Gen. Eric Smith speaks to Marines from Marine Corps Recruiting Station Montgomery and Weapons Company, 3rd Battalion 23rd Marines at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama, Feb. 10, 2023.

Gen. Eric Smith speaks to Marines from Marine Corps Recruiting Station Montgomery and Weapons Company, 3rd Battalion 23rd Marines at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama, Feb. 10, 2023. U.S. Marine Corps / Sgt. Shannon Doherty

Gen. Eric Smith Tapped as Next Marine Commandant

Assistant commandant expected to press on with sweeping Force Design 2030 changes.

This story was updated at 3:56 p.m.

Gen. Eric Smith, the Marine Corps’ second-highest ranking officer, has been nominated to be the next commandant and carry the torch for the Force Design 2030 modernization effort.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin announced the nomination in a press release Wednesday with other military nominees. 

Commandant Gen. David Berger will retire this summer after serving in the role since 2019. He reportedly had been under consideration for the position of chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, but President Joe Biden instead picked Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. CQ Brown. 

How quickly Smith, currently the assistant commandant of the Marine Corps, will be confirmed by the Senate is unclear due to the growing backlog of military nominees due to a procedural hold by Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., over the Pentagon’s abortion travel and leave policy. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said, “This indefinite hold harms America’s national security and hinders the Pentagon’s normal operations,” in a May 5 letter to Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.

A native of Missouri but raised in Texas, Smith graduated from Texas A&M University and earned his commission in 1987, according to his official Marine Corps biography. His commands have included III Marine Expeditionary Force and Marine Corps Combat Development Command, and he also served as a senior military adviser to former Defense Secretary Ash Carter.

The Marine Corps’ Force Design 2030 modernization efforts launched by Berger are expected to continue under Smith, who has said as much.

“It is sustainable and I'm not concerned that it goes away [when Berger retires], because it's fact-based and threat-informed,” Smith said during the May 9 Ash Carter Exchange event. “Will it change? It will absolutely change, because the threat’s going to change. It's the pacing threat, so it moves. So as the threat changes, we will continue to make our own changes.”

Smith “has been the most vocal advocate for FD 2030 apart from General Berger,” said Dakota Wood, a retired Marine Corps lieutenant colonel and the senior research fellow for defense programs at the conservative Heritage Foundation.

“He has come from the same experiential and intellectual development base, meaning both Berger and he cut their teeth in operational environments that included Iraq, Afghanistan, and multiple other crisis response environments,” Wood said in an email to Defense One

“Both have commanded or served with major ground combat commands at Pendleton and Okinawa…, meaning they have ample time in the Pacific theater with exposure to a vast naval power context and China [as] the pacing challenge; and both have spent considerable time at Quantico with components of the Corps’ combat development command, the wellspring of analysis, experimentation, and doctrinal development that gave rise to FD 2030.”

Scrutiny of Force Design is not expected to go away either. Several retired Marine Corps officers have criticized the effort, including getting rid of tanks. Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska has called for a hearing on Force Design to discuss some of those criticisms and concerns. 

“These issues need to be aired. It's time for oversight,” Sullivan said March 28 during a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on seapower. “One of the criticisms is that Force Design appears to be building a niche force construct for only one situation, in one location. And the whole concept of a combined arms force in readiness, that needs [amphibious ships], has been diminished, or will be diminished, or is being diminished.”