2015-07-12 By Robbin Laird
The 2nd Marine Air Wing based at Cherry Point, North Carolina is celebrating its 74th birthday.
It started by joining the war in the Pacific and supporting Marines throughout the war.
The wing has supported Marines in virtually every operation the US has engaged in since then.
And the best way to remember and honor those who have come before is to strive for excellence and to innovate going forward.
I have visited the 2nd MAW many times over the past few years, and have found the leadership and warriors of the 2nd MAW to have been engaged in global operations and while doing so finding ways to reshape the capabilities of the USMC to execute 21st century missions.
2nd MAW was an important stimulant to my own innovation.
After taking several journalists to Cherry Point, and having a chance to meet the senior leadership and several Marines, not a single story emerged. This was in spite of the 2nd MAW team being on the cutting edge of introducing the Osprey into combat, about to go on their final tour into Iraq, and to have discussed with passion why the massive buy of MRAPS made no sense.
In fact, the CG asked the relevant Lt. Col. to discuss why he thought the MRAPs were not good things to hand over to the Iraqis. In giving a spirited answer that history would prove correct – to the point of they were not going to be maintained by the Iraqis and that there were too many variants to be a useful leave behind, among other points, I thought that a story like that in 2007 would make good sense.
But it did not see the light of day.
I asked one prominent journalist why he did not pursue the story.
The answer: “the Marine who made these points was only a Lt. Col. When I deal with the US Army on such matters I only deal with Generals.”
OK, there clearly was a problem here.
And looking around, I found that indeed the apparently least interesting thing to discuss is what the warriors were actually doing in shaping their combat futures.
And it was at this time of course, all the cubical commandos and asserted facts journalists buried the Osprey into the proverbial sand of history.
Next up of course has been the F-35.
As one prominent analyst told me recently: “I do not know why the USMC is taking risks with the plane, for they should wait until the GAO and the testers are done.”
Of course, one answer is that the GAO and the testers are never done, and new equipment is not operated by either group.
Another answer of course is that the GAO is better at blocking acquisition than aiding it.
A powerful example is the tanker, where the USAF has no new tankers while the Airbus tanker is flying now with multiple Air Forces and has reached nearly 30 operational aircraft.
And ironically, the plane that is being sold is the USAF plane, so a good headline would be something like USAF tanker 30; GAO 0.
Major General Hedelund
Two interviews with former CGs of the 2nd MAW highlighted various aspects of the innovation generated by the warriors of the wing.
The most recent was with Major General Hedelund who focused on the process of change.
Question: Looking back how do you view the process of change?
MajGen Hedelund: If I reflect back on my own experience with the Osprey and can certainly underscore that innovation takes time. When I was getting ready to get my wings in Pensacola, a senior Marine came and shook my hand and said that I was going to be a lucky Marine.
Why I asked? He said “you are going to the East Coast CH-46s for one deployment and then to the MV-22 for the rest of your career.”
That was 1985. My next checkpoint along the way was a stop at the Boeing plant in 1988 to see the first Osprey on the planet.
This was the aircraft they rolled out for General Gray and it was pained in in General Gray’s camouflage. And there I was, Captain Hedelund, looking into to the cockpit with excitement, and at a cockpit that would never be used in an operational Osprey.
In 2001, I was slated to become a VMM commander but became an HMM commander because the V22 program was in an operational pause. So I became the CO of HMM-162, but then next up was Karsten Heckl, now Assistant Deputy Commandant for Aviation, who then became the first VMM-162 Commander.
When I became the CO of MAWTS-1 in 2006, I had my first crack at flying the airplane.
And the experience was an eye opener with regard to what a key platform it could be for the USMC and change the way we did amphibious assault.
Iraqi operations was really the first time that MAWTS-1 got their hands on a living, breathing V-22 and our task at the time was to integrate the plane into Iraqi operations and also for the weapons and tactics instructors course.
Question: When I first came to New River several years ago there were very few Ospreys on the tarmac.
When I came down earlier this year with Murielle Delaporte she was surprised the number of Ospreys on the tarmac, and as frequent visitor and interviewer of the French Air Force, she pointed out that numbers matter.
MG Hedelund: We are only talking now a few years, but the changes in that time have been truly stunning.
