Project EAGLE

Reorienting Marine Aviation’s Lift Vector toward 2040

Societal divisions, state tensions, and contested international norms are setting conditions for a volatile and potentially dangerous future. Although these conditions are not new to history, the addition of rapidly evolving demographic, environmental, economic, and technological developments present both tremendous opportunity and significant challenges to the Marine Corps.Given these conditions and developments, the Marine Corps seeks to continually refine its understanding of the future operating environment and refine relevant operating concepts to compete beyond 2030.

Most importantly, Marine Aviation must be able to deliver the lethality coefficient to the MAGTF, Joint Force maritime component command, and the broader Joint Force when called upon. To deliver the necessary lethality, Marine Aviation endeavors to lead-turn the acquisition of capabilities and advanced technologies through a Three-Future Years Defense Program (FYDP) plan, starting in fiscal year 2026. We will use Force Design 2030 and force modernization guidance as the strategic waypoint to address current challenges while setting conditions to compete in the next decade. In collaboration and coordination with the Commandant of the Marine Corps’ Office of Net Assessment and the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab’s Futures branch, Marine Aviation will continue to contribute to the strategic design effort by forecasting challenges out to 2040 and establishing a plan that allows Marine Aviation to outpace our adversaries.

Marine Aviation’s Project EAGLE is that plan. Project EAGLE’s embedded three-FYDP plan is the strategic lift vector of Marine Aviation to 2040. The objective is to achieve a framework that enables the Marine Corps to adjust the current Planning, Programming, Budgeting, and Execution Assessments process to meet the correct future operational requirements. The approach seeks capabilities and technological innovations that exceed a single FYDP to provide informed predictability and flexibility. The unconstrained planning of future FYDPs provides opportunities to invest in the current FYDP in the procurement of future technology to match the changing environment and ensure Marine Aviation remains an integral member of the Joint Force.

Fundamentally, war is both timeless and ever-changing. As Marine Aviation adapts and evolves to the changing character of conflict, we shall remain true to our identity and honor all the hard aviation lessons learned over the years. Therefore, Project EAGLE is guided by the following priorities:

  • Support the MAGTF in force modernization efforts via the functions of Marine Aviation.
  • Ensure detailed collaboration and interoperability with the Joint Force maritime component command.
  • Support broader joint and coalition force efforts of interoperability and interchangeability.

Project EAGLE has three phases. These phases are specifically designed to support CMC 38’s initial force design guidance and CMC 39’s force modernization vision. In addition, Project EAGLE phases are intended to provide more analytical rigor to the Marine Corps’ budget planning and programming. These phases also provide an opportunity to communicate a clear and steadfast vision of Marine Aviation to the Department of Navy, Office of the Secretary of Defense, Congress, and industry.

Phase I: Framework Development
This phase began in the summer of 2022 and will continue to be refined throughout all phases. The following were areas of focus during Phase I:

  • Initial research and orientation of historical demographic, environmental, economic, and technological developments, and the impacts of these variables on the current environment.
  • Understanding the future operating environment and emerging trends.
  • Development and research of potential concepts and functions.
  • Initial development of lines of effort (LOEs), roadmaps, and key milestones out to 2040.
Project EAGLE placemat. (Image provided by author.)
Project EAGLE placemat. (Image provided by author.)

Phase II: New CMC 39 Guidance
This phase began in the fall of 2023 and will continue to be refined throughout Phase III. The objective of this phase is to refine the vision and LOEs developed during Phase I and implement appropriate CMC 39 guidance at the beginning of fiscal year 2024. This phase will also include the publishing of the Aviation Plan (AVPLAN) in December of 2024. The AVPLAN has been a vital tool to communicate the Deputy Commandant for Aviation’s vision and direction to multiple audiences. This annual message will again transmit DC Aviation’s rudder steers and altitude changes to maintain alignment and focus on Marine Aviation’s core responsibility of supporting the MAGTF.

Phase III: Execution
This phase will begin in the summer of 2025 and will continue through 2040. Phase III will incorporate actions from Phase I and II and will introduce FYDP 41–45’s vision for planning.

Project EAGLE Has Five Lines of Effort (LOE)
LOE 1: Concepts
Marine Aviation is looking at the viability of two new concepts: distributed aviation operations (DAO) and decision-centric aviation operations (DCAO) 2040. These concepts are nested with and support expeditionary advanced base operations (EABO), Stand-in Forces, and broader Joint Force operating concepts. These aviation concepts, which will be tested and developed via the Marine Corps’ Concept Generation and Development Process, will drive aviation strategy, doctrine, and acquisition planning.

