Pushing Lethality to the Edge

A smarter, deadlier MAGTF

>Capt Holden is a Marine Officer currently assigned to USSOUTHCOM where he has worked in security cooperation and collections management billets as well as managing a variety of projects implementing cutting-edge technological solutions to address the range of threats in the area of responsibility. He previously served in the INDOPACOM Area of Responsibility with 3d Mar and Combat Logistics Battalion 3, where he deployed in support of the PACOM Augmentation Team Philippines and aboard the USNS SACAGAWEA in support of Task Force KOA MOANA 17 to support a range of partner nation engagements across the Pacific.      

The threats facing today’s MAGTF have evolved significantly—even over just the last decade. Cyber capabilities, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), and more have dispersed across a wide range of actors and become prominent factors in conflicts across the globe. Capabilities that were once the domain of advanced states can now be found in the arsenals of rising powers, transnational criminal organizations, and terrorist groups. These technological forms of warfare are cheaper to purchase, more user-friendly, and more portable than previous generations of military hardware. A 2021 Office of the Director of National Intelligence report assessed that these trends were likely to continue, creating new disruptions.1 The spread of these capabilities has some stark implications for how the Marine Corps needs to organize, train, and equip for the next fight.
Understanding the aggregate effect of all these changes in technology and domains is essential. This is a difficult task, with many experts disagreeing (and plenty making book deals) and speculating about these impacts on warfare. It is probably most salient how these technologies are applied to modern conflicts and to project those effects into the future. Current and recent conflicts provide an exciting window into what a future U.S. engagement might look like with some of these changes.
Battlefield experiences in Azerbaijan, Ukraine, and Ethiopia all point toward three clear lessons for the MAGTF of the future. First, advancements in technology have caused lethality to become more accessible and dispersed to lower echelons than previously feasible, which is pushing lethality to the tactical edge of formations. Secondly, the war in Ukraine has shown the value of joint integration at the lowest possible level, with members of each Service able to understand, access, and employ the capabilities of the other Services. Finally, having a deep reserve of technical capability is critical in a modern conflict. A technologically skilled base of citizens to pull from in times of conflict offers a distinct advantage in an age of technologically-focused warfare. These three elements will allow the MAGTF of the future to retain a competitive advantage in the future operating environment.

