- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David H. Berger has revealed new plans for shifting the Corps’ mission to prepare for a future conflict with China: scouting and screening operations.

The new approach upends the traditional mission of the Marines, who for decades have put amphibious assault from the sea to the land as the central priority.

“Given the realities of geography and the proliferating precision strike regime, the Navy and the joint force will need an ‘inside’ or ‘stand-in’ force that can operate persistently within the weapons engagement zone (WEZ) of a peer adversary,” Gen. Berger wrote in an article published Tuesday in the U.S. Army’s journal, Military Review. “These same forces will remain inside an adversary WEZ to provide necessary support to naval and joint campaigning should competition escalate to war,” he said.

“Critically, given the vulnerability of large, fixed bases and shore-based infrastructure to long-range precision strike and the challenges of adequately defending that infrastructure, the stand-in force must be able to perform these functions from a strictly expeditionary and highly mobile posture.”

Gen. Berger outlined in the journal article that the new Marine mission will include reconnaissance and counter-reconnaissance of People’s Liberation Army (PLA) forces and activities from waters close to China‘s shores. Reconnaissance is detecting enemy activities, while counter-reconnaissance is blocking an adversary from doing the same to U.S. forces.

Gen. Berger said the two functions have also been called scouting and screening. Scouting is using all means to obtain and report combat information to commanders, while screening involves military operations to frustrate enemy scouting — including direct attacks on threatening enemy positions.

The new approach ends earlier plans that called for keeping Marine ground units and F-35 fighter jets positioned mainly on a network of small bases located close to China.

“The answer to the question of how we may best support the broader effort, it seems increasingly likely, is not lethal fires as an end in themselves but rather reconnaissance and counter-reconnaissance applied in all domains and across the competition continuum,” Gen. Berger said.

Marine stand-in forces will be “constantly present” in key waters during periods of competition with China below the level of conflict and will seek to deter and counter “non-lethal coercive behavior and other malign activity directed at U.S. allies, partners, and other interests,” Gen. Berger wrote.

The new Marine strategy is based on war games that showed China‘s rapidly developing long-range, precision-strike missiles and weapons make land bases vulnerable to attack. Additionally, large Navy ships also are now vulnerable to China‘s new anti-ship ballistic missiles, the DF-21 and DF-26, the general said.

In response, “a light, self-reliant, highly mobile naval expeditionary force postured forward in littoral areas” close to China will provide military commanders with key abilities to find and track high-value targets such as PLA reconnaissance platforms, scouting units, and other Chinese command, control, communications, computers, cyber, intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, and targeting systems.

The floating Marine units will be able to target those systems with missiles and other weapons and also provide cues to other naval and military forces for what Gen. Berger said will be “highly lethal naval and joint fires kill chains.”

The stand-in Marine force would move continually from stealthy sea-based platforms and austere bases ashore, making it “fiendishly difficult for the adversary to locate, track, and effectively target” and complicating significantly Chinese leaders’ decision-making.

“Even in steady-state, day-to-day competition below the threshold of violence, this widely distributed mobile presence will greatly expand the depth and fidelity of the joint force commander’s understanding of the full range of adversary and other activity within the area of operations,” Gen. Berger wrote in the journal article.

The Marine scouting and screening forces will also cooperate closely with regional allies to discourage Chinese coercion and contribute to deterrence by detection, he noted. The Marines will be operating from international waters with short periods ashore with local allies and partners, thus reducing the need for heavy ground forces or large land-based aviation forces. The smaller units also will reassure allies who are reluctant to host large numbers of U.S. military forces.

The four-star general predicted that the new mission will be controversial within the Marine Corps and the U.S. military in general, since it appears to go against the service’s traditional role as amphibious shock troops. But the reform is needed as part of efforts to retool the military for a possible war with China.

Earlier, Gen. Berger announced the Marines would give up all its M1A1 tanks as part of a reform program called Force Design 2030.

Additional ground force changes include fielding a Marine Littoral Regiment, restructuring infantry battalions and eliminating much of towed artillery in favor of longer-range rockets and missiles, including anti-ship missiles.

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