Getting the Context of Marine Corps Reform Right

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Multiple national security outlets and #MilTwitter accounts have been abuzz this spring discussing the Marine Corps’ “radical” force design report. Comments about the changes directed in the report range from “it’s about time,” to “an existential threat to the Marine Corps,” to “aye, aye Commandant, we’re not exactly sure why, but we look forward to making this happen.” Since reading the commandant’s Force Design report, we, too, have reflected on what the changes will mean for the Marine Corps — and by extension, the Department of the Navy, the joint force, our allies, partners, and most importantly, the American people. Regular War on the Rocks readers likely know that our writing team has, at times, been critical of the Corps’ decisions. In this case, however, we, like T.X. Hammes, are encouraged about the potential future that awaits our naval service.



Current national strategy documents provide a generational course adjustment to U.S. foreign policy. As then-Secretary of Defense James Mattis explained in January 2018, “great power competition — not terrorism — is now the primary focus of U.S. national security.” His successor, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, has repeatedly reinforced this same message, along with his laser focus on China. It is clear from Force Design 2030 that the commandant has embraced the National Defense Strategy’s marching orders, along with Congress’ National Defense Strategy Commission assessment. But how is this great power competition so different from the security environment over the past few decades? Why do both the 37th and 38th commandants believe that “[t]he Marine Corps is not organized, trained, equipped, or postured to meet the demands of the rapidly evolving future operating environment”? How does one jump from saying a force design based on large-scale amphibious forcible entry is insufficient as a contact and blunt layer force to concluding that it is necessary to slash tanks, artillery, aircraft squadrons, and more? Why is a Marine Corps contribution to sea control and sea denial critical to the joint force solution to the problem of malign actors in littoral regions across the world?

What follows, in three sections, is our explanation of why, after reflecting on the force design report, we’re so encouraged. The first section envisions what we believe to be the Corps’ primary purpose for the coming generation. Next, we strive to explain why we think Force Design 2030 aligns with this purpose. In the third section, we share a few ideas about what the Corps might consider next to help maximize the chances for successfully implementing this guidance.

Marine Corps Competencies: 2020 and Beyond

Figure 1: Marines responding to a crisis at the U.S. embassy in Baghdad on Dec. 31, 2019, just over two weeks after the COVID-19 outbreak (Image: Operation Inherent Resolve. Photo by Sgt. Maj. Joey Thompson).

[The Marine Corps] has fully demonstrated the vital need for the existence of a strong force in readiness … The nation’s shock troops must be the most ready when the nation is generally least ready … to provide a balanced force in readiness for a naval campaign and, at the same time, a ground and air striking force ready to suppress or contain international disturbances short of large-scale war.”

– 82nd Congress, 1952

As we’ve reflected on the commandant’s new guidance, the 82nd Congress’ comments continually came to mind. Amidst the pandemic, combined with future security environment forecasts, we wondered whether the force design changes will enable the Corps to continue to serve as our nation’s “force in readiness” for a generation to come, including when the nation is “generally least ready.” We also wrestled with whether our nation still requires “shock troops” capable of participating in a naval campaign, while simultaneously being able to “suppress or contain international disturbances short of large-scale war.” In both cases, we believe the answer is unequivocally and emphatically “yes.”

Why? Before answering this question, it’s important to first acknowledge the main Force Design criticisms that we’ve observed, which we will address throughout the article. Some have challenged the commandant’s Force Design geographic prioritization of the Indo-Pacific, regardless of the fact that this region — from which more than 50 percent of the world’s population and 60 percent of global gross domestic product comes — is the secretary of defense’s number one priority. Others have questioned whether it’s accurate to suggest that current U.S. military capabilities in the Indo-Pacific are not a sufficient deterrent to the Chinese Communist Party, despite China’s actions and our nation’s most senior military leaders saying otherwise. Others have challenged whether concepts, such as expeditionary advanced base operations, are the correct remedy, if the “deterrence isn’t working” diagnosis is accurate in the first place. Some have raised concerns that even if a Marine Corps optimized for expeditionary advanced base operations would help deter and blunt Beijing’s malign actions in the Indo-Pacific, these changes would leave the service less capable of being the nation’s force-in-readiness globally. And finally, some have suggested that even if the commandant’s desired capabilities make sense, “it is difficult to believe that the Marine Corps can acquire a range of new weapons systems with the combination of requirements” within the 10-year Force Design period, regardless of the Corps’ four-year flash-to-bang invention and then successful combat implementation of vertical envelopment proving otherwise.

