Events New Force Design for the Marine Corps and its Implications to the U.S-Japan Alliance

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New Force Design for the Marine Corps and its Implications to the U.S-Japan Alliance

July 9, 2020 @ 9:00 am - 10:15 am


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On July 9, 2020, Sasakawa Peace Foundation USA (Sasakawa USA) welcomed three distinguished speakers to analyze General David H. Berger’s new strategic vision for the U.S. Marine Corps and its implications to the U.S.-Japan alliance in the Indo-Pacific. The featured speaker of this event was Lieutenant General Wallace “Chip” Gregson, United States Marine Corps (USMC) (Ret.), who served as the Assistant Secretary of Defense, Asian and Pacific Security Affairs from May 2009 to April 2011. Two commentators were also present: Lieutenant General Lawrence Nicholson, USMC (Ret.), previous Commanding General of III Marine Expeditionary Force in Japan, and Lieutenant General Koichiro Bansho, Japan Ground Self-Defense Force (JGSDF) (Ret.), previous Lieutenant General of the Western Army responsible for the defense of the South-Western region of Japan. This talk was presented through Sasakawa USA’s Policy Briefing Series and held virtually via Zoom. Attendees included distinguished guests from the Washington, D.C. policy community, Japanese and U.S. defense strategy community, media, and Japan and U.S. academia. Sasakawa USA’s Chairman and President, Dr. Satohiro Akimoto gave opening remarks and moderated the discussion.

This webinar focused on General Berger’s recently published Force Design 2030, a 13-page report that operationalizes Gen Berger’s vision for the USMC over the next ten years. The core of this webinar was the analysis of Gen Berger’s new strategic vision in Force Design 2030 by both the featured speaker and the two commentators. The webinar also included a moderated Q&A in which attendees were able to ask questions to both the featured speaker and the two commentators.

Perspectives on Force Design 2030 – Presented by Lieutenant General Wallace “Chip” Gregson

Lieutenant General Gregson’s views are his own and he does not speak for the USMC or any other part of the U.S. government.

LtGen Gregson began the webinar by introducing Force Design 2030, a report that was created in response to emerging Russian and Chinese capabilities and conclusions from the National Defense Strategy Commission Report. This report concluded that the most dire threat to the U.S. was the erosion of U.S. military superiority and that the dangerous degree of this erosion means that the U.S. military could lose the next state-versus-state war. With this in mind, he stated that Force Design 2030 embodies distinctive change in the USMC by proposing an agile, mobile, and widely distributed maritime strike capability, operating within an enemy’s weapons engagement zone. These new forces will be survivable, effective, resilient, and networked and integrated closely among U.S. and allied ships and aircraft on, under, and over the sea, in space and cyberspace. These capabilities will enable the U.S. to ensure sea control and denial operations throughout the Indo-Pacific. In Force Design 2030, he stated that marines will fight as part of a Joint Force, which, in turn, must be part of a tightly integrated U.S.-Japanese alliance force. He also highlighted that Force Design 2030 complements and enhances U.S. Indo-Pacific Command (INDOPACOM) efforts across all domains and service components. Lastly, he noted that Force Design 2030 assumes no increase in resources for the USMC and the key change will be the large reduction in cannon artillery batteries in favor of missile batteries, which will increase U.S. capabilities in sea control and sea denial operations.

Next, LtGen Gregson discussed Force Design 2030’s development in close consultation with INDOPACOM while also highlighting the importance of wargaming. First, he identified INDOPACOM’s report titled Regain the Advantage. Relevant to Japan, this report calls for highly survivable, precision-strike networks along the First Island Chain, featuring increased quantities of allied ground-based weapons, specifically, the USMC naval strike missile for the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS). He also noted that unmanned aerial systems, unmanned surface and subsurface vessels, and smart sea mines lying in wait are important in adding resilience. Secondly, he stressed the importance of wargaming as Force Design 2030 and other INDOPACOM initiatives are implemented. He stated that challenges will arise from emerging conflict domains of space and cybersecurity. Therefore, to regain the advantage on these fronts, he recommended mastering and integrating artificial intelligence (A.I.), 5G networking, quantum mechanics, cyber weapons, and additive manufacturing (3D printing) into the U.S.-Japan alliance. Lastly, going beyond these sectors, he highlighted the importance of expanding simulation technologies, integrated from tactical to campaign levels across a multi-domain environment, incorporating live exercises, and covering all functions to reveal both opportunities and areas that must be strengthened in relevance to questions posed by Force Design 2030.

