New in 2024: Phase 2 of Marine infantry battalion experiment kicks off

by Tommy Grant

A restructured infantry battalion will spend 2024 experimenting with new capabilities and added medical staff as the Corps rethinks the role of infantry for the future fight.

Marines with 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, out of the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center at Twentynine Palms, California, were tasked in 2023 with conducting the second phase of the service’s infantry battalion experiments.

In the first phase of experiments, the Corps experimented with three different sizes of infantry battalions to add new tech and reduce the number of Marines in the Corps’ base unit of independent combat operations.

For nearly four decades the size of the infantry battalion has hovered near 965 Marines and sailors. That was down from more than 1,000 Marines in the standard infantry battalion during the Vietnam War.

But following Force Design 2030 changes initiated by former Commandant Gen. David Berger, the Corps sought to shrink the battalion’s footprint.

And the smaller battalions came after the Corps cut its total number of active duty infantry battalions down from 24 to 21 between 2020 and 2023.

Planners ran through multiple exercises and events with three different battalions: 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, with a 735-Marine battalion; 1st Battalion, 1st Marines, at Camp Pendleton, California, with an estimated 930 Marines; and 1st Battalion, 3rd Marines, at Marine Corps Base Hawaii with a mixed version of the smaller and larger battalion setup.

The new battalion will hold 811 Marines and 69 Navy support personnel. Two battalions transitioned to the 811-Marine model in summer 2023, officials told Marine Corps Times.

The remaining battalions are on the following schedule: two in fiscal year 2024; three each in fiscal years 2025 and 2026; four each in fiscal years 2027 and 2028 and the final three in fiscal year 2029.

Phase I Infantry Battalion changes included:

  • Removing snipers from the battalion and instead creating a “scout platoon” to conduct some of the past functions of snipers in the headquarters & service company.
  • Increased headquarters & service company capacity, such as added radio operators, a motor transport officer and chief, administrative clerks, warehouse clerks and food service specialists.
  • Reorganized rifle company elements into a weapons platoon manned with machine gunners, mortarmen and antitank missile gunners.
  • Added medical training and personnel for improved casualty care in austere locations where immediate medical evacuation may not be available.
  • Increased 81 mm mortar platoon with two additional, for a total of four fire direction centers and organic precision fire section personnel in each rifle company.
  • Added signals intelligence and electronic warfare capabilities at the company level.
  • Enhanced command and control, sensing, lethality and sustainment experimentation.
  • Experiments to reduce cognitive load on leaders at all levels, including a new course for company noncommissioned officers on running 21st-century combat operations.
  • Removal of the assistant squad leader and one rifleman from each squad. The squad now contains 13 Marines instead of the previously configured 15 Marines.

Source: Marine Corps

Each of the three rifle companies within the new battalion contain operations, signal, logistics, electronic warfare and medical sections.

In June 2023, Col. Christopher Bronzi, then-director of the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab’s Experiments Division, told Marine Corps Times that the new battalion configuration sought to meet the increased need for precision strike, counter-drone and electronic warfare capabilities the force requires to compete against peer adversaries such as the Chinese military.

The new setup will provide enhanced sensing, command and control, lethality and sustainment for the battalion, an “increased capacity to sense, make sense and strike the enemy,” he said.

Phase II experiments seek to add an Navy corpsman to each squad, added electronic warfare capabilities, water purification and organic electrical power generation as well as work on unmanned tactical resupply.

Those are all efforts to make the battalion self-sustaining as planners and analysts expect such units to be dispersed across wide ranges with much less outside support than units counted on in the past.

Todd South has written about crime, courts, government and the military for multiple publications since 2004 and was named a 2014 Pulitzer finalist for a co-written project on witness intimidation. Todd is a Marine veteran of the Iraq War.

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