We certainly appreciate these concerns and respect those that have made them. We also wonder if these concerns are actually the result of a larger critique of the 2018 National Defense Strategy, including from those that believe resourcing it would require a 12 percent increase in defense spending, or from others confused by all the catchphrases often associated with it. Specific to the strategy itself, such claims are spurious, and as marines, they are outside the scope of our prerogative. The point is that Force Design hones in to address the problem that the Corps has been ordered by our civilian leadership to help manage — while not requiring, much less requesting, an additional penny from the American people. When it comes to catchphrases, though, we agree that popular labeling attempts such as “high-end” vs. “low-end” combat, as well as “gray zone warfare,” are more confusing than clarifying. The same applies for the many acronym-soup service concepts such as “EABO,” “LOCE,” and “DMO” — and this is before including joint ones, such as “JAM-GC,” or the latest,“JADC2.” What is a professional to make of all the non-stop catchphrases and acronyms? What is the problem that needs solving?


Figure 2: Littoral East Asia from China’s perspective (Image credit: Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments).

For us, the problem is the following: The Chinese Communist Party seeks to displace the U.S.-inspired, 70-year embrace of discourse, dialogue, and diplomacy as the standard for international politics and, as the 2017 National Security Strategy describes, insert in its place Beijing’s authoritarian, Orwellian surveillance “state-driven economic model” that reorders the Indo-Pacific and then other parts of the world in China’s favor. What would be the implications for the United States if Chinese leadership achieves its goals? Liza Tobin explained the implications and described why the Chinese Communist Party’s goals are an existential threat to the international rules-based order and, by definition, the principles of democracy that underpin it:

If Beijing succeeds in realizing this ambitious vision, the implication for the United States and like-minded nations is a global environment with striking differences from the current order: A global network of partnerships centered on China would replace the U.S. system of treaty alliances, the international community would regard Beijing’s authoritarian governance model as a superior alternative to Western electoral democracy, and the world would credit the Communist Party of China for developing a new path to peace, prosperity, and modernity that other countries can follow.

Thinking about such a subjugated version of the world — the opposite of that which generations of Americans have sacrificed so much to ensure never happens — has given us great pause. Partnerships with Chinese characteristics do not match the international community’s definition of treaty alliances. American internet privacy disputes pale in comparison to the ubiquitous censorship of the Great Firewall. This is a path that the Department of Defense, as outlined in the National Defense Strategy, is obligated to protect the United States from facing.

Figures 3 & 4: Beijing’s militarized island buildup in the Western Pacific over the past decade (Image credit: Thomas Shugart).

We subsequently spent a good deal of time trying to understand Chinese strategy — know your enemy. We discussed how Beijing’s predatory economic practices are one of the primary means to overturn the U.S.-led order, using the “Maritime Silk Road” initiative as one of its chief courses of action. We further discussed how the Chinese Communist Party is employing its navy and “maritime militia’s” ever-growing coercive bullying campaigns, sometimes described as a “cabbage strategy,” to support these predatory economic practices. And we reflected on how these “small stick” bullying campaigns have carried weight because, as Toshi Yoshihara and James Holmes describe in Red Star Over the Pacific, “China’s rivals knew full well that the big stick lurked over the horizon, waiting in reserve.” This “stick” includes thousands of ground-launched, all-weather, short-, medium-, and intermediate-range cruise and/or ballistic missiles. And these sticks come at a gaining cost exchange ratio of about 525 DF-21s for the price of a single America-class amphibious assault ship or about 1,227 DF-21s in exchange for a Ford-class aircraft carrier, while possessing ranges greater than 1,000 nautical miles.

Figure 5: U.S., Japanese, Filipino, and Compact of Free Association nations’ territory. The U.S. military is responsible for defending all this territory. (Image Credit: CSIS’s Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative).

What does this have to do with the Marine Corps? Why have U.S. civilian leaders specifically ordered the nation’s marines to prioritize countering, if not helping to stop, these and other potential activities? And, ultimately, what can the Corps do to help?

