US Marines Corps overhaul will lead to failure in fight over Taiwan: retired officers
- Force Design 2030 aims to turn the storied Marine Corps into a faster and lighter combat force with reduced heavy armour
- Chinese analyst says US marines are under pressure after seeing the PLA’s recent military overhaul with China’s marines becoming an agile force
Published: 10:30pm, 8 Aug, 2022
Force Design 2030 is a plan by the US military to modernise its marine corps, including cutting nearly 7 per cent of its182,000 troop numbers by 2030 and the number of infantry battalions from 24 to 21.Photo: US Marine Corps
US plans to turn its Marine Corps into a faster and lighter combat force will lead to failure in a conflict with the PLA over Taiwan, retired American officers have warned.
In two articles published last week as the People’s Liberation Army started several days of war games around the island, the retired officers criticised the plans, particularly those to shed heavy-armour units which they believe would reduce casualties in combat.
In Marine Corps Times, Franz Gayl, a retired marine major, said the marines’ role in defending Taiwan was “destined to fail” because the corps would lose the “time-tested potency of its signature self-sufficient combined arms Marine Air-Ground Task Force”, the structure used on all marine missions.
Gayl said this was significant because analysis proved “the Marine Corps is a key contributor to victory in the US Indo-Pacific Command’s Taiwan contingency”.
“Taiwan always will mean more to China than the US. We will lose a fight for Taiwan due to the US’ unwillingness to endure the losses when the cause was never existential to our nation’s survival,” he said.
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Force Design 2030 is a decade-long plan introduced by Marine Commandant General David Berger in 2020 to cut nearly 7 per cent of its 182,000 troops by 2030.
In terms of heavy armour, the number of infantry battalions will be cut from 24 to 21. Artillery cannon batteries will shrink from 21 to five and amphibious vehicle companies from six to four. There will also be fewer MV-22 Osprey heavy transport aircraft.
“We are modernising the Marine Corps using the [Armed Forces of] the People’s Republic of China as a benchmark,” Berger wrote in his Force Design 2030 report, which was updated in May.
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But the plan has come under heavy attack from retired officers who served in the Vietnam war and the two Gulf wars, raising debate over the evolution of the role of the marines and the philosophy of the special naval force.
In a separate article published on the US Defence News website on Thursday, three retired marine colonels – Gary Wilson, William Woods and Michael Wyly – called for the plan to be reconsidered, saying it was “a flawed operational concept” causing “serious concerns”.
“The corps is an offensive organisation and has performed its unique mission of power projection from the sea through its long and glorious history, from small raiding forays during the Revolutionary war to the large amphibious landings of World War II and on the Korean peninsula,” the authors wrote.
“Force Design 2030 essentially reorients the Marine Corps to being a defensive organisation designed to occupy static positions while waiting for the enemy to come within range.”
The articles were published as the PLA started live-fire drills targeting six “designed zones” around Taiwan island with long-range rockets, ballistic missiles and ship-to-ship and air-to-ship cruise missiles.
One of the weapons on display was the PCL-191 long-range multiple launch rocket system, the PLA’s answer to the US’ High-Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HMARS). The HMARS is a light multiple rocket launcher with precision firing and Berger has suggested that the Marines expand numbers of the weapon by up to 300 per cent to replace the heavy armour force.
Zhou Chenming, a researcher from the Yuan Wang military science and technology think tank in Beijing, said US marines had felt great pressure after witnessing the PLA’s military overhaul in the past few years, with China’s marines becoming an agile amphibious force armed with limber and light weapons.
“The US marines used to be the key counterterrorism force focused on individual combat and raid training under the support of heavy weapons, but those old tactics are outdated if they are going to a full-scale fight with the PLA for a Taiwan contingency,” Zhou said.
“They found those tactics require tremendous ammunition, and it’s costly to ship heavy weapons and fuel from their home to the region, which is on the PLA’s doorstep.”
Shanghai-based naval expert Ni Lexiong said experienced marine officers such as Gayl, Wilson, Woods and Wyly would be concerned about their marines’ possible involvement in a Taiwan contingency, where the complex terrain might need different ranges and types of artillery to improve their operational flexibility, but Berger would have a different perspective.
“Berger may aim at coming up with a long-term strategy to support the marines’ sustainable expeditionary advanced base operations,” Ni said.
“He [may] need to consider how to respond to the PLA counterpart’s island seizure strategy, as well as immediately establish a comprehensive logistic support chain.”
Lu Li-shih, a former instructor at Taiwan’s Naval Academy in Kaohsiung, said it was not surprising that the plan had prompted debate.
“It’s understandable for military revolutions to trigger criticism, especially as Force Design 2030 is definitely a drastic reform to reshape the entire marines system, with the powerful M1A2 tanks being taken out,” Lu said.
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In his article, Gayl also pointed to wider US military vulnerabilities in relation to China.
He said the PLA could crack the US military’s communications and challenge the marines’ expeditionary advanced base operations in part due to support from Beijing’s military-civilian fusion space surveillance platforms and quantum computing power.
“Every militarily useful piece of terrain in and along the first island chain surely has been mapped, and some possibly covertly occupied, in anticipation of our arrival,” he wrote. “Cooperation of our allies is not guaranteed.”
US Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman General Mark Milley told Congress last year Beijing might use force to take Taiwan back by 2027. His estimation has pushed the US marines to ramp up unprecedented reforms.