Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, PA, repeated an observation he had made before: “Our record since Vietnam of predicting where we would use military force 6 months or 12 months from now is perfect. We have never, ever gotten it right once. So we live in that kind of an unpredictable world, and therefore to structure our forces against one or another particular potential adversary, I think, would be a grave mistake.” If a short-range prediction of 6 to 12 months is fraught with not only the potential, but the probability, of getting it wrong, the longer the time horizon we are trying to see into, the cloudier the crystal becomes.
However, we cannot let uncertainty lead to paralysis. We do have to make some assumptions, and, being perfectly honest, some SWAGs as to what the future may hold, and how do we best prepare for it, and, at the same time, retain the flexibility to adjust if our assumptions or guesses are dead wrong.
This month, in addition to the Schulze essay on amphibious operations under austerity, we have two essays that try to divine the future and comment on our preparedness, or unpreparedness, to meet the challenges that lie ahead. In his award winning LtCol Earl “Pete” Ellis Essay Contest essay on page 10, “An Amphibious Manifesto for the 21st Century,” Col David Fuquea argues that the Corps is not prepared for the amphibious operations that we may have to conduct in the near or distant future. He takes the Corps to task for not procuring, or planning to procure, the equipment needed to conduct the range of amphibious missions that will be required in the future, from humanitarian assistance to amphibious assault. I do not know if I completely agree with all of his points, but in ship-to-shore movement and subsequent operations ashore, I believe we have lost a great opportunity.
With the demise of the expeditionary fighting vehicle, we have now embarked on the development of the advanced combat vehicle of the future. We missed the opportunity to clearly define the ship-to-shore connector, or son of LCAC. The potential was there, and still could be, to design a vehicle that goes in the ship-to-shore connector and, when it debarks, is fully capable on land and has an amphibious capability for water and river crossings. Ship-to-shore movement is possible on the landing craft that we tout, and have touted, as giving us access to over 70 percent of the landing sites in the world. Of course, the lack of a well deck in the first two LHA replacement ships means we have reinvented the light aircraft carrier vice constructing a fully capable amphibious ship.
On page 27, LtCol F.G. Hoffman offers serious food for thought in “Posturing the Corps for the 21st Century.” In his insightful piece, LtCol Hoffman divides Marines into various schools of thought: Small Wars, Full Spectrum, Division of Labor, and Amphibian/Traditionalist. Each school has their passionate advocates who argue that their crystal ball is the clearest, and that the force structure and equipment procurement strategies that they favor are the correct road map for the future. However, as a wise man said, “The enemy gets a vote.” There are no simple choices. The early-20th century wit and writer H.L. Mencken is quoted as saying, “For every complex problem, there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.” I would offer that is it alright if we are not exactly right. What we have to be is articulate and clear in our role in the national defense even with a cloudy future of who our enemies are and what actions they will take to harm our interests.