Marine Corps Seeks Correct 21st Century Balance

WASHINGTON, Nov. 16, 2010 — The Marine Corps needs to be like a mid­dleweight box­er –- agile, quick and dead­ly, the com­man­der of Marine Corps Com­bat Devel­op­ment Com­mand said here today.
Speak­ing to the Defense Writ­ers’ Group, Lt. Gen. George J. Fly­nn not­ed that the Marine Corps has the mis­sion to be America’s expe­di­tionary force in readi­ness.

“A mid­dleweight fight­er has to have a knock­out punch,” the gen­er­al said. “But I also don’t think a mid­dleweight should go 15 rounds with a heavy­weight.”

Find­ing the right bal­ance to define what the Corps should look like and what capa­bil­i­ties it should con­tain is Flynn’s mis­sion. “It means that we are going to be tru­ly expe­di­tionary — that we can go wher­ev­er we need to go today, not tomor­row, and that we put a pre­mi­um on readi­ness,” he said.

“A cri­sis response force does all the things you see the Marine Corps do right now,” he told the group, from fight­ing in Iraq and Afghanistan to pro­vid­ing aid to Pak­istan, to help­ing coun­tries in Africa, South Amer­i­ca and Asia. The Marine Corps is tak­ing the lessons of 10 years of war to heart, he added.

“One of the top lessons is that we’re doing things at a much low­er lev­el than we ever did in the past,” Fly­nn said.

Marine Corps com­pa­nies are doing what bat­tal­ions did in the past, he explained. The strat­e­gy calls for push­ing intel­li­gence and oper­a­tions plan­ning to com­pa­ny lev­el.

“We’re ask­ing a lot of the young lead­ers to do this,” he said. “Tac­ti­cal actions have strate­gic impli­ca­tions, and that real­ly is a key fac­tor in push­ing those things down there and ask­ing them to coor­di­nate these in a very com­plex bat­tle space.”

Strate­gists talk about a three-block war, and the Marines have embraced that notion, Fly­nn said. “It is not uncom­mon to have a unit doing pret­ty heavy com­bat, at the same time they train their replace­ments -– be it police or army sup­port -– and the oth­er part is enabling gov­er­nance to take place,” Fly­nn said.

Anoth­er les­son is inte­grat­ing new tech­nol­o­gy into bat­tle plans and inte­grat­ing lessons on the fly. Pre-deploy­ment train­ing is an area of con­cen­tra­tion for Marines, Fly­nn said. The train­ing, he said, enables Marines at all lev­els to under­stand the mis­sion ahead.

“We use the pre-deploy­ment train­ing to inte­grate the new things that are on the bat­tle­field – not just equip­ment, but the tac­tics, tech­niques and pro­ce­dures as well,” Fly­nn said. For exam­ple, he said, the Marine Corps just opened the expand­ed immer­sive infantry train­er at Camp Pendle­ton, Calif., and is build­ing sim­i­lar facil­i­ties at Camp Leje­une, N.C., and in Hawaii. The train­er gives ground Marines the same leg up that pilots receive, Fly­nn said.

“For those who fly air­planes, you would nev­er think of giv­ing a pilot the keys to a com­mer­cial air­lin­er or a fight­er air­craft with­out some sim­u­la­tor time,” he said. “Why would we give a young squad leader the keys to a rifle squad with­out going through a sim­u­la­tor? The sim­u­la­tor gives you the pre-com­bat check ride to make sure you can deal with what you’re going to have to deal with.”

The Marines have been crit­i­cized as func­tion­ing sim­ply as a sec­ond land army, but Fly­nn said he doesn’t agree.

“I would argue that since 9/11, we’ve been at sea quite a bit as well,” he said. A Marine expe­di­tionary unit based on ships respond­ed to the earth­quake in Haiti in Jan­u­ary, he not­ed. Anoth­er respond­ed from the sea to the flood­ing in Pak­istan. Still anoth­er respond­ed to Haiti as a hur­ri­cane struck the island nation ear­li­er this month, Fly­nn said.

Inte­grat­ing new equip­ment into the Corps also is part of Flynn’s mis­sion, and he is look­ing at new ground com­bat vehi­cles, the F-35 joint strike fight­er and many oth­er pieces of equip­ment, he said. He acknowl­edged, how­ev­er, that such pro­grams can present fis­cal pit­falls. “How do pro­grams get in trou­ble? We over-reach on tech­nol­o­gy, and as a result we under­es­ti­mate the cost and we under­es­ti­mate the time to be able to do it,” he said.

To rem­e­dy that, the gen­er­al said, the mil­i­tary needs a bet­ter dia­logue with indus­try from the begin­ning of the process.

“We need to be more informed of what we’re ask­ing and to be able to real­ly know the cost of what we’re ask­ing them to do,” he said.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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