And we are taking that operational experience and marrying it with a wide range of innovative thinking as well, with regard to anticipating the F-35, to the use of UAVs, to the integration of electronic warfare, and with regards to digital integration of the assault force.
For us, innovation is blended with a combat culture that innovates for a purpose – to succeed in difficult circumstances.
With the Osprey we are not thinking rotorcraft terms.
We are thinking in big chunks of operational space and figuring out how to operate more effectively within the expanded battlespace.
When I say speed is life, I think that you can do things with a force that is relatively light by being ahead of them as far as situational awareness and reach so you can get in, get something accomplished and get out before the adversary knows that you’re in their backyard.
Question: I am able to spend time with your KC-130J squadron and the warriors operating Harvest Hawk. They are really expanding the notion of sustainment and really are crucial to what one might call sustainable reach.
MG Hedelund: The KC-130J and Osprey pairing is changing the way the USMC operates, and another major change on the way is with regard to electronic warfare.
We are working with UAVs, Prowlers and with the F-35 when it gets here, to reshape how we think about electronic warfare.
A capability like Harvest Hawk has revolutionized how we look at NTISR and delivery of precision fires – game changer simply said.
Tactical electronic attack is an art form that enables thinking through how to operate a force in a contested operational area.
The Marines have pioneered electronic warfare, and at 2nd MAW we are working the problem hard.
Question: You have raised the point about evolving and future oriented capabilities. How is 2nd MAW getting ready for the future, including the introduction of F-35s into the MAGTF?
MG Hedelund: We want to accelerate the innovation, which the F-35 can bring to the USMC.
We are digital immigrants; the operators of the F-35 are going to be the digital natives.
Lt. General Davis
Earlier, the then CG of 2nd MAW and now the current Deputy Commandant of Aviation, Lt. General Davis, provided a powerful sense of how 2nd MAW was addressing the future.
This interview was first published on October 4, 2011.
During an interview at Cherry Point Air Station, the Commanding General of the 2nd MAW continued an earlier conversation on the evolution of the Amphibious Ready Group. We had discussed earlier the emergence of the “newly enabled ARG” and its impact on the nation. Here the CG discussed the ground being prepared for the new USMC pilots, or the “iPad generation pilots,” as we have referred to them.
General Davis discussed the flexibility and significance of the Amphibious Ready Group and the MEU structure to the Marine Corps and the Nation. The General referred to the MEUs has having a “job jar” for each deployment and that “job jar” has of late turned out to be very different each time they set sail.
But because of the inherent flexibility of the ARG, they like no other combat structure are ready to handle the wide variety of mission sets the Combatant Commanders have asked them to take on. In many ways the MEU’s “job jars” can be shaped on the fly (vice being stuck with a preset and rigid mission structure).
The CG of the 2nd MAW has significant experience with the aviation elements, which are helping shape a newly enabled ARG, and he discussed the impact of these new systems — today. The capability of the ARG is being reshaped under the influence of the Osprey now, and will be even more so with the F-35B in the near future.
The Marine Corps, whether we’re maneuvering (from) forward operating bases ashore or maneuvering (from) sea bases afloat is an immensely valuable force. The Combatant Commanders keep asking for more of what we produce for deterrence and combat operations – in every corner of the globe.
Marine Forces are so utilitarian, offer such strategic agility, and can be very readily tailored to be right sized for the task at hand – that our demand signal is way up.
From my vantage point, it seems like we need more of what we deliver – and will need even more in the future … and we’re procuring the kind of equipment that allows us to sustain and exponentially improve upon our capability to do that in the future, and I would contend deliver a lot of bang for the buck.
General Davis discussed the impact of the Osprey in terms of speed and range and the operational flexibility of the Osprey for current operations.
The Osprey allows the warfighter to influence operations over a vast chunk of real estate at speeds and ranges twice that of conventional helicopters – the operational and strategic significance of this capability should not be unappreciated. Your ability to influence from a sea base or to maneuver ashore is expanded significantly with this plane. And when you team the Osprey with the F-35B, you will be able to provide significantly greater combat capabilities – and options – to the Combatant Commanders.
For example, the bad guys could look at Libya and conclude: Look at what the V-22s did to us in Libya; we are going to develop air defense systems that will deny the Marines the ability to use that plane to the strategic and operational advantage they displayed in 2011. But with the F-35 escorting that airplane, it will be able to expand where it the Osprey goes and under what conditions.
