After barrage of editorials and criticism, Navy leaders defend restructuring plan

Marine Corps leaders have forcefully defended their future vision for the service – known as Force Design 2030 – after a series of op-eds and dismissals from former generals appeared in multiple media outlets.

The plan, announced more than two years ago, calls for the Corps to get rid of its tanks, some aircraft and thousands of Marines to make way for anti-ship missile capabilities, as well as unmanned systems and other high-tech equipment, in an effort to refocus service on amphibious and expeditionary warfare.

“The ethos, the warfighting spirit, the offensive nature, the Navy air-ground task force, the combined arms – that doesn’t change,” said General Eric Smith, deputy commandant of the Marine Corps. Marines, at a ballroom Tuesday at the Sea-Air-Space Exposition outside of Washington, DC

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“Anyone who thinks it’s changed, you should go to Parris Island, or MCRD [Marine Corps Recruit Depot] San Diego, or Quantico,” he added.

The comments seemed to be aimed squarely to editorials criticize the redesign of the service who went out in the last months.

Jim Webb, a retired Navy officer and former Secretary of the Navy, called the plan “a policy that would alter so many centuries-old contributions of the Marine Corps” in a recent Wall Street Journal editorial which claimed to represent the views of 22 four-star generals.

Webb was a frequent critic of the plan, writing editorials dating back to 2020 arguing that it would “radically alter the entire force structure of the Marine Corps” to confront China while “ignoring the unpredictability of war itself”.

Other critics, such as the author and former naval infantry officer Bing West, dispute that by abandoning tanks and artillery assets, the Corps will be less capable on urban battlefields like the Ukraine. West pointed out that the Marines played a crucial role in two major urban battles in recent memory – the city of Hue during the Vietnam War and Fallujah during the second Iraq War.

However, Smith, in his remarks on Tuesday, said he had a different conclusion to recent events in Ukraine.

“You really don’t have to look any further than Ukraine to see … the value of an individual, an individual,” said Smith, who as a lieutenant general led the command that helped develop the overhaul plan.

Lieutenant General Karsten S. Hecklthe man who now heads that development command, argued that the conflict in the Middle East – which included the Battle of Fallujah – was part of the Corps’ problem.

“For all the right reasons, they called, we went,” Heckl said. “But we kind of lost the sense of who we were.”

“Our stuff grew in size and weight. … We were a little less concerned with being compatible with the ships,” Heckl explained, before adding that the conflicts cost the Marines a different aspect of their philosophy and their culture – maritime combat strength.

“Things started creeping into our lexicon — they weren’t called catering halls anymore, mess decks. They were DFACS,” Hel said, using the army term for a restaurant.

Later, at the same conference, Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro expressed support for the Marine Corps restructuring plan.

One of the elements of the plan is to make marine units smaller and more agile to allow them to move freely inside enemy territory and deliver decisive strikes.

And Heckl said that the high-tech equipment that the new regiments are expected on the ground is developing rapidly.

“I’m not talking about pixie dust and unicorns and pixies. That’s what we’re doing now,” he said, before noting that he now had a piece of drone debris thanks to the one of the new weapon systems.

Retired Marine General Paul Van Riper, who spent 41 years in uniform, charged in a Marine Corps Times Editorial that the changes mean the service will become “a mere shadow of what was once a feared fighting force”.

But panel leaders were particularly adamant about one thing: The plan does not mean a less deadly Marine Corps.

“Someone has to take more risks for the joint force,” Smith said. “It’s what we do, it’s our nature.”

Shortly after, Smith referred to the Corps as “the primary risk taker in the event of a break and enter”.

Marine Corps Sergeant Major Troy Black said, “We locate, close in and destroy the enemy. Period.

“We have people, and we’re ready to do this across the time continuum,” he added.

— Konstantin Toropin can be contacted at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @ktoropin.

Related: Marine Corps begins shutdown of all tank battalions

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