“We are not a second land army, nor do we aspire to be anything other than the world’s premier naval expeditionary force.“

General David Berger’s “Commandant’s Planning Guidance” (CPG) may be one of the most ambitious such documents in Marine Corps history.  It envisions sweeping changes in Marine Corps structure and doctrine, carrying it both into the future, and harking back towards traditions that have long since fallen by the wayside.

The above statement goes right into the heart of the document.  Although the Marines have a well-established tradition as counter-insurgency specialists, going back to the Banana Wars of the 20s and 30s, Berger clearly feels that the last two decades of deployments in the Middle East and Central Asia have caused the service to drift too far in that direction and forget their naval heritage — their identity as Marines.  He seems to be saying, “the U.S. does not need two armies.  We need to focus on what makes us unique if we are going to stay relevant.”

This is exactly what the 26-page document strives to outline: how the Fleet Marine Force can make itself most relevant to the naval warfare of the 21st century.  In doing so, it takes some surprising turns, some of them novel and some startlingly traditional.  Hand in hand with this, Berger seeks to address how the Marine Corps will survive and successfully operate in peer conflicts, in light of the transformation of the Chinese and Russian forces, specifically the proliferation of precision fires, electronic warfare, and unmanned platforms.  All four services are struggling to play catch-up after years of focusing on opponents who possessed little capability in these areas.  Berger is looking to put the Marines at the cutting edge of this reform by suggesting that nothing in the Marine Corps structure of today will be held sacred.  Legacy systems and organizations that do not show immediate relevance to current threat environments are to be discarded without remorse.

To achieve these intertwined goals, he underlines three nested doctrinal concepts: Distributed Operations, Littoral Operations in a Contested Environment, and Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations (EAB).


Distributed Operations

This is the base concept, the foundation upon which the other two rest.  Distributed Operations is the concept that essentially says that in the face of precision firepower Marines must disperse to survive.  Specifically, it suggests that the old standard of the company as the basic maneuver element must give way to autonomously operating platoons and even squads.  This entails pushing more of the decision-making burden further down the chain-of-command, and giving subordinates more direct access to data and direction of support.  The new 15-man rifle squad represents the most basic level of this transformation.