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A recent interview by C-SPAN host Brian Lamb with Washington Post staff writer Rajiv Chandrasekaran touched on many controversial issues of the F-35 acquisition program where evidently a lot of pork is cut and political favors are passed around. One gets the sense that it all started out with the sensible idea of building a single fighter plane platform for three services (the Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps), but then reality intervened on costs.

At some point they quote an Army officer as asking:

Why does the Navy’s army—the Marine Corps—need its own air force?

Why indeed and why does the U.S. military maintain a separate marine service in the first place (and evidently in "between" the Army and Navy, and the Air Force as well :)

Were there all-important events in history where the (U.S. or another nation's) marines saved the day, or are there other understood reasons for the existence of four (instead of three) service branches and allocation of funding (e.g. to the tune of 340 F-35 planes for the Marines) in the U.S. military?

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I don't think this question is of historical interest –  Louis Rhys May 20 '13 at 10:10
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I think it is historical; it asks for events in history where marines saved the day. –  Russell May 20 '13 at 11:31
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@MarkC.Wallace Thx, sounds like a good preliminary answer. BTW, lots of other countries presumably have had navy infantries at some time in the past as well, but have out-phased or downgraded them in favor of other service branches. It's not clear to me from browsing Wikipedia what the particular, overwhelming distinction of the U.S. Marines was/is (specifically in terms of their history). –  Drux May 20 '13 at 12:07
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@Drux You might be interested in following this A51 proposal. –  American Luke May 20 '13 at 18:41
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@Drux The Marines are the oldest branch, however it has shrunk and nearly disappeared at several points. The history of the Corps is one of significant reinvention, continually evolving their capabilities to fit a role no other branch does. The modern version is focused on speed and flexibility that makes them the best suited for fighting the asymmetric wars the US has been facing recently. (Also, as to the F-35, this isn't the first time a 'one plane' solution has been tried and it always fails expensively because it's really not a good idea at its core) –  Odysseus May 21 '13 at 1:35

2 Answers 2

up vote 10 down vote accepted

The Marine Corps is the United States' expeditionary force. As such, it must work in close concert with the Navy, which provides logistics and seaborne support for expeditionary activities - but it is explicitly its own branch of the armed services. It has a mission different from that of the US Army, which is mostly concerned with large-scale combined-arms land warfare and the logistics required to support it.

The Continental Marines were invaluable in disrupting British trade in the Bahamas and in New Orleans by capturing critical ports, and even raided Britain under command of John Paul Jones.

The US Marines' reputation as an elite expeditionary force was established during the First Barbary War, and developed into its modern role during the Spanish-American War and the Banana wars that followed.

The Marines are tangled up in the F-35 fiasco becuase they needed a replacement for the Harrier Jump Jet - the role it filled was close air support and reconnaissance, operating from a combination of carriers, amphibious assault craft, and small forward bases with poor or nonexistant airfields. Neither the Air Force nor the Navy have any need of aircraft that fill this role, and the U.S. Army prefers attack helicopters. The Marines have had their own aviation corps since the First World War, to better support their role as an expeditionary force.

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+1 Thx for this. Do you know whether it is then correct to assume that U.S. forces (initially) stationed e.g. in Iraq and Afghanistan were mainly from the Marine Corps (i.e. the U.S. expeditionary force) and not from the Army (and obviously not from the Air Force and Navy either)? –  Drux May 20 '13 at 12:38
    
Ehh. Things have changed - the emphasis is now on Special Forces for targeted missions to begin combat operations. The CIA SAD are the first combatants into any given theater nowadays, followed closely by units from the Special Forces from the various branches for specific, targeted strikes. The first conventional forces on the ground in both Afghanistan and Iraq were the Marines. –  RI Swamp Yankee May 20 '13 at 12:57

There are too many questions mixed together here; I'm going to try to separate them out.

First, there is the error I addressed in my comments; the Marine Corps existed before the United States did. They are the oldest military service in the US military. For a brief history of the US Marine Corp, see Marine Corps. I'm a REMF, and a Navy REMF at that, so I'm going to defer to them on their own history.

Second, there is the question of whether they have any value? Whether they have ever saved the day. I strongly suggest that you not ask this around a Marine; I try not to insult people who make a habit of charging into machine gun fire. There are many possible responses, but I would suggest that you might want to google terms like Shores of Tripoli or perhaps China Marine, or John "magnet ass" Glen.

Third there is the question of why we have Marine Aviators. There is legitimate debate on this topic, but different services and different missions have very different needs for air support. Marines need close air support that is tightly integrated with their ground forces. Integrated Marine aviation provides that better than the Air Force does. I've got lots of friends and relatives in the air force, but even the best air force pilot doesn't understand the need for support to ground troops the way a Marine does; the Marine in that cockpit is both a Rifleman and a pilot. Every profession has specialists. You might as well ask why the Department of Defense needs a payroll office; after all the Bureau of Indian Affairs has payroll clerks - they could clearly do the job right? Or why do I need an internist an orthopod and a neurosurgeon?? They all graduated from medical school right?

Finally there is the question of whether we should have a unified military service (like the Canadians), or a branched military service (like US and UK and many other nations). That's not really appropriate for History. The answer to that question is entirely political. There are entrenched stakeholders who prefer things the way they are, and that kind of reform simply isn't the highest priority. Changes to the military are very costly -both in terms of dollars and mission effectiveness. Unless there is a compelling reason to make the change, it probably isn't a good idea.

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+1 Thx, the historic part of the question is now settled, as far as I am concerned. Outside history (and therefore outside SE) I am sure there is much merit and value to the Marine's service, but IMO the situation must be judged in relation to cost, esp. with new developments such as special force ops (as mentioned by @RISwampYankee), drone warfare, etc. Tradition (Robert E. Lee served in the cavalry yet his reputation rests secure) and hints of possible violence are perhaps not sufficient reasons over the long run :) No disrespect at all to any former or serving personnel intended. –  Drux May 20 '13 at 20:42

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