Artificial Intelligence in the Marine Corps Logistics Enterprise: Part 3

Part 3: It’s not pretty: How can we start making AI progress ‘prettier’?
>See first article in series for bios.

In our first article, we discussed the definitions of artificial intelligence (AI), business analytics, data, and other similar terms to level set understanding. In our second article, we described how “ugly” the precursors of AI are within the Marine Corps logistics enterprise and alluded to fixes that must occur for successful AI implementation.

We began this research as an effort to describe how to implement AI in logistics applications. However, through our research, we uncovered an inconvenient truth that the current personnel involved in logistics do not possess the multitude of technical skills required to manage, enable, or implement AI systems.

In this article, we present to you a business case that outlines a fundamental shift in how we view our logistics operators in a data-driven world. AI applications require constant and realtime development, maintenance, and updates. AI applications are also specifically targeted at well-defined decision points. We cannot ask contractors to build thousands of different AI applications to manage deck plate issues. Global Combat Support System is our current enterprise resource planning database, and it has a lot of information that may or may not be useful, depending on the decision point at hand. However, what is more important is reliance on an individual’s ability to carve out the right data from the system, create the right inferences, then present the information to the decision maker. Business analytics, the use of technology and software tools, the creation of decision trees grounded in data, and a basic business understanding of what needs to be done must be built by our own logistics personnel. In business, executives are continually faced with a question: do they make a capability within the organization, or do they buy it by outsourcing the capability? We argue that professional skills need to be developed within Marine Corps logistics personnel instead of trying to purchase systems or contracts to develop AI applications.

The purpose of this article is to formalize our ideas about the training, education, and recruitment of logistics professionals that will enable AI development and improve our broader logistics community in a rapidly advancing technology- and data-driven world.

To achieve this purpose, this article will highlight the need for designing a sound business strategy, propose solutions that should be included in the strategy, and ensure implementation is tracked through a strategy map. Strategic implementation will ensure changes are well-founded, made based on the strategy, and not lost as leaders make permanent change of station moves and shuffle between billets. And finally, the Marine Corps can incrementally build a logistics force that is astute in the data domain.

The strategy must tackle key shortfalls:

Vision: Marine Corps logistics is at a critical decision point: take a risk to rapidly move toward the shiny object of AI without the appropriate strategic building blocks and talent, or take the prudent risk to patiently wait and build from within. A long-term strategic vision is necessary here.

Labor: Ideas like postponement and supply chain design/strategies are rooted in business analytics. So, who is responsible for business analytics? Who is trained and capable? Who has refined abilities to perform proper business analytics?

Talent: Make the capability, do not buy it. If the Marine Corps logistics enterprise decides to buy commercial solutions (consultants, contractors, or systems), they are not going to have the Marine Corps’ business understanding. Likewise, having underprepared Marines tackle the problem is like asking a right-handed person to write with their left hand. Therefore, specific talent, expertise, and aptitudes need to be brought in at the entry-level and woven into the fabric of logistics professionals.

Figure 1. (Figure provided by authors.)

To maintain a productive focus on AI implementation for logistics decision making throughout the organization, established frameworks for data mining and strategic implementation should be used. Above is an example of how IBM’s Cross-Industry Standard Process for Data Mining would support a strategic framework aimed at optimizing the supply chain (Figure 1). Notice that business understanding, data understanding, data preparation, and modeling are parts of the core structure of the chain. Data handling is the bedrock of their network design. Indeed, these core elements are the anchor points in any logistics operation—Marine Corps logistics included—no matter the desired end state. This combination of the Cross-Industry Standard Process for Data Mining and the “Framework for Supply Chain Design” is one of a thousand models of business processes and tools used in almost all industry efforts.

Solution: Enterprise-Level Conceptual, Strategic Actions
To unpack the statement below, we need to have a common understanding of business strategy, permanent structure change, operational effectiveness, and types of innovation. We will discuss each of these components; but first, here is the statement:

As the assessment in preceding articles indicates, the Marine Corps does not have a sound business strategy to keep up with advancements surrounding AI. We are stuck in stage one operational effectiveness, trying to implement AI as disruptive innovation. We do not understand that we are at the precipice of permanent change to the logistics structure regarding data usage and visualization. Data is critical because the future of supply and logistics is rooted in data. People at all levels in the organization will have to understand data, how to collect it, manage it, manipulate it, and translate it into relevant and timely decisions. The ability to do so rests in technical skills, knowledge, and access to relevant systems.

Business Strategy
Business strategy is a well-defined, overarching, and long-term plan to achieve a certain goal. Strategies include well-understood plans, timelines, goals, and assessments to be successful. The Marine Corps’ logistics challenges match what current business executives are seeing in various industries (Figure 2)—a shortfall in technical skills to perform business analytics. Businesses are aggressively identifying these gaps and deliberately developing business strategies to address the shortfall; it is a matter of survival because they are realizing that without these competitive advantages, they will not succeed against competitors who are able to make better decisions faster and more efficiently. The following statement is a synopsis of survey results from 60 senior-level supply chain executives:

They see an urgent need to get better control over their supply-chain technology, which will likely be possible only with a skilled workforce trained to use new digital tools at speed and scale. Some 90 percent of leaders surveyed say they plan to increase the amount of digital supply-chain talent within their organizations, through a combination of in-house reskilling and external hires. Just over half also expect permanent changes to their planning processes as the next normal, such as greater centralization of planning activities, shorter planning cycles, and introducing advanced-analytics techniques.1

Figure 2. The Information Warfighting Function and Stand-in Forces. (Figure provided by author.)

Therefore, if 90 percent of companies are planning to increase digital-supply-chain talent in-house and introduce advanced analytics (Figure 2), the Marine Corps should keep pace with these strategies.

Permanent Structure Change
Before such adaptations can be made, operational effectiveness must be internally supportive versus internally neutral. In his article, “Triple A Supply Chain,” Hau L. Lee describes how successful businesses tackle permanent structural changes in their organizations. He says they foster agility, adaptability, and alignment to keep pace with permanent structural changes in industry. AI is undoubtedly a permanent structural change in the way Marine Corps logistics operations will be executed and managed.Case study reviews show us that time and again, organizations that do not appropriately manage change cannot keep up with rapid and critical advances. For Marine Corps logistics, the currency is time and accuracy—sometimes the most important factor is a fast decision, and sometimes the most important factor is an accurate decision. The Marine Corps will struggle to make competitive, timely, and accurate decisions if it does not properly manage the transitional changes that lead to AI.

Lee also addresses the most common pitfalls and mistakes. He describes that supply chains often become uncompetitive because they do not adapt to changes in the structures of markets or remain aligned with the strategic objectives of the organization. Adapting to technology and data and remaining aligned with the commandant’s talent management strategies is needed. According to Lee, “companies may find it tough to accept the idea that they must keep changing, but they really have no choice” and “most companies don’t realize they face near-permanent structural changes/shifts in the market like advances in technology.”Companies must adapt to the permanent change in technology and data advancements, and the Marine Corps must do the same. At first, failure to make these appropriate adaptations will make it difficult to make the most basic logistics decisions; subsequently, it will be difficult for the Marine Corps to interface with other Services, industry logistics organizations, and open-source systems. Ultimately, it will hinder the Marine Corps from making rapid and accurate sustainment decisions to support units fighting an adversary.

Operational Effectiveness
There are four stages of operational effectiveness commonly understood in business education and execution (Figure 3). In the book, Operations and Supply Chain Management for MBAs, organizations are expected to progress through these stages to meet strategic objectives. This framework guides organizations to actions that move them to being healthy, sustainable businesses.

Marine logistics sit firmly in stage one—having poorly focused objectives, firefighting, outsourcing to experts, and being reactive. At a minimum, the Marine Corps needs to elevate its logistics operational effectiveness from stage one to stage two. The aim of achieving competitive parity with standard-setting logistics organizations like Walmart, FedEx, and West Marine is to help focus efforts and establish limits. By understanding and following industry standards, it is possible to have a benchmark for comparison. The thing the Marine Corps has in common with leading organizations is that everyone uses enterprise resource planning systems, and Oracle databases (like Global Combat Support System) are high-caliber systems. However, unlike leading companies, the Marine Corps does not hire skills and talent to utilize these resources. In fact, moving from stage one to stage three would probably be the most ideal. Our business model in the Marine Corps is unique and requires specific tailoring. Therefore, specifically formulated strategies supported by operations investments are required, in other words, alignment. Advancing to stage four is unnecessary. Stage four implies that the organization is leading development and innovation. We do not need to be ahead of commercial industry in this effort; we do not have the research and development resources. We need to be at stage four for Marine Corps warfighting, not for logistics applications.

Types of Innovation
Innovation is not truly understood without understanding where effective innovation is best implemented. In the article “How Many Supply Chain Innovations Are Truly Revolutionary?” the author discusses two kinds of innovation: sustaining and disruptive.Disruptive innovations are drastic. They change the whole idea about something—its process and design. It gets everyone excited. Sustaining innovations move organizations forward at a steadier pace with innovations and ideas that are more grounded and incremental. Executives view disruptive innovation as the shiny object in the room and as the most glamorous object to pursue. The author warns that executives tend to gravitate toward the disruptive when they should be more focused on the less exciting sustaining innovations. The author goes on to say that “incremental change represents one of the most powerful weapons companies have to stay ahead of the competition.”5

Figure 3. (Figure provided by authors.)

Wrap-Up for Strategic Enterprise-Level Solution
Is AI a sustaining innovation or is it a disruptive innovation? It should be treated as a sustaining innovation. However, it is currently and incorrectly viewed by leadership as a disruptive innovation. We must not misjudge where to align our innovation. The way companies are moving toward AI is radically different than our current logistics design. Our design should be matured through a strategic and incremental approach. We are not rejecting AI. In contrast, we agree that it is likely the way of the future, but conceptual shifts in thinking are needed to move to stage two of operational effectiveness. Therefore, our idea is to ratchet down the glam of AI and focus on sustainable measures to improve the AI building blocks or precursors discussed in our first article: data, information, knowledge, automation, and deep/machine learning. Shifting our focus on AI from a disruptive innovation to a sustaining innovation will enhance and grow our response to the permanent changes we are seeing in data and technology. There are very important things needed to strengthen our logistics capability to remain agile, adaptable, and aligned to the permanent structural changes of data and technology. Investing in people, training, and education will likely enable AI in the future as well as make us better in many other areas of logistics operations.

Solution: Immediate, Targeted Actions
We have identified achievable actions that can be developed now to prepare the logistics landscape for permanent advancements in technology and data proliferation. We outline specific logistics fault lines that must be improved to better position the logistics enterprise to compete in the data and technology domain.

Dr. Langley, a professor who teaches Supply Chain Innovation and Transformation at Penn State’s Smeal College of Business gave his answer to the question, “What are the precursors that have the best chance of success at implementing AI for logistics and supply chain management?” as follows:

Facilitating the uses of AI can be accomplished with the help of capable people who have the math and statistics qualifications to understand and implement relatively concisely defined applications of AI. This would need to include having capable talent in the relevant areas of math and statistics, in coordination with those having operational and strategic involvement in logistics and supply chain. Then, this could be a steppingstone to conceptualizing and launching a larger and more organizational-encompassing plan that would involve AI.6

Dr. Langley’s analysis is well aligned with the key observations we have made in our research and based on our experiences in the operating forces. Namely, we are lacking technical talent in entry-level (supervisory management) positions. Furthermore, the skills need to be developed and cultivated through clear talent management practices; AI is not a commercial off-the-shelf system that can be purchased.

Professional Education Opportunities (Enlisted and Officer)
Professional education opportunities are already in place to some extent in other areas, but they have not been fully executed within business analytics, for logistics. Again, the future of logistics is rooted in data, and we must firmly plant Marine talent in appropriate jobs to fully optimize the benefit of data collection. The goal is to start building a base from within our ranks that can maneuver through rapidly advancing technology and exponential information flows. A start is to direct and fund ten enlisted and ten officers to complete a certificate in business analytics from Smeal Business College, Penn State University, and then grow this number over time; make it mandatory for logistics and supply chain officers to get analytics certifications from reputable sources before attaining the rank of captain; and send Marines to formal Oracle training programs and place certified Marines within Marine Logistics Groups, Logistics Command, and Logistics Division, Installations and Logistics to function as operational, business, and data analysts.

Establish Lower-Tier Corporate Business Fellowships with Large Logistics Enterprises
Through the Marine Corps top- and intermediate-level schools, we send individuals to think tanks, academic institutions, interagency programs, as well as a few corporate businesses every year. These programs target more senior Marine officers to develop conceptual-level understanding. They do not target developing technical skills or the how-to of business operations. No one seems to be learning best practices for distribution, warehousing, procurement, or network design for holistic logistical or supply-chain operations. These opportunities and skills should be offered and taught to the lower tiers (e.g., first lieutenant, captains, sergeants, and gunnery sergeants). It would be beneficial to send logistics specialists to supply-chain industry leaders like Walmart, Home Depot, Scotts Miracle Grow, Amazon, and many others, giving them a clear directive to understand the companies’ business models, the systems, software, and technology they use, the analytics they espouse, and how all these elements translate into executive decision making.

Adjust Logistics and Supply-Related MOS Pipelines
The Marine Corps should recruit college graduates with degrees in supply chain management, statistics, data science, analytics, and other similar areas to be contracted as logistics or supply officers instead of assigning an MOS at The Basic School. To do so means to hunt for the talent we need to survive in this data environment and slowly begin to embed it within the foundation of Marine Corps logistics. Industry would never hire an art studies student to work logistics operations and data management, but the Marine Corps does. Instead, industry would recruit the specific talent that they need, and the Marine Corps should begin this process incrementally. Not all logistics and supply officers need to fit this model, but five to ten percent could be an achievable initial goal. To take it a step further, the Marine Corps should look to establish a new MOS for maintenance management officers (e.g., school trained in business analytics, data visualization, etc.).

Funded Internships for Professional Graduate Students from Relevant Degree Programs
Businesses are doing this on a large scale. Companies like Dell, Johnson & Johnson, Shell, and FedEx, to name a few, team up with universities and provide paid internships for business school students during the summer prior to their graduation. The Marine Corps could take the first step by coordinating with Smeal College of Business at Penn State University. This would strengthen the already strong Marine Corps fellowship program at Penn State. A productive start would be providing one to three positions at the MLG and Headquarters Marine Corps Installations and Logistics levels.

Strategy maps provide organizations with better visualization of strategic business processes and provide an understanding of strategy interactions. Our proposed solutions are aligned with the strategy map Figure 4 (on following page). It is essential to note that as the Marine Corps onboards talent and skills for this effort in the form of internships and recruiting efforts, those individuals need to be clearly aware that they are walking into newly defined roles. They cannot have the misperception they are walking on well-trodden paths. They will be the individuals expected to mature the effort and make progress.

Figure 4. (Figure provided by authors.)

Failure is a certainty if we remain on the current path. Right now, Marines are seeking education opportunities independently by completing degree and certification requirements on their own while often personally funding their programs. Marines that have an interest in this area are watching YouTube videos and getting self-help books to read on the weekends and after hours. This is the type of great personal initiative that we love to see in the Marine Corps, but it is not a strategic business model to follow at the enterprise logistics level.

High-Level Timeline
Billet turnovers, shifting priorities, and lack of focus will be hindrances to implementing these changes. The timescale for changes to take effect will be slow. The people and organizations that implement the changes will not be the same people and organization to assess the effectiveness and make adjustments. Therefore, understanding the timescale is critical to achieving success. Just as the Commandant’s Force Design is not a one-year project but a ten-year plan to slowly move the Marine Corps toward his vision, so also our concept to infuse targeted logistical talent within our ranks to harden Marine Corps logistics conveys long-term vision. To survive changing technologies and remain flexible and inclusive of the nature of AI and analytics involves incremental steps to populate the force with the talent needed. At a minimum, this is a five-year process to infuse the force with critical technical skills, and talented logistics and supply-chain managers. The results of this type of effort will be seen over longer periods of time, and in this case, more training, and over longer periods of time, is better. For example, sending more Marines to get formal skills will result in faster progress toward AI management.

Essentially, the goal is to use AI to make better and faster decisions. A lot of time is wasted trying to put information into context, but by understanding infographics, statistics, and probabilities, an individual can quickly put information into focus for quicker and better decisions. Humans conducting analytics are the foundation to stay in step with changing information and technology environments. To keep pace with future innovative advancements like AI, employing the correct people is a top priority, then the systems—not the other way around. For example, only trained drivers drive Formula One race cars. If a random person is asked to drive the car, he would not even know how to get in, much less buckle in and start the vehicle—and then drive it? He would be lost. The environment is foreign, and the levers, buttons, and diagnostics would be meaningless. Business analytics tools and AI are high-performance vehicles. Without the proper talent and training, a person is looking at blank screens and mounds of data that mean nothing. Great information is embedded within the tools Marines use. Having talented Marines with the background and training in advanced analytics is critical to “driving” the AI innovations of the future. Having the types of people that will drive AI innovation involves taking what we have— plenty of Marines that possess a deep understanding of Marine Corps logistics and supply—and giving them the skills and education required to push business analytics into AI applications.

