Murphy's Law: May 30, 2001

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The US Marine Corps has long had a reputation for practicality and innovation. Always operating on a tight budget (the marines belong to the navy and call themselves the "poor stepchild"), they are always ready to improvise. When wargames became a hot item again in the 1970s, the marines made the most of the non-computerized kind, going to commercial companies for ideas and advice. While they would eventually get some of the high priced professional computer wargames, they also adapted civilian games like DOOM for their own use. With weapons, the marines were more willing to buy foreign stuff if nothing the army (their usual source of weapons) had suited their needs. While they don't have a big budget, they also don't have the expensive stuff like tanks and self-propelled artillery. The marines are mostly infantry and are well equipped with all the latest gear (like night vision equipment and good radios.) But with the end of the Cold War, there's some unease in the ranks. When the mighty Red Army was the main threat, there was a healthy respect for the quantity of Russian forces and the quality of much of their equipment. Now the main potential foe is Third World irregulars and China. The official line is that both of these groups are not nearly as well equipped or trained as the marines. Part of this comes from the marine experience with the Chinese in Korea. In that war, the marines fought a bitter battle to escape Chinese encirclement at the Chosen reservoir, and then spent two years of trench fighting with Chinese. In Korea, the marines had more and better weapons than the Chinese. What happened in Korea only confirmed pre-World War II marine experience with Chinese troops (numerous, but nothing marines couldn't handle.) Many marine NCOs and officers are not so sure that today's Chinese army is as ill-equipped as earlier ones. Moreover, there is unease in the ranks about the growing dependence on artillery and air power. For most of the last century, marines have relied on superior leadership and aggressive infantry tactics to defeat the enemy. But increasingly the mantra is, "we'll scare them with our reputation and blast them with our artillery and air power." This is part of the "no friendly casualties" trend begun after the Gulf War. But old habits die hard. All the talk of a "revolution in warfare" is nothing new. In the past, new developments like crossbows, plate armor, cannon and many more were heralded as revolutions in warfare. Indeed they were. But these innovations did not eliminate the occasional, and sometimes frequent, need for getting up close and personal with the enemy. This is the kind of hard fighting the marines have always excelled at. And today many marines fear that, while the "revolution in warfare" may be true, they ought to maintain their ability to do it the old fashioned way as well.

 


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