The Marine Corps is increasing the size of combat engineer squads to make up for the loss of infantry assault Marines, who are being phased out over time, the Corps confirmed on Thursday.
The combat engineer squads are being increased from nine to 13 Marines, said Lt. Col. Amy Punzel, a spokeswoman for Combat Development & Integration.
“This change to the combat engineer squad will offset the loss of the 0351 [infantry assault Marines] in the infantry company,” Punzel told Marine Corps Times on Thursday. “This change increases the engineer capability, while also increasing the infantry’s assault, mobility, and counter mobility capability.”
Like infantry assault Marines, combat engineers are equipped with the MK-153 shoulder-launched multipurpose assault weapon, or SMAW, to blast fortified enemy positions. The Corps plans to eventually replace the SMAW with the Carl Gustaf recoilless rifle.
The decision to replace infantry assault Marines with combat engineers resulted from a lengthy force structure review known as Marine Corps Force 2025, she said. Ending the infantry assault Marine MOS will allow the Corps to reallocate about 500 Marines for specialties that will be crucial in future wars, Marine Commandant Gen. Robert Neller recently told Military.com.
The Corps had planned to grow to at least 194,000 Marines, but Defense Secretary James Mattis told the Marines last year to focus on fixing readiness shortfalls before expanding.
Neller has made clear that the Corps will assign more Marines to cyber operations, electronic warfare, intelligence and other specialties needed to defeat a near-peer enemy, regardless of whether the Marine Corps got bigger.
“Quite frankly, even if we didn’t get the end strength increase, we were going to create those capabilities,” Neller said in December 2016. “If we had to take Marines from doing ‘job A’ and put them in these other capability sets, we were going to do that and accept the risk.”
Unlike the increase during the height of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the Marine Corps does not need to create more infantry battalions, Neller has said.