Elon Musk wants to go to Mars, but he is not going there tomorrow. He and many others in his organizations have been working for over a decade with many precursors and contributing factors to inch closer to the goal. The DOD, the Joint Staff, and the Marine Corps all want some level of AI. This is a great vision and something we should move toward, but it will not happen overnight. There are precursors and contributions that must be made to get us there smartly.

These articles represent our contribution to the vision of implementing AI in Marine Corps logistics. We hope others will build on the concepts we have mentioned and take it to the next phase of development.


1. Knut Alicke, Richa Gupta, and Vera Trautwein, “Resetting Supply Chains for the Next Normal,” McKinsey, July 21, 2020,

2. Hau Lee, “The Triple-A Supply Chain,” Harvard Business Review, October 2004,

3. Ibid.

4. Jim Rice, “How Many Supply Chain Innovations Are Truly Revolutionary?” Supply Chain 24/7, January 2019,

5. Ibid.

6. Email correspondence between authors and Dr. Langley in June 2022.

Artificial Intelligence in the Marine Corps Logistics Enterprise: Part 2

Part 2: It’s not pretty: How ugly is AI progress in the Marine Corps logistics?
>See Part 1 for bios.

This is the second article in our three-part series. The first article discussed the topic of artificial intelligence and how it relates to Marine Corps logistics operations. This article describes how the advancement of our logistics enterprise toward artificial intelligence (AI) cannot rest on highly developed technologies alone.

LtCol Wolfe: I was a previous commander of the 3rd Supply Battalion, a large multifunctional logistics organization; I had a 75 percent and 25 percent rule. Success and effectiveness in running an organization extend beyond effectiveness and efficiency at the operations level. Seventy-five percent of my time was devoted to the tone, temper, and climate of the organization. In other words, things like vision, influence, morale, equality, leadership, mentorship, and decision making affect the entire organization. Beyond this, there were the daily requirements that consumed my time: substance abuse control, legal matters, personnel management, medical/dental readiness, training, inspections, safety, career planning, package routing, maintenance, facilities, budget, and the endless amount of paperwork that must be signed. Twenty-five percent of my time was left over for operations improvement and development. I focused on the conceptual aspects of command, not the technical ones. I relied on and trusted the technical acumen of those professionals embedded within the organization.

Maj Barnes: I was the operations officer for Combat Logistics Battalion 22, a small battalion with a broad set of capabilities (motor transportation, maintenance, medical readiness, supply, engineering, landing support, explosive ordnance disposal, and communications). The battalion had roughly 300 Marines and sailors who possessed around 80 occupational specialties. Due to the broad scope and narrow depth of the battalion, all personnel issues and considerations were unequivocally linked to battalion operations—Marines and sailors become the “one-of-one” capability. The cornerstone of the job was a balancing act to ensure capabilities are maintained and ready amidst incredibly dynamic personnel shifts (permanent change of station orders, promotions, disciplinary actions, end of service, injuries, etc.).

The Problem: Conceptually
The Marine Corps has a group of smart officers that adapt very well. The Marine Corps culture fosters adaptability and decision making with uncertainty extremely well. Unfortunately, the manpower system pays little attention to innate talents, college degrees, or commercial work history. It does not seem to be recruiting specific talent to handle our future data-driven challenges. Instead, it is purely a numbers game. For example, the offensive coordinator does not recruit specific quarterback talent from a pool of college baseball and minor league players. Likewise, Amazon is not recruiting supply chain managers or business analytics or distribution experts from the geology department at Penn State; they are looking for top-performing applicants from the business and statistics departments who have internship experience. The Basic School is often the luck of the draw, with Marines thrown into the logistics world with no formal understanding or passion for the field, and they then receive cursory training in our schoolhouses. There is no clear path to an advanced understanding of how logistics operate and the data that supports decisions and feeds new technology. Some military skills need to be developed within the Marine Corps because there is not a commercial industry talent pool: infantry, artillery, etc. However, this is not the case with logistics. Logistics and analytics are in every industry, every university, and every business model. But the Marine Corps training model for logistics and supply officers takes a wide range of individuals and begins their training from zero. This method does not allow for gaining efficiencies provided by university degrees or the latest industry applications. Progress, improvements, and innovation are systematically stunted by the current methods of assigning occupational specialties.

The battleground for AI progress is ugly and full of shortfalls that must be addressed. We will describe the people and skills shortfalls within the Marine Corps’ logistics enterprise, which we believe must be addressed prior to the exploitation of AI. We are not saying that we are bad at logistics; however, through the spectrum of business analytics, the Marine Corps logistics enterprise is not prepared to transition current practices toward AI for logistics command and control and decision making. Logisticians across the Marine Corps possess the conceptual understanding, but there is an exceptionally large gap in the technical abilities to transition raw data and information into useful AI systems.

We propose that our logistics business structure is off. Structurally, Marine Corps logistics is missing key business attributes within its skills progression. Do not be fooled—the Marine Corps logistics enterprise is a business, even though the business is not driven by profit. It is a business because it is driven by decisions about how to manage scarce resources. Business analytics is a significant technical skill required at supervisory and middle management levels, and we propose that it is an altogether missing element in the administration of our logistics structure. Advanced systems will not solve people problems. Back to the football example, a perfect system, designed by the greatest football offensive coordinator, will not reach its full potential without appropriately skilled players to execute it. So, who are the players?

Data Skills Requirement
The major players in implementing artificial intelligence must possess two critical attributes. First, they must have a deep understanding of Marine Corps logistics. Secondly, they must have a high aptitude for technical skills around data analytics.

In the previous article, we described that business analytics is the precursor to artificial intelligence. We also explained that business analytics encompasses data, information, and knowledge. To expand on that concept further, the science of analytics is generally divided into three fields of study: descriptive analytics, predictive analytics, and prescriptive analytics. The core competencies of descriptive analytics are rooted in statistical analysis. Predictive analytics builds on descriptive by creating models to predict outcomes based on information. And, finally, prescriptive analytics focuses on what should happen in the future. In other words, based on the predictions, what decision should be made to affect the predicted outcome?

Across the three fields of analytics, data visualization is a key component. Data visualization serves two very critical functions. First, the human brain has strong and natural abilities to observe patterns. Therefore, data visualization is a critical step for understanding data and relationships. Second, data visualization is a very powerful tool to convey relationships and communicate concepts to individuals with a wide range of skills and abilities. Data visualization makes concepts from analytics tangible and understandable to people, even when they do not fully understand the deepest technical aspects.

Business analytics software generally falls into two categories: business intelligence and business analytics applications. According to IBM, business intelligence is “an umbrella term for the technology that enables data preparation, data mining, data management, and data visualization.”The software company, Oracle Corporation, compares business intelligence and business analytics by stating the purpose of business analytics:  To make data-driven predictions about the likelihood of future outcomes, business analytics uses next-generation technology, such as machine learning, data visualization, and natural language query.2

The variety of available tools and resources to perform business analytics/intelligence are too numerous to cover in this article. However, it is worth mentioning a few entry-level software platforms that are well-known and highly used. First and foremost, Excel can run various basic analytics and Marine Corps logistics personnel do not typically scratch the surface of its inherent capabilities; for example, think solver. Going beyond Excel, other powerful data analytics programs include PowerBI, Tableau, R, and R-studio. These programs are more powerful than Excel and are specifically designed to perform business analytics/intelligence tasks. These programs are important because they are capable of handling data and transforming information into actionable insights to inform leaders as they make decisions.

Current, Disorganized Systems
Maj Barnes: While at Penn State, I chose to pursue a professional certification in business analytics in addition to a master’s degree in supply chain management. During the coursework, my eyes were opened to the expansive world of business analytics and its applications. Reflecting on what I learned in the classroom, I looked back on my recent operations officer billet. I had hands-on, daily interaction with a multitude of digital platforms to perform and track battalion operations. The best way to describe the experience is segregated and misaligned. It is a common occurrence that, when there is a data call for training, organizations will use Marine Corps Training Information System metrics, but the Marine Corps Training Information System does not match the morning report, and the morning report is different than 3270 because updates are pending. Then, once the final roster is identified, it is discovered that a lance corporal that checked in two days ago received the training at his previous unit, but it never got entered. Furthermore, there is a corporal that checked out of the unit on temporary-duty orders 25 days ago, but he is at a remote training location and cannot be reached, and he did not receive the training that is reflected in our Marine Corps Training Information System. The S-1, S-3, sergeants major, and the individual sections spend hours tracking this information down. All this is, of course, happening in the background as general update briefs, along with PowerPoint representations of maintenance readiness information, are being refreshed. Furthermore, there is other information that must be collected, analyzed, and reported for readiness reporting in DRRS-MC. Put simply, it is too much—too much information, too many systems, and too much redundant effort.

Excess in anything is not a good thing. There are seven deadly sins in supply chain management implementation that are routinely discussed, one of which is having too many options from which to choose.In our search among high-level organizations, it was discovered that the Marine Corps logistics enterprise has over one hundred information systems that are used, partially used, or available but ignored by the logistics community, and it is unclear who owns and controls the systems. There are too many managing systems functioning in fast-changing environments. Too many tools and data repositories lurk in the shadows. It is hard to keep pace and know where these systems hide. Most do not interact with one another; rather, they are silos that operate independently. The number of systems is so numerous that many officers do not know they exist, much less how to maneuver within them. Marine Corps logistics information and data are everywhere and nowhere. AI cannot save that business model.

Data collection is a good thing, but with unbounded collection comes risk; indeed, too much data can be worse than not enough. It is clear that there is a wide variety of elements within Marine Corps logistics production that must be monitored. Collecting everything just because it is easy to gather the data is not an appropriate monitoring system.Too much irrelevant data can hide the more valuable data and make an already complex and disjointed network of systems more complex, resulting in faulty control measures that keep repeating themselves. Silo monitoring policies from shadow logistics element “mafias” has added to the dilemma. In the end, if we want our systems to have better performance, we must simplify data collection, alter the processes, and have personnel on hand who fully understand analytics. AI will not fix these persistent process gaps. Therefore, AI should not be viewed as a savior for something that is deeply rooted within our core business practices:
Digital waste is especially detrimental to the supply chain. It refers to redundant or unnecessary data that is collected, managed, and stored for no tactical or strategic reason. The amount of digital waste within an organization is typically great. It increases exponentially when one considers the data flow among members in a supply chain.5

AI implementation requires special analytics talent and skills. Determining where to position the talent is a critical decision in an organization as large as the Marine Corps. The division of labor is not only broken down between officer and enlisted but goes much further into a large array of MOSs.

Within the managerial hierarchy, there are essentially three levels—top, middle, and supervisory. Top-level managers are responsible for controlling and overseeing the entire organization. Middle-level managers are responsible for executing organizational plans which comply with the company’s policies. They act as an intermediary between top-level and supervisory-level management. Supervisory-level managers focus on the execution of tasks and deliverables and serving as role models for the employees they supervise.6

Figure 1. (Figure provided by authors.)

In any organization, there are certain skills associated with each management position. These skills are technical, human, and conceptual. The transition of technical, human, and conceptual skills corresponding with the supervisory, middle, and top management roles is a well-described framework in the business environment (Figure 1). Looking specifically at the business skills required for Marine Corps logistics operations at the battalion level, the top management are the battalion commander, majors, and sergeants major; middle management is captains, CWO3-CWO4, master sergeants, first sergeants, and gunnery sergeants; and supervisory management is first/second lieutenants, CWO/CWO2, and corporals through staff sergeants.

Not all levels of management need the same skills and points of view shift depending on an individual’s level. For example, a general officer does not view the skills framework from the same perspective as a battalion commander. At the level of general officer, it is very easy to imagine how battalion commanders can be considered middle management (possibly even supervisory management) when there are regiments, divisions/groups, and MEFs between the most senior generals and battalions. With respect to AI and supply and logistics operations, the supervisory management level requires understanding independent versus dependent variables, knowing how to make statistical predictions, and understanding the scope of the data needed (e.g., six weeks or ten years’ worth). I (Maj Barnes) did not learn these things until participating in my intermediate-level resident school at Penn State—too late when I am already at the top management level, where conceptual thinking prevails over technical.

LtCol Wolfe: In my previous organizations, (for example, Supply Battalion) we collected a lot of data. In my conceptual leadership role, I did not have the time, resources, or, unfortunately, the training in higher-level analytic skills to precisely develop, read, or formulate massive amounts of data and information into something actionable. Holistically speaking, I was already past the technical and was operating from a conceptual level. I relied on supervisory- and middle-level managers to oversee this task. All the while knowing that the business-level analytics needed was not taught in Marine Corps schools. This knowledge gap forced my personnel to learn on the go, and often on their own. My CWOs, who specialized in specific domains of logistics, had to take personal initiative to get up to speed with industry to stay above water. I was keenly aware that most of my staff were not trained for that type of technical understanding. Additionally, prior to my assignment with Supply Battalion, I had served as the Field Supply Maintenance Analysis Office–Western Pacific officer in charge. In this data-centric organization, I also saw that something was missing within all the Marine units my teams analyzed. Not until becoming a fellow at Penn State and participating in the supply chain management coursework did I realize the missing component was business analytics. Today, these functions are often the cornerstones for advances in operations at any level of commercial business operation. If any organization should have the training, specialized skills, and current industry supply chain management tools to assist with analytics, it should be the supply battalions and Field Supply Maintenance Analysis Office–Western Pacific, yet neither did! Unfortunately, the norm is to fall back to spreadsheets or ACCESS, regurgitate the data into it, and then attempt as well as possible to formulate conclusions. My experience highlights an area where the Marine Corps logistics enterprise is behind in advanced business analytics. With these skills being the cornerstone of AI, Marine Corps logistics is not positioned to establish AI systems and practices.

In conclusion, no matter your point of view, information wrangling requires the technical understanding of middle and supervisory managers. Logistics technology, information systems, and business analytics tools are not commonplace in our entry- or mid-level training models. We tend to be broad in scope and rarely, if at all, incorporate commercial industry practices or state-of-art tools to implement advanced analytics for logistics operations.

Current Skill Set Pipeline
It is unnecessary for the Marine Corps to create its own talent pool of software engineers that can develop from scratch these complex systems. That is a bridge too far. However, Marine Corps logistics does not have a group of professionals with the technical skills to manage data on an advanced level. Rather, there is a pool of Marines looking at white noise, trying to understand what it means and where it may fit into complex AI systems or even basic decision making.

Brooks McKinney, in his Northrop Grumman article, “Defense AI Technology: Worlds Apart from Commercial AI,” says:

AI is not simply a “bolt-on” capability that will make everything more capable than before. It doesn’t instantly make things smarter. AI must be integrated into a system from the ground up. According to Jackson Bursch, an AI software engineer for Northrop Grumman, defense AI requires a diverse skill set, including more disciplines than the domain of software engineering. “We’re not just developing software, we’re developing complex systems that work in every domain,” he explained, So, we need people who specialize in specific sensors for data collection, others who can build AI software and still others who can handle the network engineering that connects those sensors to our software.

Figure 2. (Figure provided by authors.)

Talent Management 2030 states, “Every Marine treated like a round peg, every billet like a round hole.” The tangible aspect of this concept in the logistics community is that there are approximately 1,540 second lieutenants through captains with a supply or logistics MOS. The 1,540 Marine officers in that category have approximately 170 degrees among them (Figure 2). The degrees range from ocean engineering and forestry to advertising, art studies, and biblical studies.

Therefore, these individuals were processed as if through a meat grinder. In other words, they were assigned a supply or logistics MOS, sent to three months of supply and logistics school, and then assigned as maintenance management officers, platoon commanders, supply account holders, etc. Logistics problems have always been calculus problems—constantly changing in space, time, and scope. The future of logistics problems will be driven by data, restricted communications, and deep understanding. As an example, consider the following situation.

A logistics unit will be on the move from Objective D to Objective E. They know Objective E is seven days away. The maintenance team is thinking about where they will be seven days from now. Due to communications restrictions and security considerations, it is unsafe to transmit from the locations. So, the team programs a quadcopter to take off from Objective D in three days. Therefore, they will be four days from Objective E with new requirements. Applying an eighty percent accuracy to the timeline, what are the high and low estimates of the team’s actual arrival? What are the risk factors of early or late delivery? What will the future requirement be?

