Visiting 2nd Marine Air Wing: Shaping a 21s Century Role for the Low Altitude Air Defense Command


2015-06-17 By Robbin Laird and Murielle Delaporte

The Marines are in the throes of transformation.

The Osprey has been a major factor, as well as introducing new C2 approaches and technologies.

A core competence of the Marines is to put infantry into an objective area and to provide force protection and support for an expeditionary force.

A key contributor to this role is the Low Altitude Air Defense battalion in supporting the infantry.

As threats evolve, and Marine Corps Aviation introduces new technologies, the LAAD Marines are in the throes of change as well.

The role of LAAD and the dynamics of change were discussed with the CO of 2nd LAAD at Cherry Point during a visit on May 18, 2015.

We met with Lieutenant Colonel Raymond J. Placiente to discuss the command and the way ahead.

Lieutenant Colonel Raymond J. Placiente enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1988 and was commissioned in 1992.  His command assignments include:  Commanding Officer, Marine Corps Detachment Fort Bliss, TX; Detachment Commander for the Marine Air Control Group (MACG) 28 Detachment with the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) (Landing Force 6th Fleet 3-00); H&S Battery Commander at 2d Low Altitude Air Defense (LAAD) Battalion; and HAWK Platoon Commander with 2d/1st Light Antiaircraft Missile  (LAAM) Battalion.

Lieutenant Colonel Placiente is a graduate of the Weapons and Tactics Instructor Course, Amphibious Warfare School, Defense Acquisition University, and the Marine Corps Command and Staff College.  He was awarded a Bachelors of Science in Computer Science from the University of Maryland Baltimore County and a Masters of Science in Computer Information Systems from Boston University.


Lt. Col. Placiente put it succinctly: “We need to shape a 21st century employment approach but we are fielding in the case of air defense a 20th century capability.

The stinger missile was designed to deal with the Mig-21 and Mig-29 and it does that well.

The threat is now less that kind of aircraft and now it is cruise missiles or swarming UAVs.

Even with upgrade Stinger missiles, it will be challenging to deal with the new threats.”

The Marines are in the throes of shaping a 21st century system to build out its defensive capabilities.

And at the heart of this effort is the Ground-Based Air Defense and Ground/Air Task Oriented Rader or G/ATOR.

The G/ATOR is an expeditionary multisession radar and is intended to replace five older radar systems.

As Lt. Col. Placiente put it: “The Marines are looking at much richer sensor-enabled defensive capability to provide the infrastructure for force protection.

We need to marry the sensor rich G/ATOR radar with effective 21st century weapons.”

Clearly, these weapons can be air, sea or ground delivered as means to attack the adversary’s offensive threats to the insertion force.

In this regard, directed energy weapons are a key element of the coming capabilities for the USMC, and the ability of the power system to power both G/ATOR and directed energy weapons would significantly enhance the capabilities of the expeditionary force.

“We are looking at directed energy and high energy lasers as a key component of ground-based air defense.

It is just part of the future of ground-based air defense because the Marine Corps vision is a mix of both kinetic and non-kinetic means. “

It should be noted that ground based lasers have considerable potential against UAVs, a fact already demonstrated by the laser operating aboard the USS Ponce today.

An important aspect of change will be to shape the right approach to training the Marines operating the defensive systems as well.

According to Lt. Col. Placiente:

“We operate two-man LAAD teams today and the team is lead by a Sergeant or more often than not, a lance corporal.

They receive a digital air picture through Link 16 to their laptop and are able to act on that information.

For us, digital interoperability is that young corporal with his two-man team being able to receive a data link and to us that data to be able to engage aircraft with the stinger missile.

At the short ranges that we’re engaging aircraft we can’t afford to wait for engagement command.

We have to engage.”

LAAD Doctrine is to engage based upon air defense warning conditions, weapons control status, ROE, and positive ID. 

LAAD Gunners do not have to wait for an engagement command from higher provided the target falls within the engagement criteria.

Future capabilities that improve combat ID and recognition will only improve reaction time.

G/ATOR will provide a powerful sensor set for the 360-degree Marine Corps Combat force, the three dimensional warrior, but sorting out the shooter side of the equation will be crucial as well.

And this is a work in progress.

Lt. Col. Placiente highlighted the role of directed energy weapons as part of the solution set.

“As directed energy technology matures and the ranges of the laser get better that coupled with the situational awareness and the cueing you can get from the G/ATOR radar is going to be the most effective weapon system we have against cruise missiles, UAVs and related threats.

But that depends on the amount of power you can put out from the directed energy system.”

And as these changes occur, the configuration of the LAAD battalion will shift as well.

“We are going to see a significant paradigm shift in how we do business.

The LAAD organization and structure of today may have to be adjusted to better exploit new capabilities and address new threats.

Lt. Col. Placiente underscored that the nature of the approach changes as sensors become enhanced, dispersed and command systems are not linked directly to a particular sensor system.

“We could move to a system whereby the warfighter is building the air situation based on multiple sensors that are all integrated and correlated.

And I don’t necessarily have one guy who is sitting there and directing the fire, but maybe I have one guy who is managing the fires of multiple different strike assets.

By making use of the G/ATOR sensors and a better command and control system, we need to have the person with their finger on the trigger to be certain they are engaging a hostile and not a friendly target.

When you start about swarming threats, you are going to want to push down the engagement authority to the most relevant shooter.”

As we came to the end of the interview, the Lt. Col. sounded quite a bit like the Army General who was in charge of Army Missile Defense in the Pacific when he was interviewed last year – it is not just about defense, it is about effective offense.

“The best air defense is to destroy the adversary on the ground before he can attack you.

We want to shape the battlefield where we can destroy the runways or their control stations or the equipment via kinetic or non-kinetic means.”

And the evolution of EW or tron warfare means is crucial as well.

“We could well build an anti-RF bubble around the MAGTF which prevent any UAVs from being effective.

For this to work, we would need to mitigate the effects on ourselves.”

The Marine CO added: “The MAGTF commander will prioritize what he wants defended and that is where we will put the majority of our effort.

And that is how I am going to orient and employ my capability.”

U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Joshua C. Price, a gunner with Alpha battery, 2nd Low Altitude Air Defense (2D LAAD) Battalion, fires a Stinger Weapon System during a live-fire exercise at Onslow Beach, Camp Lejeune, N.C., March 19, 2014. 2D

LAAD conducted the exercise to familiarize Marines with the missile weapon system. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Austin A. Lewis/Released

A Remote Piloted Vehicle Target launches off a base during a live-fire exercise at Onslow Beach, Camp Lejeune, N.C., March 19, 2014

In the third photo, U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Andrew R. Chabak, left, a team leader with 2nd Low Altitude Air Defense (2D LAAD) Battalion, carries a Stinger Weapon System at Onslow Beach, Camp Lejeune, N.C .

In the final photo, U.S. Marines with 2nd Low Altitude Air Defense (2D LAAD) Battalion, fire a Stinger Missile Weapon System during live-fire exercise at Onslow Beach, Camp Lejeune, N.C., March 19, 2014.

Credit:2nd Marine Aircraft Wing Combat Camera:3/19/14

For articles on G/ATOR see the following: