Thinking Beyond The Osprey: MAGTF Innovation and Coalition Capabilities


2014-02-17 During the visit of the Second Line of Defense team to Second Marine Air Wing in mid-February 2014, we sat down with the Commanding Officer of VMX-22 to discuss the approach to innovation being fostered by USMC aviation in support of the evolution of the MAGTF.

It is clear as well that this is not simply about the MAGTF but about ways to work more effectively with coalition partners in the period ahead.

In earlier discussions with Col. Orr, we focused on the process of the maturation of the Osprey.

One measure of that maturation is the battle-tested character of the Osprey and the squadrons, which use it in combat. During the last visit to New River, it was possible to talk with the two Osprey operators who were the recipients of the first Distinguished Flying Crosses along with their Air Crew, which received Air Medal honors for their performance in Afghanistan. It was clear from their stories that:

The performance of the pilots, the crews, and of the airplane under extreme battle conditions are a clear measure of the maturing of the Osprey itself.

Col. Orr, CO of VMX-22, during the SLD interview February 10, 2014
Col. Orr, CO of VMX-22, during the SLD interview February 10, 2014

This interview focused much more on building out from that maturation to MAGTF innovation as a whole. And it is clear that the role of VMX-22 is to support MAGTF innovation.

In an earlier interview with Col. Orr, the CO explained the key role of VMX-22 in working through the convergence of platform development to shape overall MAGTF innovations.

I’m privileged to lead Marine Operational Test and Evaluation Squadron 22. 

We conduct operational testing on assigned USMC aircraft under the authority of the Commander, Operational Test and Evaluation Force and the direction of the Deputy Commandant, Aviation. 

We used to be called Marine Tilt-Rotor Operational Test and Evaluation Squadron 22, and the name of the squadron and the number of the squadron should give away a little bit about its lineage.

The squadron was created during the development of the V-22 Osprey program because of the services’ emphasis on the successful operational evaluation of the V-22.

The Osprey and its impacts have been key facilitators for change in the USMC.

But the performance of the aircraft has moved the discussion beyond the Osprey to the patterns of change within the MAGTF itself.

The squadron is working on UAVs, preparing for the F-35B, working on innovative C2 approaches and generally working on the re-set of digital integration of MAGTF forces.

The impact of the speed and range of the Osprey is driving an opportunity to add speed and effectiveness for situational decision makers in the ground combat element flying aboard the Osprey as well.

As Orr explained in the interview:

It is not just about adding new platforms and doing older tasks better. 

It is about rethinking how we do operations in 21st century conditions. 

We are working on the creation of aviation enabled networks provided by a group of platforms able to perform a wide range of missions and to be provide the situational awareness to allow the MAGTF to function more effectively and efficiently into the 21st century.

The approach is to work the relationships among the new aviation platforms to deliver capabilities to the MAGTF to, as Orr put it, “build the operations space for the commander.”

A key driver for change has clearly been the Osprey, which has forced the USMC to think beyond the horizon of classic helicopter operations.  Helos are slower moving, not capable of great range of operations and require an infrastructure of support on the ground to execute many of their missions.

With the Osprey’s greater range and speed and ability to be refueled in flight, the ground combat element can operate over much greater distances.

For example, in the recent SP-MAGTF CR operation in South Sudan, the unit moved from Spain to South Sudan.

160 Marines and Sailors from the Special Force Marine Air Ground Task Force Crisis Response were able to be flown by 2 KC-130s Hercules and 4 MV-22B Ospreys from Spain where they are temporarily based to Djibouti and then Uganda.

With 3,400 nautical miles (a distance equivalent from Anchorage to Miami), this was the longest range insert ever performed by this force thanks to its self-deployable capability.

Thinking outside of the helo defined operational box is a key game changer in thinking about the future of the MAGTF. 

During the interview, Orr discussed the recent experiments in C2 support for a long-range raid, in UAV developments, and shaping a new working relationship between electronic warfare and cyber approaches.

The long-range raid in December 2013, the Marines worked on mission planning on the fly.

Although the Osprey is a tilt-rotor aircraft, its heart and sole is in supporting the Ground Combat Element (GCE) differently than any airborne capability seen before.

The Marines work the relationship between the GCE and the Air Combat Element (ACE) to shape a capability, which is expeditionary, flexible, and with the Osprey more rapid with greater range for force insertion than before.

But to get to the next phase requires further innovation, this time in terms of how the MAGTF (GCE and ACE) can better use the new emerging capabilities, specifically C3I and fires, to execute its mission more effectively.

The Osprey and KC130J pairing provides an ability to operate at distance and to rethink various missions such as force insertion, extraction of embassy personnel, TRAP and others, to include limited objective MAGTF strike operations.

KC130J flying with Osprey and F-18. Credit: 1st MAW
KC130J flying with Osprey and F-18. Credit: 1st MAW 

By not being a relatively slow-moving helicopter that typically requires forward operating bases to conduct long-range operations, the Osprey allows the USMC (and the USAF) to think about how to use the speed and range of the Osprey when paired with organic tanking capabilities to operate fundamentally different from past approaches.

Over the past year, during three separate, long-range, Marine Air-Ground exercises, the Marine Infantry Officer Course (IOC) has worked closely with multiple aviation units to attack this required culture change.

During these experiments, the combined air-ground team has sought different approaches to achieve more effective outcomes, and have used these exercises as means to shape future technological adaptations.

