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Marines, Navy To Create Southern Pacific ARG/MEU Rotation By 2019

Landing Craft Air-Cushion watercraft embarks the USS Boxer (LHD-4) . US Marine Corps Photo

Landing Craft Air-Cushion watercraft embarks the USS Boxer (LHD-4) . US Marine Corps Photo

The Navy and Marine Corps will deploy a second Amphibious Ready Group and Marine Expeditionary Unit team to the Southern Pacific beginning as early as 2019, to allow the Japan-based forward deployed forces to focus on the northern and eastern parts of the vast Asia-Pacific theater, a Marine Corps official said today.

Lt. Gen. John Wissler, commander of U.S. Marine Corps Forces Command, said at a Center for Strategic and International Studies event that the details of where the Marines would come from are still being worked out, but “this is an opportunity to create a presence so the Forward Deployed Naval Force would have sort of the Northern and Eastern region and then that second (ARG/MEU) through two 90-day patrols would be worked out” to cover the Southern Pacific.

A Marine rotational force spends about half the year in Darwin, Australia, but leaves during rainy season to return to Japan and the continental United States, thereby decreasing the Marines’ presence in the Pacific for half the year.

“What that will bring is a regular ARG capability, three ships in the traditional ARG/MEU configuration,” Wissler said.
“The Marines that are aboard, whether those Marines come from the continental United States, whether they come from Hawaii, whether they come from the Unit Deployment Program Marines in Japan, all those details are being worked out. And the idea is to create additional presence, particularly in Southern Asia.”

Wissler said amphibious forces around the globe are “severely under-resourced,” from the Pacific to the Middle East to Europe. Though four amphibious ships are based in Japan, he said “the Forward Deployed Naval Force, due to ship maintenance requirements, does not have a 1.0 presence, meaning they can’t get all of an ARG underway every day of the year. That’s not because the Navy doesn’t want to, it’s simply a physics problem, if you will.”

Essex Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) participates in a simulated straits transit on Feb. 28, 2015. US Navy Photo

Essex Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) participates in a simulated straits transit on Feb. 28, 2015. US Navy Photo

In U.S. Central Command, where a requirement for a continuous ARG/MEU presence is met, “even that presence, it’s somewhat diluted when we do disaggregated operations and so the full 13 mission sets assigned to an ARG/MEU team are not capable when they’re in the fully disaggregated operations.” The three-ship ARG tends to split up in the Middle East to allow the big-deck amphibious assault ship to launch air strikes against ISIS targets, for example, while the mid-sized amphibious transport dock brings Marines to train with partner nations around the region or even to sail from U.S. 5th Fleet into U.S. 6th Fleet for operations in the Mediterranean.

As for 6th Fleet, leadership wants an ARG/MEU to not only patrol the Mediterranean but also to exercise with and protect the Baltics and other northern NATO members and partners, but the Navy cannot supply enough ships to meet those requests.

“We do have a significant shortfall,” he said.

Though the promise of having an additional regular presence in the Southern Pacific will help meet more combatant commander demands, Wissler said that wasn’t enough. The Navy needs to not find ways to do more with less, or do the same with less, but rather do “different with less.”

Part of doing different with less is how resources are allocated, such as prioritizing the Pacific and sending the additional ARG/MEU there. Another important tactic will be making best use of the people and platforms that are available.

The most commonly talked about example of this is using alternative platforms. Though Wissler said it was important to understand that anything short of a warship is not built for wartime operations, there are plenty of ways other ships can help out. During the U.S./South Korean amphibious exercise Ssang Yong 2014 and 2016, Marines used a T-AKE supply ship as the command and control hub for Marine Corps logistics and resupply efforts. By bringing additional command and control capabilities onto the ship, “the fact that it’s not a warship, you can still leverage it to do the things you do – but you have to understand that it’s not a warship.”

Even as the Navy and Marine Corps learn the capabilities and limitations of platforms such as the Expeditionary Fast Transport (EPF) ship and the Expeditionary Transfer Dock (ESD) (formerly called the Joint High Speed Vessel and the Mobile Landing Platform, respectively), the U.S. forces should be doing the same with allied and partner forces. For example, Wissler said the Japanese have a sophisticated ferry system that is not a traditional wartime asset but could be useful for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief efforts if married up to the ESD. Leveraging the capabilities of host nations is important to save U.S. resources and to allow partner nations to build up the kind of capability that best suits their needs while still having U.S. collaboration as an option.

