Marine Corps prepares to take on WMD-armed adversaries

Defense Department should draw on the Marines’ expertise in attacking directly from the sea, experts say.

The Marine Corps' amphibious capabilities are becoming increasingly important as the Defense Department plans for potential confrontations with enemies armed with weapons of mass destruction, experts and Marine officials said last week at a conference on the future of the corps.

Faced with the possibility that neighbors of WMD-equipped U.S. adversaries may be deterred from allowing U.S. land bases on their territory, the Defense Department should draw on the Marines' expertise in attacking directly from the sea, Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments Strategic Studies Director Michael Vickers said.

"If we think we have political access problems now, wait till our adversary can shoot nukes at us and neighbors," the former top Pentagon adviser said at the American Enterprise Institute conference.

Vickers said the sea-initiated Marine attacks should be used for "projecting major combat power" against WMD-armed enemies, adding, "and we're running out of non-WMD-equipped adversaries."

Vickers' colleague at the nongovernmental research institute, sea defense analyst Robert Work, said the corps could be used to address nuclear-armed enemies in particular.

"Counterproliferation operations and power-projection operations against a regional nuclear power are increasingly likely" for the Marines, Work said.

In the day's keynote speech, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Michael Hagee said the corps is working toward "erasing the border between sea and land" - beginning to maneuver advancing sea-based troops even before they reach land - in part to adapt to the particular circumstances of fighting WMD-armed enemies.

Hagee said "irregular" combat operations, such as those engaging nonstate fighters, may continue as the norm for some time and that smart and adaptable Marines, not new technology, would be the key to success.

Technology is "not going to solve the chaos. It's not going to solve the uncertainty. It's not going to solve the fog and friction," the commandant said.

Marine Corps Deputy Commandant for Combat Development Lt. Gen. Jim Mattis said the corps is shifting its training and planning emphasis away from "conventional" battle and toward "irregular" situations.

"U.S. dominance of classical war" has "pushed [the] enemy to unconventional war," Mattis said.

"I believe this war may well last for generations at different levels of intensity," he said.