Defense of the Expeditionary Airfield: A Core USMC Competence


10/13/2014: U.S. Marines attending Weapons and Tactics Instructor (WTI) Course 1-15 conduct a Defense of the Expeditionary Airfield Two (DEAF-2) exercise which involves defending a forward arming refueling point site against simulated attackers at Bull Attack, Chocolate Mountain Aerial Gunnery Range, Calif., Oct. 03, 2014.

The DEAF-2 exercise supported WTI 1-15 hosted by Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics Squadron One (MAWTS-1).

 Credit: Marine Corps Air Station Yuma Combat Camera:10/3/14

The Marines train and operate from expeditionary airfields.

This is one of their core competencies.

A reason why they fly vertical lift aircraft is to have a more capable forward deployed air enabled ground force.

Three earlier interviews have highlighted this core competence.

General Walsh

General Walsh explained the overall approach in an interview entitled “The Harrier and Flexible Basing.”

General Walsh explained that the ability to operate close to the battlefield, always the Harrier to provide considerably greater sortie rates in support of the ground forces.

The presence capability we’re having increases time on station to be able to observe them, pounce, provide presence: whatever the effect is you’re looking for, the STOVL being closely based not only gives you the responsive time, but it also gives you that increased time on station by being closer to the battlefield, as opposed to an aircraft which has been traveling a long distance away, may only have 20 minutes to be on station to drop ordnance, and then, has to leave and get back to the base because it is out of fuel.

By being closer there, you have more time on-station, and by being more on-station, you’re able to loiter longer and have more of a patience profile : you are then more in a position to wait there for precise targeting, as opposed to be in a hurry to get out of there.

However, time on station in this presence concept rules, because what we are doing today isn’t a deliberate attack and isn’t driving forward on conventional operations.

Many times, it is just waiting for the ground forces to say that they need an effect. It may also be the enemy reacting to what we’re doing that drives that reaction. So it’s not always that we’re developing a plan 72 hours out on when to attack targets, in which one launches into a window and has 10 minutes to drop ordinance and get out of there.

We may actually not drop any ordnance. But it’s that presence piece – that loiter time – that is critical. You can loiter much longer over the area you need to loiter over, if you’re parked right next to it.

Lt. Col. Williams

In a second interview done in August 2011:During a recent exercise of the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing, the USMC honed their skills at landing Harriers on AM-2 matting, loading the aircraft with the pilot in the cockpit and ready to go after loading the aircraft with both weapons and fuel.  After getting “a bag of fuel” and weapons, the Harrier takes off and re-engages.

This core competence of the USMC combines what a V/STOL aircraft can do with innovative combat operational approaches.

During the exercise Lt. Col. Williams discussed the exercise of this core competence and its use in operations.

Lt. Col Williams is the Commanding Officer of VMA-231.  Marine Attack Squadron 231 (VMA-231) is a United States Marine Corps fixed wing attack squadron that consists of AV-8B Harrier (V/STOL) jets and 1 TAV-8B trainer jet. The squadron, known as the “Ace of Spades”, is based at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina and fall under the command of Marine Aircraft Group 14 (MAG-14) and the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing (2nd MAW).

Chief Warrant Officer Collier and Lt. Col. Johnson

And in the third interview conducted in April 2010:

In April 2010, SLD sat down with two experienced USMC MAGTF officers and discussed the USMC approach to expeditionary air basing and the significant demand for their expertise in the austere environment of Afghanistan.

SLD: The USMC approach to expeditionary air basing is rooted in history.  Could you comment on this?

Chief Warrant Officer Collier: Well, if you really want to go back, we’ve been doing it since World War II.  The type of systems has changed; that’s the only real difference.

SLD:    But how do you actually do an expeditionary airfield now?

Lt. Col. Johnson: As with any military operation, you start with a requirement or the operation may direct the need to establish an expeditionary airfield or a forward arming or refueling point (FARP).

SLD:    So either a FARP or an airfield?

Lt. Col. Johnson: Correct. The mission analysis will dictate what you would require for expeditionary basing and operations.  Our pre-positioning ships house the expeditionary air basing capability for a 30-day operation. That, of course, can be expanded as necessary.

SLD:    That means that you have an airfield on the maritime prepositioned ships, correct?

Chief Warrant Officer Collier: Right. And then we keep some in shore bay storage also.  And it can either come off a ship; it can be flown in, it takes a lot of shortage, but it can be flown in also.  But shipping is the preferred method of transporting, just because of the weight alone.

SLD:    It’s a big package.  Are we talking fixed or rotary wing?

Chief Warrant Officer Collier: It’s both; it’s fixed wing and rotary wing, and it just depends on the requirement. If it’s rotary wing, taking OIF as an example, we built a lot of pads to support the V-22s.

