The U.S. Marines investigated President Barack Obama before the election, and they say they are encouraged by what they found.
“We asked our ‘visions group,’ some bright Marines at Quantico, to examine the last 10 presidencies to give us a feel for what could arguably be the most liberal member of the Senate becoming our president,” says the Corps’ commandant, Gen. James Conway. “They said that invariably a president will rally his base to get elected, but almost equally invariably he rules from the center.
“A lot of what we see early in this administration points toward that kind of effort,” Conways says. “[Obama] has, in his cabinet, a soldier, a sailor and a Marine. I find that pretty encouraging. Some of his choices – Sec. Gates staying on [because] he is effective at what he does – give us as military people a certain air of comfort.”
So what do the Marines want from the White House?
“We’re encouraged by the [F-35B STOVL] program,” he says. “The Marine Corps hasn’t bought an attack aircraft in 11 years so we anxiously await arrival of the aircraft. At this point, we think an all Short Takeoff and Vertical Landing [fighter] fleet makes a great deal of sense. As we look at going into Afghanistan, there are some very short runways there where the Harrier will be the only airplane that can possibly operate from those fields.
“When that first squadron is fully capable, we’re going to put it aboard ship on a routine deployment and fly it off the carrier … and attack targets,” Conway says. “We will then make determinations about the tail-end of the [F-35] buy. Does it make more sense to have some variant of [the Navy’s F-35C] that gives the MEF commander more flexibility?”
Part of the formula involves how Marine aviation confronts the reality of continuing their very progressive introduction of airborne electronic attack (AEA). Right now it is becoming an operational staple that combines the ground forces’ radio battalions and the air wings’ EA-6B Prowler units.
“[AEA] is a national function,” Conway says. “We have contributed to it with our EA-6Bs. There is a good bit of discussion taking place right now between the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps in terms of what that [electronic attack] platform needs to look like. Is it necessarily manned? Is the resident capability of the F-35, with some expansion, able to serve that function?”
Conway was asked if the Marine Corps is considering giving up its airborne electronic attack mission in the long term because of the cost.
“As the Marine Corps we need the [AEA] capacity,” he says. “[A new EA aircraft] doesn’t have to have USMC [painted] on the side. As this point, we are providing [EA/EW] capacity and will have more in the future. Much decision making remains in terms of how many, what in, and how do we fulfill both the national and the tactical roles. [In the short term,] I would say we have a program [for additional AEA and signals intelligence] in the Joint Strike Fighter. The F-35 will offer tremendous capability for us in the electronic warfare environment.”