ARLINGTON, Virginia — Lt. Gen. Christopher Mahoney came to the Army Navy Country Club with a mission: bust some Force Design 2030 myths.
“You ever seen that show ‘MythBusters’?” the deputy commandant for programs and resources, and a former fighter pilot, asked the audience at a Marine Corps Association luncheon Thursday. “The dude with the funny hat, and they say, ‘Hey, can you shoot a guy off a hangman’s rope with one round?’ and they bust the myths.”
“I want to talk about a few myths here and then just place facts against them,” said Mahoney, the Marine Corps’ budget chief. “Whether I bust those myths or not, you can judge for yourself.”
An ambitious overhaul of the Marine Corps, Force Design 2030 is the Corps’ solution to make the service more nimble and less vulnerable as the military shifts its attention toward a potential conflict with China.
Force Design 2030 has attracted criticism from many vocal retired Marine leaders, who now have taken to the opinion pages of news outlets to discuss concerns. A common argument is that the overhaul could leave Marines less prepared to face threats outside of the Indo-Pacific, a claim that Corps leadership has disputed.
In the grand ballroom of the Army Navy Country Club in Arlington, Virginia, dozens of retired Marine flag and field-grade officers sat and heard Mahoney’s perspective on Force Design 2030.
The lieutenant general first tackled the notion that Force Design 2030 was designed by a few people cloistered high up in the current Marine Corps.
He countered that the first iteration of the overhaul originated under the previous commandant, Gen. Robert Neller, and was rooted in extensive war-gaming and ideas that the Marine Corps has considered for decades. And he maintained that Force Design 2030 has the support of Congress and combatant commanders alike.
Mahoney noted that Air Force Gen. Tod Walters, who recently ended his tenure as commander of European Command, is on board with the Marine Corps’ overhaul.
“So, the myth that Force Design is somehow geographically exclusive doesn’t seem to pass the Walters test,” Mahoney said.
He said that another myth was that the Marine Corps would lose money in pursuing Force Design 2030. Instead, the budget chief said, the Corps has divested to reinvest in the changes.
Mahoney said that the Marine Corps has pulled $18.2 billion from legacy capabilities over the past five years of budget formulation. The service has used $15.8 billion of that for its modernization efforts, he said, while its remaining $2.4 billion went to other bills that it would have to pay anyway.
Mahoney also tried to assuage the audience that Force Design 2030 wouldn’t mean decreased air or ground capabilities.
Mahoney also urged the audience to respect the Marine Corps’ decisions once they are final.
“In the Marine Corps I grew up in for the last 35 years, internal disagreements stay internal,” he said. “They stay with our professional organizations so that we can have a robust and meaningful debate.”
Mahoney told Marine Corps Times after the event that he welcomes professional discourse that is in keeping with what he characterized as the tight-knit nature of the Marine Corps. But he said personal attacks cross a line.
Some retirees in the audience said the lieutenant general’s speech hadn’t fully persuaded them of the virtues of Force Design 2030.
Retired Lt. Col. Chester Taylor was one of them.
“I think that they’re being very smart in handling the budget,” he told Marine Corps Times after hearing Mahoney’s speech.
But changes to the Corps’ equipment and expeditionary structure are “debatable,” he said, especially if a future conflict sees Marines deployed to Europe rather than the Indo-Pacific.
Retired Col. Steve Lindblom said Mahoney’s speech was the first time he had been spoken to directly by someone from the commandant’s team speak on Force Design, and the first time he had heard about the war-gaming that informed the overhaul.
Still, he said after the speech, if the Marine Corps faces a situation that calls for tanks and significant artillery, “It could still be a dicey, iffy situation.”
Mahoney emphasized to Marine Corps Times that Force Design 2030 is an iterative process that takes into account responses from Marines both former and current.
“I have the utmost respect for anyone who wore the cloth, so their opinion matters, and it gets taken into that cycle (of feedback),” he said. “And these guys and gals have a tremendous amount of experience. That’s got to be respected.”
Irene Loewenson is a staff reporter for Marine Corps Times. She joined Military Times as an editorial fellow in August 2022. She is a graduate of Williams College, where she was the editor-in-chief of the student newspaper.