Technology Pushing Lethality to the Edge of the MAGTF
Technology has improved across a broad range of metrics over the last two decades, thus becoming more reliable, resilient, powerful, lethal, and compact. Furthermore, the cost of technologically advanced systems has greatly declined, allowing more capabilities at a fraction of the price they would have cost in years past. Major advances in unmanned aerial systems (UAS), loitering munitions (LMs), and mobility options mean that the MAGTF needs to invest in ways to push high-lethality weapon systems to lower echelons while guarding against the same effect in adversary forces.
UAS can significantly extend the range of enemy fires. This allows them to reach well behind the forward lines of troops and strike at valuable targets for a relatively low cost in manpower and resources.2 This is a powerful incentive to disperse capabilities to lower-level units, leaving them less vulnerable to attack by UAS. UAS and LMs are not just a concern during combat operations against a major state. The MAGTF prepares to deal with this technology across the spectrum of adversaries. The Ethiopian Civil War against rebels in the Tigray region provides an interesting example of technological proliferation in a developing country’s warfighting capabilities.The second most populous country in Africa, it is one of the poorest and with less than one percent of its GDP for military funding leaving them with an annual military budget of around one billion dollars.Despite the constrained budget, Ethiopia’s fight has featured the use of several types of drones: Chinese-made Wing Loong 2 armed UAV, Turkey’s Bayraktar TB2 armed UAV, and Iran’s Mujaher-6 have all made appearances in the battlespace.As these technologies get cheaper and improve in quality, more adversaries will have access to drones across the spectrum of threats in future MAGTF engagements.
In Ukraine, small commercially produced UAVs have seen wide use at the tactical levels, serving in roles from reconnaissance to fire control to loitering munitions. Many of these UAS are commercially available and donated by outside groups. Drone enthusiast groups who ended up being part of the war effort produce some locally.These UAS are relatively inexpensive. If they are lost, broken, or destroyed, it is not a major event with replacement models available to purchase for $1000–$2000.Replacement parts can also be 3D printed by local groups of citizens or soldiers who brought those skills with them into the service.The relative cost and ease of replacement for these systems make them attritable, easy to disperse to frontline units, and well suited to the tactical edge of combat. The adoption of these systems provided significant benefits to Ukrainian forces across a range of operations.
LMs are a specific type of UAS which have become increasingly popular on the battlefield. Early versions of these munitions have been around since the Vietnam War, originally designed to home in on the radiation emitted by anti-air defenses.Advances in artificial intelligence have combined with the miniaturization of electronics to allow for munitions capable of much higher levels of autonomy.10 The ability of these munitions to loiter overhead while searching for targets within a certain signature parameter before striking or returning to base to be refitted and launched again creates a useful blend of intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance assets and munitions. These characteristics made them incredibly effective in the Azerbaijani war against the Armenians in 2020 when LMs played a key role in destroying enemy air defenses and armored assets.11 Furthermore, their lightweight design and relatively low cost (when compared to traditional air assets or missiles) provide an economic way to extend the umbrella of fires of a force with low cost in manpower and support. Turkey, Armenia, Iran, the United States, Israel, and China (among more than a dozen of others) have begun producing these munitions or incorporated them into their arsenals, which means that the MAGTF of the future will need to be prepared to handle them.12
The Marine Corps has done some experimentation with versions LMs and how they might be integrated into the MAGTF. The UVision Hero series of LMs have been integrated onto LAV-25 platforms with the intent to provide intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance and a precision-strike capability from one package on these vehicles—a significant enhancement for lethality.13 The Marines have also discussed intentions to test an air-launched version that could supplement traditional aircraft munitions, providing greater situational awareness for the crew while also providing fire support that could outlast the limited time on station for most aircraft in the Marine inventory.14 Incorporation of these types of munitions could provide enhanced battlefield awareness, close air support, and precision-strike capabilities at a fraction of the cost of traditional air assets while also maintaining the ability to disperse risk and capability. The Marine Corps needs to continue work to procure and develop lightweight, high-lethality systems that can be dispersed widely to forces.
Increasing the mobility of small teams empowered by these technologies also has a major impact on lethality. Electric bikes and motorcycles can increase the mobility and stealth of reconnaissance and sniper teams operating close to, or forward of, the front line of troops while allowing them to carry bulkier weapon systems into position. Ukrainian forces have employed versions of electric motorcycles with front-line troops for exactly this purpose. Domestically produced models of these bikes boast top speeds of 55 mph, a range of over 90 miles on one five-hour charge, and the ability to carry up to 330lbs—all having a relatively light weight of under 200lbs.15 These bikes have been used to provide greater mobility to anti-armor teams, carrying modern NLAW and Javelin anti-tank guided missiles into place, firing and displacing quickly.16 The combination of speed, lightweight build, and near-silent performance allows small teams to move into position to identify a target or to act as a shooter themselves. While the United States has invested in concepts like this in the past, Ukraine provides a fascinating proving ground that once again shows the value of quiet, highly mobile systems that can move high-lethality capabilities around the battlefield.17
The systems that the Marine Corps chooses to invest in for the MAGTF will play a large role in helping it maintain an edge in warfighting capabilities, but simple cultural shifts will allow access to much greater firepower and support by leveraging the unique capabilities of the Services fighting alongside them.

Jointness: It’s About Firepower
Integration between Services is critical on a modern battlefield, where sensors are ubiquitous and the interconnectedness of fires systems offers a major advantage. This interconnected web of sensors and shooters, each maximizing the most appropriate asset for the given task of finding, communicating, and shooting a target has been called “Mosaic Warfare.”18 The advantages of this high-level interoperability between Services have been demonstrated by the Ukrainian forces. They have been able to successfully link a variety of sensors to non-traditional shooters, allowing them to achieve some impressive battlefield results. During the back-and-forth battle for Snake Island, the Ukrainian forces were able to use Turkish Bayraktar UAVs to spot and target Russian forces and equipment.19 One impressive instance of this was in the sinking of the Russian flagship, Moskva, by a landbased, indigenously-produced Neptune anti-ship missile.20 The ability to string multiple sensors and shooters, taking advantage of various capabilities of other Services is a powerful force multiplier that the MAGTF of the future must be able to employ.
U.S. forces are going through great pains to ensure the interoperability of equipment and personnel across platforms, capabilities, and Services. The technical side of this effort is the Joint All Domain Command and Control program, which seeks to find solutions that will allow multiple generations of current platforms to become interoperable while laying a common groundwork for future systems to share that interoperability.21 The Joint Force offers a far greater variety of platforms and capabilities than those which are available to the MAGTF. This is a good thing since it allows Marines to access greater firepower, mobility, and support capabilities than would otherwise be available to them. But you cannot expect Marines who have been raised to view other Services as rivals or “less than,” led by officers whose time with the Joint Force can work against them for promotion, to fully grasp and maximize the full potential of the Joint Force.
There are cultural and materiel differences that are important to understand and navigate if you want to fully access the capabilities of a sister Service. Junior officers and staff NCOs need to be intimately familiar with the capabilities brought to bear by these forces to appropriately leverage them to accomplish the mission. What does the Army element have that can help address my challenge, how do I get it, and who do I talk to? These questions are vital for junior leaders to have the answers to before the next conflict starts, but unfortunately, the system does not incentivize junior leaders who are in the position to glean that knowledge and bring it back to the force.
The current structure (anecdotally) penalizes Marines for not having Marine raters on their fitness reports, making a tour at a joint assignment potentially damaging to a career, as non-Marine reviewers are seen as less valuable than Marines and there is a strong sense of what have you done for the Corps lately.22 Instead of penalizing young leaders for stepping into a situation that can potentially bring useful knowledge of joint capabilities back to the force, the Marine Corps should be encouraging rotations of junior officers and non-commissioned officers for that exact reason. To be truly effective across the domains of battle and enhance the firepower available to the MAGTF, jointness needs to be embraced.

