former Russian Aircraft carrier. A brigade of Marines could wipe out those slant eye pukes! Oorah!!!!

  9. Avatar

    some guy

    April 18, 2021 at 12:29 pm

    why does America need to pay for an entire corps when their new doctrine will be using decentralized small units to execute small naval infantry missions?

    furthermore, small decentralized units executing naval infantry missions would be of limited utility against a land war against Russia.

  10. Avatar

    Chuckiechan

    April 18, 2021 at 2:42 pm

    It depends on the Chinese. We don’t have the same population type we had in the 60’s. We have forgotten what large wars were like. We are counting on China to “keep it small and contained”. Suppose they don’t cooperate? What US leader would institute a draft?

    You know that they learned with Covid 19, the country folds during election season, knowing our leadership type will cling to power at the cost of our military.

    The best way is the boring way: “Stop buying from China, and cut of China’s air supply.

    • Avatar

      okay nice

      April 19, 2021 at 4:07 pm

      unless we were facing existential threat and direct attack we are never going to war with china or russia or any near-peer adversaries. even if, for example an entire carrier group was destroyed in a first strike it would take massive suppression of the media and certain domestic politics to get to a point where we could defend our interests in a large scale conflict. in 2020 we showed our hand as a divided and probably broken country.

      china’s military and tech is still kind of a joke but they are willing to escalate where we are not. Russia just has better, more experienced military and soldiers with better support from their country, even if they are the “bad guys”

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