The Real Boost the Marine Corps Needs
"The few" need to be not-so-few, and they need the best gear they can get.
The United States Marine Corps has always been about being “a few good men.” That said, the Marines could use some help.
While the classic images of Marines are those storming beaches somewhere in the Pacific, fighting house-to-house in Fallujah, or making an incredible retreat at Chosin, there is more to the Marines than just that. They do a little bit of everything.
One of the most important, yet lesser-known, areas they are involved in is aerial combat. Not only do Marine Corps aviators help transport Marines, they are also capable of just about every aerial combat mission. Unfortunately, Marine aviation has taken some big hits since the end of the Cold War.
In 2016, not that long ago, the Marines had to go to the boneyard to get enough F/A-18 Hornets to maintain operational readiness. These were the baseline F/A-18Cs, because the Marines never received the more capable F/A-18E/F Super Hornets. Just bringing those online not only would have made the Marines more capable but simplified logistics on Navy carriers and given the Marines an insurance policy for the F-35’s teething problems.
Here is one other startling tidbit about the F-35B that the Marines plan to use as their only multi-role fighter: It cannot haul 2,000-pound bombs. Not the GPS-guided Joint Direct Attack Munitions, not the Paveway laser-guided bombs, not even dumb bombs. Even the old Hornets could haul 2,000-pound bombs.
The Marines have also had to stand down a number of squadrons. Keeping the Super Hornet line open could enable them to have more squadrons on standby and maintain the ability to drop 2,000-pound bombs on the enemy. But the fixed-wing fighters aren’t the only area where Marine aviation has taken a hit.
Currently, each Marine tilt-rotor squadron has a dozen MV-22 Ospreys, which replaced the aging CH-46 Sea Knight helicopters. That’s all well and good, but the squadrons had, at one point had up to 18 CH-46 helicopters (the number was reduced to 12 in the 1980s, according to the Thirteenth Edition of the Naval Institute Guide to the Ships and Aircraft of the United States Navy). Restoring those squadrons to 18 aircraft each would make the Marine Expeditionary Units far more capable.
Even the Marines in the Ground Combat Element have taken hits. In 2011, the Obama administration canceled the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle, which would have greatly helped the Marines when it came to taking Marines onto hostile beaches. Today, the new Amphibious Combat Vehicle may not enter service until 2022 and would be far less capable than the EFV.
Marines also will be in need of ground-based air defense — another capability that has greatly atrophied since the end of the Cold War. Marines used to rely on MIM-23 HAWK surface-to-air missiles. The good news is that ground-launched versions of the AIM-120 AMRAAM are available and can be launched from the High Mobility Multi-Purpose Wheeled Vehicle. It’s a cheap and easy fix to give the Marines an urgently needed boost.
The Marine Corp has always managed to avoid the worst of the budget axe, but since the end of the Cold War, they have taken hits. The Marines have always been elite, but “the few” need to be not-so-few, and they need the best gear they can get.