Upskill for the Kill
A more technically demanding world demands technically competent personnel who can thrive by leveraging existing and emerging technologies. The United States as a whole is struggling to upskill the broader workforce, particularly in manufacturing jobs which have been replaced or moved out of the United States due to more competitive production locations overseas.23 Beyond the current workforce, the workforce of the future needs a higher level of education and technical training to hold meaningful jobs than previous generations.24 Trends in technologically advanced weaponry proliferating across the battlefield and allowing lethality to be pushed down to lower levels of the MAGTF requires a force that has the technical proficiency and mental capacity to embrace these changes.
The current changes to the Marine School of Infantry reflect that desire to upskill the MAGTF. Higher standards for intelligence, physical fitness, and longer training will all serve to lay a foundation for the skillsets that will be needed from their initial training.25 Increased training in crew-served and anti-tank weapons will provide additional skills that have proven indispensable in the conflict in Ukraine, where ATGMs have played such a key role across the battlefield. Beyond training, educational opportunities need to be provided and encouraged by leadership. Although the U.S. military has a higher percentage of the population with a high school diploma than the civilian populace, rates of enlisted attainment of higher education fall at the undergraduate and graduate levels to well below the average in the broader civilian population.26 This is a loss to the MAGTF of the future, which will desperately need both trained and educated service members serving in officer and enlisted roles to be competitive.
There are a variety of ways to upskill the MAGTF of the future. Extending the length of primary training schools to provide a longer period to learn and retain a broadening range of skill sets that are required for basic job proficiency is one way. Requiring more regular follow-on training at career waypoints to reinforce earlier training, update knowledge based on current best practices, and allow for a mixing of experiences by professionals with different operational experiences would have a major positive impact. There are also programs that could be used to incentivize Marines to pursue technical training or educational opportunities on their own time and with a greater benefit to the force. These could look like a structured program to help Marines achieve an associate’s degree or technical certification in a relevant skillset over the first two years of service through distance or night classes. It is a smart investment to make the changes that will maintain the qualitative edge that the MAGTF holds, upskilling the Marines of today and laying the groundwork for the Marines of tomorrow to be more skilled and educated for the next fight.

Smarter, Faster, Deadlier: The MAGTF of the Future
The Marine Corps will have to adapt to the increased pace of warfare in the coming decades. Adversaries across the threat spectrum will have more information, technology, and lethality at their disposal than ever before. By studying the lessons provided by ongoing conflicts across the globe, it is easy to see the path that the MAGTF must take as they move toward the future. A concerted effort must be made to push lethal capabilities and the supporting mobility further toward the edge of the tactical formation. Capabilities previously held at the battalion or regiment level have a place much lower now. The Marine Corps needs to get comfortable, even greedy, with joint opportunities for integration. This is a vital link to assets and capabilities that do not come at the expense of the Marine Corps but could provide the vital element for a successful operation. This needs to be encouraged and pushed to more junior personnel as an opportunity to learn and bring back value to the Corps. Finally, human capital is what has always made the Marine Corps the dominant fighting force that it is. Marines on Wake Island did not benefit from the best equipment as they lashed the Japanese forces. The Corps must continue that tradition, offering increased technical training and education to upskill the force while encouraging the next generation of Marines to come into the force more skilled and capable than ever.


1. Office of the Director of National Intelligence, “Global Trends 2040,” Director of National Intelligence, 2021, https://www.dni.gov/files/ODNI/documents/assessments/GlobalTrends_2040.pdf.

2. Office of the Director of National Intelligence, “Annual Threat Assessment of the US Intelligence Community,” Director of National Intelligence, February 2022, https://www.dni.gov/files/ODNI/documents/assessments/ATA-2022-Unclassified-Report.pdf.

3. Global Conflict Tracker, “War In Ethiopia,” Council on Foreign Relations, October 20, 2022, https://www.cfr.org/global-conflict-tracker/conflict/conflict-ethiopia.