As we’ve struggled to understand why, it occurred to us that perhaps the number of times someone reading this article has heard statements along the lines of, “We’re screwed. China’s DF-11s, DF-15s, DF-21s, and DF-26s can destroy all of our bases and naval capabilities in Asia,” has overly influenced our collective tactical thinking.

Figure 6: Is this diagnosis correct? (Image generated by the authors). 

Perhaps the non-stop barrage of statements like these has become a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy — part of the fait accompli sought by the Chinese Communist Party. Perhaps they’ve led many of us to allow omitted variable bias to influence how we think about China’s ever-growing, more sophisticated, predominantly maritime insurgency strategy — and what the Corps, as part of an integrated naval, joint, allied, and interagency force, can do about it. When we rewrite the equation to include what is far too often omitted, clarity and opportunities stand out:

Figure 7: Does this equation more accurately convey the current realities for the U.S. military in the Indo-Pacific, including America’s many advantages relative to the Chinese Communist Party and key areas where the Force Design changes can have major impacts? (Image generated by the authors).   

First, when we account for the U.S. military possessing around 6,200 nuclear weapons in comparison to China’s approximately 300, we not only see the numerical advantage but also why, at the strategic level, those who believe unwarranted doom-and-gloom narratives about deterrence “failing” have a valid point. However, second, we realize that relying on nuclear deterrence alone, or even primarily, to dissuade the Chinese Communist Party from continuing its predatory economic practices and bullying campaigns targeting U.S. mutual defense treaty allies, strategic partners, and friends — who currently control around 65 percent of the world’s gross domestic product — is not sufficient. A central component of the Chinese Communist Party’s strategy is prying away America from its allies and partners — while deliberately employing ways “short of large-scale war.” If such prying comes to fruition, then U.S. credibility will be called into question, likely leading to a greater probability of allies and partners choosing authoritarian governance over democracy. And should this happen, the U.S. military will lose access to the more than 500 overseas bases that have been established in the Indo-Pacific and elsewhere; an outcome from the last time our forefathers fought an authoritarian rising power that attempted to displace democracy from this same region. Countless inherent advantages result from having access to this strategic terrain. Without access to it, the United States will be further challenged to stand as an exemplar of democracy — when history’s most powerful advocate for democracy is excluded from the region whose very liberation resulted in America’s current global leadership role. Put another way, without this strategic human and physical terrain, the U.S. naval force would have an exponentially harder time executing the vision described by Alexander Hamilton in Federalist 11, 232 years ago. So, in short, our Corps’ primary purpose is to deter adversaries, empower allies and partners, and, if necessary, to blunt the bully to prevent any of this from happening, but not alone. The Corps, leveraging its strategic advantage built over years, integrated with the joint force, supported by the bedrock nuclear arsenal, and, in conjunction with our allies and partners, is just one, but a critical, element in this competition.

Connecting Changes in the Corps to this Purpose

Defining our Corps’ primary purpose, we then started to envision the immense potential within the Force Design changes. What follows is an assessment of three of the forthcoming capabilities: distributed operations-capable close-combat forces, a family of persistent unmanned aircraft systems that possess collection and lethal payloads, and long-range, surface-delivered precision fires. This assessment includes an explanation of what we anticipate these capabilities can do to counter the bully in Beijing. Importantly, this assessment also includes an explanation of why we’re enthusiastic about these and the other force design changes; they allow the Marine Corps to provide the American people an even more capable force-in-readiness in other parts of the world, when such a capability is required. Based on some of the criticism of Force Design 2030 that we’ve observed, we believe the second part of the assessment is as important as the first. Moreover, when conducting the assessment, we thought it might be helpful to incorporate a comparative analysis of how these new capabilities might fare in the Western Pacific’s vast littoral expanses juxtaposed with the 2017 Battle for Mosul, one of the most vicious, intense combat experiences that has occurred anywhere in the world over the past 70 years. When doing this analysis, we realized just how unhelpful attempts to categorize warfare as “high-end” or “low-end” really are.

Let’s start the analysis with the commandant’s guidance to ensure close-combat marines are a “truly distributed operations-capable force.” Sixteen years ago, Frank Hoffman and then-Brig. Gen. Robert Schmidle explained that “distributed operations entail netted units physically dispersed and operating over an extended battlespace.” They further described a distributed operations-capable force as one “characterized by decentralization, multidimensionality, simultaneity, and continuous pressure over the adversary’s entire system.” This description sounds precisely like the one required to be able to look a bully directly in the eyes, should this bully ever try to pick on a U.S. mutual defense treaty ally, long-time strategic partner, or growing friend. Perhaps some might call this a “high-end” capability since it’s essential to achieving the National Defense Strategy’s goals in the Indo-Pacific.