Wissler’s comments segued into the release of a CSIS report entitled “Landing Together: Pacific Amphibious Development and Implications for the U.S. Fleet.” Among the recommendations in the report are to increase U.S. Pacific Command funding to allow for more experimentation with alternative platforms in real-world scenarios, and to create a Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force (MAGTF) similar to the one that supports missions in Africa, which would rely on the Navy’s E-class vessels – the EFP, ESD and the Expeditionary Mobile Base (ESB), formerly called the Afloat Forward Staging Base.

In the longer term, the report suggests an analysis on alternative amphibious forces, beyond the current ARG/MEU construct, that would increase adaptability while maintaining warfighting capability.

  • Ed L

    My math is telling me that with 9 forward deployed amphibious ships (including the PG ones) and the regular med deployment plus another 2 or 3 amphibious squadrons operating off our coasts doing workups or in local exercises. That comes to between 18 and 21 ships. Plus a dozen in various stages of maintenance. A fleet of 36 amphibious ships will barely cover that Our Navy will need at least another 6 to 12 amphibious vessels.

    • FedUpWithWelfareStates

      Well, in spite of the USMC surrendering to Obama in the PC War, this is still some good news, just hoping President TRUMP will turn around all of this PC nonsense, FIRE every USMC General now serving,& continue to march!

      Speaking for the PACOM AOR only, two MEUs are still not enough. We need a MEU in the IO also.

      To do this, it has to be a give & take situation.

      We should be pulling out of Okinawa & stationing III MEF in Saipan/Tinian/Guam/Hawaii.

      The same with our forward deployed Naval forces…move them back to the 2nd Island Chain too, while we still can!

      From this strategic, out-of-harms-way, we can then forward deploy the Two MEUs in the Pacific & One MEU in the IO, with the Carrier Battle Groups deploying in the same manner, with home port OUT of the potential war zone of the 1st Island Chain.

      • wfraser11

        fedup/. you;re an idiot.

        • Jay

          Oh yes. Given your remarks about the Chinese, you two are made for each other.

      • Ed L

        it would be nice to have a CSG with each MEU but there are never going to be enough carriers. As for the MEU’s during the cold war in the Med, I always though us gators were consisted an expendable force. A blocking force in the Dardanelles. Or a moral support to our Nato allies. During one exercise in the med, each ship of the squadron sent a landing party ashore. We were integrated into the beach defenses. But is did free up a company of Marines that were used in other places.

    • redgriffin

      And how many of those will be backed up by CSGs?

      • Ed L

        A bit over rated. Protection SSN, Burke DDG’s F-35’s and the big Blue US Air Force out of Guam.

        • redgriffin

          So you think what? The Marines are being left out to dry?

          • Ed L

            I spent 12 years on amphibious ships. We were always alone. In many exercises and in certain areas of the Med. we used marine air wing attack Helicopters and US Airforce bombers fighters. Carriers are not always available or necessary. A the LHD/LHA marine air wing with Harriers and attack helicopters were able to manage. Carriers never like having us gators around

          • redgriffin

            Gators hate Airedales and then you gave to haul 3 or four squadrons around it really sucks being you.

          • Ed L

            Airedales are part of amphibious forces since helicopters were put on gators overs 60 years ago. It carriers that dislike gators because they are too slow to keep up with carriers. Us gators were consisted the John Maddens of the fleet, ugly, slow, etc. But when force projection ashore was needed, you should have heard them scream.

  • wfraser11

    china is shivering in fear knowing that an entire Battalion Landing Team will be stalking the Pacific in addition to the one thats there half the year. 2000 Marines agains the chinese peoples liberation army and navy. oh dearie dear

    • Matthew

      Love the sarcasm, Too many people are far too serious some times xD
      On a serious note though the ARG’s arent truly meant to take China on and have never been intended as such, They are more suited to aiding in hot spot’s propping up usually in the form of some insurgency, coup or small border conflict in which they can be used to either support a side or evacuate civilian’s and government employees of the US (and it’s allies) or beng used in a humanitarian role which has the effect of making them far more popular in that particular nation (Not the main aim but a by product which curry’s favour for the US over China).
      The ARG’s are either the supporting force or a quick reaction force, They are not the s pear head to and invasion of mainland China or any of it’s islands.
      Cheers mate.