4. The World Bank, “Ethiopia Overview,” The World Bank, October 06, 2022, https://www.worldbank.org/en/country/ethiopia/overview; and World Factbook, “Ethiopia: Military Expenditures,” Central Intelligence Agency, n.d., https://www.cia.gov/the-world-factbook/countries/ethiopia/#military-and-security.

5. Alex Gatopoulos, “How Armed Drones May Have Helped Turn the Tide in Ethiopia’s War,” Al Jazeera, December 10, 2021, https://www.aljazeera.com/features/2021/12/10/how-armed-drones-may-have-helped-turn-tide-in-ethiopia-conflict; and Wim Zwijnenburg, “Is Ethiopia Flying Iranian-Made Armed Drones?” Bellingcat, August 17, 2021, https://www.bellingcat.com/news/rest-of-world/2021/08/17/is-ethiopia-flying-iranian-made-armed-drones.

6. Andrew Kramer, “From the Workshop to the War: Creative Use of Drones Lifts Ukraine,” The New York Times, August 10, 2022, https://www.nytimes.com/2022/08/10/world/europe/ukraine-drones.html.

7. Information available at https://store.dji.com.

8. Amy Feldman, “Putting 3D Printers to Work in Ukraine’s War Zone,” Forbes, March 31, 2022, https://www.forbes.com/sites/amyfeldman/2022/03/31/putting-3d-printers-to-work-in-ukraines-war- zone/?sh=70814225015f.

9. Weapon Systems, “AGM-454 Shrike,” Weapons Systems, n.d., https://weaponsystems.net/system/1066-HH08%20-%20AGM-45%20Shrike.

10. John F Antal, Seven Seconds to Die: A Military Analysis of the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War and the Future of Warfighting (Philadelphia: Oxford: Casemate, 2022).

11. Ibid.

12 Manu Pubby, “Indigenous Loitering Munition Successfully Hits Target at Pokhran,” The Economic Times, September 22, 2022, https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/defence/indigenous-loitering-munition-successfully-hits-target-at-pokhran/articleshow/94383125.cms?from=mdr; Stew Magnuson, “Loitering Munitions Proliferate as Tech Changes Battlefield,” National Defense, August 9, 2022, https://www.nationaldefensemagazine.org/articles/2022/8/9/loitering-munitions-proliferate-as-tech-changes-battlefield.

13. Dan Parsons, “Marines Handoff Loitering Munition Control Between Air, Sea, Land Platforms,” The Drive, June 3, 2022, https://www.thedrive.com/the-war-zone/marines-handoff-loitering-munition-control-between-air-sea-land-platforms.

14. Ibid.

15. Howard Altman, “Commander in Ukraine Wants Quiet Electric Bikes for His Sniper Teams,” The Drive, May 11, 2022, https://www.thedrive.com/the-war-zone/commander-in-ukraine-wants-quiet-electric-bikes-for-his-sniper-teams; and Rachel Pannett, “Ukrainian Fighters Take to Electric Bikes in the War Against Russia,” The Washington Post, May 26, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2022/05/26/ukraine-russia-war-electric-bikes-weapons.

16. Matthew Gault, “Ukraine Is Using Quiet Electric Bikes to Haul Anti-Tank Weapons,” Vice News, May 24, 2022, https://www.vice.com/en/article/xgde8k/ukraine-is-using-quiet-electric-bikes-to-haul-anti-tank-weapons.

17. David Leffler, “New Spec Ops Dirt Bikes Combine Stealth and Speed,” Task and Purpose, June 15, 2016, https://taskandpurpose.com/tech-tactics/new-spec-ops-stealth-bikes-freakishly.

18. DARPA, “DARPA Tiles Together a Vision of Mosaic Warfare,” DARPA, n.d., https://www.darpa.mil/work-with-us/darpa-tiles-together-a-vision-of-mosiac- warfare#:~:text=The%20concept%20is%20called%20%E2%80%9CMosaic,that%20its%20forces%20are%20overwhelmed.

19. YUSUF ÇETINER, “Ukrainian TB2 Destroys Russian Mi-8 Helicopter On Snake Island in First Reported Aerial Kill,” Overt Defense, May 10, 2022, https://www.overtdefense.com/2022/05/10/ukrainian-tb2-destroys-russian-mi-8-helicopter-on-snake-island-in-first-reported-aerial-kill/; and Xavier Vavasseur, “Watch Ukrainian TB2 Striking Two Russian Raptor Assault Boats,” Naval News, May 2022, https://www.navalnews.com/naval-news/2022/05/watch-ukrainian-tb2-striking-two-russian-raptor-assault- boats.