SLD:    Where did you build them?

Chief Warrant Officer Collier: At Al Anbar Province in Iraq, as well as in Afghanistan.

Lt. Col. Johnson: There has been various combinations too; Marines have built full-blown expeditionary airfields like Dwyer from scratch.  And then there has been a combination, e.g., if they need an extra parking ramp or taxiways, AM-2 matting can compliment an existing airstrip that’s already there.

Chief Warrant Officer Collier: Right: in actual fact, OIF and Desert Storm were perfect examples of that, we just complimented existing airfields in theater.

SLD:    So, the kit can be used either for organic capability itself or a complimentary package, correct?

Chief Warrant Officer Collier: Right.

SLD:    How long does it take to set this up? Obviously, the organic would take longer than the complement.  But what kind of time frame in principle are we talking about?

Chief Warrant Officer Collier: Well, usually about 30 to 60 days, but it all depends on the requirement.  If you’re supporting a lot of aircrafts, then it’s going to take longer to build, because you’ve got to create more parking space.

SLD:    So, is it a bit like a Lego block system?

Chief Warrant Officer Collier: Pretty much.  We primarily lay a brickwork pattern.  You see bricks laid on a house, they’re staggered.  It’s the same concept.

SLD:    What is it made of, so it can handle the heat, wear and tear, etc?

Chief Warrant Officer Collier: It can indeed handle the heat.  Harriers have no heat impact on AM-2 matting; we have been doing it for years. Testing for the F-35B is ongoing to see how the current matting stands up to the heat from the new engine.  Experts are looking at emerging or new technologies to see whether they can come up with some sort of higher heat-resistant matting that can supplement or complement the existing pads.  The AM-2 matting might need modification or we might build special pads for the F-35B to land and then it can taxi on AM-2.

Lt. Col. Johnson: In current operations, the USMC expertise is in high demand. The air force has AM-2 matting.  The army has equivalent square type matting.

Chief Warrant Officer Collier: M-19 matting.

Lt. Col. Johnson: They keep an inventory of the matting, but there are lots of accessories that go along with it.  Locking bars, stakes, etc.

Chief Warrant Officer Collier: Edge clamps, H-connectors, all to make it connect and configure it the way you need to configure it.

SLD:    So, they’ve got the Lego blocks, but not the connectors?

Lt. Col. Johnson: Correct.  None of the accessories.

Lt. Col. Johnson: Same with the Army; but unlike our rectangle AM-2 matting, the Army has not kept a big inventory of it; they haven’t been replenishing it.

Chief Warrant Officer Collier: Their M-10 is not produced anymore.

Lt. Col. Johnson: So, as a result and by default, Marine Corps 7011s or 7002s are in demand for their expertise.

SLD:    What are the 7011s and 7002s?

Lt. Col. Johnson: The 7011s are the expeditionary airfield military occupational specialty marines.  The 7002s are the officers.

Lt. Col. Johnson: Let me give you an example of demand for USMC expertise.  Recently in Afghanistan, because there isn’t an airfield infrastructure in place like there was in Iraq, there’s been a high demand for AM-2 matting to create the expeditionary airstrips.  The Air Force has AM-2 matting, but they don’t have the accessories to go with it.  They primarily use the matting to put down inside their maintenance facilities and/or other working areas.  In other words, it’s used only as flooring — a very expensive flooring system for them.

“There has been a high demand for Am-2 matting.” Here, in Afghanistan, Marines with MWSS 271, attached to the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, NATO International Security Assistance Force, lay down AM2 matting while in the Kandahar Province, Afghanistan. This AM2 matting will be essential in the support of aircraft while conducting operations in support of NATO (credit:

SLD:    It’s basically used for support once they’ve established a temporary hangar or whatever.  It’s really supporting the maintenance side rather than the ops side?

Lt. Col. Johnson: Yes, sir.  And because of that, both the Army and Air Force capability subject matter expertise has atrophied, and really the Marine Corps is the only go-to service right now that has that capability and expertise resident to provide that capability.

SLD:    So your 7011s and 7002s are  in high demand?

Lt. Col. Johnson: Absolutely.  They’re supporting U.S. forces in  Afghanistan with subject matter expert teams to support our sister services; for installation, design, inspections, maintenance, and training.

SLD:    So, basically they act as advisors on the core competencies necessary to have the capability.

Lt. Col. Johnson: Yes, sir.  In turn, there are almost 8 million square feet of matting in Afghanistan.  In contrast, in the height of OIF there was approximately 1 million square feet of AM-2 on the ground.  That has taken approximately 70-percent of our on-hand stocks of AM-2 out of the Marine Corps inventory.  And that, of course, has exhausted our stocks…..