Carrier Strike Group, 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit Will Join Air Force in Massive Alaska Exercise

March 31, 2021 6:34 PM
USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71) transits the Gulf of Alaska on May 25, 2019. US Navy Photo

The Navy and Marine Corps will team up with the Air Force for the first time in an Alaska exercise that will serve as a testbed for emerging joint warfighting ideas in all three services, planners told reporters on Thursday.

The 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit and the yet-to-be-named carrier strike group will be key players in the Pacific Air Force-led exercise Northern Edge 2021 from May 3 to 14, exercise planner Air Force Lt. Col Michael Boyer said on Wednesday.

“This is the first time we’re doing combined operations with the carrier strike group and the MEU and the amphibious [ready] group,” he said.

The drills will feature a carrier strike group, the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, about 200 ground-based aircraft and 10,000 troops operating from the Aleutian Islands to deep into the interior of the state.

“What Northern Edge allows the INDOPACOM joint force to do is put all the pieces of the puzzle together for the big picture and allow our younger generations in the armed forces to experience what future conflict could feel like and the complexities associated with it,” he said.

USS Makin Island (LHD-8) and the embarked 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) transit the Strait of Hormuz, Feb. 8, 2021. US Navy Photo

Part of the exercise will attempt to blend the Marines’ Expeditionary Advance Base Operations (EABO) that is charting the course of the service’s modern Pacific island-hopping campaign with the PACAFs Agile Combat Employment, a concept that allows the service to operate from more than just well-prepared air bases, Boyer said. May’s drills will follow on lessons learned from Pacific Fleet-led Valiant Shield 2020, which was scaled back due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We should be able to operate from anywhere, any location in the world,” then PACAF commander, now Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Brown, said in 2019, according to Air Force Magazine.
“In order to operate, all you need is a runway, a ramp, fuel bladder, a trailer full of munitions, a pallet of MREs and some multifunctional airmen.”

In late 2019, Marines in the Pacific exercised to set up their own austere airfield in less than a day to serve as a potential refueling site with a combination of KC-130s, CH-53s and a MV-22 tilt-rotor aircraft.

Learning from the Marines is a major goal, Boyer said.

“It allows the joint force to say, ‘your concept of operations looks a lot like our concept of operations, let’s see where we can be interoperable,’” he said.

It’s unclear what gear the 15th MEU is bringing to the exercise. The MEU is currently at the tail end of a deployment embarked aboard the Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group with a detachment of F-35B Joint Strike Fighters.

Sam LaGrone

Sam LaGrone

Sam LaGrone is the editor of USNI News. He has covered legislation, acquisition and operations for the Sea Services since 2009 and spent time underway with the U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps and the Canadian Navy.
Follow @samlagrone

Get USNI News updates delivered to your inbox