‘Fraying Of The Fabric’: Marine General’s Classified Dissent Memo Warned Of Consequences To China-Focused Overhaul

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Micaela Burrow Investigative Reporter, Defense
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A Marine Corps general compiled a secret assessment in 2022 warning a seismic shift the then-commandant spearheaded to better prepare the Corps for a role in a Pacific fight could undercut the service’s mission, The Wall Street Journal reported.

The April 2022 assessment, which appears to have gone unheeded, warned that former Commandant Gen. David Berger’s controversial Force Design 2030, meant to restructure the Marine Corps for an island-hopping mission to throttle the Chinese Navy, represented the “fraying of the fabric” of the Marine Corps, according to the WSJ, citing people familiar with the document. Its author, now retired former commanding general of the I Marine Expeditionary Force at Camp Pendleton, Lt. Gen. George Smith, said Force Design 2030 would hamstring the Marine Corps’ ability to meet challenges across the globe as tensions in the Middle East flare up once more.

Smith wasn’t the only top-ranking Marine Corps leader with concerns, according to the WSJ. (RELATED: ‘Let Down’: Marines Scramble To Find Ships For Sudan Evacuation As Pentagon Ignores Request For Bigger Fleet)

Retired generals, including former commandants Joe Dunford and Antony Zinni, convened a seven-hour meeting with Berger in March 2022 outlining their concerns, the WSJ reported. Berger did not speak much during the meeting, and the following day, when former commandant Charles Krulak emailed a follow-up, Berger responded that he would not divert from the planned restructuring, Krulak told the outlet.

Many retired generals allege that the war games and planning sessions behind FD2030 occurred with an unusual lack of transparency. Retired Lt. Col. Scott Moore, who served as senior analyst for the Wargaming Center at Quantico, told the WSJ the wargames were built on some unchallenged assumptions, primarily that the Marine units would be able to station themselves on remote islands in the Pacific with an adequate logistics trail before the area was contested by Chinese forces.

A spokesperson for the Marine Corps told the WSJ subsequent wargames dealt with logistics issues.

Berger required a small group of planners to sign nondisclosure agreements when developing FD30 and deliberately declined to consult with commanders who led operations in the Middle East, the generals alleged, according to the WSJ.

“I think the Marine Corps made a conscious decision to ensure that the Central Command was not included in the process,” Ret. Gen. Frank McKenzie, former U.S. Central Command head, told the WSJ.

Under FD30, the Marine Corps divested most of its tanks and developed smaller, more agile units focused on reconnaissance, long-range fires, funded by $16 billion repurposed within the resources Congress has allocated.

“Like other retired Marines, I support some of the Marine Corps’ modernization efforts and its focus on the pacing threat in the Pacific,” retired Lt. Gen. Sam Mundy, who led the Marine Corps’ Middle East command, told the WSJ. “But I’m also concerned about what this means for the service’s ability to respond globally.”

“The latest crisis in the Middle East underscores the risks of hyper-optimization,” he said.

Berger’s supporters say the changes, though difficult, are necessary, according to the WSJ. Berger’s successor and former right-hand man, Gen. Eric Smith, has pledged to stay the course.

The Marine Corps did not immediately respond to the DCNF’s request for comment.

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