I'm very interested to see the debate currently going on in the US Marine Corps about its Special Forces component (MARSOC), their contribution to SOCOM, and the mission and future of the Corps itself. Military.com reports:
Dakota Wood, who worked as a strategist at Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command from 2012-2013, released a 60-page report on Thursday titled "Rebuilding America's Military: The United States Marine Corps." It was published by the Heritage Foundation, a conservative Washington think tank where Wood serves as senior research fellow for defense programs.
Facing relentless operational tempo and ongoing budget woes, the Marine Corps should reevaluate where it's spending resources, Wood writes. As part of that effort, he said service leaders should "strongly consider disestablishing [MARSOC]."
"It's a great outfit and they're doing great things, so this is not to disparage MARSOC," Wood told Military.com. "It's stepping back and saying, 'OK, Marine Corps, what are you supposed to be doing? And how are you using the resources that you have?'"
Wood's call to disband the command comes after the Marine Corps released its 2020 budget request, revealing plans to increase the number of MARSOC billets. But the 2,700 Marines already assigned to MARSOC do more to benefit U.S. Special Operations Command than they do the Marine Corps, Wood wrote.
"The Corps' commitment to MARSOC, while a boon to SOCOM and the good work it does for the country, is an opportunity cost for the Corps and the work that only it can do, as opposed to SOCOM's role and the contributions long made to its mission by the Army, Navy and Air Force," he said.
. . .
For Marine Raiders who fought for a place within U.S. Special Operations Command over the past 13 years, Wood's suggestion falls flat.
The original Raider battalions were disbanded toward the end of World War II, and it was a decades-long effort to bring them back. Having someone make a case for dispansion again undoes years of hard work on and off the battlefield, they say.
MARSOC's critical skills operators were essential in Iraq and Afghanistan, for example, said Nick Koumalatsos, who spent 12 years with the command and in the Marine Corps reconnaissance community. Dissolving MARSOC now, he said, would be a huge blow.
"This would set us back two decades, if not more," Koumalatsos said. "It's not the world we live in anymore. We're not lining up tanks and we're not lining up in trenches to fight a conventional battle."
. . .
The Marine Corps also can't operate in a vacuum, where it doesn't have a connecting line to SOCOM, said Prime Hall, a former Raider and water-survival instructor.
"This is much larger than the Marine Corps," Hall said. "This is about what is best for the Department of Defense and the country as a whole."
There's more at the link. The whole article is well worth reading, for those interested in the subject.
I think this is a critically important debate, one that should have been started a long time ago. It made a great deal of sense to boost SOCOM's role (and therefore MARSOC's) in a time of unconventional, anti-terror warfare, such as we experienced after 9/11. However, special forces have never been intended to fight a major conventional war against conventional forces. They're typically equipped with lighter weapons, and trained to fight without access to powerful support arms and regular resupply. Put them up against a well-trained and -equipped regular force, in a conventional combat role, and they'd likely come off second best. Firepower and numbers matter on a battlefield.
I'm not by any means suggesting that Special Forces are somehow illegitimate or unnecessary. They've proved their worth for many years, and I hope we continue to field them for the long term. However, their role within the overall combat effort needs to be reassessed in the light of current and projected threats, and the balance of forces adjusted accordingly. That applies to the Marine Corps, too. Is a Marine Corps actually necessary or desirable in today's combat environment? If not, why does it still exist? If it is necessary and desirable, what is its reason for existence? Let's train and equip it for that purpose, rather than fritter away its substance across an overly broad spectrum of responsibilities.
Personally, I think the Marine Corps should be expanded, and treated as the "fast response" arm of the US armed forces overall. Let's take that mission away from the US Army, freeing that service to train and equip itself to face a conventional adversary in likely combat scenarios and environments. Similarly, let's release the Marine Corps from the conventional combat requirement, freeing it to train and equip itself for fast responses to emerging threats. The Marines could deal with lesser threats on their own, or stabilize and contain more serious problems until heavier conventional forces arrive.
I think that approach is perfectly suited to the way the Marines have traditionally operated, on a limited budget with limited, clearly focused responsibilities. What's more, it would fulfill an essential mission of our Armed Forces in a focused, unambiguous way. At present, that mission is divided between conventional and special forces across several arms of service. It siphons personnel and equipment from all of them, while not addressing the needs of any one of them in particular. That's created a nebulous situation that satisfies nobody.
That's only one possible approach, of course. There are many alternatives. I look forward to this debate continuing and intensifying. It's long overdue, IMHO.