“From operating areas in Norway, Iceland, and Greenland, EABs could support an ASW fence across the Greenland-Iceland-United Kingdom (GIUK) gap, bottling Russian submarines in the Norwegian Sea and keeping them out of the North Atlantic,” Berger explained. “The same concept could be applied to the First Island Chain in the western Pacific.”
“Without being limited to the Philippines and Japan, EABs could create opportunities from multiple locations beyond the South and East China Seas,” he continued. “Close, confined seas may offer more opportunities for Marine EABs to sense and strike Chinese ships and submarines, while supporting fleet and joint ASW efforts.”
As already noted, the challenge that Russian or Chinese submarines would present in any major contingency or conflict in the future, both to naval forces on the front lines and maritime logistics chains in rear areas, is very real. It’s hardly surprising then that Berger would be adamant about contributing to that part of the fight.
At the same time, it remains to be seen just how much of this vision the Marines will be able to actually implement. While many of the technical aspects appear to be readily achievable, hunting submarines is a very specific skill set, as the War Zone
has explored on multiple occasions in the past. It’s not clear how realistic it might be to train Marine units to take on this mission set on top of all the other tasks they are already expected to perform as part of the EABO concept. Using Navy assets or those from U.S. allies and partners to cue Marine anti-submarine warfare attacks might help mitigate this, but could limit the Corps’ ability to conduct these kinds of operations independently.
There is also a basic manpower question. Berger, and his predecessor Neller, has already talked about expanding the Marine Corps ability to carry out other kinds of operations, including electronic warfare and cyber warfare, but with an understanding that the overall size of his service is unlikely to increase in any substantial way and that it could even shrink. Any effort to establish a dedicated anti-submarine force within the Corps, or even just set aside units to focus more heavily on this mission, could find itself competing for these finite personnel resources.
At the same time, Berger clearly understands that the Marines would always be just one component of a larger anti-submarine warfare picture. In Proceedings, he rightly described several valuable indirect ways in which his service could provide valuable protection for other services or foreign allies and partners hunting for undersea threats and otherwise support those operations.
What is clear is that the threat that submarines would pose to U.S. military operations, broadly, in any future high-end conflict has come sharply back into focus in recent years amid Russian and Chinese developments. Any contribution that Berger’s Marine Corps can make toward any future undersea fight would certainly be more than welcome.
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