I will be able to go after an air threat, ground threat – and provide air-ground fires deep in the enemy’s battlespace in support of MV-22 operations – and do all that from a large deck amphibious ship.
We are just scratching the surface of what the MV-22 can do and when we can combine them with the F-35 –its the envelope will only expand….
Another aspect of the impact of the MV-22 on operations was underscored in the recent 26th MEU operations.
We were able to use the Osprey as a logistical enabler for the MEU at sea. This will allow you to leverage the value of the deployed fleet because you can actually leverage a distributed fleet to move critical material around the fleet in operation.
Just two days ago we saw a MV-22 deliver a Harrier engine from the supply ship over to a big deck and that hadn’t been done before. We have always done it with CH-53s but our CH-53s have pulled off of that ship to do another mission.
During the Libyan mission we flew the Ospreys to get parts and supplies which allowed us to sustain the ARG at longer ranges (four times what we were able to with a 46) – and at twice the speed – you can’t understate the operational impact of using this bird in a logistics role like that.
In the end it makes deployed MAGTFs that much more agile and effective – and valuable to a Combatant Commander.
Another illustration of the flexibility, which the Osprey provides, is the ability to move the plane from one location to another rapidly to augment capability. For example:
When we moved the Ospreys from Afghanistan to rejoin the ARG, they flew directly from Afghanistan to Kuwait to Souda Bay, being tanked along the way, and did the flight in one day (in under 13 hours of flight time).
The Osprey allows provides significantly greater survivability for the Marines.
I can fly to and from my objective area above the threat the primary threat. It’s very hard for the bad guys to predict exactly where the airplane is going or when it is going to come down on them.
It is very quiet in plane operating mode – allowing us to move Marines and material quickly, quietly and operationally effectively.
Due to the speed, range, low noise signature and cruise altitudes – the bad guys have a hard time telegraphing where the airplane’s going to land. There is a capability that is hard to put a quantitative value on – but to me a lot of folks talk about game changers – this is a no bull — bonafide one.
The CG then discussed the shift associated with the F-35B.
My son is a Harrier pilot and the way we are operating our AV-8Bs off of the MEUs is a sea change from what we used before. In fact, there is absolutely no comparison to what we do today – and what we deliver for the Combatant Commander with our AV-8Bs as compared to what I could do in my AV-8B as a young attack pilot. I look at what they did during the 26th MEU and I am immensely proud of the capability we have developed and delivered to the Combatant Commanders.
The improvements in capability we have put into the AV-8B has changed the way the combatant commanders looks at the jet and more importantly, changed the way they look at Marine Expeditionary Units and the capabilities that they bring to bear. Deep, responsive precision strike capability – now we are getting ready to deploy them with AMRAAM….
And what we have coming in the F-35B as compared to an AV8-B is absolutely no comparison.
It is absolutely, positively no comparison.
This airplane is going to change the capability of the ARG exponentially – in a very significant and positive direction. It is going to change again how the combatant commanders look at the MEU, the efficacy and utility of amphibious ships, the overall benefit of the MAGTFs embarked aboard amphibious ships and the strategic importance of this capability as it relates to our national security strategy.
And we will be able to bring an electronic warfare capability off of the ARG with the F-35B. We have driven home the importance of electronic warfare for the USN-USMC team and not just at the high-end of the fight.
The CG emphasized the importance of the EW culture within the USMC, and to the Prowler community within the USMC.
The Prowler guys are some of the brightest guys in the USMC.
But the F-35B was going to provide the USMC aviator cultures in our Harriers, Hornets and Prowlers to coalesce and I think to shape an innovative new launch point for the USMC aviation community.
We are going to blend three outstanding communities. Each community has a slightly different approach to problem solving.
You’ve got the expeditionary basing that the Harrier guys are bringing to you. You have the electronic warfare side of the equation and the high-end fight that the Prowler guys thing about and the coms and jamming side of the equation, which the Prowler guys think about.
And you have the multi-role approach of the F-18 guys.
