Tag Archives: Marines

A Vital Concept Refined: Marines and the Helicopter

A Vital Concept Refined: Marines and the Helicopter

Naval History, December 2012
The helicopter revealed its potential in Korea. As the Marine Corps honed close air support in the years since, it has assumed a key role.

Marine Helicopters in Vietnam, U.S. Naval Institute Archives

Marine Helicopters in Vietnam, U.S. Naval Institute Archives

Marine Corps aviation, in “its organization, equipment, and training . . . should be primarily oriented toward performance of close air support.” So wrote a special board in its confidential 1947 report to the commandant of the Marine Corps. Although the Marines’ first “official” use of close air support (CAS) had come in 1927 in Nicaragua, 20 years later the bond between the service’s air and ground forces had not yet been cemented fully. That would occur a few years later in the Chosin Reservoir campaign in Korea—arguably the birthplace of the Marine air-ground task force.

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Close Air Support: The Pioneering Years

Close Air Support: The Pioneering Years

Naval History, December 2012
Marine aviators’ commitment to deliver support to ground forces—a tactic once deemed too dangerous—grew into a hallowed hallmark of the Corps.

Modern Marine Corps aviation is a powerful combat arm, organized and equipped to perform its primary functions of assault support, antiaircraft warfare, offensive air support, electronic warfare, control of aircraft and missiles, and reconnaissance. The integration of those roles enables the air-combat component to fully support the ground-combat campaign. Mastery of those functions also allows Marine aviation to achieve its most distinctive competence—the ability to deliver close air support (CAS) to Marines on the ground.

Close air support is defined as “air action by fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft against hostile targets that are in close proximity to friendly forces and require detailed integration of each air mission with the fire and movement of those forces.” Inherently dangerous to airmen and infantry alike, this extreme form of fire support requires extraordinary coordination to deliver safely. Marine riflemen take a personal interest in the proximity of close air. “Close” to them means damned close, and they know it when they see it.

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Book Review: The Generals by Tom Ricks

Book Review: The Generals by Tom Ricks

By:

Thomas E. Ricks, The Generals: American Military Command from World War II to Today. New York: Penguin, 2012. 558 pp. $32.95.

When Tom Ricks published Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq in the summer of 2006, the impact was immediate and extraordinary. The book shredded any pretense that the Bush administration knew what it was doing in Iraq and also brought to light myriad failures of the American military establishment in the war. A Naval Academy graduate and a senior U.S. senator told me that he could only read a few pages before having to take a walk around the block to cool down so that he could see straight enough to continue reading. He was not the only reader to react strongly to Fiasco; the book became a number one New York Times bestseller and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.

Fiasco contributed to a reassessment of military strategy in Iraq and focused attention on the failures of American military leadership in that war. One of the most pointed indictments came from inside the Army when my friend Lt. Col. Paul Yingling published an essay titled “A Failure of Generalship.” Yingling noted the Army’s failures to prepare for the Iraq war and to adapt to its requirements during the course of the conflict; his most damning line noted that “As matters stand now, a private who loses a rifle suffers far greater consequences than a general who loses a war.”

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Submarine Stormtroops

Submarine Stormtroops

Proceedings, November 2012
An unconventional spin on the Marine tradition of forcible amphibious entry could counter modern A2/AD threats—at little expense and with minimal training.

The year is 2020. A country has attacked a U.S. ally and seized multiple islands. Simultaneously, it has flooded the area with guided rockets, artillery, mortars and missiles (G-RAMMs). Intelligence has identified three separate anti-ship cruise missile (ASCM) and anti-air (AA) locations on one island that must be destroyed before a U.S. aircraft carrier battle group or amphibious ready group (ARG) can aid our ally. Intelligence also suggests the enemy has hidden mobile ASCM and AA capabilities. All assets are protected by a dispersed, company-size enemy force. Through commercial and proprietary satellite coverage, the aggressor can locate and target U.S. Navy ships. That country does not know, however, where U.S. submarines are.

The President convenes the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) and asks what can be done.

Marines operate from the USS Hawaii U.S. Marine Corps photo

Marines operate from the USS Hawaii U.S. Marine Corps photo

“We can execute precision-guided munition (PGM) strikes,” the chairman responds, “but that cannot guarantee the destruction of all sites, nor can the destruction of sites we hit be confirmed. Nor can we guarantee destruction of the enemy’s mobile weapons using PGMs alone.”The Chief of Naval Operations observes: “Until the ASCM and AA threat are destroyed, we can’t move our $14 billion aircraft carrier (USS Gerald R. Ford) or $4 billion amphibious assault ship (USS America) within 300 miles of that island.”

“Mr. President,” notes the commander, Special Operations Command, “we have some ability to confirm the destruction of the sites, but limited manpower prevents us from securing terrain or destroying enemy garrisons.”