A recent example of this approach was seen in a long-range Non-Combatant Evacuation Operation (NEO) that IOC, serving as a simulated Company Landing Team(CLT), executed into a semi-permissive environment from  29Palms to Fort Hood Texas.

The exercise was called TALON REACH and was the culminating event for IOC Class 1-14.  This event was conducted under one period of darkness between 29 Palms California and Ft Hood Texas.

According to Orr, VMX-22 provided two Ospreys, which provided the airborne C2 network to enable a new approach to planning aboard the aircraft for the GCE.

He emphasized, “we currently have C2 links to support the MAGTF at the Combined Operations Center.  What we’re doing with new technologies is to push C2 to the lowest appropriate tactical level to enable the CLT commanders to be able to have the situational awareness and intelligence to make better and more effective combat decisions.”

During the exercise, the Harriers provided through their FLIR systems the video, which flowed into the back of the Ospreys and appeared on the tablets used by the assault force commanders.

“We can use either manned or unmanned systems for this role, but the core point is flowing the information to the embarked commander.”

In effect, a key aspect of the change with the new technologies, which will be accelerated with the arrival of the F-35B, is the key role of situational decision making at the appropriate level and not just situational awareness sent BACK to a central command.  It is about empowering new concepts of distributed operations.

In addition, the long-range raid exercise, VMX-22 was involved at 29 Palms with continued testing of the USMC-USN UAV called RQ-21 or Blackjack.  This is UAV which builds out from the Insitu class of UAVs (built around Scan Eagle) and is designed to support the MAGTF commander either on the ground or off of ships.

(For a look at the operation of the Scan Eagle in Afghanistan see the following:

According to Orr, the USMC is looking at the UAV to provide a range of payloads ranging from electronic warfare to strike.  “We are currently focusing on the EW side of the house in current testing.”

He also emphasized that the approach was not simply about UAVs or manned but how the two can work together to deliver the capability, which the MAGTF needs.

“We are working with both UAV and manned platforms to deliver the capability to the MAGTF commander and providing for remote control of the UAV payloads.”

Orr highlighted that the approach was evolving with the various aviation platforms to shape a combined cyber and EW approach.

We are focusing on cyber-EW convergence.  We are building towards support for the single MAGTF commander and to give him options. 

Do we want to listen? 

Do we want to jam?

What are the trade offs in an operational setting and what does the Commander prioritize? 

And how do we support those priorities with a blended capability?

Crafting an innovative “no platform fights alone” approach to shaping MAGTF capabilities is central to the VMX-22 mission.

And building out such an approach is crucial with the coming of the F-35B.

The F-35B is not just a fighter aircraft, it is an information warfare machine. 

As we build out our ability to support the MAGTF with longer range and faster means to operate our forces, the F-35B inserted into this flow of innovation will, in turn accelerate, the pace of innovation.

Orr underscored that the mix and matching of platforms to shape new MAGTF capabilities required significant re-thinking and stretching the mental envelopes of the force and its leaders.

He also underscored that with such innovation; the USMC can be an even better coalition partner.

In January 2014 a United States Marine Corps (USMC) V22 Osprey landed for the first time onboard the Dixmude, a French Navy Mistral class LHD. Credit Photo: French Navy
In January 2014 a United States Marine Corps (USMC) V22 Osprey landed for the first time onboard the Dixmude, a French Navy Mistral class LHD. Credit Photo: French Navy

“As we innovate, our working relationship with allies can allow us to be better partners, and to provide means to expand the overall capabilities of a coalition.  Coalition partners bring significant combat capabilities and operational experience in diverse global regions; as we bring a more effective MAGTF force to those operations, the coalition as a whole benefits as well.”

Notably, allies are buying amphibious ships, which can complement what the USN-USMC brings to the fight.

When asked what really is the difference in providing C2 for the disaggregated MEU (operating over a 1,000 miles due to the impact of the Osprey) and a coalition set of seabases, Orr responded:

It is about working the C2 and shaping joint concepts of operations. 

This is a challenge, which we face ourselves. 

And as we solve our disaggregated MEU challenge we can see a real path to shaping a coalition set of approaches as well.

Put simply, the maturation of the Osprey has enabled further change in the MAGTF.

But shaping that change is a task beyond the Osprey itself. The Osprey has played a forcing function, and shaping a path to further MAGTF innovation is the core task ahead.

And prepares the way for the coming of the F-35B as a further change agent as well.

For an earlier discussion with Col. Orr see the following piece published in Leatherneck in October 2013:

And in the video below the long range raid discussed by Col. Orr is the focus of attention:

PALMFEX 1-14 is the culminating exercise for Infantry Officer Course 1-14. In addition to the normal training evolution, this will also provide a “Proof-of-Concept” long-range operation from 29 Palms California to Fort Hood Texas. This is a total distance of approximately 1,100 miles and will solidify the Marine Corps as the only DOD asset to have validated the ability to provide this capability.

From 27 November 2013 to 19 December 2013, IOC (-)(+) deploys to the MCAGCC in 29 Palms, CA to conduct mechanized and dismounted, combined arms, live-fire training, full-spectrum, blank and live-fire urban training, and a “proof-of-concept” long-range operation IOT prepare infantry and ground intelligence officers for duty in the Operating Forces.

PALMFEX is a newly validated capability as it applies to Crisis Response, HA/DR, Anti-Piracy missions and other DOD strategic requirements.

Defense Media Activity: USMC


USMC Long Range Raid from on Vimeo.