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.
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.