Preparing for Bold Alligator 2013: Shaping the Future of Distributed Operations


2013-04-08 The USN-USMC team is continuing its work on the insertion of force from the sea.

The team is working on better integration of the overall maritime force in support of the projection of power from the sea. 

With significant participation of allies, the goal is better joint and coalition capability to project power.

Clearly, the USN-USMC team is thinking through ways to better integrate precision fires with ground forces into a power projection effort. 

The ability to combine the sensor power of new systems with the mobility of an insertion force with much better capacity to leverage strike is a core element of the evolving USN-USMC team’s approach.

Second Line of Defense participated in BOLD ALLIGATOR 12 and will do so in 2013.  As we did with the 2012 exercise, we had a chance to talk with Col. Bradley Weisz, Deputy Commander, Expeditionary Strike Group TWO prior to the exercise.

SLD: What is the purpose of BOLD ALLIGATOR 13?

Col. Weisz: The fundamental purpose of BOLD ALLIGATOR 13 is to revitalize our amphibious warfare expertise at the Expeditionary Strike Group/Marine Expeditionary Brigade level of command and control in the planning, coordination and execution of large scale amphibious operations.

Our primary focus has been on the intricate command and staff procedures that are required when you conduct power projection and forcible entry operations from the sea.

I think it is fair to say that the BOLD ALLIGATOR exercise series has brought the blue-green team back to where we were prior to the beginning of our sustained operations ashore in Afghanistan, Iraq and the Horn of Africa.  The training, educational and learning opportunities have been that valuable for everyone involved and actively participating in the process.

The ability to combine the sensor power of new systems with the mobility of an insertion force with much better capacity to leverage strike is a core element of the evolving USN-USMC team’s approach. 

In fact, I would say it has been a win/win for the Navy, a win/win for the Marine Corps, so a win/win for the blue-green amphibious/expeditionary team.

A direct result from the firm commitment to the BOLD ALLIGATOR exercise series has been that a strong partnership has developed and flourished between ESG 2 and 2d MEB.

This has been extraordinary, remarkable to be a part of; you probably could not ask for more.  It has taken a lot of hard work, dedication and perseverance, but the blue-green team has made it work.  And I firmly believe both organizations are committed to maintaining and nurturing that great relationship in the future.

Another significant part of BOLD ALLIGATOR 13 has been the close coordination and integration of a Carrier Strike Group (CSG) in support of ESG/MEB level operations.

This has enabled the ESG/MEB team to better understand what capabilities as well as limitations that the CSGs bring to the table in support of large scale amphibious operations.  It has definitely opened the eyes and ears of the CSG community to just how complex and difficult ESG/MEB level amphibious operations can be.  CAPT George Lang (Acting CSG 12 Commander) and his staff have done a superb job of planning, integrating and working together with the ESG/MEB team.

The opportunities to discuss and learn the ins and outs of the aviation, surface and anti-submarine warfare capabilities that the CSG team brings to the littoral fight has been truly rewarding.  We have learned that we definitely need to establish and conduct more training engagements and opportunities between the Carrier Strike Group and amphibious force communities in the future.

In addition to the great CSG integration, we have also established an outstanding alliance with our coalition partners.  Seventeen (17) coalition countries, partner nations & organizations are participating in BOLD ALLIGATOR 13, including Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Colombia, United Kingdom, France, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Turkey, Australia, New Zealand, STRIKFORNATO HQs & CJOS COE.  This includes staff augments, liaison officers and observers to the CFMCC, ESG 2 and 2d MEB staffs.  This is absolutely phenomenal.

SLD: The integration of the aviation assets with the ground insertion force, getting that complex ballet coordinated is central and having appropriate command and control to actually do that is challenging as well.

Col. Weisz: Precisely, you are spot on, it is very challenging and we need to get better at it.  However, once you get the correct command and control relationships established and understood by all, everything else just falls right in place.

So that integration piece, that necessary aviation command and control piece that you talk about, has to be a joint effort that utilizes all the services aviation command and control capabilities; from the Air Force to the Army to the Navy to Marine Corps, all the joint services must be constantly involved and participating in the process.

A flexible, redundant and tightly integrated aviation command and control plan has been a high priority for the ESG/MEB/CSG commanders since the very beginning of BOLD ALLIGATOR 13 planning.

In regards to the detailed integration of aviation support, the majority of MEB aviation assets would directly support the ground forces maneuvering ashore. 

The MAGTF (that is the MEB) has developed and maintained close habitual relationships over the years between its ground combat and aviation combat units that we want to maintain throughout all phases of our amphibious operations; from the ship-to-shore movement piece to our sustained operations ashore, it is that critical.

You do not want to break those relationships up, you do not want to lose those close habitual relationships between your combat forces; they are just too important, too essential to have due to the complex and difficult situations that you will encounter during amphibious operations.