  • PolicyWonk

    The new ARG will be led by either the USS Tripoli (being built), or the USS America, according to DoD Buzz. The US should build more of this type of ship (fundamentally a CVL), to patrol less volatile regions of the planet, thereby freeing up the CVN’s for more, um, “interesting” locations, such as the middle east.

    We can build 3 CVL’s for the cost of one CVN, and provide better coverage at a lower cost. We could also station one of the T-ESB’s in the S. China Sea (near the Phillipeans), perhaps equipped with some Sea Cobra’s, V-22’s, and Mark VI patrol boats, to promote “maritime safety” in the region, and train with our friends.

    To aid with protection, our LPD-17’s, and LX(R)’s should have Aegis and VLS installed, in addition to any directed energy weapons when they become available, in keeping with the “if it floats it shoots” mandate. Furthermore, to free up our declining number of SSN’s/Virginia’s, we should purchase (or build, license, etc.) AIP boats (they cost 1/3 of a Virginia), and forward base them in the S. China Sea, Middle East, and Med, so that they can help protect the ARG’s and/or MEU’s.

    • pts

      The Tripoli and her sister are not CVLs…. they are upsized LPHs (see the old USS Guam class). The Tripoli and America do not have the speed (based on a LHA hull) as even an old Essex carrier. For a CVL they waste a lot of space for stuff you don’t need (troop space, enlarge hospital, dedicated ground force C2 and planning locations). Then there is the airwing, A few harriers or JSF are not efficient without AEW and Tanking Support. Now you will probably state that the V22 could possibly do both roles, first I say prove it and second the simple cost will be huge if they can be forced to do it. The V22 is not pressurized (more cost for a mode) to get it to the height needed for AEW work and it lacks the speed to really do the Tanking support well. Ask any fixed wing guy how painful it is to tank of a C130, done it but it sucked worst than a KC135.
      The LPD17s were initially supposed to carry VLS but that fell apart as the costs ballooned. Also do you realize how much Aegis costs?

      • PolicyWonk

        I realize that the Tripoli and America are not CVL’s – but the point is that they are larger and have more capacity than most of the other navies on the planets “regular” carriers.

        The USMC is working on a fuel-carrying variant of the V-22, and while its not optimal – its a LONG way from nothing. And a ski-jump (a fairly easy addition that our navy has been resisting) would easily increase the fuel and weapon-carrying capacity of the F-35B (and therefore, the effective range). And when it comes to AEW, the F-35B’s much-ballyhooed electronics are reputed to almost render AEW redundant.

        I’m not suggesting the America class replace CVN’s – they are a supplement that allows the USA to still show its interest in a given area, while allowing the CVN’s to patrol (etc.) more interesting parts of the planet.

        Also – while Aegis is expensive, VLS can be added to the LX(R) and LPD-17’s, but be controlled by escorting Burkes or Tico’s. In some cases, maybe its worth it to deploy Aegis on an LPD-17 or LX(R). The idea is to provide an ARG/MEU with a cost-effective and versatile way to protect itself.

        Cheers.

  • Aussie Andrew

    Uncle Sam should leave Japan and Ryukyu Islands ASAP; these forces are far too close to China if there is a problem in future.
    There are more than 40,000 troops there plus maybe 50,000 family members.
    Move back to the central Pacific and keep the precious family members safe; their lives are more important and must be saved to continue the all American militaristic race in the 22nd century.
    With a population of 1.4000,000 not all the Chinese enemy will be killed off; America must make some effort to save the American dream so please pull back from the destruction that awaits in the far Western Pacific.
    Also be careful in Darwin Australia; crocodiles 20 feet long love fresh meat; think carefully before you go swimming; these are ‘salt water crocodiles’ and swim in the sea near the beaches.