I think it is going to be a fantastic blending of not only perspectives but also attitudes. And what I really look forward to is not the old guys like me, but the very young guys who will fly this fantastic new capability. The older generation may have a harder time unleashing the power and potential of the new gear – the new capabilities. We might say “why don’t you do it this way” when that approach might be exactly the wrong thing to do from a capabilities standpoint.
My sense is the young guys will blend. We’ve already picked the first Prowler pilot to go be an F35 guy. He’s going to do great and he’s going to add perspective and attitude to the tribe down at Eglin getting ready to fly the jet that’s going to make a big impact on the F35 community.
I think it’s going to be the new generation, the newbies that are in the training command right now that are getting ready to go fly the F35, who are going to unleash the capabilities of this jet.
They will say, “Hey, this is what the system will give me. Don’t cap me; don’t box me.
This is what this thing can do, this is how we can best employ the machine, its agility its sensors to support the guy on the ground, our MEU Commanders and our Combatant Commanders and this is what we should do with it to make it effective.”
Major General Walsh
And the first interview done after we stood up Second Line of Defense was with the newly returned Major General Walsh in his office at 2nd MAW.
Currently, Major General Walsh is the head of OP-95 and is the next CG of the Combat Development Command.
In that interview, Walsh provided a clear sense of the approach followed in Iraq in the wrap up of their mission at the time.
This interview was published on November 30, 2009.
During General Walsh’s time in Iraq, there was a double transition underway.
The first transition was the acceleration of stability operations.
The second was the growing collaboration with the Iraqis in shaping their evolving capability to provide for their own internal security.
This meant that the air element for the USMC had two crucial tasks: to support US force as they began to withdraw and prepare for their exit role as Iraqi advisors; to assist the Iraqis in shaping operations to provide for their own security.
As such, the core role of the USMC air was largely non-kinetic but with a residual kinetic role. The non-kinetic role needs to be understood as a presence and support role. The presence role was robust and significant; and General Walsh argued that the metrics for this significant airpower role are not well understood. “One can measure the effects of kinetic strike; it is more difficult to measure the effects of presence.”
Put in its simplest terms, General Walsh provided a core understanding to the strategic shift in the use of manned air in the COIN environment.
The shift is from shaping air around precision-strike to shaping air to provide collaborative presence.
The Challenge of D.O. : the Absence of Rear Area
At the heart of the challenge is that “you are not dealing with one large formation on attack; the forces are very decentralized and very distributed. You are dealing with a very large area and with a dispersed force. You are dealing with little formations all over Anbar province, which is 250 miles by 150 miles in area. You have companies and platoons split over a large territory, which you have to support with limited assets. There is no rear area; there is no safe area.”
General Walsh went on to characterize the situation facing the COIN (Counter-Insurgency) military force. “The enemy can hit you anywhere; the enemy gets a vote is how I characterize it. We are not on the offensive; we are on the defensive. Both the enemy and we are living among the people, and the challenge is to get them on our side. If they are on our side they will give us credible information upon which we can act. But to know that level of detail you have to be distributed or dispersed.”
For the Commanding Officer, the challenge is simply the following: “How does aviation provide support in such a chaotic environment? Just as the guy on the ground is not certain of what is about to happen, so does the pilot trying to support those ground elements: all must deal with managing uncertainty.”
Measuring the Effect of Presence
General Walsh’s answer revolved around the shift from precision strike to presence. Air presence was significant on three major levels for the USMC during this period in Iraq.
First, presence was crucial to support the Marine on the ground. This could be lift, it could be overwatch, it could be an ability to provide fire support, it could be to fly low to demonstrate to the population that the ground element had significant firepower available, it could be to deal with the disparate strikes to which the ground forces were still subject to from a dispersed enemy.
“A lot of times, Marines on the ground would ask us to come down lower so that they could see us. How do you measure that effect?” General Walsh characterized this concept as “no Marine walks alone.”
When a Marine is operating “outside of the wire,” the role of airpower is to provide protection and support to that Marine.
He gave an example of dealing with an IED-event. “When you have a vehicle blown with an IED and have the road all of a sudden divided into two slow moving small lanes of vehicles, how do you know who is in those vehicles? How do you know what they are going to do?
You can wait a long time for the clearing vehicles to show up, especially as we drew down combat posts. A request would come in: Please bring in a fighter for presence to show you are there. How do you measure that effect?”