20. David Hambling, “Ukraine’s Bayraktar Drone Helped Sink Russian Flagship Moskva,” April 14, 2022, Forbes, https://www.forbes.com/sites/davidhambling/2022/04/14/ukraines-bayraktar-drones-helped-destroy-russian- flagship/?sh=3fe003753a7a.

21. Congressional Research Service, “Joint All-Domain Command and Control (JADC2),” In Focus, January 2022, https://crsreports.congress.gov/product/pdf/IF/IF11493/16.

22. Paul W. Mayberry, et al, Making the Grade: Integration of Joint Professional Military Education and Talent Management in Developing Joint Officers (Santa Monica: RAND Corporation, 2021), https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RRA473-1.html.

23. Aspen Institute, “Upskill America,” Aspen Institute, n.d., https://www.aspeninstitute.org/programs/upskill-america/about- upskill-america.

24. Kausik Rajgopal and Steve Westly, “How Tech Companies Can Help Upskill the U.S. Workforce,” The Harvard Business Review, Feb 2018, https://hbr.org/2018/02/how-tech-companies-can-help-upskill-the-u-s-workforce.

25. Otto Kreisher, “Marine Infantry to Become More Commando-Like,” Sea Power, May 12, 2022, https://seapowermagazine. org/marine-infantry-to-become-more-commando-like/#:~:text=Among%20the%20training%20changes%20 underway,14%2DMarine%20element%20during%20training%2C.

26. Kim Parker, Anthony Cilluffo and Renee Stepler, “6 Facts about the U.S. Military and Its Changing Demographics,” Pew Research Center, April 13, 2017, https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/04/13/6-facts-about-the-u-s-military-and-its-changing-demographics.

When New Concepts and Capabilities Meet the Test of Major War





Eighty years ago, the final act of the Battle of Guadalcanal (Operation WATCHTOWER, 7 August 1942–9 February 1943) was playing out in the Southwest Pacific.

The six-month struggle had taken on epic proportions, as both the Allied and Imperial Japanese leadership committed nearly all available resources to win what both sides recognized as a potentially decisive test of arms. For the Navy and Marine Corps, Guadalcanal represented the hard but successful first major test of new concepts, doctrine, equipment, and organizations, some of which had been under development and testing for two decades. Operation WATCHTOWER was launched on very short notice in response to the Japanese seizure of Tulagi Island in the lower Solomon Islands chain in April 1942.

When intelligence indicated that the Japanese had begun to build an airfield on nearby Guadalcanal, the focus shifted to the nearly complete airstrip there, and plans were adjusted mid-stride. The operation, launched in early August 1942 at the direction of the Joint Chiefs, was to seize both islands before the Japanese could further strengthen their defenses, using a hastily organized Joint Expeditionary Force under VADM Jack Fletcher. This effort—born out of the opportunity presented after the battles at Coral Sea and Midway—turned into a critically important and ultimately successful first counteroffensive by the hard-pressed Allies.

As Guadalcanal was declared secure in February 1943, Allied commanders and planners put the finishing touches on the next offensive: Operation CARTWHEEL. CARTWHEEL was designed to advance “up the slot” through the Solomons and, in conjunction with Allied forces under GEN MacArthur in the Southwest Pacific fighting up the northeast coast of Papua New Guinea, push Imperial Japanese forces away from Australia. Commanders and their staffs viewed the major Japanese base at Rabaul on the eastern tip of New Britain Island as the key objective of the operation.

Throughout 1943, and covered by growing Allied air and naval power, Allied ground forces were used in short, sharp amphibious assaults on both sides of the Solomon Sea, bypassing wherever possible known Japanese concentrations in New Guinea on the southwest edge and the Solomons chain on the northeast. These dual drives would involve numerous large and small landings, capped by those at Cape Torokina on Bougainville in November 1943 and Cape Gloucester on New Britain in January 1944. Their success neutralized Rabaul and capped the major allied actions in the South Pacific.

The extraordinary history of the larger effort, running from initial organization and planning of the naval force in July 1942 through early 1944, was documented in detail by the Marine Corps Historical Branch, G-3 Division, Headquarters Marine Corps in its first and second volumes of The History of U.S. Marine Corps Operations in World War II, respectively subtitled Pearl Harbor to Guadalcanal and The Isolation of Rabaul. Among other things, these volumes highlight the key Allied and adversary decisions, the ebb and flow of the campaigns, and the remarkable array of units and capabilities devoted to the expanding fight. Of note to contemporary force designers is how many of these were repurposed or employed well outside their normal operating mode. Finally, these volumes convey the extraordinary determination and valor of Marines, sailors, and soldiers of the Allied team during those trying months.