To think about data and information in this manner, both the person transmitting and receiving the information must understand probabilities, error rates, sensitivity analysis, rates of change, and so forth. LtGen Wissler (Ret), in his article, “Logistics: The Life Blood of Military Power,” says that logistics is the most complex capability provided by the military. The depth, breadth, and scope of logistics are immense and intricate. Alan Estevez, former principal deputy undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology, and logistics says, “Logistics isn’t rocket science … it’s much harder!”7

The skills gap does not go away by redefining roles. One could argue that all officers must be conceptual thinkers, or that filling unrestricted officer seats by targeting specific business analytics skills would be too restricted. These arguments make sense because leaders that are required to make decisions and influence outcomes are needed and are a major part of the management hierarchy. However, recruiting talent in this specific way results in an enlisted skills gap. From either point of view, the skills gap remains; it simply shifts from a shortfall in the officer population to the enlisted population. In contrast, industry is specifically targeting these skills in their recruitment. If they need a supply chain manager or business analytics skill set, they are not recruiting forestry majors from college or the workforce; rather, they are targeting the skills they need. This goes back to Figure 1 and identifying where the organization needs the technical skills.

System Security and Bureaucracy
Another strategic business consideration is that, if we had the talent pool today, the bureaucracies and security measures in place would prevent these individuals from accessing the tools required to perform AI precursors of analytics. Delving into the systems and information security risks that are naturally inherent to the subject is beyond the scope of these articles, and indeed, free-flowing information and unhindered access to data is a risk. Furthermore, open-source programs are an integral part of developing AI systems. In the article, “Why Is Open-Source So Important? Part One: Principles and Parity,” the authors discuss the importance of open-source programs.

‘For every single branch of IoT and AI there’s an army of companies competing to have their technology become the ‘new standard,’ says Ontañon, ‘those companies developing their technology the open-source way are in a much better position to get ahead of the rest.’ Quite simply, this is because open-source technology has thousands of skilled workers building, checking, and testing code in real-time and in any number of different applications, and thousands of heads are better than one.8

It would be a monumental hurdle for a lieutenant to get permission to have a lot of leading-edge tools such as PowerBI and Microsoft Project, which are basic business tools. Access to open-source tools like R-Studio and Tableau is even harder and more restrictive, with limited licenses. With systematic Marine Corps restrictions on commercial industry logistics tools, the transition to artificial intelligence cannot be realized at a rapid pace.

From our perspective, data overload, skills and talent shortfalls, thousands of people with hundreds of degrees and multitudes of occupational specialties, hundreds of systems, untethered information collection, and restricted software access in the logistics and supply community makes the landscape for AI implementation very ugly. This is a system in disarray. Moreover, artificial intelligence and data analysis are rapidly developing fields, and staying at the cutting edge requires serious strategic decisions aligned with future visions.

In our next article, we will present and discuss solutions that would chip away at the ugly, making it prettier for AI and other advanced technology to flourish.


1. IBM Corporation, “IBM Docs,” IBM, March 8, 2021,

2. Oracle, “What Is Business Analytics?” Business Analytics, n.d.,

3. Inbound Logistics, “Seven Deadly Supply Chain Sins,” Inbound Logistics, January 1, 2004,

4. Jack Meredith and Scott Shaffer, Operations and Supply Chain Management for MBAs (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 2020).

5. Ibid.

6. Emily Barr, “The 3 Different Levels of Management,” SpriggHR, July 15, 2022,

7. John Wissler, “Logistics: The Lifeblood of Military Power,” The Heritage Foundation, October 4, 2018,

8. Charles Towers-Clark, “Why Is Open-Source So Important? Part One: Principles and Parity,” Forbes, September 24, 2019,

Quote to Ponder

“What makes the general’s task so difficult is the necessity of feeding so many men and animals. If he allows himself to be guided by the supply officers he will never move and his expedition will fail.”
—Napoleon, Maxims of War, 1831

Artificial Intelligence in the Marine Corps Logistics Enterprise: Part 1

Part 1: It’s not pretty: What is artificial intelligence and its components?
 >LtCol Wolfe was a Marine Corps Logistics Fellow at Smeal Business College, Pennsylvania State University, and previously served as Battalion Commander for 3rd Supply Battalion. He is currently assigned to the Joint Staff J4.
>>Maj Barnes was a Marine Corps Logistics Fellow at Smeal Business College, Pennsylvania State University, and previously served as Operations Officer for Combat Logistics Battalion 22. He is currently assigned to HQMC Installations and Logistics.

Marine Corps logistics is moving toward artificial intelligence (AI) as an element of our logistics systems. We will address the challenges for the Marine Corps and provide solutions through a three-article series. Article one, “It’s Not Pretty: What is artificial intelligence and its components?” sets up the discussion and addresses what AI is and the building blocks associated with it. The article addresses misinformation or misunderstanding of AI that results from its extremely broad application and the varying degrees with which it is developed and implemented. Article two, “It’s Not Pretty: How ugly is AI progress in Marine Corps logistics?” will discuss why the Marine Corps logistics enterprise is unable to take advantage of industry technology in timely, relevant, or meaningful ways. The article brings together the magnitude of challenges in implementation for logistics applications. Finally, article three, “It’s Not Pretty: How can we start making AI progress ‘prettier’?” will discuss an enduring business solution for getting AI implementation right and preventing mistakes early on. It provides tangible and achievable goals to build the capability for execution.

Level-Set Discussion about AI
What is AI? Definitions and capabilities of AI for Marine Corps logistics applications are not uniformly understood, much less agreed upon; furthermore, AI represents broad, dynamic, and evolving technology. There is not a clear understanding among Marine Corps logistics professionals of where the lines between data, information, business analytics, automation, and deep/machine learning are—much less how to formulate and perform these functions. Adding in AI creates another layer of complication. We will attempt to unify the collective understanding of technology and the path to AI.

Definitions and Building Blocks
In this section, we will provide critical definitions for the essential building blocks of AI. There are several precursors to AI, and it is important to understand how the precursors are linked. AI begins and ends with data. However, the bridge between data and AI is pillared on information, knowledge, analytics, automation, deep learning, and machine learning. Put simply, AI is to data what astrophysics is to arithmetic. There are steps in between that must be refined or, dare say, mastered before diving into a new arena. Ultimately, AI performs human-like analytical tasks based on pattern recognition. Pattern recognition is best accomplished through data manipulation and visualization known as business analytics. Within business analytics, there are critical components of data, information, and knowledge. Below, we provide detail for each of these components and the relationship of business analytics with data, information, and knowledge is depicted in Figure 1.

Data is “the basic individual items of numeric or other information, garnered through observation; but in themselves, without context, they are devoid of information.”1

Business analytics is the process of analyzing raw data to draw out meaningful, actionable insights. Effective analytics is the key driver behind data, information, and knowledge. It is embedded within each domain (Figure 1). Without it, we cannot make sense of material to understand the meaning, recognize trends, or arrive at a decision. When looking at a random set of numbers, we can determine it is a phone number. Further analysis can reveal what country it might be from, the state where it was issued, and even to whom it may belong.

Example: Think about random numbers 5553467864, which have no meaning.

Figure 1. (Figure provided by authors.)

Information is “that which is conveyed, and possibly amenable to analysis and interpretation, through data and the context in which the data [is] assembled.”2

Example: Give meaning through rational connection. 555-346-7864 is a phone number.

Knowledge is “awareness, understanding, or information that has been obtained by experience or study, and that is either in a person’s mind or possessed by people generally.”3

Example: Apply useful meaning to the phone number. 555-346-7864 is Jim’s number; he is the owner of a manufacturing business.

Automation is “the ability of software systems and equipment to perform repetitive, monotonous tasks.”4

Examples: text notifications on your smart device, assembly lines, and out-of-office replies.

Deep Learning/Machine Learning is “a type of artificial intelligence that uses algorithms (sets of mathematical instructions or rules) based on the way the human brain operates” and “the process of computers changing the way they carry out tasks by learning from new data, without a human being needing to give instructions in the form of a program.”5

Example: speech and image recognition.

Artificial Intelligence is “the ability of machines to perform tasks that normally require human intelligence—recognizing patterns, learning from experience, drawing conclusions, making predictions, acting, and more—whether digitally or as the smart software behind autonomous physical systems.”“AI makes it possible for machines to learn from experience, adjust to new inputs and perform human-like tasks.”7

Examples: autonomous vehicles, smart assistants like Siri, and grammar predictions.

Like anything else, AI is a building process that requires multiple predecessors to execute correctly (Figure 2). It is a sequencing of steps from a repertoire of operations, each building from its predecessor so that the goal is better achieved. In business, certain elements must first be refined or created before reaching the desired end state. For example, stakeholders must be identified, roles and responsibilities defined, project scope created, budget formulated, timeline built, milestones established, goals prioritized, and deliverables defined. The Marine Corps is no different. The Marine Corps Planning Process has taught us that there are precursors to the final execution of a well-developed plan. Before we reach the transition step, we must sufficiently tease out a problem-framing course of action (COA) development, COA wargame, COA comparison and decision, and orders development. Moving from problem framing straight to transition does not work—neither does jumping Marine Corps logistics from its current state to AI without enhancing the predecessors.

Figure 2. (Figure provided by authors.)

Business analytics (data, information, and knowledge) can be accomplished without the use of computers, non-digitally. Even though the use of computers and digital systems can enhance analytics, they can still be accomplished (albeit slower and less efficiently) by non-digital systems and processes. Replicating a non-digital process in digital form should not be confused with automation.

Findings From Relevant Literature
Reading the Commandant’s Sustaining the Force in the 21st Century and Talent Management 2030Marine Corps Gazette articles, and “Stanford University Artificial Intelligence Index Report 2021” provides a great perspective on the direction logistics is headed and the precursors that are necessary before AI exploitation. Military-specific publications establish the status of AI internal to Marine Corps organizations, while academic publications convey a broader perspective and describe the industry overall. Below is a synopsis of those materials to provide readers with a collective understanding and establish common knowledge.

During his time as Commandant, Gen Berger has published several documents that outline his visions for developing a Marine Corps that is relevant and prepared for future conflict environments. A common thread of urgency to address talent and technology shortfalls can be seen throughout the documents:

Sustaining the Force in the 21st Century: Gen Berger states the logistics community must identify the improvements necessary to elevate the MAGTF beyond its current state. He goes on to allude that we must always review, discuss, and debate the capabilities we hope to develop. Finally, he talks about data-driven processes for conversion into actual task-related information.

Talent Management 2030: Gen Berger primarily discusses the retooling of our personnel system to better recruit and retain especially skilled individuals. The former Commandant says, “unless we find a means to quickly infuse expertise into the force—at the right ranks—I am concerned that advances in artificial intelligence and robotics, among other fields where the speed of technological change is exponential, will force us into a reactive posture. We should have an open door for exceptionally talented Americans who wish to join the Marine Corps, allowing them to laterally enter at a rank appropriate to their education, experience, and ability.”8

Gen Berger is referring to the building blocks that are necessary to advance our logistics operations. He is not expressing a specific direction here but is leading the logistics community to identify vulnerabilities and mitigation strategies that will enable advanced technologies like AI in support of the MAGTF. Likewise, following the Commandant’s guidance, our recommendations will enhance our current capabilities to better transition into more technological domains.

A review of Marine Corps Gazette articles from the last five years highlights that we have an exceptionally large gap to close from our current logistics practices to what is required in future operating concepts as outlined in key documents like the National Defense Strategy (2018), the Commandant’s Planning Guidance (2019), and Force Design 2030 (2020). Technology, innovation, and rapid flexibility will be essential for logistics support, yet progress is being slowed by legacy systems and practices:

 “21st Century Logistics, Designing and Developing Capabilities”: LtGen Dana’s (Ret) focuses on hybrid logistics, which optimizes old technologies and blends them with the new, discussing how data will drive our future. He indicates that the Marine Corps must realize the full potential of a user-friendly Global Combat Support System-Marine Corps while anchoring in data-driven predictive analytics. Harnessing a data-based approach will elevate logistics operations to the next level. He then mentions training and education as critical for logistician success. He talks of greater operational understanding among the joint, interagency, international, commercial, and host-nation environments to expose logisticians to new ideas. In article two, we will pick up on this topic and address the analytical skills shortfall that is becoming an ever more abundantly clear impediment to advancements and growth in the technology sphere.

“Future Logistics Challenges”: BGen Stewart (Ret) points to logistics information technology shortcomings and our struggles to maintain material readiness for the future we want. He states that we need a user-friendly command and control foundation to advance any future capability or innovative technology. He questions whether the logistics community is invested and taking the right steps to properly educate and train the force for big data and advanced technology execution.

 “Data Driven Logistics”: LtCol Spangenberg et al proposed a year-long experiment that would equip the MLGs with specialized cells focused on data-driven logistics. The cells would consist of six to fifteen Marines with expertise in data engineering, systems engineering, software design, and data analysis. These teams would “experiment with data (collection, analysis, visualizations, decision support) to tangibly demonstrate capabilities, limitations, and requirements of D2L [data-driven logistics] … collect, access, and analyze data; produce actionable insights with clear visualizations; and answer questions or solve problems to enable decisions of their host MLG.”At its core, the article proposes a solution to conduct formalized business analytics with core competencies in a manner that mimics leading logistics companies and organizations in the private sector.

The key documents discussed above highlight two crucial points. First, we are unquestionably headed into a data-centric world. Second, we do not have the core competencies, skills, or training to maneuver properly within the inescapable advancements in technology and AI development. We argue we are not even close to commercial industry progress.

The “Stanford University Artificial Intelligence Index Report 2021” highlights the trajectory of AI research and publications and accurately tracks the current state of the art for AI. The report compares the trajectory and effort of various industries, economic sectors, superpowers, Fortune 500 companies, etc. The key takeaways are listed below:

Private investment in AI soared: The private investment in AI in 2021 totaled around $93.5 billion—more than double the total private investment from 2020.

AI capabilities and technology shifts: The AI algorithms are more capable than ever and continue to make drastic improvements (language and image recognition). Robotics are less expensive and more accessible than ever before (42 percent price decreases).

The United States and China dominate cross-country collaborations on AI: Despite rising geopolitical tensions, the United States and China had the greatest number of cross-country collaborations in AI publications from 2010 to 2021, increasing five times since 2010. The collaboration between the two countries produced 2.7 times more publications than that between the United Kingdom and China—the second-highest collaboration on the list.

Increased investment: Data management, processing, and cloud received the greatest amount of private AI investment in 2021—2.6 times the investment from 2020—followed by medical and healthcare.

Technical experts flocking to industry—not government: In 2020, one in every five computer science students who graduated with PhD degrees specialized in AI/machine learning, the most popular specialty in the past decade. From 2010 to 2020, most of the AI PhDs in the United States headed to industry while a small fraction took government jobs.

Figure 3. (Figure provided by authors.)

The chart above (Figure 3), which depict the number of publications written on AI, correlate with the sense of urgency for AI progress in the Marine Corps and industry. The chart on the left depicts the number of articles written in the Marine Corps Gazette, and the chart on the right shows the number of articles written in the industry. Publication and research efforts are driving the private sector’s development of AI. At first look, the rapid increase in the number of Marine Corps Gazette articles and journal publications around the 2018 timeframe are parallel—this is a positive. However, it is important to note that these are publications that only mention AI and are not necessarily related to logistics.

A closer look at the Marine Corps Gazette articles reveals that of the 47 articles written since 2017, three of them were related to logistics, but they only make cursory mention of AI and address little about what is needed to get to an AI end state. Is three a high or low number of articles? The answer depends on whether the information in the articles was acted upon. Were the results of their implementation assessed, refined, and redeveloped? The sparsity of articles should make the corresponding suggestions easy to track, and if they are not being implemented, then they are the wrong ideas, and not enough ideas are being presented. Since, as a logistics community, we are not collectively discussing how to implement AI, what the requirements are, and what structural problems might exist, the three articles written in the Gazette have not served as benchmarks for traction and implementation across the Marine Corps logistics enterprise

Understanding AI
A better understanding of what it can do, some examples of its use, and how it works may increase the priority it is given within the Marine Corps logistics enterprise.

The PBS special, In the Age of AI, provides several real-world examples of recent advances in AI. One of the most powerful lines in the video is: “China is the best place for AI implementation today, because the vast amount of data that is available in China. China has a lot more users than any other country—three to four times more than the U.S.” The host goes on to further explain, “We’re talking about ten times more data than the U.S., and AI is operating on data and fueled by data. The more data, the better the AI works—more importantly than how brilliant the researcher is working on the problem. So, in the age of AI, where data is the new oil, China is the new Saudi Arabia.”10

In his TED Talk, “The Incredible Inventions of Intuitive AI,” Maurice Conti walks through the progression of human ages and argues that we are at the dawn of a new age. Human society has progressed through hunter-gatherer, agricultural, and industrial societies and is currently in the Information Age. Conti argues that the next age is the Augmented Age, in which natural human abilities will be enhanced by computers, robotics, and digital nervous systems. While the previous ages have been defined by passive tools, the augmented age will be defined by generative and intuitive tools based on the abilities of humans, robots, and AI systems to work in harmony and solve complex problems. Conti makes a clear argument that within a human lifetime (64 years), computers started off playing tic-tac-toe (1952), then advanced to beating the best humans at chess (1997), then beating humans at Jeopardy (2011), and finally beating humans at Go (2016). Computers started off playing kids’ games and are now able to outperform human thought in our most complex games of strategy.

