A C-130 transport aircraft air drops container delivery systems with water cargo, Sept. 9, 2011.

A C-130 transport aircraft air drops container delivery systems with water cargo, Sept. 9, 2011. U.S. Marine Corps

US Marines Must Relearn to Protect Pacific Supply Lines, Commandant Says

As a backup, Berger says, troops must learn to “forage” for some supplies.

For the first time in decades, U.S. Marines must assume that enemies will contest their supply lines, from the western Pacific all the way back to the United States, the Marine Corps commandant said recently.

“We can have the best force postured perfectly with this magnificent [Joint All-Domain Command and Control] on top of it. If they're able to contest and really choke us off logistically, they'll take us to our knees. We can't let that happen,” Gen. David Berger said Wednesday during an event with the U.S. Naval Institute and the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank.

The Pentagon’s pacing challenge is China, but logistics is the “pacing function” for warfighting, he said, adding that the Marine Corps is several decades out of practice with protecting their supply lines. The Indo-Pacific’s vast distances make logistics difficult, even with the various U.S. military and allied bases. But Berger believes that the logistics challenge must be protected all the way back to U.S. defense industry factories and military warehouses.

“I think they're going to challenge it all the way to Bill’s Garage, whatever it is, in Idaho that produces a freaking part of a pump that goes on to a jet, or a ship…because they know that his garage is the only place that makes that bearing or that whatever it is,” he said. “So this is going to be an attack and a defense in depth like we have never, we haven't witnessed in your or my lifetime.”

This “attack” could be from the cyber domain or some other way of shutting down the manufacturer to choke off the Marine Corps, he said.

The Marine Corps, along with the Navy, is planning to operate with its forces spread out instead of concentrated in one place and inside an area where an adversary can more easily target them with weapons. But the service still needs the mobility and distribution means to move people and supplies within a contested area, Berger said. Because of this, it could be harder to get those Marines anything more than the most important supplies, leaving them to forage for food, water, and transportation.

“You're going to go in there and get all that stuff and the only thing I'm going to fly you in? Ordnance. And maybe JP to refuel some aircraft, but it's just fuel and bullets, that's what I'm going to resupply. The rest you're going to have to forage. So we have to train in a way we did before, but now we're going to go back to it.”