For today’s Marines, the many hard-learned lessons of that period inform our understanding of the future. The circumstances of 1942–43 remind us that the FMF must be responsive to the changing strategic context. Evolving geopolitical conditions and technological advances dictate that our Force Design choices account for a broad range of threats and challenges. We must balance our ability to address the most concerning near term ones with the imperative to be ready to respond in any clime and place. This is an incredibly difficult task, but our Corps has a tradition of accomplishing such things.

The Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory/Futures Directorate remains committed to conceiving of and contributing to the development and realization of the most lethal, persistent, and resilient FMF possible. Driven by national and defense guidance, and informed by statutory functions and composition, our activities are designed to ensure the FMF wields modern and relevant capabilities across a broad range of military operations. The example of eighty years ago, which started as a relatively modest naval step to block further enemy gains, grew to a truly a joint and combined effort. This ultimately involved multiple amphibious assaults, defensive counter-air, deep air strikes, coast watchers, close infantry combat, air, and sea interdiction of enemy sea lines of communication, anti-surface and anti-submarine warfare, air and sea search and rescue, and hundreds of minor tactical actions by light forces as they sought to sense and make sense of enemy intentions and actions. A plausible future conflict will feature variants of all of these, and more.

In the pages that follow, Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory/Futures Directorate personnel and others discuss ongoing Marine Corps efforts to conceptualize, design, evaluate, produce, and sustain a FMF that will succeed in a 21st-century version of a broad, deep, and deadly war. It is a sobering topic, but it must be addressed. Our present focus centers on the likely missions and necessary composition of Stand-In Forces, and the operational concepts and required capabilities to execute Reconnaissance/Counter-reconnaissance missions and Expeditionary Advance Base Operations. While these are clearly applicable in the Pacific, they are designed to be employable in contested regions across the globe.

Per national guidance, Marines are committed to standing with allies and partners in competition and conflict. Our immediate Force Design choices underscore our seriousness of purpose regarding this direction. In an ideal world, the development and fielding of such forces will serve to help dissuade and deter unwanted conflict. However, as a Service that is founded as an Expeditionary force-in-readiness, our ultimate task is to prepare for the worst case. We must develop capabilities and capacities which will increase the likelihood of success in joint and naval operations during major war. Such a conflict will be a combined arms one, waged across all domains, and with many actions executed before the first kinetic round is launched. This is the fight we must be prepared for, and a wider array of capabilities is necessary if we are to win our part.

Finally, the fundamentals of maneuver warfare remain at the center of our Force Design effort. Much like the Marine experience of 1942–43, early battles and operations may be defensive due to circumstance, but the means to translate success in the defense into effective offensive operations will be sustained and improved. Even as we develop, refine, and field Stand-In Force capabilities, we are working with Joint, Navy, and allied partners to enhance littoral strike capabilities and enhance littoral mobility and maneuver in contested battlespace. A centerpiece of this effort is our ongoing development of a 21st-century amphibious operations concept in close cooperation with the Navy. We are confident that these many related efforts are bearing fruit, and the Marine Corps of the mid-21st century will remain relevant, ready, and effective across the range of conflict

Commanding General,
Marine Corps Warfighting Lab

Infantry Battalion Experiment-30 (IBX30) Phase I Results

NeXt-file released

>Capt Hogan is a 1302 Combat Engineer Officer assigned to the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory. After serving his first tour at 1st Combat Engineer Battalion, he has spent the past two and a half years working as an integral part of the lab’s Infantry Battalion Experiment 2030 team.  

In November, the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory (MCWL) released the FD2030 Update: Infantry Battalion Experiment for Service-wide consumption.This publication was the culmination of two years of work within the lab and all three MEFs and concisely presents the infantry battalion experimentation (IBX30) effort’s findings thus far. But before explaining the document, it is worth starting at the beginning, with the Commandant’s sweeping Force Design 2030 (FD2030) initiative.
As a component of Gen Berger’s FD2030 effort, in 2020, an integrated planning team (IPT) developed the design of the future infantry battalion. Starting from the principles articulated in the Commandants’ 2019 Planning GuidanceFD2030, and The Case for Change, the IPT envisioned a battalion comprised of “highly trained and educated, competent, mature Marines, [equipped] with state-of-the-art weapons and equipment” that would distribute its forces to execute offensive, defensive, and expeditionary operations against a peer adversary.The battalion reflected a shift towards peer competition, the growing maturation and proliferation of adversary long-range precision fires, the proliferation of drones and loitering munitions, and the influence of electromagnetic and cyber warfare capabilities. The 735-Marine formation dramatically altered the infantry battalion, inserting new capabilities at lower echelons, divesting of significant structure and personnel, and relying on new concepts such as a more mature MARSOC-like Marine and an arms room.3
After seeing the new design, the CMC published an FD2030 update and tasked MCWL with validating IPT assumptions and analyzing the proposed size and composition of the future infantry battalion, initiating IBX30 Phase I.