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Both Obama and Romney Proposals Don’t Meet Navy Requirements

Both Obama and Romney Proposals Don’t Meet Navy Requirements

In the run-up to Election Day, both campaigns have put an increased focus on national security, foreign policy and defense spending. President Barack Obama has touted, among other things, the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, a strategic pivot to the Asian-Pacific and the killing of Osama bin Laden. Republican nominee Mitt Romney has criticized the President for his policies in the Middle East, decried defense-spending cuts from the Department of Defense efficiency push and the congressionally mandated sequestration process, and said he plans to pump more money into the Pentagon budget.

Barack Obama, Barack Obama

Most recently, Obama and Romney have clashed over Navy force structure. The President’s plan invests in nearly ten new ships a year, bringing the aggregate to 307 vessels by 2042. The Romney camp is advocating a 350-ship Navy based on a procurement rate of 15 ships per year.

Both Obama and Romney want to buy more submarines, destroyers and aircraft carriers, but Romney also wants a new frigate and a dedicated missile-defense ship. Both the President and his challenger are advocating more tactical fighter aircraft, including a mix of F/A-18s and F-35s. Romney advisers have said they want more of the legacy Hornets, in addition to the new joint-service platform and want to add an 11th carrier air wing, to match air units to each of the Navy’s eleven aircraft carriers.

The two also differ on the total number of ships the Navy needs. At the 19 October foreign policy debate, Romney stuck by his call for a 350-ship fleet. “Our Navy is smaller now than any time since 1917,” Romney said. “I want to make sure we have the ships that are required by our Navy.”

The stand prompted one of the more terse exchanges between the two candidates during this cycle.

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Retired General Cartwright on the History of Cyber Warfare

Retired General Cartwright on the History of Cyber Warfare

The following was excerpted from the U.S. Naval Institute conference report.

Opening the U.S. Naval Institute’s 2012 annual history conference “The History and Future Challenges of Cyber Power” at Alumni Hall on the grounds of the U.S. Naval Academy with the morning keynote segment was former Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff retired Gen. James Cartwright.

Cartwright_James

Cartwright was regarded as the Pentagon’s top thinker on cyber warfare during his stint as the vice chairman. In his remarks, Cartwright emphasized why the cyber landscape is important – it is a medium that lies between sanctions and military power.

“The tools available to a president or nation in between diplomacy and military power were not terribly effective,” Cartwright explained. “And so from my perspective at that time what I was looking for was a set of tools that had broad range capability, had no regard really for strategic depth and could be used in a way that would make a more logical transition, may even avoid the use of kinetic force to reset diplomacy, reestablish the ability to negotiate with whoever you’re working with. So we were looking for a way to fill the gap.”

Some of the methods Cartwright had said he looked at were electromagnetic pulse, directed energy, electronic warfare and cyber – all speed-of-light means used to extend the life of the diplomatic activities.

“We need to be able to work at no strategic depth and very large strategic depth,” Cartwright said. “Speed-of-light weapons were well suited for those kinds of problems. That was really at the heart of what we were trying to get accomplished.”

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Romney's Navy Plan

Romney’s Navy Plan

This week in a speech in Virginia, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney talked about his plan to build a 350-ship Navy, boosting spending on current programs and creating two new ship designs. But affordability is a key detail in any procurement discussion, and it’s one piece of the puzzle that the Romney camp is still fleshing out. Romney also did not identify any new requirements for a 350-ship fleet.

vmi_0There is no doubt shipbuilding is a priority for whomever occupies the White House for the next four years. The Navy’s current roster of ships is near its smallest since 1916, when then-President Woodrow Wilson signed the Naval Act authorizing a massive build-up. At Wilson’s behest and with congressional approval, the Navy built 10 battleships, six battlecruisers, 30 submarines, 50 destroyers and other support vessels over three years, tripling the size of the sea service by 1919. Wilson’s 752-ship Navy was the high-water mark for decades, and his push leading up to World War I is credited with establishing U.S. naval dominance in the 20th century. But the expansion came at a cost — some $500 million at the time or a mere $10.2 billion in current-year dollars. But today’s ships are different by nearly all metrics — mission, capability, sophistication, size and cost among other factors.

Nearly a century later, Congress finds itself in much the same quandary as Wilson — an aging fleet of warships in need of modernization and, some say, expansion. The U.S. fleet as a whole has been on a slow decline since the late 1980s, bottoming out at 278 ships in 2007. The Navy says it needs between 310 and 316 ships to meet all its obligations around the world, a number that has remained roughly unchanged since the 1994 Quadrennial Defense Review.

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MRAPs On the Way Out

MRAPs On the Way Out

On Monday the Pentagon ceased production of the Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicle (MRAP), perhaps the most iconic acquisition program of the past ten years. The trucks were designed and built in response to the urgent need to protect service members in Iraq from the pervasive improvised explosive device (IED) threat. The vehicle went through five different iterations and the production lines produced 27,740 trucks. The total price tag came to $47.7 billion. For all the investment, what are we left with?

