On its 247th birthday, the Marine Corps can celebrate being the military branch most serious about China

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Members of the U.S. Marine Corps march in formation during halftime of an NFL football game between the Miami Dolphins and the Baltimore Ravens, Thursday, Nov. 11, 2021, in Miami Gardens, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky) Lynne Sladky/AP

On its 247th birthday, the Marine Corps can celebrate being the military branch most serious about China

Thursday is the 247th birthday anniversary of the Marine Corps. The nation’s amphibious assault force, the Marines have fought in every major conflict the U.S. military has waged since the nation’s founding.

True, as Politico’s Dave Brown notes, members of Congress are unfortunately again struggling to identify the Marine Corps’ ships, motto, and birthday anniversary. But facing the rising prospect of war with China, the Marine Corps is pursuing the boldest reforms of any of the military service branches. Befitting their saying, “adapt and overcome,” the Marines have looked at the enemy and war they are likely to fight and have undertaken to prepare in kind. Time is of the essence. Some top U.S. military analysts now see a Chinese attack on Taiwan occurring between 2023 and 2027.

Predictably, this effort is meeting bureaucratic and political resistance. Some would rather the Marine Corps retain a force disposition and associated prestige born of previous battles won. But in stark contrast to the other five military branches, its Navy brother in particular, the Marine Corps is advancing through contact.

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Under the headline “Force 2030,” Marine Commandant Gen. David Berger is attempting to shed his forces of heavy maneuver capabilities such as tanks, cannon artillery, and heavy-lift helicopters that are vulnerable to the coming enemy and lack utility against his battle doctrine. Berger also wants to cut several infantry battalions and their enablers. His intent is to make the Marine Corps more agile to conduct a reimagined concept of amphibious warfare. In the 1940s, Pacific Marines, including my grandfather, stormed the beaches of Guam and Okinawa to use them for bomber bases and the geographic encirclement of the Japanese home islands. Berger wants his Marines to be able to seize one big island and many tiny artificial islands rapidly and then use them as strongholds to degrade overwhelming enemy forces in their vicinity. The Marines would do so by operating with stockpiles of various anti-air and anti-ship weapons and sensors that could identify enemy forces for other U.S. forces to target and destroy.

The Marine Corps barely hides the fact that China is basically the only adversary on its mind here.

The Marines’ most recent ad shows them fighting on an island territory that bears very close similarity to the terrain and urban environment of Taiwan. It shows Marines engaged in long-range rocket artillery fire and directing anti-ship strikes. This is exactly what the Marines expect to be doing in any battle for Taiwan’s defense and/or campaign across the South China Sea. The basic mission requirement will be to survive with little to no support from the U.S. military and then deflect the People’s Liberation Army’s own area-denial strategy back against it. The aspiration is that this effort would drain the PLA’s freedom of movement and ambition and attrit its best front-line forces.

To be clear, the new vision necessarily entails putting Marines in very challenging situations against, at least at the start of conflict, far-outsize PLA forces. The Marines expect to take heavy casualties. In return, they hope to wage an aggressive forward fight in pursuit of victory. This calculation, then, flows inexorably from the Marine Corps’ heritage of war in North Africa, the Pacific, and Afghanistan and Iraq.

The Marines should be proud of this. Unlike the admirals’ continued reliance on aircraft carriers that cannot operate near China, nor without relying on under-ranged, under-armed aircraft that cannot degrade overwhelming PLA forces, the Marines’ doctrine might just work.

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