The size of the Marine Corps may grow in the coming years by as much as 12,000 Marines, as President-elect Donald Trump has called for, but that won’t necessarily translate to more grunts.
Instead, the Corps' cyber warrior force and other high-tech fields may expand rapidly as the force prepares for future battlefields where information dominance will be as critical – if not more so – than spent rounds.
“We believe – not just me – but I think all the leadership believes that the capabilities that we’re trying to build into the force are the things that we’re really going to need for the future,” Commandant Gen. Robert Neller said in early December.
“If you don’t have those things, whatever formation you put on the battlefield is not going to be as survivable or combat effective without them,” Neller said while speaking at a U.S. Naval Institute event in Washington, D.C.
Neller emphasized the need to build such capabilities into an expanded future force, specifically cyber, information operations, electronic warfare, intelligence analysis, air defense and communications.
“Before we start growing more infantry or armor and things like that, the battlefield has changed,” he said.
Last March, the Corps’ new Cyberspace Warfare Group was stood up at Fort Meade, Maryland, to train and equip Marines to take the fight to cyberspace.
Yet there’s a shortage of qualified cyber warriors. Only a few mission teams are up and running, officials said. The unit is expected to be fully operational by the end of fiscal year 2017.
They're not just protecting communications networks from hackers and disruptive attacks.
“It’s also trying to get inside the enemy’s cognitive space in a way to have him make choices that you want him to make, when you want him to make it,” Maj. Gen. Lori Reynolds, commander of Marine Forces Cyber Command, told a panel discussion last May at the Sea-Air-Space expo outside Washington, D.C.
“What we’re talking about is bringing it all together in a way that provides the commander options to dominate the information environment and to get after the enemy’s thought processes.”