2015-09-18 By Robbin Laird
The Army has so hijacked the concept of jointness that the broader transformation of jointness being shaped by the evolution of the amphibious forces has escaped attention as precisely what it is – the transformation of joint capabilities.
In broad terms, amphibious operations has shifted from primarily providing a transport capability to providing a base of operations for the air-land-sea domains, and the flexibility of the evolving amphibious task force allows it to focus on the primary domain necessary for the mission: ground, air or sea.
It is a flexible Swiss army knife for joint operations. The V-22 Osprey has been a key agent of change whereby ground forces can be inserted at greater distance, resupply can be managed from land to the sea base, or force packages built around the Osprey can execute missions previously only possible with the “large deck” amphibious ships.
There is little question that there is a significant shortage of L-class ships and the enablers for what the evolving amphibious task force needs, but it is also clear that allies are looking at Navy-Marine Corps innovation and seeing the future of a key joint capability.
Whether it be South Korea, Japan or Australia, in the Pacific the core U.S. allies see the amphibious force as part of their joint force transformation as well.
My recent trip to Australia highlighted the importance of the Navy, Army and Air Force getting the HMAS Canberra right as a key element in their approach to transforming joint forces. And the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps are clearly important partners in working the way ahead to do so.
When I was on USS Wasp last Spring, I had a chance to talk with the Commander of Expeditionary Strike Group Two Rear Adm. Cindy Thebaud.
She discussed the ship integration dynamic involving the F-35B with the Wasp and the ESG, and emphasized that it was not just about the aircraft, but about the integration of the Marines, the airplane, and the fleet.
I had a chance to follow up with her during a visit to Norfolk, Va. to see the Navy’s elevated causeway build and exercise.
During the interview, Capt. Michael M. McMillan joined the conversation. McMillan is the Commander of Amphibious Squadron Eight and had just returned from command of the Iwo Jima Amphibious Ready Group off of the waters of Yemen.
Rear Adm. Thebaud described the role of the ESG and the importance of the evolving amphibious capability for the Navy and the Marines.
“My primary responsibility is the readiness of east coast amphibious forces. This includes the ships, the amphibious squadrons, the tactical squadrons that support aviation on the big decks, and the Beach Group, which includes the LCACs, LCUs and Beach Masters. It also includes the amphibious construction battalion which was building the elevated causeway system you saw earlier.”
A clear focus is upon shaping integrated combat capability, and getting the Navy and Marine Corps back to their amphibious roots after a dozen or more years of less-traditional deployments. “We need to understand each other’s planning processes, capabilities, limitations, the type of missions they might get assigned and ways to work up joint taskings.”
With the impact of the Osprey and now the coming of the F-35B, the amphibious task force is much more than a transportation asset, and as such, joint operation capabilities need to be forged, shaped and transformed going forward.
With the refocusing efforts in tandem with platforms like the Osprey and F-35B, the Navy is shifting from a strictly transport force from point A to B to becoming an expeditionary tactical strike and power projection asset as part of the national security equation.
When I asked her about that, Thebaud acknowledged that she sees such an evolution as having an impact on the evolution of the Navy overall.
“We already have 80% of the ships and other major equipment we’ll have 20 years from now. The key is to evolve its capability and to draw upon the new systems to shape a more effective combat force,” she said.
The evolution of amphibious capabilities will allow the rest of the surface fleet, and the aircraft carriers to evolve as well.
An important aspect of the joint capability, which a dynamically evolving and integrated Navy-Marine Corps capability brings to the fight, is to support what we have called force insertion.
One can come to an area of interest, execute the mission with organic logistics support, and then leave without providing logistics support ashore for possible adversarial use.
When I asked Thebaud about her own experiences along those lines, she noted, “if we look back at the Operation Damayan Philippines relief effort, we brought capability to the crisis to support the relief effort. We stayed as long as necessary and then left.
We came, did the things that needed to get done that were uniquely military to provide the initial response and stabilize the situation, enabled the NGOs and the other organizations to come in that have the intrinsic capabilities to do it over the long haul, and then we left.
While granted, this wasn’t a combat operation, the end result was mission accomplished, with minimal residual military footprint left behind.”
Capt McMillan’s recent operational experience provided many examples of the evolving capabilities of the Amphibious Ready Group and challenges to be met in enhancing its capability to deliver joint effect.
As McMillan put it, “We felt that what we did during the operation was unique, but I think that over time, our ‘unique and unusual’ will become the norm.”
He added, “Put another way, our unique joint capabilities as a Navy-Marine Corps force can be mixed or matched to deal with a variety of tasks in the battlespace, and that flexibility is probably becoming the norm as a requirement, and we are looking to enhance that flexibility going forward.”
