The Marine Corps is set to implement significant changes to its warfighting concepts and capability portfolio, including divesting from legacy systems over the next several years, as the new commandant looks to implement a vision of what the force must look like in 2030. 

Gen. David Berger, the Marine Corps commandant since July, told attendees at a Thursday Heritage Foundation event top officials are a month or two away from completing a series of experiments to inform force design priorities, that he added would be required to meet future engagements with peer competitors such as China.

Gen. David Berger, the Marine Corps commandant

“Today’s equipment, the way that we’re organized, how we train, how we select leaders, our warfighting concepts, we cannot assume that they will remain relevant in the future. In fact, my premise is that they will not,” Berger said. “I am absolutely confident we will get to a new design by making large changes not small ones.”

Berger released a new planning guide this summer that called for a series of changes to how the Marine Corps will fight in 2030 and beyond, including development of long-range precision fires and moving away from a long-held requirement for a fleet of 38 amphibious ships (Defense Daily, July 26).

The commandant said officials currently have an 80 to 85 percent picture of what capabilities the Marine Corps will require in 2030 and beyond, which he added could include longer-range anti-ship missiles, more unmanned systems and an emphasis on “strapping weapons onto decks of ships.”

“We need to persist. We need the force to remain inside the surveillance range, inside the weapons range of an adversary,” Berger said.

The first major changes to the Marine Corps’ force design and portfolio will begin to take shape in the FY ’22 and FY ’23, according to Berger, who added that he is anticipating challenges having to work through likely flat or declining budgets. 

“This means we’re going to have to divest of some legacy systems that we’re very comfortable with, and go into other things. The big gambit is will Congress resource us to do that,” Berger said.

Berger noted that he doesn’t anticipate the Marine Corps making divestiture decisions in the near-term like the Army did with its new “night court” process, adding that changes will be instituted around meeting the set vision for 2030 rather than making cuts on a program by program basis.

“No, here’s why. They were going program by program. Our approach was for one year, from last summer until this summer with the Navy, to work hard on a warfighting construct for the future. We’re there now. And from there, we’re figuring out what force do you need to execute that, as opposed to every night come in and defend your program,” Berger said. “In the future will we use that methodology to scrutinize programs? Probably so, but in a different way rather than A to Z. We work from warfighting backwards.”

The commandant also echoed recent comments from Lt Gen. Eric Smith, a top Marine Corps combat development official, that the force wants more open and honest discussion with industry to get after large numbers of new light, expeditionary capabilities that will allow forces to remain effective in persistent engagement zones (Defense Daily, Sept. 20). 

“Now, mass is going to have a quality all its own. We have to go after the plentiful. We have to go after families of systems, families of ships. When I say that, I mean low-cost not cheap,” Berger said.