Marine Corps will be smaller, lighter but just as deadly, commandant promises
The Marine Corps of the future will be smaller and use lighter vehicles and lighter personal protective gear but retain its ability to respond swiftly and with intimidating firepower to any global crisis, Commandant Gen. James Amos said Tuesday night.
The Marine Corps will add more personnel and resources to its Special Operations Command -- the Marines' equivalent of the Army's special forces -- and to its force guarding against attack via cyberspace.
The Marines, Amos said in a speech at the Marine Memorial Club in San Francisco, will be a "middleweight force" ready to move quickly, probably from ships, to buy time for U.S. officials to decide on a long-term response to a crisis.
Amos pointed to the recent deployment of Marines to support a Camp Pendleton-based battalion in the bitter fight in the Sangin area of Afghanistan as the kind of capability that the Marine Corps will continue to provide.
Within three days of the decision by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Marines aboard ships off Pakistan were part of the fight in Sangin, including with their own attack aircraft. The Camp Pendleton-based Third Battalion, Fifth Marine Regiment has been in a bloody battle with Taliban fighters since late September.
The new troops from the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, Amos said, are "in direct support of Gen. [David] Petraeus' winter campaign. Their efforts are further driving a wedge between the insurgents and the local Afghan populace."
Amos' speech was billed as his response to a speech made by Gates last year in the same venue in which he challenged the Marine Corps to define its post-Afghanistan role and to anticipate reduced budgets as the nation struggles with a sour economy. Congressional leaders have been briefed on the Marine Corps plans, Amos said.
Amos said the Marine Corps is ready to "right-size" its force. He did not mention numbers but most observers expect a reduction from the current 202,000 level to about 180,000 Marines.
Amos stood by his decision to support cancellation of the $14-billion project to develop what is called the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle that can take Marines from ship to shore. Rather, Amos said, the Marine Corps will begin developing a less expensive amphibious vehicle to do the same task.
"I want to assure you that the Marine Corps will remain our nation's expeditionary force in readiness and remain the force-of-choice for crisis response," he said.
-- Tony Perry in San Diego
Photo: Marine Commandant Gen. James Amos. Credit: Department of Defense