Normally, the Navy is supporting the Marines in sustaining their air and ground combat force readiness and operations; the Amphibious Ready Group is supporting the Marine Expeditionary Unit. But with the crisis in Yemen, there was immediate need for maritime security, sea control and the ability to monitor the situation off of the coast of Yemen and in surrounding waters.
McMillan noted that during his deployment, “The Marines supported the Navy by providing air assets to build the recognized maritime picture, conduct presence ops and non-traditional ISR .
We shaped packages consisting of a mix of the Air Combat Element aircraft to conduct sea control and maritime security missions. In addition, we moved aircraft throughout shipping to enhance flexibility and effectiveness.
For instance, the combination of 3 MV-22s with 3 new Hueys provided the LPD excellent capability for the missions of Tactical Recovery of Aircraft and Personnel (TRAP), Casualty Evacuation (CASEVAC), Quick Reaction Force (QRF) and Rotary-Wing Close Air Support (CAS.).
These flexible packages provided capability, which historically would have only been on the large deck carrier (LHD/LHA), albeit on a smaller scale.
But we were able to provide the 5th Fleet commander with essential core capabilities.”
This kind of joint capability can be missed if one simply subsumes this under a notion of historical or classic amphibious operations. And the fleet was able to contribute significant command and control for the force as well.
Notably, the upgrades on the San Antonio-class LPDs provide an added option for command and control not seen historically in the amphibious fleet.
Indeed, in the most recent BALTOPS exercise this summer, USS San Antonio was the flagship for the multi-national exercise, with three Flag officers and elements of their staffs embarked.
But this capability needs to be enhanced throughout the amphibious fleet and Captain McMillian argued that organic ISR and better C2 capabilities need to come to the LSD and the follow on LXR (LSD Replacement) class ships as well.
Another challenge is taking an increasingly capable force, breaking up the assets and chopping them to different command elements.
This is clearly happening with regard to assets such as the Ospreys within the task force, whereby the Combatant Commanders are moving organic assets from the task force and using these assets directly themselves.
The demand side drivers are creating disruptive pressures for the unity of command and control crucial for the combat effectiveness of the ARG-MEU or the amphibious task force.
The triple dynamics of a significant demand signal for forces, coupled with the evolving flexibility of the amphibious forces as joint capabilities, with the shortage of numbers of relevant naval assets overall is almost certainly going to lead to commanders tapping into the amphibious fleet and leveraging its assets.
This is challenging for amphibious commanders.
It is the combination of the price of success at evolving capabilities, flexibility in shaping the tool sets, and the cost of shortfalls in other areas of maritime capabilities.
Rear Adm. Cindy Thebaud
Upon assumption of command as commander of ESG-2, Thebaud began her fourth command tour. She joined the Navy in 1985 after graduating with distinction from the U.S. Naval Academy. Previous commands include USS Decatur (DDG 73), Destroyer Squadron 60 and Logistics Group Western Pacific/Task Force 73/Navy Region Singapore.
In addition to overseeing and managing the readiness of the east coast amphibious fleet, ESG 2 provides amphibious advocacy and expertise, and and deployable staff for crisis response.
Supporting the entire range of military operations, ESG 2’s commands are involved in theater security cooperation events, major combat operations, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, ranging from the East Coast of the United States to the Mediterranean Sea to the Persian Gulf.
A Connecticut native, Rear Admiral Cynthia Thebaud graduated with distinction from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1985 with a Bachelor of Science in Chemistry. She also holds a Master of Arts in Security Policy Studies from The George Washington University, is an honors graduate of the Naval War College, and is qualified joint specialty officer.
At sea, Thebaud has served in ships in both the Atlantic and Pacific fleets with deployed operations in the Western Pacific, Arabian Gulf, Indian Ocean, Horn of Africa, Central America, Mediterranean Sea, Black Sea, and Gulf of Guinea/West Africa areas of operation. Her tours include communications officer in USS Norton Sound (AVM 1), the Aegis and Vertical Launch Systems at-sea weapons test platform; boilers and machinery officer, deck division officer, navigator and navigation/administration department head in USS Prairie (AD 15); engineer officer in USS Platte (AO 186) and USS Hayler (DD 997); executive officer in USS Ticonderoga (CG 47) and commanding officer in USS Decatur (DDG 73). In Decatur, she deployed to the Middle East as part of the Navy’s initial Expeditionary Strike Group (ESG 1) in support of Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom. She subsequently commanded Destroyer Squadron 60 where, in addition to serving as the 6th Fleet surface combatant force commander (CTF 65), she also commanded two multi-national African Partnership Station deployments focused on maritime security capacity-building in West and Central Africa. Most recently, on July 17, 2014 she assumed the duties of commander, Expeditionary Strike Group 2.
