By 2030 the U.S. Marine Corps will have gone through a major restructuring, most notably eliminating tanks from usage all together and reducing its total number of men. America’s military at home has gone from an expensive but mostly unseen protector during the Cold War to a post 9/11 icon of mandatory worship by the Mainstream Media. So it is very surprising just how little attention this massive restructure is getting outside the veteran blogosphere. The elite of the largest, most expensive and arguably most powerful military in the World is rethinking its strategy, but why and where is this all going?
There is NO conspiracy
One of the natural reactions to the U.S. government “downsizing” a branch of the military and cutting tanks will be the usual panic-based reaction that “the end is nigh” and that this “is a sign” of the end of America. This is highly unlikely to be the case. The Armed Forces have gotten from Trump everything that they want and the “checks are going through”. There is currently no lack of funding for the U.S. military so we shouldn’t pretend this is the first sign of it. Furthermore, the new 173,000 man force is only slightly smaller than its 2010 record of 200,000+ men. So is a reduction in manpower of roughly 13% a sign of an upcoming collapse? No. Does this save a massive amount of money for the military budget? No.
The same is true for tanks, they are not being cut for financial reasons. Even with a safe overestimate of the cost of one M1 Abrams tank being $10 million there is plenty of room in the $750+ billion dollar budget for them. Cost is not the issue.
Sorry accelerationists but this is not a sign of an upcoming collapse.
The Cold War is finally dead
The cliché that we are always planning to fight our “father’s war” is proven be true time and again over the course of history. The conservatively-minded well-trained generals of the Confederacy expected a purely Napoleonic campaign of musket and bayonet, and what they got was the dawn of industrialized war. The French were sure that WWI would involve volley fire and cavalry looking sharp in their bright red “pantaloons”. And, the U.S. entered Vietnam with the mindset and strategies of fighting the Axis powers, “if we just drop enough bombs, they’ll surrender for sure”.
This is all an aspect of simple human nature as we plan for what we know and understand, not something theoretical. However, this restructure of the Marines could be the exception to the rule.
During the Iraq War(s) it became apparent that the U.S. with forces designed to fight a Cold War were perfect for crushing Saddam Hussein’s traditional army within days. Now holding the very same country during an insurgency with those forces, that is another story.
The Abrams which performed brilliantly against Iraq’s tanks became a sitting duck in tight urban environments where it could be hit and crippled by local yokels with primitive RPGs. Urban environments provide opportunities to strike a tank from angles that reduce the effectiveness of its armor. Similar musings have been made about the U.S. Navy with its big brilliant ships that could be easily sunk by missiles or attacks from garbage quality boats crewed by those willing to take casualties.
Essentially, big armored targets are not is useful for war in the 21st century, when the offensive weapons that can take them out are extremely cheap by comparison, and new generations of cheap(er) anti-tank weapons continue to be developed.
So, dumping tanks is probably a logical step. To be honest we should all give the men who made these plans a round of applause for not repeating the same mistakes of history by continuing to fight ISIS with a force designed to break the Warsaw Pact. Except, there remains one issue…
Video: A great explanation of what the new Marine Corps is going to look like from “Matsimus”.
The official logic for the restructuring claims that the real threat the Marine Corps is being designed to fight is actually China and by extension Russia, not the Taliban/Al Nusra/ISIS etc. Perhaps because hating China has become the hip cool thing to do under the Trump administration it is was easier to sell these reforms as a means to counter the dragon, but an infantry focused force with some new-fangled drones and tech is not going to be what brings down China. Infantry is what is needed to hold positions, but good luck trying to Guangzhou on foot like some Hollywood D-Day fantasy.
What they probably mean, when stating Beijing as the real target, is that they want to counter China in some proxy conflicts in fights with small numbers where tanks are weak to today’s long range weaponry. This logic makes much more sense.
The core of the decision to restructure seems to have come from wargames in 2018-2019. These exercises played out a proxy style conflict between the U.S. and other entities in the sands of the Middle-East. The Marine Times broke down the results of the wargames as follows…
“But tanks and armored vehicles have had trouble surviving against the threat of precision strike and the plethora of drone and reconnaissance systems flooding conflict zones across the Middle East.”
They also presented experience from Turkey’s moves in Syria that support the theory that tanks are going out of fashion quickly…
“Turkey posted videos highlighting a mixed role of drones, Paladin artillery systems and aircraft pounding Syrian armor from the skies over the course of several days. The Syrian army appeared helpless to defend from the onslaught of long range systems. Even tanks camouflaged by buildings and bushes were no match for sensors and thermal imaging watching from the skies.”
These exercises probably were the nail in the coffin for the Abrams and a big motivation to buy more drones. The Marine Times sums it up this way…
The Corps instead is looking for mobile systems and units that can survive within the reach of precision fires to “attrit adversary forces,” create dilemmas for the enemy and “consume adversary ISR resources,” according to the report.
In summation what does this restructure mean?
It is not part of some way to mask the fall of the “American Empire” as the military is still well funded and the reduction of troops is minor. Tanks’ costs will be replaced by drones and other tech.
The Marine Corps is actually trying structure itself to fight today’s war and today’s enemy.
Based on recent wargames, the Iraq/Afghanistan Conflicts and the Syrian Civil War tanks are becoming obsolete quickly and this move to dump them may be copied by other nations.
A 170,000+ mostly infantry force with drones will not scare China, but it will have better chances at success in occupational actions against insurgents/terrorists, or in proxy conflicts against China.
For the contingent that believes that non-military people cannot write about the military I’d like to remind you that the governments that send armies off to die generally don’t serve, yet they make all the big military decisions. I await your hate mail.