Let’s now rewind the clock to the supposed “low end:” U.S. Central Command theater and the nine-month battle against the Islamic State in Mosul in 2017. In this battle, U.S. policymakers heavily depended on close-combat forces provided by Special Operations Command. These forces fit Hoffman and Schmidle’s distributed operations-capable description perfectly. Perhaps this is why these authors explained that distributed operations-capable forces “can make a contribution across the full range of military operations, from stability and support missions to joint forcible entries” [emphasis added].

Next, let’s consider the commandant’s intent for the Corps’ future family of unmanned aerial systems. Force Design 2030 states “we need to transition from our current UAS platforms to capabilities that can operate from ship, from shore, and able to employ both collection and lethal payloads.” They also need to be “expeditionary and fully compatible with Navy platforms.” Such capabilities sound precisely like those needed to help “deter by detection” against a rising China. Perhaps not coincidentally, two of America’s top naval experts recently called for much greater investments in these same capabilities in their If You Can’t See ‘Em, You Can’t Shoot ‘Em report, which focused primarily on current Indo-Pacific Command capability shortfalls.

Let’s now turn from this supposed “high-end” theater capability back to the 2017 Mosul battle. How might the unmanned systems envisioned in the commandant’s guidance play out in a future urban battle in this “low-end” environment? While making predictions about the future is always a dicey endeavor, an after-action report from Mosul described in bold that “Armed Airborne Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance” is “[t]he king of the urban battlefield.” Moreover, the U.S. Army’s Mosul Study Group report explained that the specific types of unmanned systems envisioned in the Force Design guidance are “generally favored based on loiter time and tailorable on-board packages.” These observations leave one optimistic. Such optimism grows even further when one considers that in the counter-Islamic State campaign in the two years prior to the Mosul battle, these types of unmanned systems were intimately involved in the kill-chain process for at least 50,301 out of the 61,723 air-to-ground strikes conducted.

Now let’s consider Force Design 2030 on long-range, surface-delivered precision fires. Of all the new capabilities called for in the report, this is likely the most intuitive. The national security community has heard for years about the challenges created by Chinese (and Russian) military forces possessing thousands of long-range, all-weather, surface-delivered fire capabilities. These capabilities are even more challenging when equipped with precision guidance kits. Now that the U.S. military is no longer limited by the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty’s 500-5,500 kilometer range prohibition, including for conventionally armed weapons (which is what we’re solely focused on in this case), it only makes sense for the commandant to incorporate these relatively cheap, reliable, responsive, and all-weather capabilities in our service’s arsenal. When paired with the close-combat formation’s organic sensors, as well as the forthcoming family of unmanned aerial systems, these fires assets will help transform the U.S. military’s conventional deterrence capabilities in the Indo-Pacific.

Figure 8: 10th Defense Battalion Marines prepared to stop an adversary assault during the Battle of Eniwetok in 1944. (Image: Department of Defense)

Returning to our 2017 Mosul comparative analysis, how might the commandant’s decision to increase from seven to 21 rocket batteries impact the service’s ability to fight in more “low-end” theaters? Similar to our findings on distributed forces and the forthcoming family of unmanned systems, the answer is reassuring. The Mosul Study Group’s report emphasized the value of surface-delivered, precision-guided munitions such as the M982 Excalibur (fired from cannons that the Corps will continue to possess, although in a smaller capacity) and the M31 Guided Multiple-Launch Rocket System. Specifically, the report highlighted the importance of these munitions’ responsiveness and low-collateral damage-capable effects. The report went on to explain that these munitions, “combined with the full joint fires capabilities, afforded the commander maximum flexibility in dense urban terrain.” These experiences, as well as those from Ukraine in 2014, where Russia demonstrated the immense killing power of long-range, surface-delivered fires when paired with unmanned aerial system sensors, leave us very confident that this Force Design decision is not only sound, but similar to the others, long overdue.

What’s Next?

