U.S. Military Forces in FY 2022: Marine Corps

This paper is part of U.S. Military Forces in FY 2022. The Marine Corps continues a major restructuring to develop capabilities for great power conflict in the Pacific after two decades of conducting counterinsurgency operations ashore. The budget cuts units and personnel to pay for these new capabilities. The restructuring remains controversial and a work in progress.

Key Takeaways

  • General David Berger’s Force Design 2020 initiative aims to restore the Marine Corps to its naval roots after two decades of operations ashore, invest in capabilities focused on great power conflict in the Pacific, and divest forces unneeded for these conflicts. The Marines intend to be a “stand-in” force that can operate inside an adversary’s (China’s) defensive bubble.

  • To pay for new capabilities and accommodate a flat budget top line, the Marine Corps cuts active-duty end strength on a path to about 172,000, the level before the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

  • Ground forces gain long-range precision fires but give up three infantry battalions, tanks, and most counterinsurgency capabilities. Most artillery convert from cannon to missile units. These changes are all underway. Final designs for logistics, reserve, and reconnaissance forces are still under development.

  • Marine aviation gets smaller, consistent with cuts in the ground forces. Emerging concepts imply cuts to manned aircraft, particularly the F-35, but such plans are still under development.

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