Second, it could be re-assurance to the population. As the Iraqi leadership began to perform more functions, there was a remaining need to reassure the population that support could be provided throughout the country to the Iraqi allies.
“For example, when the provincial government was to be seated in Al Anbar in June 2009, there was an Al Qaeda threat to Ramadi. The Governor asked us to fly our F-18s at 5000 feet to reassure the population and to deter any threats.”
Third, it could be presence to deter attacks from a dispersed adversary. The pop-up capability of an adversary blended into a civilian population meant that air assets were in demand to come in and to support the ground elements on an ad hoc, and on-call role.
As an example of the challenge of confronting attacks in a dispersed environment challenge, General Walsh gave this example. “I was on the ground; we were stopped at a check point and the check point came under motor fire. Several vehicles in front of us were destroyed. All hell was breaking loose with mortars coming in every few seconds. We did not know where the things were coming from. We of course had no battery radar. We called in some F-18s and the minute the planes showed up the firing stopped; the enemy figured out that the F18s would know where they were with the obvious consequences. How do you measure this effect?”
Airpower All the More Crucial for Retrograde Operations
Indeed, General Walsh underscored that as the US forces withdraw, there was demand for more – not less – airpower. This happened on several levels.
On one level, this was due to the drawdown of the number of combat posts, which supported operations in Iraq. American forces continued to work with Iraqi forces but now had to commute from distance to do their work, rather than being in close proximity to combat posts. This meant that airpower had to provide regular support to the transit of US forces working with Iraqis.
“At one point we had 140 combat posts; while we were there we went from 36 to 4 combat posts; so air was relied on more frequently for convoy protection. As we drew down combat posts and associated capabilities, air was relied on for capabilities which had earlier been largely provided by the ground forces.”
On another level, this was due to the need to protect the convoys moving equipment out of Iraq. “”As you close down and do retrograde, you have to move further out in road miles and that requires air support.”
In addition, transport needs to move support elements to work with Iraqis increased demands for air transport. “We were increasingly asked to provide support for partnering operations…..”
Ground-Manned Air-Unmanned Air Assets: A Complementary Triade
The USMC experience in Iraq, which is being transferred to Afghanistan, is re-shaping as well the way the USMC will operate in its CONUS-based air bases. The same approach to using mission planning and integration to give the base commanders a better grasp of the operation of the air assets.
General Walsh added as well that the unmanned systems are very useful in providing persistent stare for ground engagements. Yet they are limited in terms of effectiveness by simply generating data, which are not useful unless they are integrated with ground presence. “If I know there is a problem but I am far away, what use is that?”
Another problem is the distance from the operation for a UAV controller back in the United States.
“For example, a ground controller for a UAS back in the US is viewing the entry into a house or area and trying to determine location of possible insurgent and trying to determine whether I place a hellfire or not on the target. So for the Marine on the ground who do you trust more, the guy making the decision back in the US or the USMC air element with whom I am directly talking and is directly overhead?”
The ability to work the Osprey with UAS will also be a significant improvement: “In Afghanistan, when the UAS tracks the bad guys, we will be able to use the Osprey to drop Marines close to the bad guys and then to prosecute.
Just having data identifying a problem is not going to close the deal: having the guys on the ground get there quickly enough to make a difference will.”
General Walsh concluded by emphasizing the central role of the manned element in playing the presence role within COIN.
“The ability of the ground and air elements to work together to shape presence in a COIN environment is central to re-assurance of the Marine on the ground, to the population you are trying to reassure, and to the ability to strike an adversary who can pop up without warning.”
And the most recent visit to 2nd MAW led to an opportunity to look at innovation in low altitude air defense, electronic warfare, unmanned operations, and F-35 training and integration into the MAGTF.
And a chance to meet the latest “members” of the 2nd MAW, who happen to be British!
They are to be found at MCAS Beaufort.
Happy Birthday 2nd MAW.
The team at Second Line of Defense want to thank you for providing insights into the innovation which real warriors are putting into operation.
And we want to thank all those warriors who have shared their time with us and provided insights into the challenges of the way ahead, but showing the courage to actually shape the future, rather than to stop at the water’s edge and fear to enter the water.
Editor’s Note: The video at the beginning of the article was produced by 2nd Marine Air Wing and dedicated to the members of 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing commemorating the 74th year anniversary.