Force Design 2030 includes multiple pages of detailed follow-on guidance. After reflecting on the path forward, we thought it might be helpful to share two ideas that continually came to mind in our discussions. The first focuses on the forthcoming experimentation plan. The second idea focuses on a way to build a deeper intellectual foundation for understanding the “why” behind the Force Design changes, as well as to spark ideas for maximizing the chances for success as our Corps moves into the implementation phase.

The experimentation plan laid out in the force design report calls for a time-limited “surge” effort. The experiments will focus on potential operational scenarios in the Indo-Pacific’s littoral regions. Wargaming, along with modeling and simulation, will occur iteratively in conjunction with the experiments, and the Commanding General, Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory, will be in charge of the entire effort.

The report doesn’t include who will participate in the experiments. Based on our past experiences helping to design and participate in such experiments, we have a series of recommendations that might prove helpful. First, we recommend a dedicated experimentation force, instead of the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory being given access to fleet units for limited periods of time dependent on deployment schedules. The latter approach has been used in the past with varying levels of success. Given the degree of complexity and skill-set integration required to create a “truly distributed operations-capable force,” a better approach might be to select, for example, the envisioned future squad-, platoon-, company-, and battalion-sized force of close-combat marines that will participate in the experiments and then to assign them to the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory for the duration of the time-limited “surge” period. The same approach should apply for the traditionally manned and larger unmanned aerial system platforms that will participate in the experiments. Assigning these platforms, and the marines that employ them, to VMX-1 and then assigning this collective unit to the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory would go a long way toward eliminating the challenges from a lack of aviation support that have existed in past experimentation initiatives. This same approach should apply for the marines certified to provide the distributed operations force’s intelligence, cyber, electronic warfare, joint fires, logistics, and communications capabilities. Additionally, a Marine Corps-wide voluntary application process should be created to ensure the experiment force is filled with the most passionate marines, including those that might currently be skeptical of Force Design 2030.

Critically, given the document’s overwhelming emphasis on naval integration, we recommend the experimentation force having U.S. Navy units assigned to it from the start. Given that the force is ultimately envisioned as executing missions primarily for fleet commanders, it would be ideal for the unit’s leadership element to comprise a “blue-green,” Navy-Marine Corps team, potentially leveraging the Task Force 51/5 model that is currently helping to enable the entire joint force in U.S. Central Command. For naval platforms, given the commandant’s repeated emphasis on the need to have smaller, more numerous amphibious vessels and ships to enable maneuver throughout the Indo-Pacific’s vast littoral regions, we recommend assigning a Coastal Riverine Squadron, with its Mk VI patrol craft, as well as the four Littoral Combat Ships currently being considered for decommissioning, and the Sea Hunter unmanned surface vehicle, to the experiment force. These platforms are ideal options to help inform the new “light amphibious ship” requirement, and funding for these efforts can come from the reduced procurement and operations and maintenance costs that would have been allocated to pay for capabilities of which the Corps now plans to divest.

Just as, if not more important than the experimentation plan, is building the “why are we doing this” intellectual foundation. As every marine has had ingrained in his or her soul countless times, the “why,” or the purpose, is more important than the “what,” or the task, as the latter frequently changes when the conditions in which it was initially given change. With the importance of “why” in mind, in addition to Liza Tobin’s article mentioned earlier, we recommend a six-book Force Design reading list to be completed by all marine officers, including non-commissioned and staff non-commissioned officers. As part of the new Department of the Navy education initiatives, these books should be purchased for these marines to download on their personal devices. Commanders and their senior enlisted advisors can then lead discussion groups with their marines (and sailors) with the goal of connecting the book themes with Gen. Berger’s guidance.

The first book recommendation is Michael Green’s By More Than Providence: Grand Strategy and American Power in the Asia Pacific Since 1783. Of the many reasons for this recommendation, foremost is that Green makes clear that the commonly stated notion that “the Western Pacific is a ‘home game’ for the CCP and ‘away game’ for America” is historically false. Since the nation’s earliest years, U.S. policymakers have been intimately concerned with preventing any single power from dominating the Western Pacific. And they have consistently tasked the U.S. military with ensuring this never happens, including going to war on multiple occasions, with one of these wars ending shortly after President Truman ordered the military to employ atomic weapons. As Green explains, “The American people have repeatedly mustered the willpower, focus, and resources to prevail when access to an open order in the region has been fundamentally challenged.” Green also notes that such a commitment to prevailing has been the rule regardless of whether “the United States had a preponderance of power at the time.”

