The Incredible Shrinking Marine Air Ground Task Force

The Marines appear to be leading the innovation and thought experimentation on adapting small units to battle hybrid enemies – state and non-state armed groups mixing guerrilla tactics with advanced weaponry.

Down at the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory in Quantico, they’re fleshing out an emerging warfighting concept called “distributed operations”: small units operating independently, at a fast paced, fluid tempo when either dispersed or concentrated. Think here of German sturmtruppen tactics from World War I, or, more recently, Hezbollah fighters operating in small dispersed, yet highly lethal, groups in the 2006 Lebanon war.

The director of the Marine’s thought lab, ret. Col. Vincent Goulding, has a piece in the new Proceedings (subscription only) discussing the experimental Marine company landing team (CLT), a reinforced rifle company intended to be the “centerpiece” of future Marine operations, along with a good TO&E. Although, missing from the chart is a 155mm M777 towed howitzer platoon.

The CLT is off to Hawaii in July where it will maneuver from the sea onto some lush, tropical simulated battlefield to conduct distributed operations against a hybrid threat. Tests will look for capability gaps and whether the company headquarters can handle calling in fires, handling logistics and directing the company’s platoons.

Over at the Information Dissemination site, Marine Lt. Col. Roger Galbraith asks whether the CLT is the right size, and has a good comments going in the comments thread. “This is a big deal for us because we normally think only of battalion-sized units as being able to operate independently. In addition, we’ll be launching the CoLT from over the horizon (20+ miles out), that’s the first time we’re doing this over the horizon thing, although we first talked about it in 1997….what took us so long?”

Looking at the TO chart, there does appear to be a glaring lack of direct fire weapons; it doesn’t include a Javelin anti-tank missile section. Perhaps the idea is that on-call fires will substitute for direct fire capability. It’s hard to see how that pans out though. Engagement ranges in complex terrain are often too close to effectively use artillery or air strikes.

— Greg

  • Bob Sacamano

    Send in a SEAL team!!!

    • marines kill em’ army picks up the bodies!

    • Furthermore, it’s a joke that Panetta paid for the hooker’s meciadl care.Medical care is free in Brazil, though of course you can pay for VIP care. I think the poor woman went to a clinic or emergency room and was treated without charge,well before Panetta ever found her, same as I am treated when I’m in Brazil, and I’m neither a citizen nor permanent resident there.The leadership of our country speaks nothing but lies and knows nothing but cover-up of unending sins against foreigners of all stripes, it seems. That fact and the rampant puritism here provide sufficient reason to move to Brazil for good.

  • john

    They need an RPG equivalent to provide small unit firepower.

    • PTONE

      Agreed, and I think the key here unlike Javelin would be a reusable tube so you can carry a lot of small ammo, reduce carry cost.

      • bhubba

        something like this might be good:

        • bhubba

          oh, after watching the video there seems the marines are already intested

      • SoldiersForCanada

        I’m surprised you’re not aware of the M3 Lightweight Carl Gustav Recoilless Rifle, which is a steel lined but carbon fiber shrouded man-portable, multi-role 84mm anti-personnel/anti-material launcher.

        • Yep. Gustav all the way. Time the Marines figured out what the Rangers already know.

        • john

          Agreed but I was wondering why have we have not seen they deployed in massive numbers. It seems like every jihadist has a guy with a pouch full of RPGs while we are carrying one shot AT4 tubes or maybe I have mistaken.

          BTW, I look for the M3 all the time on TV but can’t seem to distinguish that from the AT4. Maybe I am blind :)

          • SoldiersForCanada

            I’m not entirely sure about the firing position needed for the M3 as it will destroy most that is behind and in front of the weapon. New advancements made by the Swedes with the AT4 system have allowed any grunt to fire from cover without fear of injury from back blast. The new system is the AT4-CS which uses salt water as a baffle during firing to protect the operator. So for urban combat the single-use AT4 might be the only safe choice at present depending on the AO.

          • john

            On wiki it looks like the US is not one of the countries that uses the M3. I don’t know why, too old school bazooka like? Probably back blast is an issue too but if the the jihadist with little training can use an RPG what is wrong with us.

          • Check the page again, under “M3 MAAWS”.

  • J R

    Sounds like LGOP doctrine.

    • mike j


      Do you mean “Little Groups of Paratroopers” or “Looks Good on Paper”?

  • Sven Ortmann

    “own at the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory in Quantico, they’re fleshing out an emerging warfighting concept called “distributed operations”: …”

    That point was where I stopped reading and began laughing.

    DO has existed in several forms for many years and since been replaces by something called like “Enhanced company operations” or such.

    Later, I recovered and continued to read, just to discover more nonsense.
    “sturmtruppen”? Sorry, that was “Stoßtruppen”. “Sturmtruppen is the German word for the white star wars soldiers. Stoßtruppen tactics are standard in all modern armies today and not even remotely similar to DO.

    Hezbollah wasn’t “highly dispersed” in 2006. The force density was actually rather high. They were just not as dumb as expected by the Israelis.

    So basically Greg, this would have been a crappy text in 2006 and it’s both crappy and outdated in 2010.

    • ohwilleke

      “Storm trooper” is a pretty standard way of translating the German word into English and an effort to got half way to show the specifically intended historical German context when there is a non-standard character (for English) involved isn’t so bad. The Star Wars useage was a direct reference to the German soldiers in any case (albeit more for the emotional baggage and association with the Nazi regime than for actual military similarity), so the two words aren’t independent in any case.

