December 01, 2007

CMC: Enough with the MRAPs already

Charlie has not followed the MRAP debate in the Marine Corps all that closely, but this story definitely caught her eye:

The Corps says it doesn’t want to order any more bomb-proof vehicles for Marines, and is slashing by one-third the number of Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles it once expected to buy, Marine sources said.

The decision is a sharp reversal in stance for the service — which once envisioned every Marine in Iraq traveling outside the wire in the vehicles — and comes as its top officer openly complains they are weighing the Corps down. The service originally planned to buy as many as 3,700 of the vehicles, a number that will drop by more than 1,000, sources said.

There are a number of defensible reasons not to go ahead with the original order: IED casualties are down in Iraq, IEDs and road travel are both less common in Afghanistan, etc. (And even these strike Charlie as rather short's not like we've had great success in generating just-in-time MRAP production.)

But this policy shift occurs in the wake of the Commandant's comments at CNAS earlier this fall where he expressed fears that the Corps was getting too heavy and moving away from its expeditionary traditions.

I would tell you that I’m a little bit concerned about us keeping our expeditionary flavor. Quite frankly, if you compared what the battalion table of equipment set is today and what we put into battalions when we first went into Iraq, it‘s vastly different. We are much heavier than ever before. We‘re talking about a potential buy of 3,700 MRAPs. Those vehicles weigh 40,000 pounds each in the larger category. Frankly, you can‘t put them in a helicopter, and you can‘t even put them aboard an amphibious ship. So, we‘ve simply gotten heavier.

We‘ve become, in some ways, a second land army — and it‘s okay for now. I mean, there‘s no second guessing whether or not MRAP was the right thing to do — I still see it as a moral imperative to protect those great troops that we were talking about earlier. But can I give a satisfactory answer to what we‘re going to be doing with those things in five or 10 years? Probably not. Wrap them in shrink wrap and put them on asphalt somewhere is about the best thing that we can describe at this point — and as expensive as they are, that is probably not a good use of the taxpayers money.

Well, apparently the Commandant did find a way to second guess the MRAPs, so he's got that going for him. And can he really not think of a use for those vehicles in 10 years time (much less a year from now in Anbar if things turn ugly again)? Maybe that's not surprising given his views of COIN and irregular warfare:

So that‘s how we‘re shaping the force at this point. In dialogue with those folks, the point came out that you can have a major contingency operation kind of capability and still do the ―"lesser included things" to include counterinsurgency. The reverse of that statement is probably not true. So we need to either make sure that we get that balance right — whatever that balance may in time need to be.

Sorry, General, but I'm pretty sure that the last several years qualify as "all evidence to the contrary" on this front. It's pretty clear that our general purpose forces (not to mention significant elements of their leadership) found COIN challenging to say the least. There are clearly strategic perils to be had in letting our significant conventional advantage atrophy; Charlie has no interest in turning the Marines into a constabulary force. But we're not anywhere close to over-correcting toward COIN for the military at large. And so long as the Commandant thinks they're "lesser included things," I think we're probably all safe from that fate.

Besides, worring about the heaviness and and expeditionary flavor of the Marine Corps as we're struggling through two wars is straight out of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (as they stand on a cliff overlooking a raging river):

Butch Cassidy: Then you jump first.
Sundance Kid: No, I said.
Butch Cassidy: What's the matter with you?
Sundance Kid: I can't swim.
Butch Cassidy: Are you crazy? The fall will probably kill you.

Being light won't matter a damn bit if we fail in Iraq and Afghanistan. We can figure out what to do with the MRAPs after we win. That's a problem Charlie would love to have. Because if we lose, they're so going to be the least of our problems.