Mechanization: United or Divided?

by Capt Richard G. Carter

I’m concerned tool After reexamining a pair of articles (“Let’s Watch Where We’re Going,” June81, and “Reexamining Maneuver Warfare,” Apr82), I am convinced there exists among us a vocal minority of officers who are either resistant to innovative change or who are less-than-thoroughly familiar with the extraordinary intensity and lethality that Marines are likely to encounter on the modern battlefield or with the organizational and equipment requirements needed by Marine units to maneuver and win in such an environment. These officers have either failed to grasp or have chosen to ignore many recent “lessons learned” concerning true combined arms operations on the integrated battlefield including the need for extensive use of armor resources.

We “maneuverists,” as we have been dubbed, are not advocating the abandonment of well-rounded tactical fundamentals and principles. We are advocating flexible, more mobile combat structures in light of potential enemies who, in many cases, will greatly outnumber U.S. forces and who will be equally well-trained and well-equipped. We are also advocating that battlefield commanders be given additional options other than seizing objectives by frontal assault at the remarkable pace of 2.5 miles per hour.

The sincere, but erroneous contention that the Marine Corps exists solely for the purpose of conducting amphibious assaults (therefore, the need for a general purpose light infantry force only) was clarified by the Commandant in an article in Defense 1981. Our primary mission is fourfold-each fold of which is equally important! These missions are condensed as follows:

1. Conduct amphibious assaults and subsequent operations ashore.

2. Conduct joint-Service operations in conjunction with and in coordination with sister Services.

3. Conduct combined arms operations in the prosecution of a land campaign.

4. Conduct operations as the President may direct.

These missions are clear and irrefutable. It seems equally clear to me that maintaining the “status quo” is not the best method for accomplishing these missions.

Armored weapons systems are not “mechanical intricacies that masquerade as weapons.” Armored vehicles are, in fact, very potent and very effective weapons when properly employed and when utilized in conjunction with other combined arms. Marine armor units are integral members of the combined arms team and will perform crucial roles in the future. These armor units will provide devastating, mobile firepower for assault elements. Their importance should never be underestimated.

How does the proper use of Marine armor and the proper application of principles of maneuver apply to Marine leaders today? Properly organized and equipped mobile assault units provide Marine leaders with never-before-realized ground mobility and upgraded firepower. Increased tactical ground mobility and firepower improves our capability to conduct aggressive, offensive operations over extended distances. The ability of Marine commanders to prosecute these offensive operations gives the Marine Corps the capability to defeat potential enemies at their own ballgame and in their own ballpark. For the Marine Corps, this means that we must acquire a proper mixture of armored units (amphibious assault vehicles, light armored vehicles, mobile protected gun systems, and main battle tanks) to accompany Marine infantrymen into battle.

LtCol Batcheller, author of the two articles mentioned above, offers justifications for retaining “manpower intensive” force structures throughout the Marine Corps that ignore a most important facet of modern warfare-machines are a decisive factor in combat! In the study of modern battle, I can find no instances where all of the “engines are still and broken” or where the “skies are empty and silent.” To match infantrymen against modern mechanized units who have their organic BMPs and attached T-80s right there with them is to court disaster.

The time has come for the Marine Corps to mount up and move forward by studying, listening, learning, and adapting to the forthcoming restructuring-a restructuring that will result in a more powerful, harder-hitting Corps. Gen Barrow’s marching orders are explicit. “When called, Marine forces will fight our country’s battles in the configuration most useful to our Nation.” For the Marine Corps of the 1980s and 1990s, the most useful configuration must certainly be the balanced, fully integrated combined arms team to include hundreds of armored weapon systems organized into flexible, versatile combat structures capable of operating in concert with the world’s best infantry. The issue is clear for the combined arms team-united we stand, divided we fall!