      One way to see the Marine move is as a parallel to the Army shift from divisions to brigades, which clearly is a decentralization (i.e. increasingly distributed operation). The Marines have always had more small units than the Army and devolved more power to lower ranking individuals (e.g. allowing NCOs to do what only officers are allowed to do in other services), and if the Army is shrinking it standard than the Marines have to make theirs smaller as well.

  • slntax

    anyone know what he is holding? is it the m3 goose?

  • Byron Skinner

    Good Morning Folks,

    This is the Marines getting back to being Marines and not Army clones. Before WWII this is what the marine looked like, small, fast and light. The current enemies are using speed, mobility and terrain knowledge and are winning in Afghanistan.

    Technology is the force multiplier here not heavy iron. The Corp. knows that it’s going to be losing personal as the war in Afghanistan winds down. The Corps best NCO’s and Officers are now being cycled through Afghanistan, already 1,300 enlisted and 115 officers have been told they don’t have a career slot in the post Afghanistan Corps, those that don’t go voluntarily, will be RIF’ed.. General Conway is being up front and very Marine about what he is doing.

    Byron Skinner

    • ghosted

      As an Army guy i would have to disagree. Marines are good at talking their advanced thinking and methods, not doing it. I have said this in other posts but this stuff is not new for the army. We have been operating in a similiar fashion since OIF II (at least the units i have been in). The marines were notorious for charging in frontally, and disregarding everything we said simply because we were the Army, and they being Marines were smarter, more flexible, and capable. We would then stand by and watch the marines do exactly the opposite of what we recommended and then all hell would break loose. Institutionally they are far more flexible then the army. New ideas in the army can be an absolute battle to introduce, however, at the brigade and below i find the army to be incredibly adaptive and innovative.

  • Ecco

    It seems the Marines have looked to the North for inspiration.

    Adaptive Dispersed Operations has been the Land Operations Concept for the Canadian Army for a couple of years now.

  • Greg Grant

    Sven Ortmann,

    As for Hezbollah, don’t misquote me, I never said they were “highly” dispersed. That they fought dispersed is noted by most analysts of the 2006 war, which is why Hezbollah ground forces were not easily destroyed by IDF air strikes. You can read about that in Matt Mathews excellent paper on the war, where he explains how Hezbollah “created a network of autonomous cells with little inter-cell systemic interaction.”

    Best educate yourself you going to go toe-to-toe with me.


  • coolhand77
  • wstr

    Many MEU(SOC) missions have indeed involved a strengthened platoon or a full company. However the utility of holding a reserve force (e.g. for reinforcement or covering an alternative extraction point) without relying on rounding-up the cooks, writers & drivers, would suggest that 2x CLT’s might be a good choice.

  • Ghosted

    This is nothing new. They are putting a cool new name on something we have been doing for years. It is called a Company Team, and i did it my last deployment, and the ones before that as a Platoon Leader.

  • Ross

    apologies if this has already been stated but i thought it was interesting that again and again we see modern forces running into problems they wouldnt have if they appreciated history.

    Such ideas were implemented by France for example during their anti-insurgency campaigns in Syria during the inter-war period. Obviously there are some huge technological/equipment differences involved because nothing stays the same; but the basic principles seem to have remained.

  • Light Fast and Lethal that is what the USMC should be. It is not not right now. The US Army BCTs are better at what they do than the same task organization in the USMC because the Marines do not have a clear mission or doctrine. I love our Marines, but there is no need for a second US Army(light). Its time to examine wehter we need the USMC in it’s current state. It may be time to fold two Marine fighting divisions into the Army, scuttle the rest and save the money. What do we do with the 160,000 Marines not taken into the Army? The Mexican border would be a good place.

  • Steve

    Interesting thoughts all around with the exception of the pissing contest.

    Keep Eighth & I for historic/tradition/administrative/FMF/Embassy purposes, two active duty land Marine Divisions or a larger number of Marine RCTs and one Reserve Division all commanded and supported by the US Army. Sever the ties to the Naval service for all but afloat FMF & MEU Marines, the Navy would only support those Marines.

    US Marines would still be US Marines, Devil Dogs, elite light to light mechanized infantry, along with the 10th Mountain & 82nd Airborne the most easily deployable, fastest hitting and for the Marines the hardest hitting infantry centric combined arms forces in the world.

    The Marine Air Wings would, sorry guys, go to either Navy attack squadrons or Air Force TAC squadrons utilizing the F/A-18s (Navy) and all the AF A-10’s. LOTS of A-10’s.

    Hell, if we’re getting rid of the USMC as a separate service, let go balls out as Patton would and chop ALL A-10’s to the Army Aviation where ALL Army fixed wing CAS aircraft would be flown by “Marine” pilots.

    All Marine Officers could come from the USNA or the USMA, Quantico or the Marine enlisted ranks but have to attend Paris Island boot camp.

    Fire away!

    – SteveCT9

    • Steve your tracking correctly. Now changes such as yours would recieved be like putting 8 male cats in a burlap bag with a in heat female. We have BIG Army, but we need the mix with light agile units. I actually think a good model would be 40 Commando, Royal Marines. Maybe 4 similar sized units on active duty and 2 reserve. Your aviation comments are spot on so they will never happen. The biggest Problem is that the Air Farce, NAVAIR(including the MAGTF’s ACE) want to fly around in hitech super planes waiting for the Russian that never come. They do not want to fly planes that can fight in war. Or god forbid have a propeller.
      Marine officers should go thru West Point. More common ground than the navy, plus the unit that did the most amphibious assaults in WW2 and total ever was the 7th Inf Div, US Army

  • Steve

    I like the “Southern Border Constabulary” idea. But the Marine Corps will go away before that ever even gets a sniff outside posting boards like this one. – SteveCT9