Mine resistant ambush protected vehicles offloaded from the Military Sealift Command roll-on/roll-off ship USNS Pililaau in Kuwait in 2008. U.S. Navy Photo

Mine resistant ambush protected vehicles offloaded from the Military Sealift Command roll-on/roll-off ship USNS Pililaau in Kuwait in 2008. U.S. Navy Photo

The vehicle may be of use to the U.S. Army, but there is little place for the armored monstrosities in the Marine Corps. They are too heavy to be practical on the Navy’s amphibious warships. Marine Corps and Navy leaders rightly are concerned about the weight of the Marine Air-Ground Task Force, so the weight issue is a red line for integrating the trucks into permanent service. Any MRAPs remaining on the Marine Corps rolls will most likely be stripped of their radios and mothballed.

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Pending Congressional Budget Measure Could Hurt Navy and Marines

Pending Congressional Budget Measure Could Hurt Navy and Marines

The Federal government’s fiscal year comes to an end on September 30, and for the sixth straight time, lawmakers will need more time to figure out how they will pay the bills for next year. This is the ninth time in 11 years that Congress has looked to a temporary spending measure, called a Continuing Resolution (CR), to delay decisions on the nation’s funding priorities, 56 times in all since 2001. Last year’s budget debate required seven CRs and took until April to resolve. In August, House and Senate leaders agreed to a longer term approach, announcing that Congress would move forward with a six month package, pushing-off the decision on specific funding levels until after elections are over and a new Congress is sworn-in.

While the CR will allow the federal government to continue spending money into the new fiscal year, it also puts limitations on how that money can be spent, and those limits are especially acute for the Defense Department (DoD). DoD has enjoyed more than a decade of increasing budget top-lines and used those funds to address the changing needs of a force at war, but lawmakers were poised to cut defense spending next year for the first time since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Instead, the CR, approved last week by the House and set for a vote this week in the Senate, will boost the base budget by more than a half-percent to $519 billion. Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) would be funded at proposed fiscal year 2013 levels, a reduction of $26.5 billion.

As with any spending measure, there are winners and losers with the CR. Though Congress will provide DoD with more money than previously expected, the Department will lose some of its flexibility in spending it. The Navy is hit particularly hard by funding restrictions and policy caveats that could impact current operations, future readiness and long-term planning priorities.

USS Theodore Roosevelt undergoing a complex overhaul in 2011 at Newport News, Va. U.S. Navy Photo

USS Theodore Roosevelt undergoing a complex overhaul in 2011 at Newport News, Va. U.S. Navy Photo

At the top of the priority list for the sea service is the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71). The 26-year old ship is in the final stages of a three-year-long maintenance and modernization period in Newport News, Virginia that the Navy calls a Refueling and Complex Overhaul (RCOH). By the time the TR sets back to sea in 2013, the ship will have new nuclear fuel in its two reactors, upgraded combat and communication systems throughout, and repairs will be made to the ship’s hull, mechanical and electrical systems to keep her viable until at least 2036. The process costs nearly $2.5 billion, but funding for the current phase will dry-up in less than 5 months unless Congress approves new spending for the work. So far, though, this year’s CR does not include funding to finish the overhaul.

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More Marines to Libya: FAST Companies

More Marines to Libya: FAST Companies

Editor’s note: The Pentagon is sending additional U.S. Marines to Libya to reinforce existing U.S. security forces following the attack on the consulate in Benghazi, officials at the U.S. Department of State said on Wednesday. The Benghazi attack resulted in the death of U.S. ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens and three others. Several other reports indicate protests nearby countries have heightened security concerns at American diplomatic missions. Neither the Pentagon nor the Department of State would confirm any additional troop movements in the region.

A Marine assigned to the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (31st MEU) fast ropes onto the USS Essex on Feb, 4 2011. U.S. Navy Photo

A Marine assigned to the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (31st MEU) fast ropes onto the USS Essex on Feb, 4 2011. U.S. Navy Photo

The U.S. Marine Corps has responded to the attack in Libya with a Fleet Antiterrorism Security Team (FAST). FAST is an expeditionary group of highly trained rapid-response close-quarter-battle experts capable of significantly enhancing security at U.S. embassies and other government installations worldwide. Each FAST company — about 500 Marines — maintains a high-degree of readiness and is equipped and trains with high-end weaponry and technology.

The Marines established FASTs in 1987 in anticipation of an increased requirement to rapidly project power overseas when necessary to provide security to U.S. citizens abroad. Since their inception, FASTs have been operationally engaged in Panama (1989) in support of Operation Just Cause; in Tanzania and Kenya (1998) in response to the bombing of the U.S. embassies; in the Port of Aden, Yemen (2000) in response to the USS Cole bombing; as well as reinforcing security at American embassies in Liberia, Haiti, Iraq and Afghanistan.

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