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27 Apr, 2021 02:30

BIG changes to US Marines: No tanks, fewer people, and MANY more drones

BIG changes to US Marines: No tanks, fewer people, and MANY more drones

The US Marine Corps is downsizing. Tanks and armored vehicles are on the way out, drones are in, and there will be fewer Marines – but more educated and trained to handle multiple weapons systems, USMC generals said.

The USMC has already “modified our force structure” as part of the 10-year modernization initiative called Force Design 2030, Commandant General David Berger announced on Monday. Other changes envisioned by the program include the “complete divestment” of tanks, not replacing the existing LAV-25 wheeled vehicles with another platform, shifting to missiles from conventional artillery, and reducing the size of the corps from 186,000 in 2020 to 174,000 or so by the end of the decade.

The aging LAV – in service since 1983 – will not be replaced “with a similar armored, wheeled or tracked manned vehicle in a one-for-one ratio,” the Marines said. Instead, they’re looking at the Advanced Reconnaissance Vehicle (ARV), which Brigadier-General Eric Austin of the Capabilities Development Directorate described as less of a specific platform than a set of capabilities.

“The ARV is not a LAV,” Austin said, but “an open-architecture, payload-agnostic platform.” His deputy for Combat Development and Integration, Lieutenant-General Eric Smith, said that the form of this platform is “still unknown” and is something the USMC is “experimenting and wargaming with.” 

This new platform will need to control air and ground drones and provide reconnaissance capabilities, Smith said, noting that the USMC is looking for systems with “an open architecture, meaning [they] can accept the tie-in to artificial intelligence, to the cloud itself.”

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In a further move away from crewed systems towards drones, the Marines want to shrink their air wing to 18 strike squadrons of 10 jets each, and six drone squadrons. Berger has set a goal of an “aviation plan that is 40% crewed and 60% uncrewed,” according to Smith.

Three V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft are on their way out, as are two squadrons each of light attack helicopters and CH-53E Super Stallion transports. Even logistics has not been spared. All heavy bridging assets have been disposed of, and the USMC is looking at the prospect of “unmanned logistics.”

As every Marine is expected to be a rifleman – or woman – the Corps is also preparing to abolish the special weapons companies in what the document calls an “arms room” approach. This would mean training all members to handle a variety of weapons systems, rather than be specialists. 

“Adjusting to this concept will require a more highly trained and multi-disciplinary Marine, supported by a longer, more comprehensive entry-level pipeline,” the document said. Between this and the need for more sophisticated drone and AI-assisted weapon systems, the USMC is looking for a “more mature demographic” as well.

In a call-back to the WWII “island-hopping” campaign against Imperial Japan, the USMC has started setting up three ‘Littoral Regiments’, new units of around 2,000 Marines designed for expeditionary fighting on islands. Slightly smaller than existing Marine regiments, these units would include logistics and air defense components.

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