At its heart, the MAGTF’s importance within our defense framework rests on its ability to contribute to a range of potential military operations such as engagement and shaping, crisis response, access creation, extended combat, and high-end warfighting and its credible deterrent effects. This versatility is a product of a number of factors, but is particularly due to the dynamic balance within the MAGTF’s organization along with the ability to operate from the sea and exploit naval capabilities. However, the extremely high cost of the ACE threatens to undermine this organizational balance.
It’s a long read, but very good. Take the five or ten minutes needed.
The costs of acquiring the F-35 is roughly $66 billion dollars over the planned span of acquisition. Toss in the roughly $40 billion dollars for the MV-22 Osprey, and that’s more than the acquisition cost of ALL programmed amphibious shipping for the Navy. And the personnel costs of manning the Marine aviation side is higher than manning the ‘gator navy.
There’s a very good reason the Marines have always placed emphasis on aviation. Control of the air is critical to success in force on force warfare. Further, constraints on amphibious shipping will always mean any Marine landing force will be primarily an infantry force, albeit fairly motorized, with some, but not much, armor capability. The lack of amphibious shipping will also always constrain the amount of artillery any Marine force will have. Unlike an Army division that can count on entire brigades of artillery from higher echelons to supplement its own organic tubes, the Marines will have to turn to other sources for firepower, to wit, Close Air Support. And because of the vulnerabilities of amphibious operations, the mobility of vertical lift is essential for the Marines.
But the costs associated with the F-35 and the MV-22 are simply far greater than previous programs, and threaten to suck dry the acquisition, manpower, and O&M budgets of the Corps. Given the choice between continuing with the troubled F-35 program, and the equally troubled (if less costly) Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle (EFV) program, the EFV was killed.
To be sure, there are reasons why the Marine Corps feels the need for the capabilities of both the F-35 and the MV-22, above and beyond simply wanting the latest and greatest. The increase in lethal threats in the littoral means the big amphibious ships are more vulnerable close inshore while unloading. Ideally, they could offload their cargoes from over the horizon (roughly 25nm is the rule of thumb). But the slow speed of current amphibious assault vehicles, and the poor range and speed of the CH-46 make that impractical. So the range, speed, and capacity of the MV-22 are seen as critical. Similarly, the proliferation of advanced small surface to air missile systems mean the older AV-8B Harrier is seen as increasingly vulnerable, and a more stealthy Close Air Support platform was imperative.
But the stupendous costs associated with both programs have come to be the cart before the horse. Programs designed to solve problems faced by the landing team are increasingly crowding out the very heart of the Marines, the landing team itself, and the very soul of the entire endeavor, the Marine infantry battalions and regiments. And there’s the rub. You can have virtually unlimited variations of combined arms, but the first building block of any combined arms organization is, was, and always shall be the infantry.
The Marines remain vehemently committed to both the F-35B program, and the MV-22. And both will continue to consume an outsized portion of the dollars available. What solutions to this we may find, I simply do not know.