LtGen Gregson then addressed the implications of Force Design 2030 on the U.S.-Japan alliance. First, he stated that the USMC Force Design 2030 transformation, in company with INDOPACOM initiatives presents a signal opportunity to align U.S. force posture and capabilities with Japan’s efforts already underway to enhance U.S. defense of Japan, specifically the Southwest Islands and the East China Sea. The USMC transformation will help restore conventional deterrence, contribute to the necessary sea control needed to achieve successful conflict termination, and increase U.S.-Japan resilience to China’s gray-zone tactics. Secondly, he stated that as Force Design 2030 and INDOPACOM’s Regain the Advantage plan are implemented, Japanese and U.S. forces operating along the First Island Chain, especially along the Japanese archipelago, will be operating within a thoroughly integrated operational context to ensure sea and air control, effective deterrence, and defense. Lastly, he stated that the existence of U.S. bases is a profound, necessary political message of solidarity and mutual defense, especially U.S. Forces Japan (USFJ) and Japan Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) joint bases. With regards to Force Design 2030, the U.S. must learn how to maintain deployed, rotational, and ready forces across the First Island Chain with support from bases in Japan. He concluded that although the sanctuary of these bases as experienced in the Cold War is gone and despite the growth of Chinese and North Korean weapons capabilities, these bases will remain the most effective and affordable way to develop and maintain forces.

Concluding his discussion, LtGen Gregson recommended that organizations must be created to gain and sustain the attention and participation of high-level decision-makers from both the U.S. and Japanese governments, and to acquire resources to maintain momentum. He stated that in RAND wargames, the U.S. no longer wins because there are more domains than just air, land, and sea. With the addition of the conflict domains of space, cyberspace, and electronic warfare, the U.S. is no longer in the era of complete dominance. He, therefore, recommended that both the U.S. and the Japanese governments should establish the necessary standing active government structures and proper resources to pursue continuous gaming to increase leadership awareness, from top to bottom, of potential threats, events, and results so the U.S. and Japan are better prepared for any rapid-paced conflicts under the conditions they face. Lastly, he stated that the U.S. military forces are in a period of “big change,” where the old ways must be changed. He concluded that the U.S. must begin these changes now with concurrent and rigorous analysis as its handmaiden.

Commentary on Force Design 2030 – Presented by Lieutenant General Lawrence Nicholson

Following LtGen Gregson’s presentation, LtGen Lawrence Nicholson discussed Force Design 2030 and LtGen Gregson’s remarks. First, LtGen Nicholson stated that after two decades of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. had lost focus of the real issue: the growth of Chinese military capabilities. Today, China is a capable and modern force that can compete in air, sea, land, space, and cyberspace. Referencing the shift in no longer showcasing U.S. joint military exercises, he stated that new Chinese military capabilities and the growth of the Chinese economy have had a corrosive effect throughout the Indo-Pacific. These developments, alongside Force Design 2030 are bringing the USMC away from the domains of Afghanistan and Iraq and back to its amphibious roots. Secondly, he stated that the U.S.-Japan alliance is lacking in terms of cooperation and collaboration. Referring to his time spent in South Korea with General Curtis M. Scaparrotti and General Vincent K. Brookes, both former commanders of U.S. Forces Korea, he stated that together they worked to practice and rehearse for contingencies with large realistic scale exercises. LtGen Nicholson stated that the U.S.-Japan alliance must address the lack of cooperation between U.S.-Japan forces, particularly in Okinawa. Lastly, he stated that he looks forward to the development of the amphibious ready deployable brigade. This development enables Marine Expeditionary Forces and Marine Expeditionary Brigades to become a stronger capable force. He also added that joint-training exercises, such as Yama Sakura, be made more difficult and challenging along all domains to develop a more capable force. Lastly, he highlighted that the shift in forces as planned by Force Design 2030 will not be easy, and the U.S. and Japan cannot allow politics to deter closer collaboration. He concluded that the changes in Force Design 2030 are critical to the defense of Japan and the United States.

