Defense bill calls for outside oversight of Marine Corps modernization plans

Defense bill calls for outside oversight of Marine Corps modernization plans

The Marine Corps will likely have to undergo an external review of its controversial overhaul plan, thanks to a provision in Congress’ National Defense Authorization Act.

Retired Marine Col. Mark Cancian, senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the provisions of the annual National Defense Authorization Act allow lawmakers to listen to retired Marines who have expressed concerns about the direction of the Corps. He said it shows that. Monday.

The bill requires the Department of Defense to contract with a federally funded research and development center to “conduct an independent review, evaluation, and analysis of the Marine Corps’ modernization efforts” within three months of enactment. .

The provision suggests Congress will scrutinize the details of modernization plans that critics say were created without sufficient oversight, an allegation the Marine Corps denies. There is.

Since the announcement in 2020 of Force Design 2030, a series of sweeping changes aimed at preparing for conflict with technologically sophisticated adversaries, the Corps has directed Marines to fight in stealthier, more dispersed groups. its approach to warfare by training and decommissioning old platforms. Force Design marks a shift in focus from ground warfare in the Middle East to a potential conflict with China in the Pacific.

The service also revamped its personnel management, training and logistics as part of a related initiative championed by now-retired Gen. David Berger.

Some major changes, such as eliminating tanks, reducing some artillery, and reorganizing traditional units, were not popular with everyone in the Corps and retired Marine community.

Retired generals opposed to Force Design want the evaluation to be “a very thorough analysis that brings together many different perspectives,” Cancian said.

“On the other hand, it could just be one of those everyday endeavors that doesn’t create much new or interesting things,” Cancian says.

Cancian said he supports some of the Marine Corps’ transformation in the Pacific, but is concerned about the Marine Corps moving away from its global responsibilities and coalition force structure.

The House and Senate each included similar provisions requiring evaluation in their respective defense bills, and the provision was included in a compromise released late Wednesday.

In Cancian’s view, likely candidates to receive contracts to conduct the assessments include RAND, the Institute for Defense Analyses, and the Center for Naval Analyses.

External analysis of Force Design 2030 was not previously required by the National Defense Authorization Act. The 2021 law required an external study of the structure of Marine Corps aviation based on unit design.

Force Design’s external evaluation considers questions such as the following in a condensed form:

  • What evidence supports the changes the Marine Corps has made?
  • Does the war in Ukraine make a change in force design seem more or less advisable?
  • Will the defense industrial base be able to develop and produce the technology the Corps wants for Force Design in a timely manner?
  • Does Force Design meet the requirements of combatant commanders leading troops around the world?
  • Does Force Design comply with federal laws that define the organization and capabilities required for the Marine Corps?
  • how should Is the Marine Corps prepared for future conflicts?

Within one year of awarding the evaluation contract, the research and development center must submit a report on the evaluation results to the Department of Defense. The Secretary of Defense must then submit the report to the Congressional National Defense Committees.

The report must be unclassified, but may contain sections that are classified.

Another provision of the bill requires the Marine Corps to provide detailed annual briefings to Congress on its force design implementation, with the first briefing to be held no later than March 15.

When asked about the bill, Marine Corps spokesman Maj. Eric Flanagan said Nov. 29 that the Corps does not comment on pending legislation.

Force design and its critics

In the years since the Corps announced Force Design 2030, some retired Marine Corps leaders concerned about the plan have petitioned Congress for more scrutiny of the plan and asked military leaders to change policy. He took the unusual public step of lobbying for changes and writing an editorial criticizing the plan. Current Marine Corps Leadership Decisions.

Retired Brigadier General Gens. Jerry McAbee and Mike Hayes wrote in March’s National Interest that “Congress has no idea that future military innovations and transformations offer the illusion of seductive budget solutions or future ‘silver bullet’ technologies.” We cannot assume that just because something is good for national defense, it is necessarily good for national defense.”

Some force design critics believe that Berger circumvented the normal combat development process by “a small group of supposed ‘thinkers’ who assembled ideas without any of the necessary professional scrutiny.” retired Lt. Gen. Paul Van Riper told Marine Corps Times in June.

Current Marine Corps leaders argue that the Corps must adapt to: Advances in technology, especially the rise of long-range precision strikes that can kill groups of slow and easily tracked Marines. They asserted that the Marine Corps remains critical not only to the war in the Pacific, but also to global crisis response.

Berger, who championed the Force design during his four years as commander, repeatedly emphasized that the concept was born out of extensive wargaming and experimentation.

“None of this was fabricated by one or two people,” Berger said in June, with less than a month left in his term as head of the Marine Corps. “This is being driven by a huge machine of very experienced and very smart people.”

Gen. Eric Smith, who assumed command in September after serving as acting commander for more than two months, expressed strong support for the force design he helped develop. However, he expressed his intention to adapt the initiative.

“Anytime we have data that says we need to change to be modern, more lethal or more responsive, I agree with that, and where we need to make changes,” Smith told Congress in June. We are committed to making changes everywhere.”

Smith said he spoke with all retired commanders, assistant commanders and combatant commanders at the Military Writers and Editors Conference in Washington on Oct. 27.

“We all agree that there is one commander at a time,” Smith said. “Now that’s me.”

Two days later, Smith went into cardiac arrest and was hospitalized for several weeks.

Another supporter of Force Design, Assistant Commandant Christopher Mahoney, is acting as commander until Smith recovers. Smith expressed his intention to return to his job as soon as possible.

Van Riper told Marine Corps Times on Monday that it would be unrealistic to expect Smith to abandon force design so soon after the Corps makes major sales of traditional capabilities such as tanks and artillery. he said. But he said Smith could lay the groundwork for acquiring a more modern form of the sold platform.

In Cancian’s view, an external review could give Smith legitimacy to make changes to Force Design 2030, and even give him ideas about what changes to make.

“This is a tool that a new commander can use if he wants to reimagine 2030 and make it his own,” Cancian said.

Eileen Lowenson is a staff reporter at Marine Corps Times. She joined Military Times as an Editorial Fellow in her August 2022. She is a graduate of Williams College and served as editor-in-chief of the student newspaper.

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