June 28, 2012: After spending nine years heavily involved in Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. Marine Corps has most of its troops again training for duty at sea and the kind of raiding operations the marines have long specialized in. While some marines will remain in Afghanistan until next year, most are now regaining their seagoing and raiding skills. The marines also believe that there will be more need for short term operations, where getting there fast is more important than staying around for a long time. To that end, the marines and the navy are scheduling a lot of amphibious exercises over the next year, something there has not been a lot of in the last decade.
The marines want to get away from being considered a U.S. Army auxiliary and back to being an amphibious strike force. Talk in Congress about "what do we need two ground combat forces for?" adds to the urgency. The marines have always been sensitive about criticism that they are a second army, a second ground combat force that simply duplicates what the U.S. Army does. In terms of active duty forces the marines are about 40 percent the size of the army. Add in organized reserves the marines are closer to 30 percent the size of the army. That's a juicy target when politicians seek to make major cuts in defense spending.
The marines can perform the same jobs as the army but consider themselves mainly an amphibious force trained for assaults and other difficult special operations. These are things the army has also done, but the marines invented modern amphibious operations during the 1930s and 40s and continue to specialize in it. The marines noted how the British Royal Marines went on to help develop the modern concept of commandos and have copied the "Royal Marines Commandos" in that way as well.
Meanwhile, because of budget cuts the U.S. Marine Corps is losing four (of 27) infantry battalions and twelve (of 70) aircraft squadrons over the next five years. About half the marine aviation squadrons operate transport helicopters. Most of the fixed wing squadrons are bombers and fighters.
These cuts will result in jobs for 20,000 marines being eliminated, shrinking the marines to 182,000 personnel. Most of the units lost are from marine bases on the east coast. The Pacific, and China, is seen as the focus of Marine Corps attention in the future.
In effect, the marines will lose nine percent of their personnel strength by the end of the decade. The marines want to do that without losing their most experienced and effective people. The idea is to keep officers and NCOs who are best able to expand the corps in the event of a national emergency, while at the same time maintaining, for as long as possible, a force that has lots of combat experience.