Following LtGen Nicholson’s remarks, LtGen Gregson responded by saying that he agreed with everything stated by LtGen Nicholson. He also stated that one very interesting aspect of the amphibious brigade is the response from the private industry. Already, the private industry is reacting with unsolicited proposals for a stern landing vessel that easily navigates around islands in the Indo-Pacific region. Lastly, regarding politics, he recommended establishing the political and governmental infrastructure needed for the implementation of Force Design 2030.

Commentary on Force Design 2030 – Presented by Lieutenant General Koichiro Bansho

The discussion then turned to cover the remarks of Lieutenant General Koichiro Bansho. LtGen Bansho echoed earlier remarks that, from the strategical point of view, Force Design 2030 shifts the USMC focus from the Middle East to the Indo-Pacific region. He further stated that as China and Russia act as revisionist powers in the Indo-Pacific, the shift in strategic mindset outlined by Force Design 2030 is of critical importance.

LtGen Bansho then addressed the implications of Force Design 2030 on the U.S.-Japan alliance. He stated that the fundamental basis for alliance management is to synchronize U.S.-Japan efforts. This synchronization is more important than ever as the Japanese archipelago becomes more important, both strategically and geopolitically. With threats from China, Russia, and North Korea, Japan has developed the National Security Strategy and the National Defense Program Guidelines to strengthen defense posture in the Indopacific region. Especially, the Southwestern Wall Strategy which focuses on strengthening Japan’s defense capabilities across the Southwest Islands. To improve synchronizing U.S.-Japan efforts, alongside the Southwestern Wall Strategy and Force Design 2030, LtGen Bansho first recommended that the U.S. and Japan review and realign programs of host nation support and base policy. This revision and realignment should focus on the concept of joint use of bases and facilities by the SDF and U.S. forces, especially in Okinawa. As the importance of forces on these bases grow, he stated the need to strengthen the cooperation between the SDF and U.S. forces is paramount. Secondly, he recommended establishing a permanent joint and bilateral operation center be created in Okinawa, co-headed by both U.S. and Japanese three-star officials to strengthen command control structures. Lastly, based on the alliance coordination mechanism, he recommended upgrading and increasing opportunities for bilateral and multilateral coordination or activities to demonstrate U.S-Japan determination to increase deterrence. This should occur in all areas with U.S. and Japan allies in the Indo-Pacific.

In concluding his remarks, LtGen Bansho had two questions for LtGen Gregson. First, in implementing Force Design 2030 and regarding the operational rule, Expeditionary Advanced Base (EAB) operations, and long-range missile capabilities, how should the U.S. and Japan think of common relationships and division of USMC long-range missile capabilities and the U.S. Army capabilities? Secondly, regarding relationships with host nations, how does the USMC Force Design 2030 plan to deal with the approval and preceding events of each host nation and local populations?

In response to the first question, LtGen Gregson stated the U.S. and Japan will never find a crowded battlefield, but that USFJ and JSDF can always find better ways to work together. Regarding host nation support, he stated that going forward with Force Design 2030, the U.S. needs to work out logistical support for widely distributed mobile forces and organizations. He highlighted that wholesale logistics will no longer work as any wholesale logistics organization becomes an immediate target; therefore, the U.S. needs to incorporate private sector technology such as A.I. and machine learning into the government. These technologies will enable a force to take data and turn it into information, resulting in an instantaneous reaction. Lastly, he recognized that Japanese sovereignty must be preserved regarding command structures, however, the U.S. and Japan need to develop command structures that create a truly combined force.

Moderated Q&A with Attendees

The last part of this webinar was the question and answer session moderated by Sasakawa USA’s Chairman and President, Dr. Satohiro Akimoto. The first question was asked by Admiral Scott Swift, former Commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet. Admiral Swift asked the speakers to further discuss how the application of Force Design 2030 can be accelerated for sustaining the security of the Pacific once COVID-19 no longer limits interaction between the USMC and the JSDF. First, LtGen Gregson responded. He stated that to accelerate the implementation of Force Design 2030, the establishment of governmental organizations is needed to ensure maintenance of attention. He recommended de-massifying command centers and increasing A.I. and machine learning for data analysis to increase the acceleration of Force Design 2030. Next, LtGen Nicholson recommended bringing together the best and brightest of young officers from both U.S. and Japan to wargame scenarios for Force Design 2030. Lastly, LtGen Bansho stated that even in COVID-19, China continues to be provocative. With this in mind, he recommended that the U.S. and Japan must always demonstrate cooperability, and not reduce or delay joint force capabilities despite COVID-19.

