The US Marine Corps: Fleet Marine Forces for the 21st Century

A Hybrid Service…

During the 1920s and 1930s, even as it was engaged in a series of “small wars,” the Marine Corps dedicated itself to solving the “Gallipoli problem”: how to conduct amphibious assaults against a heavily defended shore. To do so, the Corps had to develop new concepts of operation, tactics and techniques, equipment, and organizations that enabled it to apply combat power against the enemy more effectively. The most daunting tactical challenge for the Corps was gaining a foothold on an enemy shore and steadily building combat power while under constant attack. The Navy and Marines thus developed an operational concept that included extensive shore bombardment from Navy ships and naval aircraft, amphibious landing craft by which the Marines could get to the beach, and various techniques for methodically breaking through and reducing enemy defensive positions. The fruits of the Corps’ labor were seen in the many amphibious successes of the United States military in World War II, in both the Pacific and European theaters.

Since the end of the Second World War, the Corps has always had to balance its “organize, train, and equip” efforts to account for its new hybrid nature. It became a ground Service that deploys to sea then projects combat power back onto land. Usually operating far from fixed physical infrastructure, but needing to employ the full range of military capabilities available, it has developed its own air force able to operate from ships and from austere sites ashore, ground equipment able to transit from sea to shore and emerge ready to engage in conventional combat operations,  and combat formations specifically organized for maximum effectiveness in combined arms warfare. At the same time, the Corps also retained its ability to  fight “small wars” against insurgencies and non-state actors, and to mount stability and security operations of various types, requiring a focus on small unit tactics and equipment for the individual Marine. While the Corps has enjoyed success with this approach to equipping and employing its forces in a broad range of missions, it is not a foregone conclusion that it will prove effective in light of emerging challenges confronting the United States.

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