On March 26th, Lt. Col. Lloyd Freeman published an article on Foreign Policy entitled, “Can The Marines Survive?”  In short, Lt. Col. Freeman’s point is that American air power and UAVs have irrevocably changed warfare; movement on the battlefield means being killed by remote control from half a world away.  He argues that the Marine Corps has, in its competition with the Army, rendered itself into a slow, conventional force focused on an obsolete mission, i.e. forced entry from the sea.  In order for the Marine Corps to remain a valid force and not simply a second, redundant Army, he believes that it needs to convert to small teams of JTACs inserted into hostile territory to coordinate drone and bombing strikes.

First, the problems with this treatise.  Lt. Col. Freeman has fallen into a trap that many have over the last century–he has latched onto one aspect of modern warfare as the end-all and be-all, in this case precision airstrikes and UAVs.  The idea of winning wars entirely from the air is not new.  Major Alexander P. de Seversky came out with the book “Victory Through Air Power” in 1942, in which he envisioned fleets of bombers bringing nations to their knees without a single infantryman on the ground.  His vision never came to pass.  WWII was won by infantry, armor, air power, and naval forces working in concert.

Again, the idea of push-button, high-tech “hyperwar” reared its head after the 1st Gulf War in 1991, and formed the paradigm for the better part of a decade, in spite of the battle of Mogadishu and the quagmire of the Balkans, until the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.

Overspecialization might work in a corporate environment, but in combat it can mean death.  Further narrowing our combat capabilities will only allow our enemies (who have made exploiting our weaknesses and blind spots their strategy since Vietnam) further avenues to circumvent our strengths.  If the Marine Corps (or any other service, for that matter) is solely focused on one mission, what happens when Marines are forward deployed and the situation changes radically, necessitating a mission shift?  Will these small, specialized teams of spotters be ready for raids, unconventional warfare, or even holding their ground and fighting massed groups of enemy, such as the up to 500 Taliban fighters that were dogpiling on isolated units in the Afghan mountains a few years ago?