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The Incredible Shrinking Marine Air Ground Task Force

Thursday, April 15th, 2010

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.


Corps Pushing Reborn EFV

Thursday, May 7th, 2009


After chronic problems with technology and cost overruns, the Marine Corps Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle may actually have been steered onto the right path.

Existing prototypes suffered significant hydraulic and electrical problems, and there were issues with the feed and eject systems of the main gun, EFV Program Manager Col. Keith Moore told a group today at the Navy Leagues Sea Air Space symposium.

For all intents and purposes, however, the EFV was bascially put back on the drawing board as designers sought to tackle issues that put its costs up and its schedule behind.

Its a complicated vehicle, with a lot of high-pressure hydraulics, Moore said. We had a lot of problems with leaks and contamination and so there was early failure of hydraulic parts. The electrical system being developed for the problem prototypes was too much of a reach, he said: some cutting edge technology that just wasnt ready for prime time.

The prototype now under development will rely on some earlier, reliable technology aided by software modifications. The hull to the prototype being built to the new design will begin detailed integration and assembly at the end of this month, he said.

Highly accelerated vibration and heat testing has been performed on the new systems, he said, and thus far they show great promise, lasting two or three times longer than reliability predictions indicated they would.

The problem-plagued EFV was supposed to reach its demonstration phase by 2001. It finally went to operational assessment in 2006, but suffered a number of failures and breakdowns. Moore said the EFV now will go into Initial Operational Testing and Evaluation sometime in 2015.

Marine Commandant James Conway made a strong pitch for the EFV on the first day of the Navy League, arguing that the service needs the speed and range of the system to ensure the Marines can still kick down doors their primary mission.

– Bryant Jordan

Corps Spectre of the Future

Monday, May 4th, 2009


The Corps’ 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines said they needed it. Now Marines across the fleet are going to see a smarter — and meaner — air refueling capability.

Adding another arrow to its quiver, the Corps is moving quickly with an ambitious plan to arm one of the service’s aviation workhorses with intel-gathering capabilities and a trio of weapons systems.

For less than the cost of an AC-130 gunship, the Corps plans to build for its fleet of KC-130J Super Hercules nine mission kits that will include an intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance sensor, as well as three separate weapons systems, according to Marine Corps Maj. J.P. Pellegrino.

“We’re not building a gunship, we’re building a mission kit,” Pellegrino stressed.

The Corps is not permanently attaching weapons to the plane, but is engineering a mission kit that will convert the normally static KC-130J into a deadly prowler in the sky.

Dakota Wood, a former Marine lieutenant colonel and a senior fellow with the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, said the move to arm the air refueler will keep adversaries guessing.

“What you would like to do is keep the enemy off balance and complicate your enemy’s defensive problem,” Wood said.

The Corps envisions the system to work primarily as a surveillance tool, allowing the ISR sensor to feed-real time video to Marine commanders while the aircraft lingers over an area of responsibility, often refueling other aircraft.

Marine Air Ground Task Force commanders operating across Afghanistan currently have little to no persistent surveillance capability. The new mission kits will change that.

“We can operate day and night from very high altitude,” Pellegrino said. “Say we have two airplanes in theater and I need extra ISR out tonight. While you are giving gas, you keep an area under surveillance.“

And the diverse weapons portfolio included in the mission kit makes the upgrade especially lethal.

Plans call for a set of three weapon platforms: Four AGM-114 Hellfire laser-guided air-to-surface missiles, a Mk44 Bushmaster II 30mm cannon hung out the left paratroop door, or precision-guided munitions dropped from a lowered rear ramp.


New Marine Recruiting Commercial

Thursday, March 5th, 2009

Marines are legendary for their ability to improvise, adapt, and think on their feet. No war plan survives first contact with the enemy — that sort of stuff. So it’s interesting to see that the famous Marine adaptability translates comfortably from the battlefield to their marketing campaigns. Witness the latest USMC recruiting commercial, superbly done and clearly targeted at young men and women who –with the economy being as it is– no longer have post-college civilian sector jobs to count on.

–John Noonan

Japan Sees Major Basing Change

Friday, July 6th, 2007


U.S. Navy and Marine Corps units in Japan are engaged in a massive shift of bases and buildup of facilities as part of the planned realignment of U.S. bases and forces.

