The “Dumbest Concept Ever” Just Might Win Wars
By Jim Lacey
Source: War on the Rocks
Until a few days ago, I was convinced that the expeditionary advanced base operations concept was one of the dumbest ideas to come down the pike in a long time. This developing concept envisions the Marine Corps seizing and establishing a persistent presence on key maritime terrain (islands and chokepoints). By emplacing long range weapons systems within these bases, marines would create an anti-access envelope, within which enemy ships and aircraft would find it difficult and hopefully impossible to operate. As far as I was concerned, this concept, known in military circles by its acronym, “EABO,” was another of those ideas that “briefed well” but whose folly would only be exposed in war. Then I read Marine Commandant Gen. David Berger’s new planning guidance. I was only half-way finished when I felt the first pangs of doubt intruding into my certitude. I spent much of the next day pondering how I could have gotten the operational and strategic utility of EABO so wrong.
Before explaining what changed my mind, allow me to offer the two main reasons I initially hated the concept. Ever since the 1980s, the Marine Corps has rightfully espoused maneuver warfare as the core of all of its warfighting concepts. Well, scattering battalions across thousands of miles of ocean appeared, on its face, to be the antithesis of maneuver. Once placed, it would take a herculean effort to reconsolidate all the separated pieces of a Marine expeditionary force into a formation with sufficient fire and maneuver capacity to win a stand-up fight with a peer-state military. In my original understanding of the concept, EABO seemed to make a hash of Marine Corps claims to be a maneuver-based force. In short, by adopting EABO as its foundational warfighting, the Marine Corps was apparently turning its units into sitting ducks.
Second, as a military historian, EABO sounded awfully familiar. Didn’t Japan try this in the Pacific Theater during World War II? Japan too scattered small forces throughout its so-called co-prosperity sphere, hoping that stubborn defenses by each of the isolated units would wear down an American offensive and force the United States to sue for peace. It did not work out that way. Instead, the Marine Corps tore through the Japanese bastions in a remarkably short period of time during the Central Pacific Campaign. I could not begin to fathom why the Marine Corps was espousing a concept that they themselves had demonstrated was faulty and massively vulnerable.
What I Got Wrong
Let me share a passage from the commandant’s latest planning guidance:
While the answer to the question – “What does the Navy provide the Marine Corps?” is readily identifiable – operational and strategic mobility, and assured access; the same cannot be said for the follow-on question, “What does the Marine Corps provide the Navy and the Joint Force?” Traditionally, the answer has been power projection forces from the sea, and/or forces for sustained operations ashore in support of a traditional naval campaign. We should ask ourselves – what do the Fleet Commanders want from the Marine Corps, and what does the Navy need from the Marine Corps?
This was an epiphany.
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