As far as the robust aviation capabilities that the CSG brings to the fight with its Carrier Air Wing, we would want to utilize (maximize) as much of their C2, ISR, electronic warfare and strike warfare assets that we possibly could.  Their E-2Cs (Hawkeyes) provide critical airborne command and control capabilities, their F/A-18s (Hornets and Super Hornets) provide lethal, precision strike capabilities while their EA-18Gs (Growlers) and EA-6Bs (Intruders) provide unrivalled electronic warfare (EW) capabilities to the ground combat element of the landing forces.

From a surface warfare perspective supporting the ground forces ashore, the Cruiser/ Destroyer (CruDes) assets of the CSG provide crucial naval surface fire support (NSFS) with their 5-inch guns and Tomahawk Land Attack Cruise Missiles (TLAMs).

Again, all of these assets, platforms, capabilities and services are highly desired and valued by the ground combat forces, but must be properly coordinated and integrated into the overarching command and control plan.

SLD: When you have the F-35Bs coming off of your amphibious ships, the ability to use strike assets from the surface fleet will become even more significant and will provide an expanded role in support don’t you believe?

Col. Weisz: As we add the F-35B Joint Strike Fighter to the fleet, our blue-green team will be able to significantly enhance the integration of our surface fleet with both our aviation forces and ground combat maneuver forces. The sensors and link capabilities on the F-35Bs will be crucial for conducting and fusing the necessary C2, ISR, electronic warfare and strike warfare missions needed in support of amphibious operations.  So yes, the F-35Bs advanced C2 capabilities will provide us with the necessary means to effectively integrate our surface fleet, aviation forces and ground forces.

It will be an instant game changer.

SLD: In other words, the template that you’re evolving is better collaboration with the various Navy resources rather than simply having specialized amphibious assault assets isolated from the rest of the fleet.  You are working to give yourself a much greater capability to leverage the sea base in inserting force.

Col. Weisz: That’s exactly the direction we are heading to, what we are doing and are focused upon. We are getting away from the legacy stove-pipe systems and moving to better collaboration, more integration with our entire fleet force.  This is absolutely essential in today’s complex and constantly evolving operating environment; especially when you start talking about the increased anti-access and area-denial (A2/AD) threats that we will face and encounter in the littoral regions.  Yes, we are developing and shaping some innovative approaches to deal with these emerging threats.

As far as leveraging our sea basing capabilities in direct support of our amphibious forces, we will aggressively employ and utilize nine military sealift command ships, MSC ships, as part of our logistics task force.  We will have three fleet oilers (T-AOs) that can hold and carry a sizable amount of class I (subsistence) and class III (POL). We will also have two highly capable dry cargo/ammunition ships (T-AKEs) that can haul and deliver substantial amounts of class III (POL) and class V (ground/aviation ammunition) products.

Along with the T-AOs and T-AKEs, we will have one fast combat support ship (T-AOE) that can provide significant class I (subsistence), class III (POL) and class V (ground/aviation ammunition) capabilities in support of our CSG and ATF forces.  Additionally, we will employ and utilize one Aviation Logistics Support Ship (T-AVB) that will provide crucial aviation intermediate maintenance support and repair services to all of our landing force aircraft afloat.  This includes all fixed wing, rotary wing, and tilt rotor aircraft afloat.

We will also have a joint high-speed vessel (JHSV) involved in the exercise, and that is the first time we have done that for a BOLD ALLIGATOR exercise.

(We have a forthcoming interview with the head of the Military Sealift Command on the JHSV in BA-13 as well.)

The JHSV is Spartan, is NASCAR, so it does not have a lot of self-protection, but you know when you can go 35 plus knots, carry about 600 tons of cargo/equipment and about 300 motivated Marines, that’s a pretty darn good capability when you think about it.  So the exercise will provide a great learning curve for the Navy/Marine Corps team with regards to the employment options of the JHSV.

It would not surprise me in the future if you start seeing the joint high-speed vessel fully integrated into the Amphibious Ready Group/Marine Expeditionary Unit (ARG/MEU) deployment cycle.

The JHSV offers such a great capability, especially for theater security cooperation and engagement type events.

SLD: What are the dates of the exercise?

Col. Weisz: The exercise will be conducted from 22 April to 1 May 2013; here in Norfolk with the ESG 2/2d MEB command team aboard the USS BATAAN (LHD 5).

The BATAAN is an amphibious assault ship, commonly referred to as a big deck amphib.  We conducted BOLD ALLIGATOR 11 aboard the USS BATAAN, so she is familiar with the exercise objectives and training objectives we are trying to accomplish. BOLD ALLIGATOR 13 is officially designated as a FST, meaning Fleet Synthetic Training exercise, so it is all synthetic and done primarily pier side, in-port.

That is good because FSTs enable us to provide a wider range of complex and demanding simulations than possible at sea or in the field, ultimately reducing and saving on our exercise costs.