Top Army leadership assured Congress Tuesday that Marines will continue to be involved in work to transform the infantry, though the Army will likely take control of a former joint service task force.
Last week, a House Armed Services Committee member asked the Navy Secretary and Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger about the move, which was recently announced by Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, a former Army officer and former Army secretary.
Berger told the committee that the Marines had benefited from recent equipment testing because they were part of the Close Combat Lethality Task Force.
After Esper’s remarks, one of the task force’s founding members, retired Army Maj. Gen. Robert Scales told Military Times that the decision would kill the task force. Scales argued that by putting its control under the Army the move would stifle collaboration between the Marines, Army and various special operations forces across the services.
That, he said, was why former Secretary of Defense James Mattis made the task force fall under his office in the Pentagon.
Scales called the move “shortsighted” and a “bad idea.”
But on March 3, Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy defended the move as he and Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville were responding to questions from Rep. Jared Golden, D-Maine, a former Marine infantryman.
McCarthy applauded the work that the task force has done in the past two years to move funding to infantry priorities.
The main items highlighted include the Integrated Visual Augmentation System, a ‘mixed reality’ goggle that combines various data input and targeting into the view of the dismounted soldier, and the Next Generation Squad Weapon program, which seeks to provide both a carbine replacement for the M4/M16 and a new squad machine gun to replace the M249 Squad Automatic Weapon.
Both weapons would be chambered in 6.8mm rather than the current 5.56mm.
McCarthy said that especially for both of those systems, which are currently under development and testing, that Marines and SOF representatives are involved.
“Every time we’re there we see a Marine,” McCarthy said.
He also noted that while task forces often generate a lot of energy around a problem or area of interest, those efforts need to be housed in a more permanent program to have sustained results.
Esper also made comments in early February when asked about the task force at a speaking event at Johns Hopkins University. The former Army infantry officer said that the task force was “near at heart” as a former infantryman and something “I want to preserve.”
He added that having the Army lead efforts would allow the service to cull ideas and innovations to reform close combat to the field more quickly.
While both services’ leaders have referenced the hardware or gear work in close combat, such as IVAS and NGSW, that’s not where the group’s recent focus has been.
Scales and former task force director Joseph L’Etoile, a retired Marine infantry officer, have told Military Times in interviews over the past year that the current focus was more on optimizing human performance and reforming manpower to improve the quality, cohesion and retention of close combat forces.
McConville said he was committed to keeping Marines and SOF involved in testing in whatever form the CCLTF takes under the Army.
Esper didn’t provide a timeline for when the move would happen and Army officials last month did not make additional details available.
“The Army is conducting additional analysis before any further decisions are made,” Lt. Col. Audricia Harris told Army Times in a previous email response.
Todd South has written about crime, courts, government and the military for multiple publications since 2004 and was named a 2014 Pulitzer finalist for a co-written project on witness intimidation. Todd is a Marine veteran of the Iraq War.