The video “But What is a Neural Network” contains a clear explanation and demonstration of how a neural network is fundamentally built. The demonstration is based on illustrating how the human ability to recognize a set of handwritten numbers from zero to ten is a very simple task. For example, the number three is extremely easy to recognize even when written sloppily and in several different ways. However, writing a program to recognize digitally written numbers becomes extraordinarily complex. Though the video focuses on neural networks, the host explains that neural networks are the foundation of machine learning. Understanding the mechanics and a specific and narrow application of a neural network and understanding where a neural network is in the progression from data to AI are valuable insights.

The Problem
AI is extremely technical, heavily reliant on technology and extensive/free-flowing data, and requires technical experts that can manage complex systems. The Marine Corps logistics apparatus is deep. Not only does the logistics domain include the six functions of logistics but embedded within each of them is a consortium of diverse functions including ship loading, transportation distribution, cargo throughput, mortuary affairs, acquisition, arming and refueling, and warehousing, to name only a few. AI is extremely specific in its algorithm application. Data and information are vast and predictive analytics is brought to life by specifically designed algorithms. Data manipulation has a human element; without understanding the data at a fundamental level, we are guessing about what to tell computers to do.

In our minds, understanding the building blocks for any innovation is critical. The breadth and scope of AI are a significant challenge for any industry, and the Marine Corps is not exempt from this challenge. The three primary concerns are: we have fallen behind industry standards; we have significant challenges adopting state of art for logistics applications; and our pacing-threat competitors are leaning in heavily to develop and apply AI. To win in this domain, Marine Corps logistics must have the goals, talent, and infrastructure to smartly advance it further. In our next article, we will identify the ugly, inconvenient details that currently exist within Marine Corps logistics and must be addressed prior to any deep movement into the AI landscape.


1. Max Boisot and Agustí Canals, “Data, Information, and Knowledge: Have We Got It Right?” Journal of Evolutionary Economics 14 (2004).

2. Ibid.

3. Cambridge Dictionary, “Knowledge,” Cambridge Online Dictionary, n.d.,

4. Harry Dreany, “LP Studies Artificial Intelligence (AI) Research Proposal,” November 23, 2021.

5. Cambridge Dictionary, “Machine Learning,” Cambridge Online Dictionary, n.d.; and Cambridge Dictionary, “Machine Learning,” Cambridge Online Dictionary, n.d..

6. Department of Defense, Summary of the 2018 Department of Defense Artificial Intelligence Strategy, (Washington DC: 2018),

7. “LP Studies Artificial Intelligence (AI) Research Proposal.”

8. Gen David H. Berger, Talent Management 2030, (Washington, DC: 2021).

9. Kirk M. Spangenberg, Gregory Lucas, Stan Bednar, Jason Fincher, Leo Spaeder, and Miguel Beltre, “Data-Driven Logistics,” Marine Corps Gazette 103, No. 3 (2019).

10. FRONTLINE PBS, Official, “In the Age of AI (Full Documentary),” YouTube,

First to Fight

Lessons from the Battle of Belleau Wood
>Maj King is an Infantry Officer and currently serves as Commanding Officer, Recruiting Station Salt Lake City.

“And, waking or sleeping, I can still see before me the dark threat of Belleau Wood, as full of menace as a tiger’s foot, dangerous as a live wire, poisonous with gas, bristling with machine guns, alive with snipers, scornfully beckoning us to come on and be slain, waiting for us like a dragon in its den. Our brains told us to fear it, but our wills heard but one command, to clean it out, and I can still see before my very eyes those waves in the poppy-spattered wheat-field as the steady lines of our Marines went in.” (1)

Albertus Catlin,
With the Help of God and a Few Marines

Col Albertus Catlin, commander of 6th Mar at Belleau Wood, recorded these words a year after the Marine Corps’ performance in that small crop of woods east of Paris in the summer of 1918. Catlin’s first line poetically describes the overwhelming odds Marines faced in the battle: mustard gas from German artillery shells, Maxim machineguns dug in ready to fire, and enemy snipers scanning the battlefield for targets. It is his second line that reveals those intangible traits Marines exhibited during the almost month-long battle—virtues that have set the Corps apart since its inception: discipline, gallantry, grit, sacrifice, esprit de corps, and mission accomplishment among others. Outgunned and outmanned, a brigade of Marines fought for nearly 26 days against multiple divisions of battle-hardened German infantry and ultimately won.

Although the battle has long passed, we Marines have an obligation to look back at this storied engagement and extract from it applicable lessons for today. This article is just that, a simple recap and analysis of the Battle of Belleau Wood and the leadership fundamentals and virtues exhibited that remain timeless in war. Under the severest of conditions, Marines overcame their tactical and operational missteps, equipment shortfalls, and an overwhelming enemy force. These are the reasons every new generation of Marines must know the story of Belleau Wood.

America Goes to War
To fully appreciate the battle, we need to go back further to 1917, the year the United States entered World War I. The war had been raging in Europe since 1914 with President Woodrow Wilson pledging to keep America out. When Great Britain intercepted the Zimmerman Note (Germany’s request for an alliance with Mexico) in January 1917 and turned it over to the United States, it was enough for President Wilson to petition Congress for war.

Beleaguered French and British allies needed the Americans immediately. The United States responded by assembling roughly 14,000 troops and sent them to France in June 1917. Named the American Expeditionary Force and commanded by Army GEN John J. Pershing, the force included 5th Mar. In February of 1918, the 6th Mar arrived in France and joined with the 5th Mar to form the Fourth Marine Brigade, attached to the Army’s U.S. Second Infantry Division. (2)

American action in the war was minor throughout the winter of 1918 until the Germans launched a series of offenses with fresh troops freed from the now-silent Eastern Front. British and French forces repulsed the first two German offensives, but the third, known as the Aisne Offensive, struck at French forces in the Chateau-Thierry region of France, only 39 miles east of Paris. The force and momentum of this German offensive smashed the French army and dashed most Frenchmen’s hopes of keeping the Germans out of Paris. The Allies suddenly threw American forces into the line to blunt the invasion. The U.S. Second Infantry Division was ordered to Chateau-Thierry, and the Marine Brigade’s mission was to take back Belleau Wood, an ancient hunting ground half the size of New York’s Central Park.(3)

Baptism by Fire
Departing their camp near Paris and traveling by foot and truck for over 36 hours, the Marines arrived filthy and exhausted, falling in along the front near the villages of Champillon and Lucy-le-Bocage only a few kilometers north of the Metz-Paris Highway and the city of Chateau-Thierry. By the morning of 2 June 1918, despite poorly designed French maps issued in minimal quantities, most of the Marine Brigade reorganized along a northwest-running defensive line.(4) French troops were tied in on the brigade’s western flank and the Army’s 9th Infantry Regiment was tied in to their east. When oncoming Germans repulsed a French counter-offensive forward of Marine lines, retreating Frenchmen demanded the Marines withdraw with them. Capt Lloyd Williams, a company commander with 2/5 Mar, replied to a dispirited French major, “Retreat, Hell! We just got here.” The brigade, although untested in battle, was ready for action.(5)

On the afternoon of 3 June, the woods across from the Marines’ line finally came alive. Waves of German soldiers emerged from the tree lines and advanced through waist-high wheat fields toward the Marines. Some reports list 500 yards away, others say 300 yards away, but at some distance the Germans were not expecting, the Marines of 1/5 Mar and 2/5 Mar, lying prone with their 1903 Springfield bolt-action rifles, began pouring precision rifle fire into the advancing enemy. While watching the onslaught, Col Catlin recalled, “The Boches fell by the score there among the wheat and the poppies … they didn’t break, they were broken.”(6) Marines and their rifles alone won the day in their first encounter with the enemy. Even nearby French units praised the Marines for their unmatched marksmanship. After three failed attacks on 3 June, the Germans limped back into Belleau Wood and began fortifying their front. The Marines rested and re-organized their lines over the next two days, preparing to clear out the woods when orders came.

At 2225 on 5 June, brigade headquarters issued orders for an assault, with zero hour set for 0345 on 6 June. Commanders now had only five hours to deliver the order to their men dispersed along the line, coordinate supporting arms, and ready their men. Despite the impossibility of the task word passed through the darkness, troops checked their equipment and readied their weapons, and platoons moved to their rendezvous points. The first objective would be Hill 142, a prominent terrain feature that commanded high ground a few hundred meters west of Belleau Wood. 1/5 Mar would spearhead the attack.

At 0345 only the 49th and 67th Companies were in position to begin the assault, and at 0350 whistle blasts signaled the weary yet eager Marines to begin the attack. Many veterans remember the initial waves moving toward Hill 142 as a textbook performance of an attack formation. The platoons attacked in lines of four, maintaining proper intervals, with French-made Chauchat light machineguns interspersed for suppressive fire. The parade-like formations, however, fell apart when German machineguns sprang to life. Withering fire from German Maxims and Mausers raked the approaching Marines, killing scores. Platoon formations quickly morphed into individual struggles for survival. Momentum stalled. Then small-unit leaders took charge. Only meters from machinegun emplacements, junior officers and noncommissioned officers rushed forward, inspiring their men to keep moving. One Marine lost a hand grabbing an enemy machinegun barrel. The enemy gun crew, however, suffered a worse fate at the hands of Marines with bayonets.

By noon on 6 June, 1/5 Mar had secured Hill 142 but at a cost of 16 officers and 544 Marines killed or wounded.(7) The Germans suffered far greater with an estimated 2,000 casualties. With the high ground overlooking Belleau Wood in American hands, the assault on the woods could begin.(8)

From just the first few days of the battle, we can take away several lessons:

  1. Forced Marches: When not enough vehicles were available for transportation, 1/5 Mar, and the 5th Machine Gun Battalion were forced to march with weapons and equipment to the front line.9 Rigorous training both stateside and in France prior to the battle prepared Marines to undergo these strenuous conditions and perform superbly. Although vehicles and aircraft are the norms for transportation today, commanders must still ensure that their units can move themselves and their equipment to distant objectives without those luxuries and still complete the mission.
  2. Marksmanship: During the initial encounter with the enemy on 3 June, marksmanship displayed by the Marines engaging targets out to 500 meters was far superior to French and German marksmanship during the war. Although mission sets change, the Marine Corps must continue to imbue marksmanship fundamentals to all Marines in both recruit training and the FMF, and commanders must make every effort to increase the accuracy and lethality of Marines under their charge. Get your Marines trigger time, that is always a good investment.
  3. Aggressive Execution: Poorly planned orders to secure Hill 142 gave subordinate commanders minimal time to plan and execute. Regardless, at zero hour, NCOs and junior officers were moving amongst the troops, getting them in order and inspiring them with their command presence and leadership. When chaos ensued, well-trained small-unit leaders made the difference in securing the objective. That legacy of sacrifice, determination, and leading from the front must continue to be instilled in all junior leaders throughout the Corps through rigorous training, effective promotion screening, and character development by their commanders and senior enlisted leaders.

Into the Woods
Brigade headquarters issued orders to clear out the entirety of Belleau Wood while the engagement on Hill 142 raged back and forth. Setting zero hour for 1700 that same day, 6 June, Gen Harbord, commander of the Marine Brigade and a career Army officer, issued Field Order Number Two, calling for a multi-pronged attack on the woods. 3/5 Mar would execute the main attack by striking the woods on its western front while 3/6 Mar would penetrate the woods at its southwest tip and clear the woods northward. Rotating on 3/6 Mar’s right flank, 2/6 Mar would protect 3/6 Mar’s flank and secure the village of Bouresches east of the woods.

Intelligence on enemy activity in Belleau Wood during the days leading up to the attack was limited. Various French air scouts reported observing enemy activity inside the woods, and division intelligence believed that the Germans were consolidating positions in the woods. Gen Harbord, however, believed the woods were either empty or occupied by only a small force to be easily captured. As a result, the brigade scheduled minimal artillery support for the attack, a decision that would prove disastrous.(10)

At 1700 on 6 June 1918, the attack on Belleau Wood commenced. Leaving the safety of their lines, the attacking battalions proceeded through waist-high wheat fields toward their objectives in the dark, looming tree line. 3/5 Mar, the northernmost unit, had the most exposed approach to the woods.(11) 3/6 Mar, to the south, fared somewhat better with trees and terrain shielding their approach.

Spread out on-line in four different waves, 3/5 Mar’s Marines were several hundred yards from the woods when German machineguns ripped into their front and flanks. Marines fell by the dozens. Casualties mounted. Lieutenants abruptly found themselves in command of rifle companies, sergeants suddenly commanded platoons, and privates now led squads. Col Catlin, commander of 6th Mar, was observing his regiment’s progress when a German bullet smashed into his chest, rendering him unable to continue command. Maj Benjamin Berry, 3/5 Mar’s battalion commander, lost most of his right arm in the attack but remained with the battalion until forced to evacuate. 3/6 Mar, fighting to the south, gained a foothold on the southern edge of the woods but not before sustaining heavy casualties from devastating enemy machinegun and rifle fire.

Around 2100 on 6 June, Berry’s battered Marines of 3/5 Mar, having failed to gain a foothold in the woods, withdrew back to their lines. 3/6 Mar, also decimated by machinegun fire and low on ammunition, held only a sliver of Belleau Wood’s southwestern leg. 2/6 Mar, east of the woods, fared the best. Having gained a foothold in the village of Bouresches, 2/6 Mar would hold the village to the battle’s end.

The fighting on 6 June proved to be one of the costliest days for the Marine Corps in all its history. That day alone, the Marine Brigade lost 31 officers and 1,056 enlisted men.(12) Although the fighting spirit among the Marines was strong, valor and aggressiveness could go only so far against machineguns and artillery. The Marines would need the next few days to filter in replacements, resupply ammunition and equipment, and better coordinate their supporting arms.

The Brigade’s actions on 6 June reveal countless lessons worthy of review:

  1. Reconnaissance/Intelligence: Division intelligence reports suggested that the Germans were fortifying the woods. Any legitimate reconnaissance mission into the woods would have revealed significant enemy troop activity and the numerous machinegun emplacements. With these obstacles identified, the brigade could have ordered attacks at weaker points or utilized greater supporting arms to suppress enemy strong points. Commanders have a responsibility to get eyes on the objective whenever possible.
  2. Synchronization and the Use of Supporting Arms: Gen Harbord’s belief that the woods were lightly occupied caused him to forgo the extensive use of integrated artillery fire to soften enemy strong points. Further, the use and positioning of machineguns by the 5th and 6th Machine Gun Battalions failed to effectively suppress enemy machineguns and strong points in support of maneuver elements. Although speed and tempo are always factors in an operation, commanders must make every effort to fight the enemy using combined arms.
  3. Commander’s Intent and Mission Accomplishment: The capture of the village Bouresches east of Belleau Wood is a superb example of small-unit leaders understanding the commander’s intent and utilizing their own initiative, ingenuity, and resourcefulness to seize the objective. The first unit to enter the village was a platoon of Marines led by 2ndLt Clifton Cates, the future Commandant, whose report to higher, “I have no one on my left and only a few on my right. I will hold,” reflected the grit of those junior leaders committed to accomplishing the mission. Commander’s intent means something; it gives subordinates clarity in chaos and decision-making ease in situations of strained communication.

Hard Fought Victory
On 8 June, only two days after the bloody lessons of the 6th, Maj Berton Sibley’s 3/6 Mar continued its assault into the southern leg of the woods until casualties and overwhelming enemy fire checked their advance. Gen Harbord, realizing the full strength of the German presence in the woods, finally made complete use of his artillery. Throughout the night of 9 June and into the morning of 10 June, allied batteries fired over 34,000 shells into the square-mile patch of woods.(13)

Attacking northward behind the rolling artillery barrage, 1/6 Mar relieved 3/6 Mar and finally captured the southern edge of the woods. On 11 June, 2/5 Mar braved devastating machinegun fire and crossed the same wheat field where 3/5 Mar was bloodied and repulsed four days earlier. Harbord’s artillery preparation had reduced German strong points, allowing 2/5 Mar to penetrate the woods on its western front. After four grueling days fighting inside the woods, LtCol Frederick Wise and the Marines of 2/5 Mar had captured over 300 German prisoners, dozens of machineguns, and the southern half of the Belleau Wood.(14)

German resistance was far from over, however. As the Marine Brigade consolidated its gains in the southern half of the woods, the Germans responded with precise artillery fire, wreaking havoc with high explosive and mustard gas shells. Yet, in the chaos heroes emerged. GySgt Fred Stockham, of 2/6 Mar’s 96th Company, seeing a wounded Marine in need of a gas mask, removed his own and gave it to the man. Saving the Marine’s life, GySgt Stockham eventually succumbed to exposure and died several days later. He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions.