As part of the realignment, 57 carrier-based aircraft of Carrier Air Wing 5 — assigned to the carrier Kitty Hawk (CV 63) — and about 3,800 Navy personnel and their family members will be relocated from the Atsugi Naval Air Facility in Kanagawa Prefecture to the Iwakuni Marine Corps Air Station in Yamaguchi Prefecture.

Also, 12 KC-130 Hercules tanker-cargo aircraft from marine squadron VMGR-152 now at the Futenma base on Okinawa will relocate to Iwakuni. That squadron has about 350 Marine personnel. It is not clear whether the Navys light anti-submarine helicopter squadron HSL-51, which provides SH-60F/MH-60R Sea Hawks to surface ships based in Japan, will also shift from Atusgi to Iwakuni.

About 50 U.S. Marine aircraft and 6,000 U.S. personnel and their family members are now located at the Iwakuni base. The Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force also has aircraft based at Iwakuni. Under the realignment the total of U.S.-Japanese aircraft at Iwakuni could reach some 150.

Under agreements between the United States and Japan, the Japanese government will pay for most base improvements at Iwakuni. This will include new operations facilities, aircraft parking aprons, billets for unmarried personnel, schools, leisure facilities, storehouses, fuel depots, and munitions storage. With the recent relocation of runways at the base, the Japanese government has already spent 240 billion yen. The realignment will also cost the U.S. government several hundred million dollars.

The carrier Kitty Hawk, which operates Carrier Air Wing 5, is based at Yokosuka, the only U.S. carrier that is home ported outside of the continental United States. She will be replaced in 2008 by the carrier George Washington (CVN 73), now based at the Norfolk naval base. The Kitty Hawk, completed in 1961, will return to the United States and be decommissioned. She is the last oil-burning CV-type carrier in U.S. Navy service.

– Norman Polmar

Snake Eaters for Life?

Thursday, June 14th, 2007


MarSoc Update:

Yesterday Defense Tech reported a little-noticed line in Vice Adm. Eric Olsons written testimony regarding the career path for Marines in special operations forces.

DT readers will remember that one of the main selling points particularly for opponents of the new MarSoc force within the Corps with the services entry into the spec ops world was that once Marines finish with a stint in the snake eater world, theyd return to the regular Corps with new knowledge, tactics and specialized skills that could help make mainstream grunts better.

But Olsons answer to lawmakers that he wants a spec ops for life career path for Marines like the other services flies in the face of that logic.

MarSoc officials have backed away from that earlier argument, saying instead that, although Marines assigned to MarSoc may serve in the command for longer than the usual three-year assignment because of the training investment, the service wants to make sure Marines who do a stint there are competitive for promotion; meaning they still need to do Marine things to advance in the Marines.

Heres a statement from MarSoc spokesman, Maj. Cliff Gilmore:

MARSOC is working with Marine Corps Manpower to determine the best model for personnel assignment and career paths within MARSOC and the SOF community. Our intent is to balance three factors: First, we must ensure we build and maintain our SOF capabilities; Second, we must ensure a good return on time and money invested to train SOF personnel; Third, we must ensure our Marines remain competitive for promotion within the Corps.

Because it was given such short shrift in Olsons testimony, maybe the issue wont come to any kind of conflict. But there is a lingering doubt within the legacy SOF that the Corps special operators are immature and inexperienced. One thing the old SOF has been proud of is the maturity and experience of its personnel, the kind of expertise that comes only from spending an entire career in the community.

Will the Corps be willing to give up its best leathernecks forever? Ill bet that will be a tough sell.


To the Shores of … Catalina?

Tuesday, May 15th, 2007

LCACs at Catalina.jpg

The Navy/Marine Corps team used their LCACs (Landing Craft, Air Cushion) in an unorthodox way during the recent brushfires on Santa Catalina Island, about 20 miles off the coast of Los Angeles. The military knew the quickest way to get vehicles over to the island was by LCACs from Camp Pendleton Marine Base down in San Diego County, so they offered their services to the local firefighters. Resultantly, they were able to quickly bring lots of fire equipment into the fight in a hurry.

All told, the sealift delivered close to 50 fire engines to the island (six per trip). Along with the air-tanker support (both fixed– and rotor-wing), the fire was just barely kept out of Avalon, the only town on the island.

(Gouge: MA)

– Ward