Major General Yoshiki Adachi, current Defense and Military Attaché at the Embassy of Japan in Washington, D.C., asked LtGen Gregson to speak more on whether or not the JSDF and USMC have the capacity for shoulder-to-shoulder cooperation in the island chains of the Western Pacific in regards to increased cooperation between the U.S. Navy and the USMC. LtGen Gregson responded by stating that to work better together, U.S. forces and the SDF must get in the same battlespace. He stated that this meant the U.S. and Japan need to achieve better interoperability. He highlighted that these forces need assistance from the government to break down the industrial differences in force capability. He recommended having U.S.-Japan force capabilities in one command control center and battlespace so that both nations can work better together and achieve better interoperability.

Next, Mr. Nobukatsu Kanehara, Professor in the Faculty of Law, Department of Political Science at Doshisha University and former Japanese government official, asked LtGen Gregson for his opinion on whether or not Force Design 2030 is enough to deter China today and ten years later, given China’s growing military capabilities and large force in comparison to U.S. force presence in the Indo-Pacific region. LtGen Gregson stated that the contact force and development of concepts in Force Design 2030 are present to ensure survivability and respond to the issue that moving forces from one area to a conflict area takes time. Moreover, in both Force Design 2030 and Regain the Advantage, sea control and air denial in the water spaces in the First Island Chain and around Japan are essential in the situation of a contingency. He concluded that USFJ and JSDF must be able to sustain these forces for the U.S. to move the necessary forces to the region.

The final question was asked by Vice Admiral Yoji Koda, former Commander in Chief of the Japanese Self Defense Fleet. Vice Admiral Koda asked two questions. He first asked LtGen Gregson to discuss further how the differences in capability between the USMC and the JSDF can be adjusted in the future. Secondly, he asked LtGen Gregson to also discuss further how during the development of Force Design 2030, what coordination between the USMC and the U.S. Navy was conducted and, in the future, what type of coordination between the U.S. Navy and the JSDF is necessary to conduct a fully functioning bilateral amphibious operation. Responding to the first question, LtGen Gregson echoed earlier statements on bringing together the best and brightest young officers to overcome these differences. For the second question, he reminded the audience that the U.S. Air Force and Army’s contributions need to be factored into future joint operations. He stated that the fundamental nature of the USMC is the extension of sea power and the ability to support operations of the fleet. Therefore, to have a fully functioning bilateral amphibious operation, the USMC senior leadership needs to be attuned to operating as a part of the U.S. sea force component.

Lieutenant General John Dolan, former Commander of the U.S. Forces Japan, gave the concluding remarks of the webinar. First, he stated that as the U.S. looks forward to the future strategically, the discussion will be an all domain discussion, not only USMC and U.S. Navy as seen in Force Design 2030. Referring to the changes being implemented by Force Design 2030, LtGen Dolan reminded the audience that today, the U.S. has a different mindset of warfare and this mindset is threat driven. He then observed that with this new mindset, it is great that the U.S.’s allies and partners in Japan are also thinking with a similar mindset to the United States. Concluding his remarks, he stated that going forward, it is important to have conversations about new plans such as Force Design 2030; however, it is critical to expand these discussions to include all domains while also figuring out how to have better interoperability with Japan.

Sasakawa USA Chairman and President Dr. Satohiro Akimoto concluded the event by thanking the speakers and the webinar attendees.


Sasakawa USA is grateful to LtGen Wallace “Chip” Gregson (Ret.), LtGen Lawrence Nicholson (Ret.), and LtGen Koichiro Bansho (Ret.) for their presentation and commentary on this webinar.

The summarized views of the speakers expressed herein are entirely the work of Sasakawa USA and do not represent the official positions of any of the speakers.

For more information about Sasakawa USA’s Policy Briefing Series, please visit the series’ webpage


July 9, 2020
9:00 am - 10:15 am
Event Category:

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