After 10 days of intense combat, near constant artillery barrages, machinegun fire/and poison gas, Gen Harbord pulled the crippled Marine Brigade off the line. On 18 June, the Army’s 7th Infantry Regiment replaced the beleaguered Marines and spent a week trying to take the northern sector of Belleau Wood. Poorly trained and untried, the Doughboys fared terribly, and by 23 June the Marine Brigade was sent back in to finish the job. On 26 June elements of 3/5 Mar cleared the northern edge of the woods of all German resistance. Maj Maurice Shearer, 3/5 Mar’s battalion commander, passed up to brigade the famous message “Woods now United States Marine Corps entirely.”(15) The Battle for Belleau Wood was over, but the legend had just begun.

Final lessons drawn from the Battle of Belleau Wood:

  1. Quality over Quantity: The quality of officers and enlistees in the Marine Corps during World War I was far above average for the Services with 60 percent of enlisted men having completed some college.16 While the Army’s standards were lowered, the Marine Corps accepted only 60,000 out of almost 240,000 applicants, looking for candidates with high moral character, athletic abilities, and patriotism. Despite today’s recruiting challenges, the Marine Corps must keep the standard high. As 21st-century missions become more complex only the best and the brightest will allow our units to adapt, improvise and overcome, like our forefathers at Belleau Wood.
  2. Combat Arms: In 1918, the Marine Corps consisted predominantly of infantrymen, engineers, artillerymen, and machinegunners. Mission requirements today have changed those ratios, but the Corps should be careful in trimming its combat-arms element. Future conflicts have highlighted the need for increased numbers of cyber specialists, intelligence analysts, and other enablers, but near-peer threats will require troops on the ground using direct and indirect fire weapons to secure physical objectives. That will never change. Should we be worried about having enough Marines to staff the finance center or enough of the right Marines to hold the line when the enemy presses an attack? The Corps cannot lose its fighting edge.
  3. Recruit Training: Col Catlin claimed tactics employed by Marines were no different from the Army’s during World War I. What made the Marine Corps stand apart, he said, was the esprit and pride imbued in all Marines during recruit training.17 From that pride flowed discipline, gallantry, grit, self-sacrifice, esprit de corps, and determination to accomplish the mission, all of which were poured out in that small patch of woods. Leaders have an obligation to sustain in their Marines those same ideals instilled at Parris Island, San Diego, or Quantico by use of challenging and purposeful training, exemplary leadership, professional education, and historical study and emphasis. Leaders often fail to challenge their Marines after their completion of entry-level training or formal schools. They joined for a challenge; it is our job to deliver it.
  4. Service Above Self: Army GEN Matthew Ridgeway later cited Belleau Wood as a “prize example of men’s lives being thrown away against objectives not worth the cost.”18 We now know that the battle had a significant effect on halting the German’s advance, yet poor tactics and misuse of combined arms did cost excess lives. What carried much of the battle was individual and unit discipline, the ability of each Marine to subjugate their own personal interests and desires for the good of the unit and the mission. Ever present at Belleau Wood, the concept of service above oneself has almost all but escaped our society and is inching its way out of our Corps. Our Nation’s trending obsession over personal liberties and social movements in place of service to a greater good is eroding the patriotism and selfless service that have long been hallmarks of the American experience. Leaders at every level must curb this overt narcissism by fostering cohesion and esprit in their units. We are Marines first. The Marine Brigade was ordered to attack and, drawing on the discipline and selflessness of Marines at every level, unhesitatingly carried out the mission and captured Belleau Wood.


1. Albertus W. Catlin, With the Help of God and a Few Marines (Nashville: The Battery Press, 2004).

2. George B. Clark, The Fourth Marine Brigade in World War I: Battalion Histories Based on Official Documents (Jefferson: McFarland & Co., 2015).

3. Robert Coram, Brute (New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2010).

4. Alan Axelrod, Miracle at Belleau Wood (Guilford, CT: Lyon Press, 2007).

5. The Fourth Marine Brigade in World War I.

6. Miracle at Belleau Wood.

7. With the Help of God and a Few Marines.

8. The Fourth Marine Brigade in World War I.

9. Miracle at Belleau Wood.

10. With the Help of God and a Few Marines.

11. Miracle at Belleau Wood.

12. The Fourth Marine Brigade in World War I.

13. Michael A. Eggleston, The 5th Marine Regiment Devil Dogs in World War I: A History and Roster (Jefferson: McFarland & Co, 2016).

14. Miracle at Belleau Wood.

15. The 5th Marine Regiment Devil Dogs in World War I.

16. The Fourth Marine Brigade in World War I.

17. With the Help of God and a Few Marines.

18. Ibid.

Talent Management Tangibles

Current initiatives

Since the release of Talent Management 2030, we have better aligned departments and organizations involved in talent management, assessed, and mapped out interdependencies of total force personnel policies, and begun to generate momentum with a sense of urgency. Leveraging authorities previously enabled by Congress, we enacted nine initiatives in 2022, which we will expand and accelerate in 2023:

Commandant’s Retention Program (CRP): During FY23, the CRP offered pre-approved reenlistments to top-performing Marines by streamlining the process and giving priority access to primary military occupational specialty monitors for duty station and assignment options. The CRP resulted in a 72 percent increase of first-term reenlistment submissions by top-performing Marines with the average reenlistment approval accomplished in 24–48 hours, much quicker than the previous norm. Going forward, we will expand the program to more first-term Marines as well as our career force.

Staff NonCommissioned Officer (SNCO) Promotion Board Realignment: Beginning in FY24, we are realigning SNCO promotion boards to sequence more effectively with the assignments and reenlistment processes. This initiative will reduce SNCO billet gaps in the FMF and decrease the processing time of reenlistment packages. The realignment will provide greater predictability for SNCOs and their families while dramatically reducing the number of permanent change of station moves across the force.

Recruiting Station Commanding Officer Selection Board: We implemented two initiatives for the FY23 Recruiting Station Commanding Officer selection board. First, officers now have the opportunity to volunteer for command, including officers otherwise not scheduled for consideration. Second, officers may also request removal from Recruiting Station commanding officer consideration for one year, without penalty, should they prefer to complete a deployment or other professional obligation, or due to a personal life circumstance.

Special Duty Assignment (SDA) Volunteer Program: Prior to 2022, we screened and selected Marines for SDAs en masse. But last year, we launched a pilot SDA volunteer program, expanding incentives to provide duty station preference for volunteer recruiters, drill instructors, and combat instructors. As a result, volunteers increased by 62 percent, reducing the number of involuntarily screened Marines by 38 percent. This minimized disruption to Marines, their families, and FMF units while also reducing SDA school attrition. We will improve and expand this program in 2023.

MarineView 360-Degree Leadership Review: MarineView360 is a development tool for leaders that helps Marines identify their strengths, blind spots, and areas for focused improvement through the polling of their supervisors, peers, and subordinates. Leaders receive feedback and advice through a dedicated mentor and coach. The MarineView360 pilot began with a group of 150 sitting commanders and is now leveraging the experience of 200 additional selected commanders and senior-enlisted advisors. The final phase of the pilot will expand to 1,000 Marines of varying rank from gunnery sergeant to colonel.

Officer Promotion Opt-Out: Starting in 2022, both the active and reserve components offered certain officer populations the ability to opt-out of consideration for promotion once without penalty. This allowed officers increased flexibility in their career paths to pursue unconventional career experiences or formal education that would otherwise take them off track for key developmental assignments. We are currently exploring the expansion of this initiative to enlisted Marines to afford them the same flexibility in their careers.

Digital Boardroom 2.0 (DBR 2.0): DBR 2.0 increases the functionality and accuracy of information presented to board members, enhances the conduct of virtual boards, safeguards data, and improves this critical talent management process. The enlisted career retention and reserve aviation boards successfully used DBR 2.0 in 2022. With the availability of cloud-based data, we will expand use of DBR 2.0 while simultaneously assessing the outcomes, cost and time savings, and professional depth and breadth of board members to benchmark with our legacy process.

Separate Competitive Promotion Categories: To meet the demands of the future, the Marine Corps must retain the highest quality officers with the necessary skill sets at all ranks. To that end, we are exploring options to reorganize the unrestricted officer population into separate competitive categories to better meet the Marine Corps’ needs for diverse expertise and experience at all ranks by competing for promotion with peers having similar skill sets, training, and education. We will conduct a pilot program to evaluate the merits of this reorganization during the 2025 field-grade officer promotion boards.

Career Intermission Program: Many Marines desire to pursue specialized education or to focus on family for a significant life event. The Career Intermission Program is an initial step toward allowing Marines an option to temporarily pause their active-duty service and later resume their careers without penalty. This program enables career flexibility, and in doing so, also encourages retention of experienced, talented Marines.

Talent Management Way-Ahead Manpower Information Technology System Modernization (MITSM): In February 2022, Deputy Commandant, Manpower and Reserve Affairs created a business capability requirements document that outlines the capabilities required to begin the MITSM acquisition process. MITSM will aggregate legacy systems and capabilities into a device-agnostic, data-driven, and dynamic human resources information technology solution that meets the evolving needs of the Marine Corps’ talent-based work force. One aspect of the MITSM will be a web-based talent marketplace, which will enable a collaborative and transparent assignment process and increase the role of both commanders and individual Marines. This capability will help us better align the talent of individuals with the needs of the Service to maximize the performance of both. The talent marketplace is here and is currently being tested by five monitors and about fifty Marines.

Implementation of Indefinite End of Active Service Policy for Enlisted Personnel: As we seek to mature the force, we also seek to eliminate processes and policies that induce both friction within the personnel system as well as personal and familial stress. There is little reason why those who have served honorably for eighteen-plus years need to worry about re-enlistment before completing twenty-years of service. This year, we are exploring the feasibility of senior SNCO career designation to establish an indefinite expiration of active service. This shift will align senior SNCO retention practices, increase flexibility in assignments, reduce administrative burden and needless paperwork, and minimize uncertainty for SNCOs and their families.

Small-Unit Leader Initiative: Under the current policy, first-term Marines are ineligible for promotion to sergeant. While the spirit of that policy is reasonable, it created a disincentive to the highest performing Marines across the force by establishing an administrative obstacle they cannot overcome regardless of individual talent. Going forward, if one of our talented Marines with at least 36-months of service wishes to re-enlist, then that Marine will become eligible for promotion to sergeant upon their re-enlistment. This program will incentivize the most talented who desire to stay for another enlistment and should help mitigate the persistent need for sergeants across the FMF.

A Message from the Commandant of the Marine Corps

Portrait of Gen Eric M. Smith
10 NOVEMBER 2023

For 248 years, Marines have earned a reputation as the most disciplined and lethal warfighters in the world. This legacy of honor, courage, and commitment passed on to us was paid for in sweat, blood and sacrifice. From Belleau Wood to Inchon and Tarawa to Sangin, Marines have stepped forward to defend our Constitution when others either could not or would not. Our history is filled with heroes like Chief Warrant Officer 4 Hershel “Woody” Williams, Private First Class Hector Cafferata Jr., Sergeant Major Dan Daly, and thousands of others who performed acts of bravery, which went unseen in the heat of battle. We stand on the shoulders of these Marines, and we owe it to them to earn our title “Marine” each and every day.

Marines have given, and have been willing to give, their lives for Country and Corps in every fight our Nation has entered. Our actions turned back the tide of tyranny in Europe during the Great War, defeated fascism in Asia during World War II, fought for democracy in Korea and Vietnam, and offered the hope of self-determination in the Middle East. We go to war whenever our Nation calls, and in the interwar periods we train, we prepare, and we innovate. We have chosen a life of service and sacrifice—an honorable life that has meaning. We sacrifice so our fellow citizens don’t have to, and we seek nothing in return but a chance to be first to fight. Most will never understand why we choose to attack when others do not, why we revel in being covered in mud, why we snap to attention when “The Marines’ Hymn” is played, or why we say, “Ooh Rah.” We understand it, and this message is for us, for the Marines.

As Marines, we live on a war footing because someone must. This means that we ruthlessly adhere to our standards of excellence—Marine standards—as we know this will best prepare us for the wars of the future. Our high standards are a prerequisite of professional warfighting, and how we keep our honor clean in the cauldron of combat. They prepare us for the most difficult mission there is: fighting from and returning to the sea. Most importantly they shape our unique Marine culture, which is respected at home and across the globe. Sergeant Major Ruiz and I are proud of all that you have done this past year to protect and enhance our reputation as America’s best warriors. We hope you know that we will be with you every step of the way as we prepare for the fights ahead. We ask that every Marine—active, reserve, and veteran—honor the legacy of those who went before us by continuing to uphold our high standards.

Protect your fellow Marines and our shared legacy. Happy Birthday, Marines!

Semper Fidelis,

Gen Eric M. Smith's signature

Eric M. Smith
General, U.S. Marine Corps
Commandant of the Marine Corps

An Alternative

Recommended changes to the infantry battalion
by Col Andrew MacMannis (Ret) & Col J.J. Carroll Jr. (Ret)
>Col MacMannis was an Infantry Officer who is currently a Research Fellow at the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies supporting the Center for Emerging Threats and Opportunities at the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab.
>>Col Carroll was an Infantry Officer who is currently a Research Fellow at the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies supporting the Center for Emerging Threats and Opportunities at the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab.

“To err is nature, to rectify error is glory.”
—George Washington

Commandants Gen Neller and Gen Berger both said the Marine Corps is not organized, trained, equipped, or postured to meet the demands of the rapidly evolving future operating environment. In Berger’s 2019 Commandant’s Planning Guidance, he outlined his focus areas for change under the banner of Force Design 2030. In support of Force Design 2030, the Marine Corps stood up an integrated planning team (IPT) to review and recommend changes to the infantry battalion. The IPT identified what they perceived to be gaps and vulnerabilities of the current infantry battalion fighting in the future environment and concluded that the new battalion must be smaller; more technology-enhanced; MARSOC-like; multi-domain at echelon; more lethal by using precision fires, sensing, and engaging at greater ranges; and able to operate on a distributed battlefield.1

The IPT’s recommendation was that “Marine infantry must be able to absorb and deliver multi-domain effects at echelon.” To do this, it must trade mass for depth and the ability to distribute. It must better balance the volume of fire with precision fire while increasing sensing capabilities to extend the battalion’s ability to provide and/or enable effects at operationally relevant distances in support of naval expeditionary and MAGTF operations. Finally, it must be manned and trained with sufficient experience and expertise to successfully operate against a peer adversary across five domains.”2

Today, the IPT draft report remains the conceptual reference of record guiding the exploration and development of the future infantry battalion by the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab, Capabilities Development Directorate, and FMF.

Since the publication of the report, Marine Corps Warfighting Lab has made the future infantry battalion a focus of effort, conducting several infantry battalion wargames and numerous infantry battalion experiments to gain insight into future required capabilities.

An examination of observations from these events reveals some common themes: the fundamental employment of the infantry battalion is changing; sensing and combined-arms teaming can be the decisive effort in accomplishing the mission while operating at greater distances; the battalion lacks a dedicated all-weather reconnaissance capability; the battalion lacks capacity in all-weather sensing and fires; overall capacity in sensing and fires is deficient; the infantry battalion requires improved mobility to retain agility and tempo; the IPT 2030 staff structure doesn’t fully account for the increased complexity of the battlespace; the effective employment of crew-served weapons is at risk; and the logistics capability required for distributed or independent operations is not well understood.3

In 2022, after Infantry Battalion Experimentation Phase I, the Commandant made a few “low-hanging fruit” changes. He reconstituted the scout platoon structure, increased headquarters and service company capacity, increased 81mm mortar platoon and battalion organic precision fires section structure, reorganized elements of the rifle company into a hunter-killer platoon, and added machinegunner, mortarman, and anti-tank missile gunner primary MOS structure to that platoon. However, Phase I was an incomplete look at the organization and equipment of the new battalion. Much of the new equipment has yet to be fielded. In 2022, the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab started Infantry Battalion Experimentation Phase II with a goal to have a complete battalion organized and equipped according to the Force Design 2030 concept.Image

Figure 1. (Figure provided by author.)Having observed or participated in many of the aforementioned wargames and experiments, we argue that the current 2030 infantry battalion structure and organization will not solve many of the original gaps and vulnerabilities nor completely address common themes found in Infantry Battalion Experimentation Phase I. The following proposal (Figure 2) is an alternate that better addresses all concerns. This alternative reduces complexity for infantry company commanders by moving external support, expertise, and consolidated training out of the infantry company commander’s daily purview. Next, it simplifies and facilitates structural adjustments to new technologies. Furthermore, it increases the capacity of specialized functions and puts an appropriate level of subject-matter expertise in support of the company fire-support teams and the battalion fires and effects coordination center (FECC). Finally, it allows for hunter-killer teams to be decisive at both the battalion and company levels and ensures all-weather capability.

Figure 2. (Figure provided by author.)

