As the U.S. slackens its efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, the service is shifting its priority to the Pacific, where the Marines will focus more on expeditionary operations than ground forces, says Gen. James Amos, the Corps Commandant.
The shift will determine how the Marines train and what they invest their money in, Amos says.
“The Pacific is huge,” Amos said during an Oct. 26 Washington Meetings Event hosted by the Council On Foreign Relations. “Seventy percent of the world is covered with water and the Pacific is the largest. It’s an important part of the world. You can look around the globe and ask where are areas where the U.S. has to focus its efforts. The Pacific is one of those.”
The Pacific shift will mark a return for the Marines, Amos says, to its expeditionary nature in a part of the world where the Corps has been active for nearly seven decades.
Still, the Marines will have to reorient themselves after years of intensive ground operations.
“It’s going to require more shipboard operations,” Amos said. “It’s going to require more combined arms operations. Some of it is the bread and butter of the Marine Corps, pre-9/11.”
Next year, Amos says, the Corps will start rebuilding its training bases with the new Pacific mind-set.
The Marines’ Pacific refocus will also likely mean a shift in certain ship maintenance resources to the U.S. West Coast.
Over the past decade or so, the $12.5 billion that the Navy has spent on non-nuclear vessel repairs has been fairly evenly split between the U.S. East and West coasts, according to an exclusive Aviation Week Intelligence Network (AWIN) analysis of an AWIN database created by information aggregated by the National Institute for Computer-Assisted Reporting.
The Corps also will be looking for better ways of conducting counterintelligence with equipment like radios, unmanned aerial vehicles, space-based assets and other stealthier operations to work in areas of the Pacific – like Chinese territorial waters – where access can be an issue.
“There are ways you can decrease the degree of difficulty that the enemy can deny you access,” Amos said. “It’s not going to be insurmountable.”
One asset that can help is the relatively new Marine Special Operations Command (Marsoc), which has proven itself in areas like cyberwarfare.
“I’m a huge fan,” Amos said, adding the Corps is building up Marsoc even as it reduces overall Marine personnel.
Marsoc, Seals and other units represent the “ultimate economy of force,” he said.
The military can use small teams of these forces to accomplish significant missions. “You can put small teams of guys in there and they can occupy a space and provide a lot of effect,” Amos said.
As Marines gear up for the change in operational mind-set, the Corp is also returning to its belt-tightening ways before the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, Amos says.
“We were known as the frugal force, the penny-pinchers,” he said. “We’re going back to that. Money is a problem now. I won’t ask for things I want, I’ll ask for things I need.”