Expanding the Toolset: Looking Forward From Bold Alligator 2012


Second Line of Defense had a chance to discuss with Lt. Col. “Uber” Williams who served as Col. Shorter’s deputy from MAG-14 headquarters during Bold Alligator 2012. According to Williams, “While he’s back in Cherry Point running the rest of his MAG, I will be out aboard the Kearsarge basically as his deputy specifically to assist the Harrier squadrons assigned to the ACE Command Element.”

In an interview prior to Bold Alligator 2012, Williams underscored the paradigm shift associated with the exercise.


In this follow up interview, Williams re-enforced the earlier discussion and laid out the nature of the transition and the opportunities which the transition provide for the way ahead.

SLD: As we discussed before, the ESG-MEB is not an ARG-MEU on steroids.  It is a different animal.  Could you discuss the nature of the shift seen from your perspective with the ACE commander aboard the USS Kearsarge?

Lt. Col. Williams: We have broad experience and broad expertise in both the Navy and the Marine Corps for MEU level operations.  And that typically is built around one large amphibious ship and two smaller amphibious ships.  The ACE commander has most of his assets on one ship, with perhaps a couple of his aircraft on one of the smaller ones.

During ESG-MEB employment we had a multiple LHA/LHD ships and multiple amphibious ships that had aircraft and surface craft on them.  We also had a MEU that bordered the MEB to the south and a carrier battle group on the north of the battle space.

Each ship brought its own command and control; the MEB had its command and control; the ESG has its command and control.  And as we went into the exercise, understanding how all those elements were going to fit together, which ones had primacy and how to have a clear chain of command, in the supporting/supported command relationship led to a significant challenge

Depending on which phase of the exercise we were in and the role that each ship was playing, whether the Wasp or the Kearsarge were doing amphibious offload or aviation operations, presented some operational challenges that were eye opening.

If multiple ships were conducting surface offload and both doing aviation operations, in close proximity, which deck ship had primacy in the command and control relationship? And which one was able to have better situational awareness?  That was a core challenge.

Two MV-22 Osprey approach USS Wasp Feb. 1 to take part in Exercise Bold Alligator 2012. Credit; USS WASP

The Marine Corps and the Navy have an opportunity during ESG-MEB size exercises, to update our doctrinal approach to command and control, and to capitalize on the emerging capabilities to maximize our effectiveness.  This can be pursued at the level of the MEB/ ESG, the PHIBGRUs and aboard each ship.  And the commanders need to understand how all the agencies and capabilities are going to be integrated.

I think some great lessons to come out of the exercise is for us to learn how to build the posturing of ships, the phasing of the offloads, and the phasing of aviation operations. In this process, we have to very deliberate in how our command and control agencies interact.  Additionally, how can the Commanders make decisions and adequately get information, and then, distribute their decisions to the deployed force?

SLD: One of the most powerful images from the exercise was Ospreys come off of a supply ship to operate more than 180 miles inland to do a raid near Fort Picket. The flexibility inherent in this event is definitional for the future.  What is your take?

Lt. Col. Williams: I think the large number of ships that were afloat, the number of assets that were afloat, and the number of different countries and capabilities that they bring in a broad sea base mindset, you can draw upon several different specialized capabilities.

You can dramatically expand the toolset.

For example with the raid on Fort Pickett, the raid may be originally driven by a special operations force, that is launched from the sea base, but then may very quickly transition to a conventional mission, coming from the same sea base, allowing detailed planning and coordination.

The duration of an operation is critical to the discussion. For a raid, the time in the objective area can range from a couple hours to days or longer. With this in mind, an array of ships within the V-22s range can provide the logistical support for either immediate retrograde or a limited time in the area without the requirement for resupply from a land base.

In addition, we’d want to provide aerial escort for a raid force to attrite any air or surface threat to the V-22 assault force. This is enabled by the STOVL strike aircraft deployed in a MEU or MEB sized element.

Once the objective is met, we can bring those forces back very quickly, to prepare for the next mission.

The flexibility of Sea Basing allows us to put the right force ashore with the logistics and aviation support and for the right duration.

This approach provides you with a broad breadth of influence over the battle space that gives the commander great flexibility and great sustainability in conducting missions throughout the spectrum of operations.

SLD: From your perspective, how does one tie together the ESG-MEB to get that flexibility and to leverage the inherent sustainability of the sea-based force?

Lt. Col. Williams: That is the value of exercises like Bold Alligator.

Through the execution of the exercises we will have an opportunity to upgrade our amphibious doctrine, to include the impact that our emergent capabilities, like the V-22, F-35 and H-1 aircraft possess.

The V-22 with its speed and range should shatter the idea that amphibious assault is simply an archaic “storming the beach” operation.

F-35 with its unique capabilities will provide Marine and Navy Commanders with more SA through its networking capability and its array of sensors.

In the same way V-22 is changing the calculus on speed, range and flexibility, the F-35 will alter how we view FW strike in terms of C3 ISR and information sharing.

It will help provide SA for commanders afloat, ashore and will be critical for distributed operations displaying an accurate common picture.

SLD: In other words, the Osprey demonstrated in BA-12 why 2012 is not 1996.  And BA 2017 will begin to show why it is not BA-12? Or put another way, a core member of the SLD has put it, if you did not have the F-35, you would need to invent it to be able to evolve the promise of the ESG-MEB team.

Lt. Col. Williams:  That is a good way to put it. As we fold in the new capabilities, we can think about operations across the seabase differently.

In a less decisive or less definitive environment, we need plan for enduring operations from the ship. Meaning that during several phases of an operation, the forces may phase ashore, return to the ship and then phase ashore again.

This method of employment permits an enduring flexibility and movement of forces and support. After we have achieved an objective, say from ship to shore, we can ask how do we move the force across the mission area to achieve our next objectives?

The thought of moving on and off the ships, and repositioning and providing flexibility to achieve your next objective augments the combat power we have deployed and is optimized for operations in the Pacific for example.

Again, the raid on Fort Pickett is suggestive.  After the raid succeeds and achieves its initial objective, where does that force go or how does it change? Perhaps it goes back to the seabase the ship moves 300-400 miles at sea, then prepares and postures for a completely different mission, with a force tailored to that mission. You can redeploy to a sea base because your support is there.

You don’t need to push all the support ashore.

The ESG-MEB Potential: The Impact of Bold Alligator 2012 from SldInfo.com on Vimeo.