Background: What Was IBX30 Phase I?
To test and refine the IPT’s 735-Marine formation, MCWL conducted a series of experiments including modeling and simulation, wargames, and live-force experimentation. All these events examined the experimental focus areas of sustainment, command and control (C2), sensing, and lethality. Working in tandem with other components of Headquarters Marine Corps and by, with, and through FMF partners, MCWL developed a deliberate and iterative experiment plan to test the design that included three battalions, one from each MEF. 1/1 Mar, 1/2 Mar, and 1/3 Mar each experimented with slightly different tables of equipment and organization, testing different components of the original design.
Over the last two years, MCWL conducted eleven live-force experiments in three countries and five states in diverse weather conditions, mountainous terrain, and desert and jungle environments. Experiment locations included Twentynine Palms, CA; Camp Lejeune, NC; the Pohakuloa Training Area, Kaneohe Bay, and Marine Corps Training Area Bellows, HI; Okinawa, Japan; Yuma, AZ; San Clemente Island, CA; Northern Luzon, Philippines; and Fola Mine, WV. The diverse experiments stressed different parts of the design and allowed collection from the squad to battalion echelons, across the warfighting functions, and against the infantry battalion’s core mission essential tasks.
Throughout all experiments, MCWL listened to, observed, and collected feedback from the experimental units and other partners, consolidating that information for analysis and to generate conclusions about the design. The analyses and evaluations provided information and insights on the effectiveness of the 735-Marine design and how it might fight in the future. After producing multiple reports, briefs, and studies, IBX30 Phase I ultimately culminated in a decision by the Commandant in June 2022.

Observations: What We Saw
Many of MCWL’s observations directly related to the battalion’s design, feeding recommendations on how to alter personnel structure or equipment to optimize the unit for the present and future. These included needing more bandwidth for communications and administrative tasks, a shortage of personnel within the 81mm mortar platoon, and friction created by a lack of a dedicated ground-intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance unit among others. These observations fed MCWL’s recommendations to the CMC but do not capture everything we saw. A large part of the experimentation included re-imagining how an infantry battalion will fight with the new organization and capabilities.
The new formation is flooded with new capabilities including company-level signals intelligence and electro-magnetic warfare, squad-level organic precision fires, Group 2 UAS, and lighter, more agile tactical mobility. These transformative capabilities bring aspects of warfare down to the tactical edge at unprecedented density and levels of integration, giving a company the ability to understand and leverage the spectrum during operations, effectively placing a new dimension of war at their fingertips. But sifting through all of the changes, the analysis team identified three fundamental components of the battalion’s future employment that describe how it should fight: interchangeable C2 nodes, hunter-killer pairing at echelon, and hub and spoke operations. While not comprehensive, these ideas underpin the conceptual shift in how the infantry battalion of the future will fight and illustrate why it will be decisive on the future battlefield.
Interchangeable C2 refers to how company and battalion command centers operate and relate to one another. On the future battlefield, survivability will depend in large part on reducing a unit’s signature and improving its mobility, enabled by the ability to shift command and control of an area of operations. The design increases company staff capacity and communications capabilities, allowing for companies to control battalion battlespace for a limited duration, ultimately providing the battalion with five C2 nodes. Redundancy is a must, so the design leverages the companies for C2 redundancy, increasing the formation’s resilience and survivability.
The company’s increased C2 capacity is both required by and facilitates hunter-killer pairing at echelon. In this context, hunters are sensing assets, and killers are kinetic weapons, generally a UAS and a loitering munition, respectively. The new formation boasts a dramatic increase in precision fires capabilities, and ensures the employing units retain the organic capability to find targets for these weapons. This results in loitering munitions at the squad, platoon, company, and battalion level with UASs at the same echelon that match the munition’s duration and range. The munitions gradually increase in capability, from anti-personnel to anti-armor. Together these systems enable every unit to precisely engage an enemy from—and into—defilade and organically counter otherwise overwhelming enemy direct-fire.
Hub and spoke operations refer to the ability of any unit to take control of either UAS or loitering munitions post-launch. Because Marines at the tactical edge can take terminal control of loitering munitions, employing a higher echelon system is simplified. The squad can bring all the company’s firepower, itself dramatically increased, to bear on the enemies it can see, adapting to real-time changes. All these changes, in the context of more distributed operations, alter our understanding of mutual support. The company can launch an anti-armor loitering munition and send it 40km across land or water to a platoon or squad that takes control and strikes a target. Hub and spoke operations are a foundational tactic enabling distributed operations.
These three concepts paint the picture of a dispersed and distributed battalion surviving by limiting physical mass and constantly moving, leveraging, and communicating the findings of its wealth of sensors to open and close kill webs and empowering its unit leaders with sensors and precision fires across great distances. The vision reflects the Commandant’s demand to counter the adversary’s precision fires and sensing regimes with independent and capable subordinate units, resiliency in the formation, and broad employability of sensors and fires across the unit.