Next on the list is Yoshihara and Holmes’ Red Star Over the Pacific: China’s Rise and the Challenge to U.S. Maritime Strategy. This work provides an in-depth and up-to-date look into the Chinese navy’s capabilities and capacities. It also provides a thorough explanation of how the Chinese Communist Party has already used, and plans to use further, this maritime power to help achieve its strategic goals.

Benjamin “BJ” Armstrong’s Small Boats and Daring Men: Maritime Raiding, Irregular Warfare, and the Early American Navy is the third book on the list. Armstrong is a gifted story-teller. He has also served extensively with marines at sea and understands our Corps’ innovative spirit as well as if not better than most marines. In Small Boats and Daring Men, he provides readers with an invaluable perspective into a type of naval warfare too often neglected by scholars of history and strategy. When reading this exceptional work, marines will, if anything like us, find themselves thinking, “Hey, what our commandant is leading us to do in the future is very similar to what our Corps has done in conjunction with the Navy for the majority of our history.”

That is a perfect lead-in for the fourth book on the list: Heather Venable’s How the Few Became the Proud: Crafting the Marine Corps Mystique 1874-1918. Venable’s book is filled with myriad details about the Corps’ operational history that taken alone make it an exceptional read. Beyond these insights, though, is a critically important theme about constant, deliberate, and open engagement with America. How should the American people think about their Marine Corps in 2020 and beyond? What images should come to their minds when they hear the word “Marine”?  And what is the Corps doing daily to help overcommunicate why these thoughts and images are essential to the future security of America? Venable’s book clearly explains why the answers to questions like these will go a long way toward determining the Corps’ success in implementing Force Design 2030.

Andrew Gordon’s Rules of the Game comes next. This seminal work on the Battle of Jutland details the peacetime lead-up to the clash between a 99-vessel German fleet with the Royal Navy’s 151-vessel armada in the late spring of 1916. Gordon provides a convincing argument that leadership personalities, acceptance of risk, and how a force conceptualizes their next conflict — and trains towards it — can make or break the most formidable of forces. This book will undoubtedly lead the reader to ask difficult questions about how a military force should “man, train, and equip” for the next fight and moreover, whether “risking” the status quo in the short term is of greater importance for the nation’s long-term security.

Finally, we recommend Capt. Wayne Hughes and Rear Adm. Robert Girrier’s Fleet Tactics and Naval Operations. From the current advances in artificial intelligence, unmanned vehicles, and cyber warfare to the constants of maritime combat, this book provides a wealth of knowledge to anyone with the desire to understand the relationship between land and sea combat. Hughes served as the dean (emeritus) of the Graduate School of Operational and Information Sciences at the Naval Postgraduate School and was an integral figure in encouraging a generation of naval officers to think differently about contemporary naval warfare. From “fire effectively first” to “the seat of purpose is on land,” readers will wrestle with truisms across all aspects of maritime warfare.

Always Faithful

Our foremost goal in this article was to share with you why we are so encouraged about our Corps’ future. The changes called for in the Force Design report, while understandably thought of as bold and even radical by some, are directly in line with the specified guidance that our service has received from our civilian leadership. And, of course, given the serious threats facing our nation today, and likely further fiscal constraints, this guidance is fundamentally sound and logical. Along the forthcoming Force Design implementation journey, the Corps will become ever more capable of being Semper Fidelis to that which the American people need most from her force-in-readiness. We look forward to being part of this journey.



Jeff Cummings is a Marine infantry officer and currently serves on the faculty of the Expeditionary Warfare School, Marine Corps University.

Scott Cuomo is a Marine infantry officer and operational planner currently participating in the Commandant of the Marine Corps Strategist Program at Georgetown University.

Olivia A. Garard is a Marine unmanned aircraft systems officer currently serving at the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab. She is also an associate editor at The Strategy Bridge. She tweets at @teaandtactics.

Noah Spataro is a Marine Unmanned Aircraft Systems Officer currently serving as the commanding officer of VMU-1.

The opinions expressed are those of the authors alone and do not reflect those of the U.S. Marine Corps, the Department of Defense, or any part of the U.S. government.

Image: U.S. Marine Corps (Photo by Cpl. Tanner Seims)