In the next war, Marines will have to “fight to get to the fight” for the first time since World War II, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller said.

“Our adversaries are not going to let us just go to the fight uncontested,” Neller said on Wednesday. “We’re going to have to fight our way across the ocean or under the ocean or in the air.”

That’s why the Marine Corps has developed a new concept called “Littoral Operations in a Contested Environment,” which looks at how the Corps can best get Marines ashore, Neller said.

One major challenge is that large ships pose “lucrative targets” to modern defenses, which have ranges of hundreds of miles, the concept says. Moreover, each ship in carrier strike groups and amphibious ready groups is so important that the loss of one ship would seriously hinder a task force’s ability to accomplish the mission.

“It is therefore imprudent to task those ships with inshore operations in complex archipelagos or confined and shallow waters, where geography and battlespace geometry allow an adversary to concentrate diverse weapons systems to maximum advantage,” the concept says.

However, the Marine Corps does not plan to “land directly into the teeth of an enemy defense,” Neller said. Instead, the Corps will find gaps in an enemy’s defenses to put Marines ashore.

The Marine Corps also has options to disrupt or destroy enemy sensors and defenses that would allow amphibious assault ships to bring Marines to the fight, he said.

“If the enemy has a capability to shoot my large ship or my destroyer or my carrier from a couple hundred nautical miles away — or maybe longer — I’ve got to do something about that,” Neller said. “That’s why it’s important that all of these ships have the capability to do some sort of strike or denial, or some way to suppress that capability.

“You can suppress things without killing it,” he added. “You can kill a radar without blowing it up. You can jam it.”

This is not a new problem, Neller said. In amphibious landings during World War II and the Korean War, U.S. ships had to neutralize shore defenses ahead of putting men on the beach.

Operating in the littorals involves much more than amphibious landings, said John Berry, director of concepts at the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory.

“There’s a lot of things we can do as Marines to control key maritime terrain: Control chokepoints, deny access to certain areas of the sea from the land,” Berry told Marine Corps Times on Monday.

The Corps’ latest of operating in the littorals does not advocate for the Marines replicating the September 1950 landings at Inchon during the Korean War, Berry said.

“We want to maneuver seamlessly across land and sea,” Berry said, “It’s not this high-end assault that people seem to automatically assume that’s what we’re advocating.”

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