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
    Commented May 20, 2013 at 10:10
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    I think it is historical; it asks for events in history where marines saved the day.
    – Russell
    Commented May 20, 2013 at 11:31
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    The Marine corps existed before the Navy; it is the oldest of the US armed services. The real question should be why do we need an air force when we have a Marine Corp? (No disrespect to my friends in light blue suits). This question fails the "wikipedia test", but it is interesting, so I'll provide an answer later.
    – MCW
    Commented May 20, 2013 at 11:57
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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
    Commented May 20, 2013 at 12:07
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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
    Commented May 21, 2013 at 1:35

4 Answers 4


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 nonexistent 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.

  • +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
    Commented May 20, 2013 at 12:38
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    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. Commented May 20, 2013 at 12:57
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    Is this a matter of the US Army preferring attack helicopters? When the USAF was created, wasn't there an agreement between the US Army and the USAF requiring that the US Army Aviation not have fixed-wing aircraft? Commented Aug 6, 2023 at 21:42

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.

@korvinStarmast adds an excellent point, which I'll include here to avoid deletion:

Form a purely military point of view, the Marines are the only force that inherently does combined arms warfare as part of its make up. The Marines were Joint before Joint was a thing, by about 50 years. (See development of Close air Support and Amphibious doctrine in the interwar period. )

Postscript - as Rodrigo de Azevedo points out,

. . . all USMC aviators undergo infantry training. Thus, when providing close air support, the USMC aviator may be friends with the platoon or company commander on the ground.

every Marine is a rifleman. Aviators undergo infantry training, and I believe maintain the qualification. Although that doesn't seem to directly address the OP question, it actually highlights the difference between the Marine perception of what it means to fight a war and OP's. It is a perspective on combined arms.

  • +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
    Commented May 20, 2013 at 20:42
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    Form a purely military point of view, the Marines are the only force that inherently does combined arms warfare as part of its make up. The Marines were Joint before Joint was a thing, by about 50 years. (See development of Close air Support and Amphibious doctrine in the interwar period. ) The Army comes close with it's helicopter fleet, but they lack the maritime aspect. I have considerable education in Joint Doctrine, and considerable experience in Joint Operations. I'd suggest you include this point in your already fine answer. (Retired Navy here) Commented May 12, 2017 at 18:17
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    Even* the Canadians* have backed off a bit from a unified military service, in the face of the realities of, and varied specialties required for, operations of various types. Commented May 14, 2017 at 16:32
  • You could mention that all USMC aviators undergo infantry training. Thus, when providing close air support, the USMC aviator may be friends with the platoon or company commander on the ground. Commented Feb 22, 2023 at 8:36

Quoting Lieutenant General Harold Blot, former USMC Deputy Chief of Staff for Aviation:

If you go back far enough, the Marine Corps was faced with the dilemma and this was kind of after Korea. We had learned that airpower was a very useful tool for ground forces being able to maneuver and bring firepower to bear where they wanted it and the most probable use of the United States Marine Corps was going to be third world countries or places we had never even heard of and that means that is very hard to get there and one of the things that happen is the ground forces shed some of their artillery and said

That's hard for me to get to various places. It's also hard for me to haul around with them. But if aviation could provide the firepower that the artillery used to, then I'm free to maneuver in a lot more free fashion.



The Marines cannot operate without the Navy. The Navy bring all their equipment and without the Navy the Marines are nothing. The Navy and Air Force should have the planes, not the Marines. It would save lots of money. The Navy and the Air Force can do the same job as the Marines. Why not give the Army the fighters and helicopters? I am sure that the Navy and Marines could form a special group.

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    You seem to agree with the question that the Marines don't seem necessary in conjunction with the Navy and Air Force, but how does this answer the question? Given that the Marines do exist in conjunction with the other services, why is this the case?
    – Null
    Commented May 12, 2017 at 16:15

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