Ashore, her assignments have included commander, Logistics Group Western Pacific and commander, Task Force 73; chief operating officer, Naval Education and Training Command; policy branch chief (N512) on the Chief of Naval Operations staff; director, Division of Professional Development at the U.S. Naval Academy; chief, Southeast Asia Division in the Joint Staff, Strategic Plans and Policy Directorate (J-5); Taiwan desk officer in the Joint Staff (J-5); executive assistant/flag secretary to commander, U.S. Naval Surface Force Pacific; Surface Warfare Junior Officer detailer; U.S. Naval Academy company officer; Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps instructor at George Washington University; and a joint staff internship in J-5/Policy Division.
Thebaud’s decorations include the Defense Superior Service Medal, Legion of Merit (2 awards), Meritorious Service Medal (3 awards), Joint Service Commendation Medal, Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal (5 awards), Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal (2 awards) and various unit citations and campaign medals.
July 20, 2015
Iwo Jima Amphibious Ready Group Completes Seven-month Deployment
Story by Lt.j.g. Lily Hinz
MAYPORT, Fla. – More than 4,000 Sailors and Marines from the Iwo Jima Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) and 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) completed a seven-month deployment July 15-20, returning to Naval Station Mayport, Fla., Naval Station Norfolk, Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story, Va. and Camp Lejeune, N.C.
Deployed since Dec. 11, 2014, the Iwo Jima ARG and 24th MEU supported theater security cooperation and provided a forward naval presence by providing crisis response, humanitarian assistance, disaster relief and combat capabilities in the U.S. 6th and 5th fleet areas of operation.
The Iwo ARG/24 MEU team played a crucial role in Yemen evacuation and contingency operations, participated in multiple bilateral and multi-lateral training exercises and conducted strategic transits of the Strait of Bab-el-Mandeb.
The 24th MEU conducted sustainment training in Kuwait and Djibouti as well as bilateral and multi-lateral exercises in Jordan and Kuwait.
“The Sailors and Marines of the IWOARG and the 24th MEU did an outstanding job during this deployment,” said Navy Capt. Michael McMillan, commodore, Amphibious Squadron (PHIBRON) 8. “This ARG/MEU team was ready to plan and execute complex tasking in very dynamic environments, which was made possible by the hard work and dedication of each Sailor and Marine.”
The Iwo Jima ARG, led by PHIBRON 8, consists of the amphibious assault ship USS Iwo Jima (LHD 7), the amphibious transport dock ship USS New York (LPD 21), the amphibious dock landing ship USS Fort McHenry (LSD 43), the 24th MEU, PHIBRON 8 staff, Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 28 (HSC 28) Detachment 5, Fleet Surgical Team 8, Tactical Air Control Squadron 22, and detachments from Assault Craft Units 2 and 4, Naval Beach Group 2 and Beach Master Unit 2.
The 24th MEU is comprised of the 24th MEU Command Element; the Aviation Combat Element, Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 365 (Reinforced); the Ground Combat Element, 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines; and the Logistics Combat Element, Combat Logistics Battalion 24.
“I am very proud of our Sailors and Marines aboard USS Iwo Jima,” said USS Iwo Jima’s Commanding Officer, Capt. Dana Gordon. “They have worked extremely hard over the last seven plus months completing various missions and exercises, while receiving recognition and accolades from senior leadership in every theater we’ve been in. Many of the Sailors and Marines have also completed numerous personal and professional goals that they set for themselves, earning warfare qualifications as well as promotions. The spirit and “can do” attitude of each of them is absolutely amazing. As their CO, I could not have asked for more. They performed their jobs flawlessly and delivered each and every time something was asked of them.”
During the deployment, the ARG transited nearly 135,000 combined nautical miles and logged nearly 5,000 flight hours. Amphibious craft completed more than 4,000 passenger transfers and moved more than 350,000 pounds of cargo and mail to and from ARG shipping.
“It was an honor to deploy with such a professional group of Sailors and Marines,” said Lt. Cmdr. Cristobal Yera, HSC-28’s officer-in-charge. “We accomplished a lot on this deployment and I definitely think we were an important player in the areas we operated.”
The Iwo Jima ARG conducted port visits in Italy, Spain, Portugal, Montenegro, Israel, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Oman and Jordan. The visits provided an opportunity for the U.S. military forces to strengthen ties with the host nations and foster relationships.
The Essex ARG and 15th MEU relieved the Iwo Jima ARG in the 5th Fleet area of operations in July.