The Commandant’s Decision
Combining these more conceptual observations on the shift in how the infantry battalion fights with concrete notes on how the units performed, MCWL coalesced its two years of experimentation into recommendations briefed at the Ground Board, a collection of general-officer level stakeholders in the ground combat element and Headquarters Marine Corps, in May 2022. With Ground Board approval, the recommendations were forwarded to the CMC for a final decision. Once decided, the changes were formalized in a memorandum from Deputy Commandant, Concept Development and Integration.
The approved recommendations include establishing an organic battalion ground intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance unit (the scout platoon); adding one ammunition Marine per tube within the 81mm mortar platoon; retaining the 0352 and 0331 MOS’s while adding a machinegun section and re-organizing company-level crew-served weapons; returning key enablers to headquarters and service company; and removing one Marine from each rifle squad. These recommendations resulted in a battalion staffing level of 811 Marines.4
Taken together these changes address observations from experimentation on where the 735-Marine battalion cut existing structure too deeply when aligned against current manning, training, and equipping capabilities of the Corps. With the CMC’s decision and execution of these intermediate changes Service-wide, the Marine infantry battalion will remain lethal in the conflicts of the present day and the future.

Ongoing Experimentation
After accepting these recommendations, the CMC directed MCWL to continue experimentation with the 811-Marine battalion during IBX30 Phase II. To achieve the optimal force by 2030, we must continue iterating on the infantry battalion’s design, perfecting it over time and continued effort. Phase II has already begun and will continue for the next three years. But as MCWL focuses efforts on 2/7 Mar and 3/4 Mar, we will continue to listen to feedback from the broader fleet.While focused experimentation can produce data and concentrated specific findings, fleetwide experimentation will continue to drive the Marine Corps forward. It is for this reason, to unlock and encourage units across the Marine Corps to experiment on their own, that MCWL released its NeXt File on IBX Phase I, the location of which can be found in MARADMIN 618/22.6 Additionally, reports from Phase I of experimentation are accessible on Intelink.7
The final result of IBX Phase I reflects the original vision of a distributed-operations capable formation while mitigating risk by accounting for the pace of institutional change. The 811-Marine design incorporates new capabilities to stay ahead of changes in modern war, without reducing our capacity in the most basic and fundamental infantry missions today. As the FMF transitions and adapts to the new battalion, experimental exercises, reports, and feedback will help optimize this new design and inform the Service about the unit’s capabilities and how to obtain the best tactical results. MCWL will continue to experiment, but the FMF will drive the Marine Corps forward.
This refinement of the infantry battalion will continue concurrently with another FD2030 priority: the Marine Littoral Regiment. The current Service focus is experimenting with and refining the Marine Littoral Regiment design while establishing future Marine Littoral Regiments. MCWL’s IBX Phase II experimentation, data collection, and analysis directly contributes to the concurrent effort with Marine Littoral Regiment experimentation given the battalion’s role as the base unit of the Littoral Combat Team. Together, these lines of effort will feed MCWL’s recommendations for and the Service’s refinement of the future force.
There remains much work to shape the Service, and the more all Marines contribute to the solution, the faster it will happen and the better the results will be. Across the Corps, all units, organizations, and Marines have a stake in FD2030’s success. This is the Marine Corps our country is counting on to compete, deter, and win America’s future battles.


1. Headquarters Marine Corps, MARADMIN 618/22, Update to MCWL Information Sharing with the Fleet Marine Force, (Washington, DC: November 2022).

2. Integrated Planning Team, Draft Infantry Battalion Design IPT Report dtd 5 May 20.

3. Ibid.

4. Headquarters Marine Corps, Marine Corps Bulletin 3120, Marine Corps Global Force Management and Force Synchronization, (Washington, DC: August 2020).

5. Headquarters Marine Corps, Warning Order to Force Design Infantry Battalion/CMC PPO POF, 08/09/2022, 18:33:33, (Washington, DC: August 2022).

6. The IBX30 Phase I X-File is currently available for anyone with a .mil address. To read the full X-File follow the link found at https://www.marines.mil/News/Messages/Messages-Display/Article/3227550/update-to-mcwl-information-sharing-with-the-fleet-marine-force.

7. Location of all IBX Phase I Reports: https://intelshare.intelink.gov/sites/mcwl/ExDivReports/_layouts/15/start.aspx#.