This alternative proposes a battalion with a headquarters and service company and three maneuver elements: two infantry companies and a weapons and sensor company (W&S Co). Of the two infantry companies, one is light, while the other is mobile. The light company trains to be on foot or supported by assault support aircraft. The mobile company trains with organic transportation. The W&S Co can be the battalion’s decisive effort or provide direct support or general support to the line companies. This company consolidates new technology training and maintenance allowing the infantry companies to reduce their burden for oversight of complex, and changing systems, and balancing the span of control while managing complexity.

Figure 3. (Figure provided by author.)

Headquarters and service company (Figure 3) has the traditional staff (administration, intelligence, operations, logistics, and communications) and includes the scout platoon. The operations section includes the FECC manned by operations personnel and subject-matter experts from the W&S Co. The FECC is managed by the W&S company commander. The scout platoon provides all-weather reconnaissance and in conjunction with the battalion arms room has a sniper capability.

Figure 4. (Figure provided by author.)

The infantry companies (Figure 4) are comprised of a small staff, three infantry platoons, and a weapons platoon, which includes machinegunner, mortarman, and anti-tank missile gunner primary MOSs. Training and competency in these MOSs provide all-weather machinegun, suppressive and anti-armor fires. The infantry platoons include three squads with three fire teams each providing flexibility while managing the span of control. There is also increased organic medical capability to provide prolonged casualty care. The organizational difference between the light company and the mobile company is the organic vehicles and three mechanics.

Figure 5. (Figure provided by author.)

The W&S Co (Figure 5) includes five functionally specific platoons. All platoons can provide direct support or general support to the line companies while they can also provide multi-domain battalion or company-level decisive actions. The platoon commanders and platoon sergeants provide subject-matter expertise to the FECC while section or squad leaders provide expertise to the company fire support teams. The W&S Co can support both vehicle and foot mobile employment.

The 81mm mortar platoon provides all-weather suppressive and precision fire support. The platoon consists of six tubes that can split into three sections. The organic precision fires platoon provides mounted or foot mobile precision fires. The organic precision fires platoon carries 385 munitions which can be employed in support down to the squad level. The unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) platoon employs and maintains unmanned sensing capability while also providing squads and platoons with maintenance and training in the employment, coordination, and deconfliction of UAS. The platoon can employ 80 UAS in support of the battalion down to the squad level. The air defense/counter unmanned aircraft systems platoon provides air defense and counter-UAS capability across the battalion employing four pairs of Marine Air Defense Integrated System teams. The signals intelligence/electronic warfare platoon provides sensing and non-kinetic fires capability. The signals intelligence/electronic warfare platoon can employ three different teams in support of the battalion or its subordinate units. With subject-matter expertise at the platoon, section, or squad level, they can support a wide variety of schemes of maneuver.

As we construct the infantry battalion for the future, new technologies are going to continue to force an evolution of kit and methods of employment. Most evolving technologies will apply especially to the W&S Co requiring flexibility to onboard, employ, train, and maintain the evolution.

The original IPT stressed smaller, lethal, mobile, agile, and flexible. The Commandant-modified battalion makes strides toward fulfilling the characteristics of the original IPT. The alternative course of action proposed here better optimizes the characteristics of the original IPT battalion and reduces structure without designing an entirely new battalion. It provides focused subject-matter expertise at the company and battalion level to deliver multi-domain effects. It balances the all-weather volume of fire from mortars and machineguns with a greater capacity for precision fires. It increases sensing capability and capacity to enable effects at relevant distances. It adds air defense and counter-UAS capability to protect the force against peer adversary capabilities. Thus, while the battalion looks different, it is really a refinement that increases critical capacity and placing capability where the battalion can best command and control the employment of the unit and best weigh the main effort.


1. Headquarters Marine Corps, Draft Infantry Battalion Design 2030 Integrated Planning Team Report, (Washington, DC: 2020).

2. Ibid.

3. These common themes are derived from personal observation and reports from two infantry wargames and thirteen infantry experiments embedded in exercises.

A Brief Concept for MCISRE

Support to RXR
by Mr. Ben Closs
>Mr. Closs is a retired Marine Intelligence Officer. He works for FGS, LLC supporting doctrine, strategy, and policy development for the Deputy Commandant for Information’s Intelligence Division.

Russia’s failure to secure an early victory against Ukraine—despite its much larger force and greater resources—suggests strongly that numerical superiority and 20th-century operational art are no longer enough to assure military success in the Information Age. The Ukrainians have fought bravely and well, but they have managed to resist, in no small part, because they have made far better use of their intelligence and information resources than Russia has. In the Information Age, even a relatively small force—Ukraine—supported by the right messaging and a steady stream of timely targeting data can offset some fairly significant disadvantages in numbers and supply. If this conflict is any indication of those yet to come, future battlefields promise to be heavily slanted in favor of the nation with the best relationships and the best situational awareness. These lessons, presaged by recent publications like MCDP 1-4, Competing, and A Concept for Stand-In Forces make it clear that our Corps can no longer afford to organize, train, and equip itself as a break glass in case of war forcible-entry force to be used only once diplomacy has failed.

Today’s Marines recognize that, even during peacetime, each engagement, operation, and exercise they conduct must achieve two essential tasks: sending the right messages to America’s allies and would-be adversaries and satisfying our national leadership’s intelligence requirements. Both efforts promise to become significantly more difficult once the shooting starts, however. Future, informationized fights between technology-enabled peer competitors threaten to escalate and culminate much more rapidly than past conflicts, offering the Joint Force no time to build, let alone move, the industrial-age mountains of iron and steel upon which America’s previous victories relied.

Data has become our new iron mountain. The vast quantities of information that nations and governments can collect and generate during competition will direct, and become, the ordnance with which the next conflict must be won. To enable friendly success in combat or deterrence, Marines must tailor all their operations, activities, and investments with an eye toward reconnaissance and counter-reconnaissance (RXR) efforts that fulfill the Joint Force’s information requirements and messaging objectives. The Marine Corps does not yet have the capability or capacity to perform these feats quickly or efficiently enough to meet the Joint Force’s future requirements, but it does have an organizational construct tailor-made to enable the aggregation, organization, and delivery of intelligence data, products, and capabilities. The Marine Corps Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance Enterprise (MCISRE) is that construct. Though its current posture is focused on Title 10 support to force development and headquarters decision making, the MCISRE can, and perhaps must, evolve to become the unified, Service-level base of intelligence support our Nation’s maritime RXR forces need to turn peacetime operations into continued deterrence or eventual wartime advantage. As we strive to implement the transformative changes of Force Design 2030, the entire Marine Corps must challenge itself to reconsider what it means to conduct intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) operations, and the MCISRE must modernize and expand to integrate itself into the Service-wide RXR effort.

This concept is a broad, initial look at how the Marine Corps can approach intelligence support to RXR operations against a peer competitor. It aims to highlight key ideas related to future requirements and recommend the examination of capabilities that can support them. It may also stimulate and facilitate some of the conversations our Service must have while plotting the course. To win the “hider-finder” competition on tomorrow’s battlefield, Marines must organize, train, and equip the entire Service with an eye toward enabling it as a reconnaissance capability. This maritime RXR force must continue to evolve while remaining focused on the Joint Force’s problem set and integration with the Navy. Finally, the Marine Corps must design enough mass and flexibility into the unit’s housing and employ its ISR assets to effect time-sensitive, operationally driven shifts in the way it tasks and supports its low-density technical and analytic capabilities.

The past century’s events—and especially the last 25 years—make clear that any effort to tailor the U.S. military for a changing environment or mission set must begin with a detailed examination of those capabilities and functions, which have changed most since the last benchmark in its evolution. The compact disc and the first-generation Macintosh were the pinnacles of information technology in 1986 when the Goldwater-Nichols Act reorganized the DOD’s structure. In a time of crisis, our country can choose to enter a conflict very quickly, but the DOD can only move so fast in its efforts to prepare itself for the next fight. The Marine Corps, recognizing an unfulfilled need for joint scouting and battlespace awareness capabilities tailored toward great-power competition, is now tailoring its own structure and capabilities toward winning the RXR battle for America’s maritime and Joint Forces. To succeed in this venture, our Corps must build and learn to employ all Marine units, not just the Marine Littoral Regiments, as all-domain, 21st-century reconnaissance forces.

A Concept for Stand-In Forces (SIF) calls on the entire Marine Corps to focus its capacity and capabilities on a relatively small, forward-deployed force that will operate continuously, throughout all forms of competition and conflict, inside the threat envelope of our competitors’ standoff weapons systems. These forces will stand in against potential threats, learning everything they can about their nature and operations from up close. They will also show our country’s friends and competitors alike that the United States cares enough about its allies to stand by them—no matter what the threat may be. These forces’ messaging and maneuvers will stimulate adversary military and political systems and either influence them to adopt a less aggressive posture or force them to reveal crucial information about their intentions and capabilities through their responses to our operations, activities, and investments.

Context/Future Operating Environment
Should a competitor seek to threaten or coerce our allies, the initial U.S. response would likely include the SIF already in theatre, at least part of which would become the inside force, if open hostilities were ever to break out. We must assume that our adversaries can hold U.S. assets throughout the space and information domains at risk throughout the continuum between competition and conflict and that they can threaten surface and landbased forces and facilities of almost any sort with very little warning. Although the threat forces’ access to, and awareness of, the maritime and air domains may exceed our own within their sphere of influence, their degree of control will, like ours, remain incomplete, iterative, and potentially vulnerable to certain forms of disruption.

The electromagnetic spectrum will remain a contested space likely to see shifts in adversary activity long before any hostile act occurs in the physical domains. Given the trajectory of ongoing improvements in threat capabilities, we must assume that most of the communications technologies we currently use will be perceptible and, to some degree, locatable by our adversaries at key points within the battlespace. Any capability which generates a recognizable cyber or electromagnetic signature will be subject to detection, disruption, destruction, or some other form of vulnerability at unpredictable intervals throughout the conflict, and both threat and friendly forces will be able to locate and target adversary units that generate a prominent enough signature throughout their areas of influence— even while they are on the move. The task of sensing and processing adversary signals and signatures, and differentiating them from the local baseline, is sure to challenge the threat’s ISR apparatus in certain parts of the area of operations, just as it will our own. Commanders will nevertheless have to weigh the potential cost of expanding their units’ signatures at critical times and locations and choose in a very conscious and deliberate manner how or whether to alter the timing, method, volume, or subject of their units’ operations and communications.

Operational Challenge
SIF must remain keenly aware of both adversary and third-party dispositions and intentions, as well as the characteristics of a complex, uncertain, and potentially hostile littoral operating environment. The MCSIRE’s challenge will be to enable secure, effective RXR operations by providing deep battlespace awareness and enduring target intelligence support for a widely distributed naval and Joint Force across the spectrum of competition and conflict. To achieve this goal, the enterprise will have to leverage all available sources of intelligence as well as other forms of friendly, neutral, and adversary-related information generated throughout the theatre and across the globe. Meeting this challenge will require the enterprise and the Service to consider epochal shifts in their design and operational patterns. All Marine units now own some type of reconnaissance role—in addition to their other warfighting responsibilities—and must be able to plan and direct reconnaissance, intelligence, and counterintelligence operations at speed without disrupting the tempo and harmony of their other essential tasks. Whatever else Marines do, all their key missions in the coming years will include:

  • Identifying, validating, and prioritizing intelligence requirements.
  • Planning and integrating reconnaissance, intelligence production, and dissemination efforts.
  • Issuing requests and tasking reconnaissance and analytical resources.
  • Maintaining continuous supervision over a vast enterprise of joint, national, and coalition intelligence capabilities to ensure its responsive and effective support to their own, and their higher’s, operations and requirements.

Central Idea
The MCISRE, though without a formal chain of command or hierarchical structure, has remained an essential and enduring Service community by virtue of its purpose. It is composed of everything and everyone who performs, supports, or directs intelligence, surveillance, or reconnaissance functions for Marine units across the globe. This enterprise relies on the contributions of a multitude of individuals, networks, and communities, all of whom must combine and coordinate their efforts to deliver fused, integrated intelligence products and capabilities to Marines and, by extension, the Joint Force.

Theory of Success
The MCISRE must develop the capability to receive and process all the data and reporting of intelligence value that Marines, and other SIF, collect and generate during competition. The MCISRE must then be prepared to store this information, make sense of it, and push all the relevant analysis and targeting data to theatre and national decision makers before, during, and after any potential crisis or contingency. This enterprise of Service, joint, national, and combined resources and manpower must be able to do for the Joint Force what numerous individuals are doing in and for Ukraine but on a longer-term basis and, potentially, under even more challenging circumstances. Recent and ongoing operations suggest that information and intelligence overmatches—while they cannot guarantee success by themselves—are key factors to both national and military resilience and serve as force multipliers that can offset many of the more traditional advantages America’s competitors are working to build within their respective spheres of influence.

In the era of great-power competition, every Marine must become much more than just a collector. Today’s Marines must all rise to the challenge of operating as fully engaged members of our Nation’s maritime RXR force. On tomorrow’s interconnected, digital battlefield, the entire force must focus on sensing the environment, understanding the threat, and frustrating the adversary’s targeting effort.

Supporting Ideas and Planning Considerations
1. Focus on the Joint Force’s Problem Set and Integration with the Navy
     Maritime Reconnaissance and Counter-Reconnaissance
In today’s competition, as in tomorrow’s conflict, all Marine operations must contribute meaningfully to the Joint Force’s battlespace awareness. MCISRE personnel and systems must be able to network and cooperate with combined, joint, and naval intelligence capabilities, both embarked and ashore, even in disrupted, disconnected, intermittent, and low-bandwidth signals environments. To provide the kind of insight and deterrence potential theatre campaign plans will require, the enterprise will have to support maritime reconnaissance and sea control efforts, along with a host of other missions the COCOMs may allocate to their naval and Joint Forces.

Distributed Analysis. To utilize a modern, networked approach to ISR, SIF must be able to coordinate and integrate intelligence requirements and operations seamlessly between all their subordinate elements, the Joint and combined force, their Service component, and the COCOM headquarters. Their MCISRE components must also be able to share data, plans, and products with reach-back elements at their home station(s), as well as with any other MEF, component, Service, or joint organizations upon whom they rely for distributed analytical support. To provide that support, Marines must appreciate the operational context surrounding each requirement they hope to answer, and they must be able to do so across the great distances that will likely separate deployed units from those forces trying to support them from garrison. Managing the effort to fulfill its decision makers’ information requirements is a complex but vital job for any staff: doing so at a distance, in a denied, degraded, intermittent, or low-bandwidth communications environment raises that challenge to another level. This capability will be critical to enable distributed operations in the 21st century, however, as SIF may not be able to afford the luxury of concentrating their forces or analytical resources while they operate in theatre.

Support to, and from, units in garrison. In response to a significantly expanded version of the requirement for which the MCISRE was once conceived, each MEF must enhance its ability to provide intelligence support to deployed units while simultaneously fulfilling all the planning and training-related requirements for whatever portion of its force remains in garrison. This support must continue without interruption while those units in the rear continue to perform the many steady-state Title 10 functions necessary to ready the force for its next mission. Given the significant strain this tension between competing Title 10 and Title 50 requirements can place on the MEF, the Service or Marine Forces headquarters may need to become more than simple administrative entities. They may need to support deployed forces as well, either by receiving or developing organic analytical capabilities of their own, or by coordinating long-term MAGTF, Service-wide, or multi-Service liaison with, and augmentation to, the theatre joint intelligence operation centers along with other theater and national support organizations.

2. Organize, Train, and Equip the Entire Service as a Reconnaissance Capability
Every Marine a Reconnaissance Operator. Intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance are much more than a particular set of personnel, units, staff sections, or occupational fields. They are essential functions that all military organizations and personnel perform every day. In a far-flung fight or during everyday competition, Marine units will distribute their various components and resources, both to enhance their survivability and expand their spheres of influence while simultaneously reducing the signatures they project into the operating environment. Infantry Marines, logisticians, and other personnel operating as members of small, isolated detachments or aboard expeditionary advance bases will perform ISR functions right alongside, and often in the place of, their intelligence and signals intelligence brethren to enable their unit’s contribution to the COCOM’s intelligence and targeting efforts. Every Marine may have been a collector in the past, but going forward, each Marine, as well as much of his gear, will have to become proactive and fully engaged reconnaissance assets. Whether their mission focus is on the air or ground domains, at sea, in space, or in cyberspace, every Marine’s central task will be to help the Joint Force sense, understand, and influence events within their area of operations.

