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It’s about Flexibility: Marine Corps Infantry in Force Design 2030 By 1stLt Levi Leet, USMC

Updated: Aug 18, 2022

While the concerns and excitement surrounding Force Design 2030 (FD 2030) often focus on organizational concepts like Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations (EABO) or technology like Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), I am most interested in task organization. As an infantry leader, I focus on the rifle company and below. In this short essay, I argue that Marine Corps infantry units consistently accomplish their missions because they are flexible and that will remain so in the infantry force envisioned by FD 2030.

First, a word about the mission of the infantry. At the recruit depots and Officer Candidates School, future Marines memorize the mission of the Marine Corps rifle squad: "to locate, close with, and destroy the enemy by fire and maneuver, or repel the enemy assault by fire and close combat.”[1] While most Marines do not earn an infantry military occupational specialty (MOS), the rifle squad mission serves as foundational knowledge that informs them of the culture and focus of the Marine Corps as a warfighting organization. Marine Corps Reference Publication (MCRP) 3-10A.2 Infantry Company Operations reinforces this point when it states that “...[t]he mission of the Marine infantry company is to defeat the enemy by fire, maneuver, and close combat and to conduct other operations as directed across the range of military operations.”[2] The range of military operations includes missions throughout the conflict continuum, from non-combatant evacuation operations to high-intensity urban combat. These two mission statements emphasize that the infantry is not a niche occupation with limited scope, but a group that inherently requires flexibility to accomplish its missions. When we attempt to make task organization rigid or constant, this threatens our flexibility. Through the lens of flexibility, it sounds silly to say four Marines make a team, thirteen Marines make a squad, forty-one Marines a platoon, and so on. What sounds more reasonable when discussing task organization is “I need an element responsible for the breach, an element to support-by-fire, and an element to seize the objective.” This semantic exercise demonstrates that we should be more concerned with responsibilities than with numbers when discussing task organization.

Many critics of FD 2030 make exaggerated claims of the future infantry force. They say the infantry will shelve its traditional missions in favor of EABO and anti-access/area denial (A2AD), both of which have drawn fire as too reactionary or defensive in nature. We are told that Marine infantry conducting EABO and A2AD will display less initiative and aggression in offensive operations.[3] I argue the opposite. By participating in EABO and A2AD, the infantry can deploy combat power with flexibility, identify enemy centers of gravity and vulnerabilities, and ultimately place itself in a better position to create and exploit opportunities in its assigned area of operations. By doing these things, and by the standards of Marine Corps Doctrinal Publication 1 Warfighting, the infantry mission remains untainted in FD 2030. The real challenge for the infantry of FD 2030 will be equipping and training leaders at the platoon and squad level to operate with and integrate enablers from other MOS's as well as with forces of the Navy and larger joint force. While the 400 range series at 29 Palms still functions as a good test of basic offensive battle drills in combat, the Marine Corps must place more emphasis on small unit planning and execution to succeed in the proposed operating environments. The infantry has always thrived on initiative. If we can use commander’s intent to properly assign responsibilities to subordinate units and support them as needed, the complex debate around task organization becomes simple and infantry Marines will continue to accomplish their traditional mission regardless of new terminology, concepts, or organizational structures.

Author’s Bio: First Lieutenant Levi Leet is the commander of Fox Company, Second Battalion, Eighth Marines. He has deployed twice with the company: as a rifle platoon commander in the helicopter assault company on the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit aboard the USS Bataan from December 2019 through July 2020, and as the company executive officer for Unit Deployment Program 21.2 under 4th Marines aboard Camp Schwab, Okinawa, from July 2021 through February 2022. He will execute orders to The Basic School this summer.

[1] MCWP 3-11.2, Marine Rifle Squad (2002), page 1-1.

[2] MCRP 3-10A.2 Infantry Company Operations, pages 1-1 to 1-4.

[3] See General Anthony Zinni’s closing paragraph in his April 2022 article for Task and Purpose: While I agree that EABO should not be the infantry’s sole mission going forward, I think that that mission set adds value to the community’s capabilities for future employment.

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