U.S. Marine Corps Photo

America Needs a Robust Crisis Response Force

With a sequestered budget, a force design of 174,000 is right sized to allow the Marine Corps to remain America’s crisis response force.

Our nation requires a Marine Corps that is ready, forward deployed and able to respond to crisis on a moment’s notice. This will not change for the foreseeable future, no matter the budgetary woes our country faces.

Three years ago, the Marine Corps initiated a Force Structure Review with the mission of re-shaping the Marine Corps for the post-Afghanistan environment. This review sought to find ways to meet our national security responsibilities in a resource-efficient manner. Our goal was to provide the most ready, capable and cost-effective Marine Corps our nation could afford.  Balancing the president’s Defense Strategic Guidance with our internal review, we designed a force of 186,800 people, which is the optimal-sized Marine Corps, fully ready to meet the ever-increasing demands of the global security environment. 

Four months ago, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel directed the Strategic Choices and Management Review effort to better inform the Defense Department’s preparation for the Quadrennial Defense Review. Anticipating that sequestration would be signed into law, in February the Corps stood up a working group focused solely on designing a future force optimized to live within our likely resource constraints. This effort was informed by the realization that, if faced with a continued sequester, the Marine Corps would have to live with severe budget shortfalls that might well threaten its ability to maintain its edge as the nation’s hedge force. Ultimately, we would build the best force America was willing to afford. As such, the force we have designed is supportable within a reduced fiscal framework, but assumes greater risk to our national security strategy.

What was our methodology behind the process? Our working group set out with the premise to design a range of possible force structures and subject them to both internal and external risk analysis. Aligned with the Defense Strategic Guidance, we wanted a force that was fiscally realistic. Great care was taken to ensure that both the strategic landscape and emerging threats were properly accounted for and balanced against force design risks. We had to make sure our method avoided simple linear reductions of numbers from our current planned end state, in order to achieve an optimum force design that kept the Marine Corps ready and relevant to the security challenges of today and tomorrow. At the end of the day, we needed to be modernized, ready and biased for action, integrated into the Joint Force structure, expeditionary, and right sized, while retaining our core combined arms and amphibious structure and competencies. 

What force design optimizes this need, balances risk and is fiscally responsible? Based on the detailed planning of our working group, and in conjunction with independent analysis, we have determined that with sequestered budgets a force design of 174,000 is right sized to allow the Marine Corps to remain America’s crisis response force (note: this does not account for the 1,000 Marine plus up that Congress has directed to our Marine Security Guard Program). This allows us to achieve a high state of readiness, while maintaining forward presence as a part of the Navy-Marine Corps team. Analysis shows that further reductions will incur heightened and, in some scenarios, prohibitive risk to our National Security Strategy, and unacceptable risk to the internal health of our Corps and its families.

How did we get there? We began by first looking at what Marines are doing today and then widened our look to include those emerging trends that would ultimately frame the future operating environment. Today, Marines are still fighting in Afghanistan, providing crisis response in the Middle East, the African littorals and the Pacific and standing ready to respond to Humanitarian Assistance/Disaster Relief efforts around the globe. Today’s Marine Corps also has the capability and capacity to conduct special operations and cyber warfare. We see no shortage of demand for these capabilities in the future operating environment. The bottom line is we are asking more from our Marines today than at almost any other point in our history…a trend that will likely continue and further bound our future. 

Tomorrow’s Marines will see challenges such as violent extremism, battles for influence, disruptive societal transitions, natural disaster, extremist messages and manipulative politics.  We will likely see criminal enterprises wield combat power once associated only with states, as well as separatism, extremism and intolerance that lead to terrorism, protests and violence. We will see new technologies place modern weapons into the hands of developing states and non-state actors while the development and proliferation of advanced conventional weapons challenges our ability to project power or gain access. In this security convergence it will be the forward influence, strategic mobility, effective power projection and rapid response capabilities Marines are known for today that will define those minimum attributes that must endure and frame our future force design. We must maintain a force that can balance an increasing focus in the Asia-Pacific region, while sustaining an ever-watchful eye on the Middle East and African Littoral areas. America’s Marines must be positioned forward to counter violent extremists operating across multiple domains. 

The Marine Corps has faced this challenge before. As was the case in the past, our manpower and investments fluctuated with the onset and conclusion of wars. We are heading down a similar path today. As our nation reduces its overseas forces, there remains a heightened requirement for a very capable crisis response force, one that can deploy anywhere quickly, provide a variety of response options, a force that can buy time for national decision-makers when the need arises. The Marine Corps is, and will continue to be, the answer to this need. This is what we do…this is who we are!

Gen. James F. Amos is commandant of the Marine Corps and a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff