Do Marines Have Brigades?

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Key Takeaways:

  • The Marine Corps is organized into several groups including operational forces and supporting establishment.
  • Brigades are mid-sized units in the Marine Corps organizational structure.
  • The Marine Corps has different types of brigades such as Marine Expeditionary Brigades and Anti-Terrorism Brigades.
  • Marine Expeditionary Brigades are versatile, scalable units capable of crisis and contingency response.
  • Brigades give the Marine Corps flexibility in structuring forces for diverse missions and operations.


The United States Marine Corps has a long and storied history dating back to 1775. As an elite branch of the U.S. armed forces, the Marine Corps is renowned for being the tip of the spear and the first in for amphibious assaults and other critical military operations. The Marines are organized as a rapid-response expeditionary force, trained and equipped for power projection operations across the globe at a moment’s notice.

Given the Marine Corps’ critical role in the nation’s defense, an important question is: Do Marines have brigades? Read on to learn about the Marine Corps’ organizational structure, the different types of Marine brigades, and the purpose they serve. This comprehensive guide will provide key insights into the brigades within the Corps and their strategic value. Understanding the capabilities and flexibility brigades provide the Marines can further highlight their adaptability and lethality as a fighting force.

How Is the Marine Corps Structured Organizationally??

To understand where Marine brigades fit in, it is helpful to first look at how the Marine Corps is organized from top to bottom. According to the 2022 Marine Corps Concepts and Programs report, the Marine Corps structure consists of the following components:

Operating Forces – The operating forces are the main warfighting units like divisions, air wings, and Marine Expeditionary Forces (MEFs). There are three MEFs that are essentially the main combat elements the Corps can deploy rapidly.

Supporting Establishment – These are the support and training units and installations that provide logistics, administration, equipment, and training to the operating forces.

Marine Corps Reserves – The reserve component that provides trained units and qualified individuals to be mobilized for active duty during war or national emergency.

Marine Corps Installations Command – Manages and oversees Marine Corps installations and infrastructure.

Marine Corps Logistics Command – Provides worldwide, comprehensive logistics, supply chain, and distribution support.

Headquarters Marine Corps – Oversees the administration and higher organization of the Corps. Led by the Commandant of the Marine Corps.

Given this structure, Marine brigades operationally fall under the operating forces component. But what exactly are Marine brigades?

What Are Marine Brigades?

A brigade is a mid-sized unit in the Marine Corps, typically larger than a regiment but smaller than a division. The size of a brigade can vary, but generally ranges from 3,000 to 5,000 Marines. According to, Marine brigades are structured to provide a task-organized, scalable force that can be tailored for specific missions.

Brigades are valuable because they give the Marine Corps flexibility in structuring forces of adaptable size for diverse operations and battlefield scenarios. Having brigades in the force structure allows Marine commanders to scale units appropriately based on operational requirements. Brigades optimize effectiveness by being large enough to execute operations independently yet small enough for agility and deployability.

What Types of Brigades Does the Marine Corps Have?

The Marine Corps has several different types of brigades fulfilling specialized roles and functions:

Marine Expeditionary Brigades (MEBs)

MEBs are one of the main types of Marine brigades. They are scalable, versatile Marine Air-Ground Task Forces configured for rapid deployment and able to conduct operations across spectrum from humanitarian assistance to full-scale combat.

According to the Marine Corps Organization reference guide, MEBs range in size from 14,000 to 20,000 Marines built around a reinforced infantry regiment, a composite Marine aircraft group, and a combat logistics regiment. Within this structure, an MEB possesses substantial combat power with combined arms including infantry, artillery, armor, amphibious vehicles, engineers, and more.

MEBs are structured as intermediate-level command elements between the Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) and Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF). MEBs are designed as joint-capable units prepared to support unified commanders in executing regional missions.

With their flexible scalability and robust combined arms capabilities, MEBs are extremely versatile Marine brigades able to undertake crisis response and contingency operations worldwide. MEBs give regional combatant commanders a valuable force option and have been employed effectively in past crisis situations like the invasion of Panama and Operations Desert Shield/Desert Storm.

Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU)

While technically structured as a Marine Air-Ground Task Force similar to MEBs, MEUs function as brigades within the operating forces. MEUs range from 2,200-2,600 Marines built around an infantry battalion reinforced with aircraft, logistics, and other attachments. Forward deployed aboard U.S. Navy amphibious ships, MEUs provide combatant commanders a scalable crisis response force tailored for amphibious operations and capable of missions spanning humanitarian assistance to combat. There are currently seven forward-deployed MEUs continuously positioned across the globe for immediate response to contingencies.

Anti-Terrorism Brigade (ATB)

The Marine Corps has three active-duty ATBs designed to protect Navy ships, bases, infrastructure, and personnel against terrorist threats. ATBs can rapidly deploy aboard amphibious ships to conduct anti-terrorism operations and force protection missions globally as required.

According to, each ATB consists of 1,200-1,300 Marines and sailors trained in force protection tactics, urban operations, coastal riverine skills, and other specialized security capabilities needed across the spectrum of anti-terrorism missions.

Provisional Brigades

When required by larger force requirements, the Marine Corps can constitute provisional brigades tailored to specific operations or contingency missions. According to, past examples include the 3rd Provisional Marine Brigade formed for Operation Restore Hope in Somalia and the 4th Provisional Marine Brigade deployed for Operation Uphold Democracy in Haiti.

Provisional brigades allow flexibility in organizing larger Marine forces on an as-needed basis for major operations and deployments. The modular structure of Marine battalions, regiments, and groups facilitates flexibly task-organizing provisional brigades mixing and matching needed capabilities.

How Do Brigades Fit Within Larger Marine Corps Forces?

Looking at the broader Marine Corps force structure, brigades operationally fit between regiments/MEUs and divisions/MEFs as intermediate-level tactical commands with the scalability to operate independently or as part of a larger force:

  • Fire Team: (4 Marines) – Smallest tactical unit led by a Corporal
  • Squad: (3 fire teams / 12 Marines) – Led by Sergeant
  • Platoon: (3 squads / 34 Marines ) – Led by Lieutenant
  • Company: (3 platoons / 118 Marines) – Led by Captain
  • Battalion: (4 companies / 816 Marines) – Led by Lieutenant Colonel
  • Regiment: (3 battalions / 2,500 Marines) – Led by Colonel
  • Brigade: (3+ regiments / 14,000-20,000 Marines) – Led by Brigadier General – Can operate independently based on augmentation and attachments
  • Division: (3 brigades / 20,000-25,000 Marines) – Led by Major General
  • Marine Expeditionary Force: (3+ divisions / 90,000+ Marines) – Led by Lieutenant General – Principal warfighting organization and largest MAGTF

This hierarchy demonstrates how brigades, given their scalability and self-sufficiency, are able to undertake operations, deployments, and missions independently or as part of a larger Marine Air-Ground Task Force.

Why Are Brigades Critical for the Marine Corps?

In summary, brigades occupy an essential role within the Marine Corps operational structure for several reasons:

  • Flexibility – Brigades allow scaling force size and capabilities to meet diverse missions from small contingencies to major operations.
  • Modularity – Brigade building blocks (battalions, regiments) enable customized configurations tailored to missions.
  • ** responsiveness** – Brigades enhance rapid crisis response capabilities with forward-postured amphibious formations like MEUs and MEBs.
  • Combined arms – Brigades integrate air, ground, logistics into potent joint warfighting formations.
  • Independent operations – Brigades can conduct many operations and deployments without larger Marine forces.
  • Joint capabilities – Brigades’ self-contained structure facilitates unified operations with other U.S. services, allies, and coalition forces.


In conclusion, brigades constitute a critical echelon within the Marine Corps operational forces. Different types of brigades from MEBs and MEUs to provisional brigades provide scalable, versatile units able to react swiftly to crises and contingencies worldwide. Brigades enhance the flexibility, modularity, and responsiveness of Marine forces across the range of military operations. Most importantly, brigades enable the Corps to rapidly get the right-sized force with the right capabilities forward when the nation needs Marines the most. Understanding the structure and capabilities of the Marine Corps’ brigades provides valuable insight into a key component enabling their success as the military’s expeditionary force in readiness.

FAQs About Marine Brigades

Q: How many Marine brigades are there currently?

A: The exact number of Marine brigades fluctuates due to force rotations, training cycles, and deployment schedules. However, the Marine Corps force structure nominally includes approximately six Marine Expeditionary Brigades (MEBs), seven Marine Expeditionary Units (MEUs), and three Anti-Terrorism Brigades (ATBs). The modular organization also allows forming provisional brigades as needed for major contingencies.

Q: What is the difference between a MEB and a MEU?

A: The main difference is size and intended employment. MEBs range from 14,000-20,000 Marines designed for independent operations, large amphibious assaults, and other complex contingency response missions. MEUs have 2,200-2,600 Marines tailored for fast crisis response, embassy reinforcement, and forward-deployed presence missions from amphibious ships.

Q: How rapidly can a Marine brigade deploy?

A: Marine brigades are structured for rapid deployment, especially forward-postured amphibious formations like MEUs. An MEU with dedicated Navy shipping can deploy within 18-24 hours worldwide. MEBs take longer to fully deploy but the advanced party can deploy within 48-72 hours to kick off a larger mission. Strategic lift assets like air and sea can expedite total MEB deployment.

Q: What command level oversees Marine brigades?

A: Marine brigades are intermediate echelon commands between the MEF and regimental level. Operationally, they report to the major subordinate commands (MSC) of the MEFs which control divisions, air wings, and other assets. The MEF commanding general will provide a headquarters staff to oversee deploying MEBs when they embark on independent operations.

Q: How are Marine brigades used for joint operations?

A: MEBs and other Marine brigades are structured for seamless joint interoperability with U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, and special operations elements. Key joint capabilities include integrated air-ground operations, joint C4ISR, and multi-domain coordination. MEBs routinely exercise with joint task forces and often serve as the nucleus for joint task force headquarters in crisis response missions

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