In a discussion between the US and Japanese leaders at the White House, the US military commitment to the Pacific was emphasised. However, Jonathan Marcus, a security analyst, believes that this heightened attention on Asia has provoked a heated dispute within one of its most illustrious armed forces.

One of the most revered institutions of the US military, the US Marine Corps, has become the scene of a terrible family feud.

The present leadership is under fire over plans for its reformation from a number of its former top commanders.

In question is a Force Design 2030 plan to modify the service for a hypothetical battle with China. This idea has been criticised almost from the beginning, with a group of retired generals using the rare tactic of venting their anger to the media.

Senior retired officers have been frequently convening, speaking at think tanks and seminars, and developing their own alternative to a plan that they believe will be disastrous for the future of the Marine Corps.

Jim Webb, a former senator for Virginia and former US Navy secretary who fought as a Marine commander in the Vietnam War and sought for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2015, is one such critic.

He characterised Force Design 2030 as being “intrinsically faulty” and “insufficiently tested” in a Wall Street Journal article. He issued a dire warning, stating that the proposal “raised fundamental doubts about the rationality and long-term risk of dramatic reductions in force structure, weapons systems, and manpower levels in units that would take steady casualties in most combat scenarios.”

What then is making them all so upset?

The Marine Corps Commandant General David H. Berger unveiled the strategy in 2020 with the goal of preparing the Marines for an Indo-Pacific confrontation with China rather than counterinsurgency warfare like Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Marines will fight scattered operations throughout chains of islands, according to the new strategy. Units will be more dispersed and smaller, but thanks to a number of new weaponry systems, they will be considerably more potent. Massive land deployments or amphibious operations on the scale of World War Two or Iraq are likely to become a thing of the past.

The idea to reduce the number of foot soldiers and abandon all of its tanks is the least liked. Some critics believe the Corps is abandoning its past as a result of these initiatives.

It is a separate military that grew significantly during World War Two and has played a significant part in subsequent battles in Iraq and Afghanistan, while having close ties to the US Navy.

The experience of World War Two has a significant impact on how the general public views the Marine Corps. Anyone who has seen John Wayne in the 1949 action movie The Sands of Iwo Jima or in the more recent miniseries The Pacific directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Tom Hanks will be able to recall the massive amphibious operations, Marines storming ashore from landing boats, and other similar events.

The new strategy does not envision the Marines fighting in this manner.

Critics worry that the new plan, with its obvious emphasis on China and the Indo-Pacific, could damage its traditional position as America’s military first responder, capable of taking on diverse threats throughout the world.

What exactly is the plan then?

Long-range rocket weapons will replace the towed artillery batteries in a few infantry battalions, or the foot soldiers.
Giving up all of its tanks, some helicopter squadrons are being eliminated.
The cuts, which amount to about $18.2 billion, will pay for the $15.8 billion in new weapons systems.

There will also be new unmanned aircraft systems and land-based anti-shipping missiles in addition to the new rocket artillery weapons. The Marine Corps will be outfitted and trained for a new type of combat that the conflict in Ukraine has already foreshadowed.

The Marines’ Commandant refers to distributed operations, which divide huge forces into widely dispersed smaller groups while ensuring that they have the military heft to actually make a difference. This is the main guiding principle of Force Design 2030.

According to US authorities, the Marines stationed on Japan’s Okinawa islands, which are close to Taiwan, are already putting these concepts into reality.