Every Marine a Counter-Reconnaissance Asset. Marines’ responsibilities to the Joint Force’s counter-reconnaissance mission are no less vital than their reconnaissance efforts. Our adversaries and competitors are working to better integrate their all-domain, multi-INT ISR efforts. Though they may have to refrain from physical violence until authorized or forced to apply it, Marine units operating as SIF must be able to go kinetic at a moment’s notice to disrupt or dismantle our competitors’ ISR networks before they can complete their kill chain. The effort to build and maintain the kind of granular situational awareness and long-term target custody that enable this wartime capability will require SIF to engage in constant target development throughout competition. Marines will acquire, update, and hand off targeting data for the full range of adversary military capabilities, especially ISR capabilities, on an ongoing basis long before any physical conflict begins. Constant, intensive, peacetime ISR activity will be necessary to deter or blunt aggression, break adversary comm links and kill chains, and blind or deceive their decision makers to prevent their forces from seizing the initiative. Not only must all Marines enable the success of friendly counter-reconnaissance targeting efforts, but each Marine must uphold his responsibility to the entire force’s effort to manage its signature and further frustrate or deceive adversary ISR. The war in Ukraine has already provided innumerable examples of why Marines must discipline themselves and their peers to maintain an unshakeable commitment to all-domain operational security. There will be no off-duty from this duty.

3. Using ISR to Weight and Shift the Main Effort
There are more than 7,000 intelligence billets within our Marine Corps, with more to come in the years ahead, but they are of little use to the Joint Force right now because so many of them remain scattered across smaller, tactical-level units. We can both optimize the value of Marine ISR support to the current joint requirement and facilitate the flexibility necessary to reallocate or reapportion it when necessary by building, training, and fielding cohesive, multi-intelligence support teams and detachments for key unit deployments, (e.g. the MEU S-2 [intelligence] and Marine Special Operations Command distributed support team models) drawn from regionally, functionally, or theatre-aligned pools of intelligence manpower and resources, (e.g. Air Force intelligence squadrons and the Army’s theatre military intelligence brigades) with facilities that enable them to deliver reach-back support, even while in garrison. By providing the MCISRE’s constituent units with the critical mass and authority to task-organize all the high-demand/low-density ISR skills and resources within the Marine Forces, MAGTF Command Element, or major subordinate command and then push tailored, integrated units, products, and capabilities down to supported units, Marines can maximize the synergistic value of team training, and get the most value out of their best analysts and operators. This flexibility will also contribute to the MAGTF, Marine Forces, and Joint Force commanders’ ability to weigh the main effort with additional battlespace awareness resources when appropriate or necessary. This ability to rapidly and dynamically task-organize ISR capabilities, including manpower and equipment, as well as all other necessary forms of physical, cyber/electronic, and cognitive support, will enable SIF to respond to swiftly changing battlespace conditions and requirements in both the physical and information domains.

The foregoing thoughts outline an initial set of considerations to stimulate and facilitate conversation as the Marine Corps continues to plan, develop, support, and leverage the MCSIRE and other RXR capabilities. Each of the ideas in this concept will require the description and refinement of numerous specialized sub-functions to plan and direct ISR operations, to collect, process, and exploit information, to produce fully integrated intelligence and decision-support products, and to transmit them all to the Joint Force in a manner that supports security, signature management, and tempo. All our efforts to build the future MCSIRE can achieve greater efficiencies and better effects if they adhere to these principles: a focus on the Joint Force’s problem set and integration with the maritime force; viewing, training, and equipping the entire force as a reconnaissance capability; and building enough ISR concentration and organizational agility into the force to redirect our least-engaged collection and analytical resources toward the main effort. Many of you may disagree with one or more of the statements within this concept, and even more of you probably have ideas you think are missing from it. Bring them on! Please join in the conversation and the subsequent analysis that will be necessary to make the MCISRE and the Marine Corps everything they must become. We are still at the beginning of a very long road toward having the force we want and may need for 2030, but with a common set of goals and a cooperative mindset, we can cover this great distance and answer the challenge our Nation has set before us. Now let’s get to work.

A Message From the Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps

1 September, 2023

Our Corps remains an indispensable element of our nation’s security and readiness. As I write, our 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) is providing our Combatant Commanders with a ready and lethal force which requires no access, basing, or overflight. Simultaneously, I and III Marine Expeditionary Forces are in the Pacific campaigning alongside our allies and partners to deter conflicts and build advantages to win if our conventional deterrence fails. This is what we contribute to national defense; this and so much more.

For the foreseeable future I will serve as the acting Commandant of the Marine Corps while we wait for the Senate to confirm a Commandant. This is the only waiting we will do; wasted time is an offering to our adversaries. We will continue to modernize and prepare ourselves via Force Design 2030, making refinements as needed to account for changing threats, new tasks, and my best military judgment.

To win we must be unified in who we are and what we do. We are a combined arms Marine Air Ground Task Force comprised of professionals who can conduct campaigning/ crisis response and combat operations against a peer adversary. We do this as part of a Naval and Joint force. Each of our missions is challenging in their own right. Conducting them all is a skill set few can master; but we are Marines. We volunteered because we seek to do difficult things. We represent our Corps and our country and understand that our actions today determine if we will be able to fill our ranks with volunteers tomorrow. Our discipline and courage are what Americans can count on and look up to. We fight, win, and return home with our honor clean. This is not bravado; it is who we are.

Our Marines are what make us unique among military forces and we must demonstrate our care for them. We will accelerate changes that allow Marines to be stakeholders in their careers, and to provide the facilities that show our Marines and families that they matter to us. This will be a long journey, but we will arrive at our destination together.

Every Marine must contribute to our future. Your thoughts, insights and opinions have value, and the Gazette and Leatherneck are among the venues to reveal them. These are publications built for respectful discourse and professional development for all ranks. These publications are part of our history and are often the birthplace of new concepts and visions, so place your idea guns on “full auto” and get involved. I’m truly proud of you Marines.

Semper Fidelis,

Eric M. Smith
General, U.S. Marine Corps
Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps

The Case for Revising Warfighting

Modernize doctrine for the future force

>Col Greene is an Infantry Officer and currently the Commanding Officer of Marine Corps Tactics and Operations Group.
>>Maj Malcolm is an Infantry Officer currently serving as the Operations Officer for 2/8 Mar. He previously served as Officer in Charge of the Advanced Maneuver Warfare Course at Marine Corps Tactics and Operations Group.


“As the character of warfare continues to evolve, as it always has, under the pressure of technological, social, and geopolitical change, we may find ourselves compelled to reexamine assumptions we were able to take for granted when we formed our warfighting philosophy, and to communicate those ideas clearly and comprehensively across the Corps so that our ‘common language’ remain in keeping with the times.” 1

—Gen David Berger,
38th Commandant of the Marine Corps

In 2022, the Marine Corps Tactics and Operations Group recorded several interviews on the subject of maneuver warfare for its official podcast. The guests for these interviews included both proponents and skeptics of maneuver warfare in general and Warfighting specifically.

Among the criticisms leveled at Warfighting in these interviews, a few are worth noting for the purpose of this article. One issue of concern is the language describing maneuver warfare versus attrition warfare. Warfighting can too easily be interpreted as advocating maneuver warfare as a moral imperative (and by extension, attrition warfare as morally deficient) in all circumstances. While Warfighting does, in fact, state that “pure attrition warfare does not exist in practice” and “firepower and attrition are essential elements of warfare by maneuver,” it also introduces the terms maneuverist and attritionist; the latter is very clearly presented as inferior to the former.The connotation thus attached to maneuver warfare and attrition warfare is one of the most obvious, enduring legacies of Warfighting.

Another concern is that Warfighting makes no distinction when and at what level we should “seek to shatter the enemy’s cohesion through a variety of rapid, focused, and unexpected actions which create a turbulent and rapidly deteriorating situation with which the enemy cannot cope.”Collapsing the enemy system cannot be accomplished everywhere all the time. Moreover, collapsing the enemy system at a certain echelon, location, or time may not actually be accomplishing our higher headquarters’ intent. In fact, there are examples from history in which doing so at one level was actually detrimental to larger operational aims or even strategic goals.4

It must be said that John Schmitt, the author of Warfighting, agreed with some of these criticisms. In fact, the most surprising thing to come out of our conversation was that he flatly does not believe something many of his critics think he does, which is that systemic collapse can easily be achieved if one simply figures out the correct critical vulnerability and pokes it. Quite the contrary, Schmitt does not believe it is possible to get the center of gravity or critical vulnerability “correct.” The value of the center of gravity analysis is in the shared understanding of the enemy as a system derived from the discussion, not in getting the exact right answers. Schmitt has stated that the defeat mechanism of systemic disruption (the label he prefers to systemic collapse) is an aspirational goal that likely cannot be achieved most of the time.He has also stated in the past that he believes Warfighting can be improved upon by the inclusion of a discussion on the concept of defeat mechanisms.6

Interestingly, one thing that both critics and proponents agreed upon was that the Marine Corps should tread carefully in revising Warfighting. Despite their criticisms, all our guests were quick to point out how impactful the book has been to their lives and careers and counseled caution against tinkering with what by most assessments has been a successful formulation. As Schmitt put it, “FMFM 1 caught lightning in a bottle. It’s unrealistic to expect to do that again.”

Nevertheless, we feel that, for several reasons, the time is right to update our capstone doctrinal publication. To state the obvious, a lot has happened in the last 25 years since the last revision. While we believe that the type of doctrine represented by Warfighting should change with the climate, not the weather, it does seem to us that the era of the Global War on Terror, followed by the return of great-power competition, and the changes envisioned in Force Design 2030 constitute a considerable climate change. The current strategic context is significantly different from that of 1989 or 1997. Whereas the terms naval and joint are noticeably absent from Warfighting, today’s context has engendered a growing recognition across the Service that to be relevant, we must integrate with and provide value to the Joint Force. Doctrine has evolved, too. Since 1997, two domains—space and cyberspace—have been added to joint doctrine; a third, information, has been added to Marine Corps doctrine. Finally, though our warfighting philosophy is not beholden to technology, we cannot ignore the advances in military technology of the last three decades. To give just one example, in 1997 the majority of priority intelligence requirements were addressed by ground reconnaissance and surveillance units. Today, the majority of priority intelligence requirements are accounted for by airborne intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance platforms.

Perhaps the best reason for a revision, however, has nothing to do with what has happened but with who makes up the Marine Corps. The percentage of the current active-duty Marine Corps that was serving when MCDP 1—let alone FMFM 1—was published is minuscule. Therefore, the vast majority of Marines lack the context of the debates of the 1980s and 90s that led to the adoption of maneuver warfare and publication of Warfighting, and they may have trouble relating to it as a result.

Though a revision to Warfighting is necessary, we take the concerns of Schmitt and others seriously. Therefore, we think it important to state and adhere to a few principles when revising and updating our foundational doctrine. First and foremost, there should be no change merely for change’s sake. Any part of Warfighting that does not absolutely need to be changed should be left alone, even if the authors tasked with the revision think they could improve upon the wording of the original. Second, additions to Warfighting should be kept short. The goal is to add content of value without a significant increase in the size of the publication. Third, as we will describe below, a revision should seek to add nuance but increase clarity. The language must be kept accessible to entry-level Marines without being condescending. Part of Warfighting’s magic is that its language is direct enough to be understood by all Marines while also being sophisticated enough to spur thought. Finally, a revision must not become an exercise in satisficing various interest groups. The salient reason why Warfighting is so coherent, readable, and compelling is that Gen Al Gray entrusted its authorship to one individual to craft within his guidance. A previous attempt at writing a capstone doctrinal publication was rejected largely because, as Col Michael Wyly wrote in his scathing critique, it bore all the hallmarks of having been “done by committee.”7

So, under those principles, what should be the focus areas for change in a new edition of Warfighting? First, we must seek to curb the virtue-vice characterization of the attrition and maneuver discussion. Understanding the post-Vietnam context in which Schmitt wrote the first edition of Warfighting, we can see why he framed the argument as two opposing styles of warfare. What he was arguing against was not seeking to destroy the enemy with firepower, per se, but an approach to fighting in which the enemy is merely a number, the body count is all that matters, and all bodies are treated equally. We argue that what should be cast in negative terms is not attrition warfare but unintentional attrition warfare in which no thought is given to the enemy as a system and efforts are not deliberately focused on critical parts of that system. An intentional attrition approach, on the other hand, is one in which a force assesses its combat power relative to its adversary and concludes that it has an advantage in firepower and a greater capacity to absorb casualties. This was exactly the calculus that underpinned Ulysses Grant’s vision for the Overland Campaign, one of the most brilliant in U.S. history. The reason a firepower-attrition approach to warfare is not suitable for the Marine Corps is not that it is objectively inferior to a maneuver approach, but because the Marine Corps will rarely, if ever, have an advantage in numbers or firepower relative to the U.S.’ peer adversaries. Therefore, the Marine Corps must adopt “a philosophy for generating the greatest decisive effect against the enemy at the least possible cost to ourselves.”8

Second, the revised Warfighting needs to make clear that systemic collapse is aspirational and not to be pursued at all times and locations at every echelon. The desire to shatter the enemy’s cohesion must be balanced against an appreciation for the single battle. If we do not keep in mind our role within our higher headquarters’ battlespace framework, we may encounter a situation in which collapsing the enemy system in one zone of action prevents our higher headquarters from inflicting defeat on the larger enemy system. Similarly, there will be times when a total collapse of the enemy system at a certain echelon runs counter to the accomplishment of strategic objectives. For example, in a war with limited objectives, it would not be beneficial to collapse the enemy system at its national command authority level because there would be no one left with whom to negotiate a peace settlement. The important point is not that we achieve this aspirational goal (we rarely will), / but that by aspiring to it, we prevent ourselves from falling back upon the attritional approach without intentionality.

Third, we need to ensure that readers of Warfighting understand that the Marine Corps is an integral part of the Joint Force. Since long before the 1986 Goldwater-Nichols Act was passed into law, the Marine Corps has had a culture of self-reliance. It has served us well in many respects, but it must be moderated with the understanding that against a peer competitor, the Marine Corps relies on the rest of the Joint Force for critical capabilities. On the other side of the coin, the Marine Corps must offer something that the rest of the Joint Force wants if it is to stay relevant. Our unique offering has changed over time and will continue to do so. Historical examples include the seizure of advanced naval bases, small wars, and crisis response. Warfighting should not go into the specifics; it merely needs to convey that the Marine Corps does not go it alone and has a responsibility to bring something unique to the table.

Finally, the verbiage used in describing the spectrum of conflict needs to be revised to align it with MCDP 1-4, Competing. The spectrum of conflict should be replaced by the competition continuum described in the latter publication and in the Joint Concept for Integrated Campaigning, and the labels military operations other than war and small wars should be eliminated. U.S. military thinking has moved away from a black-and-white dichotomy of war and peace toward a theory of competition both above and below the threshold of armed conflict. Furthermore, Force Design envisions a Marine Corps whose value to the Joint Force is manifested just as much in competition as in conflict. Our foundational doctrinal publication should reflect these developments.

We attach no importance to a specific number of years; just because 25 have passed does not mean we are due for a revision to Warfighting. Rather, the changes in the character of war and the changes they have necessitated within the Marine Corps have brought us to a point in which a revision is warranted to make us stronger, more agile, and more valuable to the Joint Force. However, care must be taken to make these necessary updates without losing the goodness of the original. Edits and additions must be deliberate, focused, and concise. The author must be given a clear mandate and protected from interference. They must be answerable, as John Schmitt was, to the Commandant alone. Only under these conditions can we deliver an updated doctrinal foundation worthy of the title Warfighting.


1. Headquarters Marine Corps, Training and Education 2030, (Washington, DC: 2022).

2. Headquarters Marine Corps, MCDP 1, Warfighting, (Washington, DC: 1997).

3. Ibid.

4. Thaddeus Drake, “The Fantasy of MCDP 1,” Marine Corps Gazette 104, No. 10 (2020).

5. Marinus, “On Defeat Mechanisms,” Marine Corps Gazette 105, No. 7 (2021).

6. Damien O’Connell, “John Schmitt,” Controversy and Clarity (podcast), April 15, 2021,–John-Schmitt-euoegn/a-a57jmmo.

7. Michael Wyly, “Review: Operational Handbook 6-1 Ground Combat Operations,” Marine Corps Gazette 72, No. 7 (1988).

8. MCDP 1.

>Authors’ Note: Tactics and Operations is the official podcast of the Marine Corps Tactics and Operations Group. If you would like to hear the discussions that informed this article, check out the following episodes:

  • “Criticizing Maneuver Warfare with LtCol John Meixner.”
  • “The Fantasy of MCDP 1 with LtCol Tad Drake.”
  • “Defeat Mechanisms and Maneuver Warfare with John Schmitt.”
  • Tactics and Operations can be found here:

Thinking Bigger

2023 MajGen Harold W. Chase Prize Essay Contest: First Place

Global and revolutionary over regional and evolutionary

>Col Milstein is transitioning from U.S. Navy Expeditionary Combat Command to Marine Corps Forces Europe and Africa. He is a MAGTF Officer with a background in tanks, intelligence, and psychological operations, a Middle East and North Africa Foreign Area Officer, and an inventor with several patents. He has deployed to Afghanistan, Iraq, East Timor, and various other places, served with 1(UK) Armoured Division, German Fleet Command, and commanded 6th ANGLICO.

