Can Congress Save the Marine Corps from Itself?

Marine Corps Birthday Ball at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va.
U.S. Marines at Marine Corps Air Facility (MCAF) bring their friends and family to celebrate the 244th Marine Corps Birthday Ball at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va. on Nov. 14, 2019. (Mikayla R. Perez/U.S. Marine Corps)

Gary Anderson was the director of Marine Corps Wargaming and chief of staff of the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab. He lectures on Wargaming and Alternative Analysis (Red Teaming) at George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs.

The opinions expressed in this op-ed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of If you would like to submit your own commentary, please send your article to for consideration.

In a recent speech to the Marine Corps Association, the current commandant, Gen. David Berger, congratulated his Marines on having an open and honest debate concerning his Force Design (FD) 2030 initiative, which eliminated all the service's tanks, much of its tubed artillery, many helicopters and its heavy engineering capability, and drastically reduced Marine Corps infantry strength.

My question is: What debate? Incoming students at the Marine Corps professional education schools are told in no uncertain terms that the restructured service is a done deal and not up for discussion. The only articles in service-specific publications that have seriously questioned the premises or execution of FD 2030 have been by retired Marines or independent analysts. The new doctrine was developed behind closed doors by the commandant and a close circle of trusted advisers. No input from the rest of the active duty or the retired members of the Corps was solicited.

Historically, that approach has not ended well for the militaries that have employed it. In 1936, the French General Staff issued a gag order concerning criticism of the French standing doctrine known as "Methodical Battle" either in public or in professional journals. Officers such as Charles de Gaulle had their careers threatened when they continued to push for independent mass armored units instead of using tanks solely to support slow moving infantry. War games, such as they were, constituted rehearsals for the application of Methodical Battle doctrine. There were no competent "Red Teams;" the opposing force, if one existed, acted as tackling dummies.

The only serious criticism of French doctrine came from the Germans in a 1940 live-fire exercise that overran France in a little over a month.

The German preparation for war was far different. Not only was there lively internal debate over the massed use of tanks, but also of the close coordination of aircraft with ground forces. War games and field exercises were umpired affairs with competent "Red Teams" opposing the emerging ideas for strategy, trying to poke holes in them.

Conversely, we don't know much about how the war games that led up to FD 2030 were conducted because they were classified. Berger claims that the games validated the 2030 concept, and he asks us to take his word for it. The Marine Corps has announced that unclassified summaries will be released later this year. One thing I stress to my students at George Washington University when lecturing on war games is that when someone tells you that games have validated anything, "grab your wallet."

Good war games only identify issues, they don't prove anything. When they are manipulated by the sponsor or the Red Team is hobbled, the results can be disastrous if the concept being examined is let loose in the wild. A good example of this is the series of war games conducted by Japanese Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto in the months and weeks leading up to the Battle of Midway during World War II. Yamamoto had his umpires discount several American tactics that appeared to disrupt the Japanese plan for the Midway operation. One of those tactics was the one that won the actual battle for the U.S. Navy's dive bombers.

I am not alleging that the FD 2030 games were rigged, because I don't know. The whole process is opaque due to classification. What is true is that Berger has made significant changes to the force structure and size of the Marine Corps with no consultation with Congress and apparently no input from the U.S. combatant commanders in Europe, Africa and the Middle East who may have based their war plans on capabilities that the Marine Corps no longer possesses.

To date, Congress has abdicated its military oversight responsibility when it comes to the force redesign. Congressmen who served in the Marine Corps have backed the initiative because Marines are instinctively supportive of the Corps. Congress has often kept the Marine Corps afloat when others were trying to scuttle it. "Once a Marine, always a Marine" was drummed into all of us from our first days in boot camp and Officer Candidates School. However, it is not clear to me that even the Marine veterans in Congress understand the full implications and potential dangers inherent in FD 2030.

The Armed Services Committees of both the House and the Senate should hold hearings regarding the real value of FD 2030 both to the nation and the Marine Corps. Witnesses at such hearings should be eclectic and include stakeholders from within the Marine Corps and the joint community for which it has Title 10 responsibilities to support. Members should have appropriate clearances to view the classified reports of the games and studies.

The first group of witnesses should include those associated with the 2030 war games. Key questions should include the following: First, who made up the Red (Chinese) Team? Did they include experts in existing Chinese doctrine? Who comprised the analytical game team who wrote the reports? Were members of the team who wrote the FD 2030 concept involved in analysis? If so, it would represent a conflict of interest that could have skewed the results -- particularly if these people were senior to other members of the analytical team.

A second group of stakeholders should include the combatant commanders of the various regions that the Marine Corps supports. How does the change in Marine Corps force structure impact their war plans? This should include the commander of the Indo-Pacific theater since FD 2030 is specifically designed to support him. Does he believe that FD 2030 will significantly help in deterring China or aid in victory if conflict breaks out?

Finally, there are our Indo-Pacific allies and potential wartime partners. These would notably include Japan, Taiwan, India, Singapore and Australia. The same questions should be posed to them as to our Indo-Pacific commander. If our military leaders and allies believe that there is worth in FD 2030 that outweighs the trade-offs that Berger has made, so be it. Now, however, we just don't know.

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