Ukraine Creates Marine Corps: the Pragmatic South Korean or the Absolute USA Approach

Training of the Republic of Korea Marine Corps / Illustrative photo credit: ROKMC
Training of the Republic of Korea Marine Corps / Illustrative photo credit: ROKMC

Marine Corps of the Armed Forces of Ukraine is new weapons, more units and a whole new level of capabilities

The Armed Forces of Ukraine will have the Navy Corps created within its structure, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyi announced. He said this improvement will "significantly bolster the potential of the Ukrainian naval infantry" by providing the marines with modern weapons, vehicles and creating new brigades.

But generally, the establishment of a Navy Corps in the name ([Корпус морської піхоти] as a Ukrainian equivalent to a marine corps) suggests a much broader re-organization of the Armed Forces of Ukraine structure. Currently, the marines of the Ukrainian Navy report to the Naval Infantry Command which is, in turn, under the direct jurisdiction of the Ukrainian Navy Commander as a separate branch of the AFU.

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Training of Ukrainian marines, 36th Marine Brigade of AFU
Training of Ukrainian marines / Illustrative photo credit: 36th Marine Brigade of AFU

This is a classic structure for the countries that have their naval infantry as part of one of the main branches of their armed forces. Usually, such a main branch is the Navy, and the Marines are considered elite units. For example, the marines in the British Royal Navy are called Commandos.

But there are also examples when marines are part of the land forces, like in Sweden, where coastal defense forces were turned into the Swedish Amphibious Corps [Amfibiekåren] in 2000.

Anyway, these both examples are hardly applied to Ukraine given a different situation, tradition, and most importantly, combat experience and modern history. That is why we should look up to some other references that reflect a more significant role played by naval infantry.

British Commandos have a very peculiar role
British Commandos have a very peculiar role / Illustrative photo credit: Royal Marines

The first one to come to light is the U.S. Marine Corps, or USMC. It is one of the five main branches of the US military and the world's only combined arms naval infantry unit with own aviation of more than 400 aircraft.

Structurally, it belongs to the Department of the Navy but in practice, it is a separate branch of the armed forces, it has its independent budget, development program, expeditionary force global tasks, and individual culture. Objectively speaking, the USMC is more of an exception to the rules that developed over a few centuries.

F-35B of the U.S. Marine Corps
F-35B of the U.S. Marine Corps / Illustrative photo credit: USMC

On the other hand, we have an extremely interesting example of South Korea that also has the Marine Corps – the ROKMC. In fact, considering the war theater, power balance and other factors, the experience of Seoul might be even closer to Ukraine.

Structurally, the corps is that part of the Korean Navy, however, the Commander of ROKMC concurrently holds the position of Commander for the Northwestern Island Defense Command for protecting islands close to North Korea's border.

Also, the Korean Marine Corps includes rapid reaction units that must be ready to deploy in any part of the country within 24 hours. While the American USMC is aimed absolutely at expeditions, the Korean ROKMC has a flexible application for coastal defense, landing operations, and entirely on-land missions.

For these purposes, it has proper assets: two marine divisions and two brigades with tanks, artillery, coastal defense missiles, and amphibious vehicles.

In contrast to USMC, the Korean marines have tanks as well
In contrast to USMC, the Korean marines have tanks as well / Illustrative photo credit: ROKMC

Given that Ukraine says it needs to increase the number of marine brigades with a logical transition to divisions according to NATO standards, the reference of South Korea may come in handy as the one closer to Ukrainian realities.

Although, the Armed Forces of Ukraine now have a great amount of experience of their own to make specific improvements prompted by the ongoing all-out war against russia, by real warfare and requirements, so later it can even trail footsteps for other armies to follow.

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