In 2018, the National Defense Strategy called for a change in focus from terrorism to great-power competition, specifying the People’s Republic of China (PRC) as the pacing threat. This was reaffirmed in the 2022 National Defense Strategy. In 2019, the Marine Corps began a significant reform, Force Design 2030 (FD2030), with conflict against the PRC as the defining consideration. The vision is a Marine Corps optimized for a high-end fight within a naval campaign in the Western Pacific. In focusing on a theater-specific scenario, the Marine Corps is accepting risk everywhere else and, worse, has missed a historic opportunity for revolutionary redesign to prepare for the realities of 21st-century warfare regardless of venue. To be sure, the challenges posed by the PRC go beyond military concerns in the Western Pacific. An upgraded 21st-century Marine Corps, a naval expeditionary force with offensive character, is a magnificent weapon for executing to what Sun Tzu ascribed supreme importance: attacking the enemy’s strategy.1

Pacing Threat: It Doesn’t Mean What We Think It Means
When considering the PRC as the pacing threat it helps to start with an appreciation of their ends, ways, and means. What does the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) want? The end is no mystery, although the reasons behind it are often missed. The PRC has always had ambitions of becoming a superpower—Chinese exceptionalism is real.The ancient view of China as the “Middle Kingdom” deserves mention as “middle” refers to being between heaven and everybody else. Traditional Chinese views toward governance are instructive, with emphasis on hierarchy, Confucian views on legitimacy, and Sinification—having others adopt Han ways to make them more civilized. The last historically extended to culture, language, and ultimately the tributary system, where bordering peoples paid tribute to Han emperors and adopted some degree of Han culture, thus becoming less barbaric in the eyes of the Han imperial court.3

The PRC’s approach to statecraft extends far beyond the borders of China. With a long view toward economics, the PRC has been acquiring critical resources and commodities globally for decades, including key strategic terrain such as ports and mountains with major mineral deposits.Economic diplomacy is a common practice, with the Belt and Road Initiative a centerpiece of ensuring economic stability. A hallmark trait has been doing business without political or ideological strings. While predatory business practices are common, the PRC does not demand compliance with social agendas nor question the sovereign choices of trading partners. Predatory means include wholesale theft of industrially important intellectual property globally.PRC intelligence efforts are a key enabler of economic competition, particularly in high technology.Beyond espionage, the PRC has actively engaged in influencing the politics of countries where it believes it has interests.7

As an aspiring superpower, the PRC has been aggressively claiming leading roles on the global stage. Aside from active participation in international organizations, it has created competing bodies, such as Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, founded in 2014 as a rival to the World Bank and the IMF.The PRC has grown its role in international diplomacy. In an unprecedented move, the PRC helped negotiate the restoration of diplomatic relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia.The logic behind the PRC’s development of expeditionary capabilities becomes clear with the PLA’s “Far Seas” doctrine. While six aircraft carriers add little value against Taiwan—well within range of landbased airpower—they offer far more value guarding interests away from home.

Taiwan is a special, yet complicated, case. The CCP regards Taiwan as a badly behaved province, governed by Nationalist exiles from the founding of the PRC. Despite belligerent language and periodic clashes, seizing Taiwan is fraught with problems beyond an amphibious assault. Taiwan is the center of global microchip fabrication, producing 41 percent of the world’s microprocessors and 90 percent of the most advanced chips. Taiwanese production requires supplies, delicate facilities, and a highly trained workforce, all relatively fragile and vulnerable to outright destruction in an invasion.10 Much of the PRC’s manufacturing uses chips imported from Taiwan. Disruption of this supply chain has grave economic implications. Worse is that many bleeding-edge PRC technological efforts, such as AI and quantum computing, depend on the most advanced chips made in Taiwan.

With all due affection and respect to former SECDEF James Mattis, he is not what keeps CCP leadership up at night. It is their own population. The past five centuries have not been kind to Chinese emperors and dynasties, with the majority falling to internal strife. The CCP is painfully aware of this and takes extraordinary precautions to guard against internal discord. Draconian population controls and censorship are in place. Ironically, more PRC cyber capability may be directed against its own people than the rest of the world through the Golden Shield project, also known as the “Great Firewall of China.”11 The CCP obsession with economics is directly correlated with this fear: they are concerned about keeping the population satisfied. Extreme growth rates are needed to support the numbers of people entering the workforce, yet this is possible because the Chinese economy was agrarian until recent industrialization.12 Regime security is the CCP’s priority.

While the PRC aspires to global influence and reach, it is not ten feet tall. Despite aggressive diplomacy, economic, and cultural outreach, Beijing cannot match the soft power of the West and the United States specifically; they do not have the problem of people worldwide trying to get in. Aside from perpetual fear of the people, the CCP suffers from various forms of corruption.13 The CCP is inextricably linked with industry, with military leadership woven into this complicated tapestry. Generals essentially have to bribe their way up, requiring supporting business holdings to raise funds.14 The old Chinese proverb, “The mountains are high, and the emperor is far,” summarizes grounds for doubting the integrity of PRC institutions. Years of dubious decisions have created demographic time bombs without clear solutions. Finally, mind-bending technological progress coupled with cutthroat entrepreneurism complicates the CCP’s vision of harmony within China.15

Much as some wish to draw parallels, the modern PRC is not the Imperial Japan of the 1930s.16 Considering the strengths, weaknesses, and decision mechanisms, the challenges posed by the PRC are far more complex than the latter. It is safe to say that CCP strategy does not hinge on a Mahanian decisive missile battle at sea. There is ample opportunity to complicate their aims long before.

Thinking Bigger: Seizing the Initiative
Understanding the wide-reaching challenges posed by the PRC, what is to be done? A global strategy involving the whole of government is needed, which immediately creates tension within the confines of the DOD Unified Command Plan. The PRC’s intentions and capabilities go far beyond regional concerns and cannot be reduced to an INDOPACOM OPLAN that ignores the worldwide use of PRC national power while waiting for conventional war. What might the Marine Corps offer to such a strategy?

Like a latter-day Schlieffen Plan, the answer is not committing to a single course of action that crams a significant fraction of the Marine Corps’ operating forces into the beaten zone of a massive amount of PRC firepower. Parking limited and relatively immobile combat power in isolated and predictable locations cedes the initiative and offers plenty of opportunity for enemy target practice. At the same time, retrenching from the rest of the globe offers a vacuum for the pacing threat and ambitious adversary to fill. Worst of all, this approach wastes a historic Marine Corps strength: excellence at expeditionary operations.

Before a future high-end fight begins, engagement is a key enabler. This means naval presence, comprised of visiting forces, a traditional naval mission pre-dating the United States. These may be Marine units, possibly aboard ships, but could be as small as single representatives, such as defense attaches. Joint exercises, bilateral training, capacity building, or even community relations activities help build confidence and demonstrate U.S. resolve. Friends are invaluable, regardless of the stage of competition. Friendship begins with mutual trust and respect, and trust cannot be surged. Building relationships takes time and contact, ideally between consistent interlocutors. Presence is an opportunity to introduce Marine units back onto deploying ships other than L-class amphibs. More importantly, embarked “micro-MAGTFs” give every Navy vessel more options for expeditionary littoral operations and rapid intervention. Compared to the loss of access and confidence that creates voids for the PRC and others to exploit, engagement is cheap.

Where the PRC is comfortable running gray-zone operations in their backyard, the Marine Corps is ideal for returning the favor everywhere else. Marines can hold PRC strategic interests at risk, ramping threats up and down based on the needs of policy. From information operations to lethal force, a MAGTF’s presence and behavior can signal that critical resources are not as safe and secure as the CCP might prefer. Sometimes decisive action by Marines is unnecessary, as access is a requirement for anybody who presumes to operate in a foreign country. If, for example, whoever governs in Afghanistan decides to nationalize the Aynak copper mine, what options are available to the PRC for redress?

Should deterrence fail and a conventional conflict begins, Marine forces, as a naval striking arm, are perfect for attacking the strategic resourcing web the PRC has woven. Destructive raids, seizure of key terrain, terminal guidance of effects, and working with partners—all can be used against PRC holdings or installations to deny resources or access needed to sustain hostilities. The ability to dominate littorals, from the land or seaward side, allows the Marine Corps to turn the anti-access area denial problem on its head for the PRC to solve. Embarked Marine forces can employ ambush tactics on PRC sea lanes of communication, forcing the PRC to defend its transportation network worldwide. While the PLA is developing expeditionary capabilities of its own, being ready to deal with mobile, combined-arms threats globally will demand time and additional expense. Rather than fighting in the PRC’s backyard, Marines can force them to play away games against the expeditionary pros.

The Once and Future Corps
FD2030 is disappointing because it is more incrementalism. Despite some of the more aspirational literature surrounding it, such as Talent Management 2030, it is mostly an evolution of the existing force structure: get rid of tanks, swap some cannons for rockets, add some missiles and rejigger the size of battalions and squadrons. It falls short of its promise of creating a Corps for 21st-century warfare in favor of creating a force tailored for a specific scenario. It is striking how little adaptation to the modern environment is truly being pursued—this is neither Gen Holcomb’s sweeping reorganization nor Gen Gray’s intellectual renaissance.17 Even new capabilities are merely being bolted onto existing constructs that are conceptually seventy years old.18

Some of FD2030 has real merit. The emphasis on reconnaissance and counter-reconnaissance embraces truisms about modern warfare: finding targets confers the opportunity to engage them. This was demonstrated during counterinsurgency operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, where Marines often found enemies by being ambushed by them. In naval warfare, target detection and tracking are everything.19 Antiship cruise missile capability has value as well: a MAGTF can deny the use of waterways to enemies. An embarked MAGTF can give L-class shipping a limited ability to do more during war at sea than just be a target.

A better answer comes from asking what distinguishes a 21st-century force from a 20th-century one. Differences begin with the ability to disperse while employing vast capabilities across multiple domains. A truly revolutionary idea is redesigning Marine forces around command and control (C2). Technology has reached a point where individual Marines can be nodes in greater kill webs, but existing C2 architecture is firmly rooted in the 20th century. Conversely, the full range of effects across domains can be brought to bear to support Marines, except that existing C2 structures lack the flexibility to match the speed and complexity of modern conflict, from the tactical to strategic levels.

The idea is far from radical. The history of warfare is a history of C2 capabilities: commanders expressing their intent to forces that execute in the face of adversity. The Roman legions, Nelson’s fleet, Guderian’s panzer divisions, and many more examples demonstrate where superior C2 carried the day in battle. Combined arms is fundamentally a C2 problem that brings disparate capabilities together in time and space to generate disproportionate effects. The organization of most Marine Corps units, essentially modern expressions of the best lessons of the Second World War, is meant to enable combined arms from the fire team to progressively higher echelons.20

The thinking behind the panzer division is particularly instructive. The strength of these divisions was less about tanks, as early German tanks were inferior to their French and Soviet opponents than about their C2 architecture. Heinz Guderian, a signal officer, designed a C2 architecture that allowed panzer commanders to lead forces from anywhere in the command, using a relatively new technology called radio.21 The division was designed to rapidly bring combined-arms effects together—motorized infantry, tanks, artillery, and engineers, supported by aircraft—in the time and place of a commander’s choosing. Radio was a critical enabler to deploy combined arms faster than previously possible. Tanks were certainly useful, as they provided mobile armored firepower that could rapidly mass direct fires and exploit gaps, but they were just one capability in a panzer commander’s toolbox.22

Lest the technologists insist that C2 is about having the latest gizmos and information superiority hinges on having multi-cloud enabled modern applications using microservices and containers in a Kubernetes control plane with a satellite uplink, C2 encompasses people and procedures in addition to technology. Human factors are at least as important as the ability to pass data. Task organization, discipline, standard operating procedures, training, doctrine, initiative, and decision-making ability are all part of a C2 architecture. All contributed to the success of Rome’s legions, while their communications systems consisted of shouted commands, runners, flags, and musical instruments.23 While Nelson was a revolutionary tactician and legendary naval commander, his victories owed much to competent ship captains commanding well-drilled crews and the premier naval communication of the era, ADM Home Popham’s telegraphic signal flag system.24 Radio enabled Guderian’s successes, along with competent junior leaders, well-considered battle drills, and doctrine that built on the best lessons learned of World War I.

To redesign the Marine Corps around C2 pushes all the capabilities available to a MAGTF to the lowest echelon, shares a common data plane, and enables combined arms to be integrated so the individual Marine can enable reconnaissance and counter-reconnaissance and kill webs. Task organization and interoperability, especially in objective areas in the face of uncertainty, is simpler with common C2 connections. It makes every Marine a sensor and a channel for the full array of effects of the Marine Corps, the Joint Force, and potentially the whole of government. It means that lethality and maneuverability per Marine can be significantly higher while supporting a faster tempo. It demands much more capable junior Marine leaders to make such constructs work, but the past twenty years have proven the value of strategic corporals in practice. It allows for graceful degradation in combat, allowing Marine units to win on modern battlefields when Murphy invariably interferes. It supports better operational decisions, allowing commanders to pick times and places for tactical actions that support meaningful objectives. Finally, it provides a framework to assimilate new capabilities.

The Marine Corps’ answer to the PRC’s ambitions for superpower status is FD2030, a plan that restructures the Marine Corps for conventional war in the western Pacific. In pursuing this effort, the Marine Corps is missing a golden opportunity to prepare for the full spectrum of 21st-century operations. The PRC’s strategy, strengths, and weaknesses leave a global range of options for an expeditionary naval force to credibly threaten. By taking a revolutionary approach to reorganization and redesigning the Marine Corps’ structure around C2 capabilities, the United States can have a lethal yet flexible force that can challenge the PRC in any clime or place. Such a force retains the ability to address other crises that might arise.

Aside from the benefits of enabling combined arms and the ability to win on 21st-century battlefields, such a change has one additional purpose: to set an example for the rest of the Joint Force. If the entire defense establishment is rebuilt around a common C2 architecture, many existing problems with interoperability and joint operations will be solved. This will not be the first time the Marine Corps has led the way in innovation, and it will result in forces well-suited for modern conflict and ready to incorporate new formations and technology to come. Being able to field a modern expeditionary force with a global reach will both give American leaders unprecedented options and give CCP leadership—or any other adversary—plenty of reason to think twice about the consequences of their decisions.


1. Samuel B. Griffith, Sun Tzu: The Art of War (London: Oxford University Press, 1963).

2. Daniel Burstein and Arne de Keijzer, Big Dragon (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1998).

3. Bruce A. Elleman and S.C.M. Paine, Modern China (London: Rowman & Littlefield, 2019).

4. Dambisa Moyo, Winner Take All (New York: Basic Books, 2012).

5. Nicholas Eftimiades, Chinese Espionage (Vitruvian Press, 2020).

6. Daniel Golden, Spy Schools (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2017).

7. Clive Hamilton, Silent Invasion (Melbourne: Hardie Grant Books, 2018).

8. Bhaskar Chakravorti, “China’s New Development Bank Is a Wake-Up Call for Washington” Harvard Business Review, April 20, 2015,

9. Saeid Golkar and Kasra Aarabi, “The Real Motivation Behind Iran’s Deal with Saudi Arabia” Foreign Policy, April 6, 2023,

10. Chris Miller, Chip War (London: Simon & Schuster, 2022).

11. Nigel Inkster, China’s Cyber Power (London: International Institute for Strategic Studies, 2016).

12. Entrepreneur and venture capitalist Peter Thiel describes the PRC as “the most definitely pessimistic place in the world today,” where the CCP worries they cannot stay ahead of demographic trends that lead to an inevitable crash. Peter Thiel, Zero to One (New York: Crown Business, 2014).

13. Paul Midler, Poorly Made in China (Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons, 2009).

14. Ed. Phillip C. Saunders, Arthur S. Ding, Andrew Scobell, Andrew N.D. Yang, and Joel Wuthnow, Chairman Xi Remakes the PLA (Washington, DC: National Defense University, 2019).

15. Kai-Fu Lee, AI Super-Powers (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018).

16. Sadao Asada, From Mahan to Pearl Harbor (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2006).

17. David J. Ulbrich, Preparing for Victory (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2011).

18. John A. English and Bruce I. Gudmundsson, On Infantry (Westport: Praeger Publishers, 1994).

19. Wayne P. Hughes, Fleet Tactics (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1986).

20. Daniel P. Bolger, Death Ground (Novato: Presidio Press, 1999).

21. Dennis Showalter, Hitler’s Panzers (New York: Berkeley Publishing Group, 2009).

22. George Nafziger, The German Order of Battle Panzers and Artillery in World War II (London: Greenhill Books, 1999).

23. Adrian Goldsworthy, The Complete Roman Army (London: Thames & Hudson, 2003).

24. Arthur Herman, To Rule the Waves (New York: Harper Collins, 2004).