  • DAO. As part of Force Design 2030 and force modernization, Marine Aviation must further its capabilities for operating in austere and distributed littoral environments as an essential element of the Stand-in Force, and in support of EABO. Included in this functional concept is the need to review the traditional functions of Marine Aviation.
  • DCAO 2040. The central idea of DCAO is to accelerate the decision cycle of the ACE to machine-level speeds using cutting-edge and emerging technologies. The intent is to enable the rapid composition and decomposition of a more distributed force achieving the benefits of mass while minimizing the risks associated with concentration. Current studies are underway to assess the full requirements and efficacy of DCAO 2040. However, DAO is the first step towards DCAO 2040.

LOE 2: Functions of Marine Aviation
Marine Corps Warfighting Publication 3-20, Aviation Operations, directs planners to consider aviation functions when conducting aviation planning and not the means available (i.e., weapons systems or platforms). The role of the Marine Aviation functions is to provide a framework for planners in planning aviation operations, but this requires having relevant aviation functions.

The existing six functions of Marine Aviation (offensive air support, anti-air warfare, assault support, aerial reconnaissance, electronic warfare, and control of aircraft and missiles) were critical to the Marine Corps’ success in conducting expeditionary land and amphibious operations. However, based on the changing global environment and technological developments, a modernized Marine Aviation functional framework is necessary for planners to approach today and tomorrow’s maritime campaigns. Current studies are underway to assess the efficacy of expanding the functions of Marine Aviation to better support joint and coalition forces in a maritime campaign.

LOE 3: Digital Data-Centric Culture
To maintain a competitive advantage in future conflicts and meet the current mission requirements, Marine Aviation will embrace a digital data-centric culture, equip the ACE with cutting-edge artificial intelligence (AI) tools and knowledge, and enhance the Marine Corps’ asymmetric warfighting capability leveraging AI and other emerging technologies. Marine Aviation is dedicated to creating a digital data-centric culture where AI agents serve as a force multiplier and a teammate in the ready room, on the flight line, in the field with our enablers, and in the cockpit. When fully integrated into aviation operations, AI agents will enable the seamless and rapid move from in, on, and out of the loop against our adversaries.

Becoming a data-centric and data-enabled organization will enhance Marine Aviation’s culture, risk management, efficiency, effectiveness, and decision making. Such a change requires leadership at all levels, trust in data, and investment in infrastructure, personnel, and training. Developing a digital data-centric culture within Marine Aviation will be challenging at first, but it is a key component to supporting force modernization efforts, DAO, and DCAO 2040 concepts.

LOE 4: Three-Future Years Defense Program
LOE 4 will address the specific priorities and allocation of resources and funding across the next three FYDPs to support the future vision of Marine Aviation encapsulated in Project EAGLE.

LOE 5: Roadmaps
The following proposed roadmaps for Project EAGLE involve multiple key stakeholders within HQMC and will require detailed collaboration and coordination across the enterprise for implementation.

  • Vertical Takeoff and Landing Development Portfolio.
  • MAGTF Unmanned Expeditionary Development Portfolio.
  • Aviation Command and Control and Ground Support.
  • Aviation Sustainment 2040.
  • Infrastructure Roadmap 2040.
  • Ranges Roadmap 2040.
  • Live/Virtual/Constructive Roadmap 2040.
  • Aircrew Recruitment and Retention Roadmap.
Structural forces, emerging dynamics, and advanced threats require a new and evolving Marine Corps operating concepts out to 2040. (Photo provided by author.)

Bottom Line
Structural force changes, emerging technologies, and advanced threats require new and evolving Marine Aviation operating concepts to deliver the lethality coefficient when required. First, DAO, DCAO 2040, and decision-centric concepts provide pathways into fighting in future operating environments. Second, the review of the six functions of Marine Aviation is essential to supporting EABO, joint operating concepts, and Force Design 2030. Third, transformational capabilities such as AI, ML, and the cultivation of a digital data-centric culture will equip Marines with digital tools and knowledge to enhance their warfighting capabilities within the ready room, on the flight line, in the field with our enablers, and in the cockpit. Project EAGLE reorients Marine Aviation’s lift vector and is the next waypoint in the Commandant’s vision for force modernization to ensure the Nation’s 911 force remains agile, dynamic, and ready.

>LtCol Robillard is currently assigned as the Lead Aviation Strategy and Plans Officer for Headquarters, Marine Corps Department of Aviation.


1. Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Global Trends 2040–A More Contested World, (Washington, DC: 2021).