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Dr. James Holmes: The Naval Diplomat - 19FortyFive

Force Design 2030 Is Not All About the South China Sea

USS Wasp
(Oct. 4, 2007) - U.S. Marine Corps MV-22 Ospreys, assigned to Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron (VMM) 263, Marine Aircraft Group 29, prepare for flight on the deck of the multipurpose amphibious assault ship USS Wasp (LHD 1). Wasp is on surge deployment to the Middle East carrying the Osprey to its first combat deployment. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Zachary L. Borden (RELEASED)

Repeat after me: “Force Design 2030” is not mainly about the South China Sea, no matter what General David Berger’s detractors say. That claim constitutes part of the pushback from retired marines against the Marine Corps commandant’s effort to reinvent the corps as an island-warfare force. The latest to advance it was retired colonel Gary Anderson, a former chief of staff of the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory, over at Military.com last week.

It’s a strawman argument. And the strawman seems undead. Let’s aim another headshot at it and see if we can’t get a kill this time.

Contends Colonel Anderson, “The concept calls for having Marine Corps units occupy islands in the South China Sea to counter China’s attempt to dominate that body of water using long-range anti-ship and anti-air missiles. The intent is to assist the Navy in disrupting the Chinese reconnaissance strike-complex that is designed to deny U.S. naval and Air Force access to the South China Sea.”

Nope.

Check for yourself. The phrase “South China Sea” appears in Force Design 2030 precisely [thumbs through document] zero times. Nor does “Southeast Asia” put in an appearance. The concept does reimagine the Marine Corps as an island-hopping expeditionary force that will “stand in” within an enemy’s—chiefly China’s—“weapons engagement zone,” the geographic space within reach of People’s Liberation Army (PLA) sea, air, and missile power.

The point of standing in—as opposed to standing off beyond weapons range—is to deny the PLA Navy access to Pacific islands and adjacent waters and skies from the outset of a conflict. If successful, small missile-toting marine contingents operating with the U.S. Navy fleet and affiliated joint and allied forces will foil any amphibious assault on the islands, or any effort to traverse straits connecting the China seas with the broad Pacific.

By converting the first island chain into a barrier to maritime movement, they will imprison China’s navy and air force within the China seas. Sea denial is a prelude to a fight for command of the sea. This is the classic pattern: deny the enemy command, win command for yourself, exploit command. Once they rule the sea, allied commanders will exploit their dominance how they please.

Then, perhaps, the allies might concern themselves with subsidiary goals such as reducing China’s island fastnesses in the South China Sea, if that’s where the battle happens to be. But that’s not a necessary ingredient of General Berger’s strategic concept—let alone the sole purpose or combat theater impelling the redesign of the Marine Corps. Enough with the strawman.

Here’s hoping the zombie stays slain this time.

A 1945 Contributing Editor, Dr. James Holmes holds the J. C. Wylie Chair of Maritime Strategy at the Naval War College and served on the faculty of the University of Georgia School of Public and International Affairs. A former U.S. Navy surface warfare officer, he was the last gunnery officer in history to fire a battleship’s big guns in anger, during the first Gulf War in 1991. He earned the Naval War College Foundation Award in 1994, signifying the top graduate in his class. His books include Red Star over the Pacific, an Atlantic Monthly Best Book of 2010 and a fixture on the Navy Professional Reading List. General James Mattis deems him “troublesome.” The views voiced here are his alone.

Written By

James Holmes holds the J. C. Wylie Chair of Maritime Strategy at the Naval War College and served on the faculty of the University of Georgia School of Public and International Affairs. A former U.S. Navy surface-warfare officer, he was the last gunnery officer in history to fire a battleship’s big guns in anger, during the first Gulf War in 1991. He earned the Naval War College Foundation Award in 1994, signifying the top graduate in his class. His books include Red Star over the Pacific, an Atlantic Monthly Best Book of 2010 and a fixture on the Navy Professional Reading List. General James Mattis deems him “troublesome.”

11 Comments

11 Comments

  1. Slack

    May 2, 2022 at 2:44 am

    Dr Holmes, 2030 is all about the beaches of shanghai or the more famous ‘bund’ most familar to westerners, not the pipsqueak islands in SCS.

    By 2030, pacific forces would have quite ample quantities of hypersonic weaponry placed on the front doorstep, to stake a legitimate claim to those shipbuilding facilities at changxing. The treasure house or treasure island in the 21st century.

    • Joe Comment

      May 3, 2022 at 12:59 pm

      Slack: What are you smoking?

      • Rona

        May 21, 2022 at 12:15 pm

        Russia have been fooling the world for 20 years sputing their scum vile mouths saying how powerful Russian arm was, I think they barbarian scum meant shower instead of power as in a shower of suit Puitler has exposed his military as inept clue less mass gathering army of dopey pathetic clueless cuts they are the laughing stock of the world and can threaten no one without nukes. If they were fighting the US army or the British army they would all be dead now the raping murdering backshooting baby and infant killing murdering Russian filthy stinking vile repulsive evil black hearted barbarian Russian funking cunts.

    • cobo

      June 3, 2022 at 8:24 pm

      It seems to me this is the Marine Corps getting back to its roots, based on real, now, tech warfare. And like the Navy say down San Diego way, “No beach out of reach.” I think it’s brilliant, and I’ll buy Rona a beer.

  2. Michael Byrd, America's Hero

    May 2, 2022 at 9:10 am

    Force 2030 is about Berger’s post retirement job at Lockheed. China will bring their Light Tanks to the islands and even sell them to third parties. Something USMC doesn’t have and won’t be able to counter. Javelins don’t inside a Huey.

  3. Elmo Burkhardt

    May 2, 2022 at 12:50 pm

    Is this a “Grab them by the belt” strategy?

  4. Jacksonian Libertarian

    May 2, 2022 at 1:14 pm

    The increasing vulnerability of non-stealthy combat forces (ships, tanks, armored and unarmored vehicles, planes and copters, etc.) to guided missiles and armed drones is forcing these changes to fighting doctrine.

    The fact is Berger’s changes are just transitional, to a completely remote controlled, unmanned combat force. Drones (space, air, land, sea, sub) and autonomous weapons will rule the battlefields of tomorrow. The troops will fight from hidden and secured places, only coming close to the battlefields when lag is a problem.

  5. Jeff Tennen

    May 4, 2022 at 2:03 pm

    A few questions:
    -Which host nations have agreed to host these small Marine Corps teams and their missiles?
    -What is the logistical plan to sustain these teams? Medevac plan? How do these small relatively defenseless teams get reinforced when they come under attack?
    -Would not an additional attack submarine be a far more effective way to interdict PLAN ships and LOCs?

    The main arguments brought forward have nothing to do with the SCS, but instead because of the divestments are focused on COCOM OPLAN requirements, and the ability for the Marine Corps to fulfill its role as the nation’s crisis response force and force in readiness.

  6. David Chang

    May 8, 2022 at 7:50 am

    Yes.

    As Force Design 2030, marine and navy should not fight in South China Sea, South China Sea is a trap.

    God bless America.

  7. David Chang

    May 9, 2022 at 5:38 am

    Because the mission of Marine Corps is not strategy counterattack,
    marines just had to concentrate on tactics.

    Such as the win-hold-win policy of Defense Secretary Les Aspin and Green New Deal,
    many people debate the strategy of Navy,
    but President and Senate shall explain the Navy’s strategy issue.

    God bless America.

  8. Steven

    June 10, 2022 at 7:56 am

    This article keeps talking in double negatives and I am confused!!!! The strawman is undead??? What does that even mean?

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