2015-11-11 By Robbin Laird and Ed Timperlake
Counter-insurgency warfare has been the dominant template dominating U.S military engagements for more than a decade.
Joint warfare has been largely defined in terms of the air and naval services supporting the ground forces doing COIN.
COIN has become so dominate, that the key elements of a fighting force have been crafted in its image, with slow motion warfare, hierarchical C2, the growth of the OOLDA (Observe, Orient, Legally Review, Decide, and Act) loop replacing a decisive, quick action OODA or Observe, Orient, Decide and Act loop, K-Mart type of logistics support capabilities, significant numbers of Forward Operating Bases or FOBs in the battlespace, and uncontested and uncontestable air space.
In a recent article by Francis Tusa, the age of COIN has been decisively replaced by the demands of what he refers to as hybrid warfare, or his version of what the Marines used to call the Three Block War.
How much more hybrid can you get than the current situation over Syria?
The “traditional” view of hybrid warfare is an enemy who exhibits elements of different parts of the conflict spectrum – some cyber, some conventional, some guerrilla, perhaps.
But look at what US/French (and soon British …?) forces face over Syria today: a low level insurgent threat, which can exhibit some higher level capabilities, and then a very high intensity threat from Russian SAMs and combat aircraft.
Not a hybrid threat from one foe, but one made up of different enemies. That really is hybrid!
Under Marine Corps Commandant Amos, the need to shift from the COIN template as the dominant definer of military engagement was clearly recognized and the shift was started. The first clear statement of this shift was the “return to the sea,” or ramping up combat Marines experience operating from the ampbhious fleet.
As noted in a 2012 article about the shift:
“The Marine Corps is not designed to be a second land army,” he testified, despite its participation in land campaigns from World War I to Iraq and Afghanistan. Instead, he said, the Corps “is designed to project power ashore from the sea.”
“Amphibious capabilities provide the means to conduct littoral maneuver – the ability to maneuver combat-ready forces from the sea to the shore and inland in order to achieve a positional advantage over the enemy.” The Navy-Marine Corps team “provides the essential elements of access and forcible entry capabilities that are necessary components of a joint campaign,” Amos said.
Fortunately for the Marines, Amos’ passion to restore the naval services’ amphibious capabilities is shared by Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Adm. Jonathan W. Greenert.
The launch of the Bold Alligator series of exercises in 2011 has highlighted the return to the sea, and focusing on enhanced capabilities to operate from the sea base.
The maturing of the Osprey and the F-35B arriving on the sea base are powerful enablers for the Navy-Marine Corps team to shape an expeditionary force able to insert force, achieve objectives and withdraw.
Indeed, the Marines are working hard on shape modern and 21st century insertion forces, which can operate across the range of military operations or ROMO.
A key part of insuring mission success is appropriate C2 to lead a flexible insertion force into an operation and out of that operation.
In an interview earlier this year, the Commander of the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade highlighted how important C2 transformation was to the evolving Marine Corps mission set.
In that interview, Major General Simcock highlighted that 2d MEB is shaping – namely a scalable, modular, and CJTF/JTF-capable Command Element, which can provide the leadership and direction for military insertion into fluid and dynamic crisis or contingency situations.
Recently, the Second Marine Air Wing (2nd MAW) held Wing Exercise 15 at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina, to train for the kind of C2 flexibility which could support an insertion force in a situation where a near peer competitor was projected to be involved, just the sort of situation which Tusa envisaged.
A key part of that exercise was working flexible C2 of the kind necessary for expeditionary forces as opposed the decade behind of relatively static COIN C2.
We had a chance to discuss the exercise with Col. Kenneth Woodard, the exercise director and 2nd MAW operations officer.
The exercise drew upon earlier work, as well as scenarios developed in other exercises, notably at 29 Palms, to provide the projected operational context to the exercise.
Continuity with regard to scenarios and linkage back to earlier exercises and preparing the ground for the next ones allows for the kind of dynamic learning process, which is crucial to shaping effective 21st century combat forces.
“What we’re trying to do here at the wing is to ensure that we’re able to provide the MAGTF with support tomorrow, today, as well as we did in the past operations, and build on lessons learned. And continue to focus and train our battle staff to be able to set forth ways to use evolving capabilities as well.”
Col. ,Woodard emphasized that having an exercise Wing Exercise 15 was very time consuming and challenging so they would do only a couple of such exercises in a year.
“It’s hard at wing level to train ourselves. It’s very difficult because we don’t have higher headquarters right here that could play that role. To do that we have to simulate the different players in the command process to ensure that Wing level C2 is able to meet the evolving challenges in a fluid battlespace.”
What was simulated in the Wing Exercise was the ability to operate in a land environment when a near peer competitor was part of the combat situation.
This meant that they had to exercise defensive and offensive actions to support the force, and to ensure operational success.
“We had a near peer competitor, and we had a robust aviation elements and, and surface-to-air defenses to counter their offensive capabilities and in our scenario, we were reacting to some of their attacks.”
Expeditionary logistics are crucial to a dynamic operation which can not rely on pre-existing K-Marts to provide supplies for the operation.
According to Col. Woodard, during the exercise they established a FOB to provide support for the advancing forces.
But the question then is how to empower the FOB as part of the dynamic force?
“How do you supply it? Can you do it via truck? Do you get up there via a KC-130? Where’s gas can be stored once you get up there? How are the aircraft are going to get in and out of the FOB?
How do you establish communications at the FOB with our NIPRNet or our SIPRNet?
There are a lot of variables to deal with and to consider.
Our logisticians and our aviation ground support division, were key players in coming up with a plan during the exercise to answer those sorts of questions.”
And the fog of war such as pilots getting sick on mess food and other such intrusions were included in the exercise as well.
Sailors were involved as part of the medical team simulating how best to deal with casualties during the simulated combat as it is crucial to leave no man behind particularly in today’s combat world where hostages can become key political pawns. The role of the team aboard the USS Kearsarge, which conducted the TRAP mission to recover a downed USAF pilot, certainly demonstrated that in real world combat.
As part of the learning process, the Wing Exercise is a prelude to an exercise with 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force in May and then there is Bold Alligator in the Fall.
Lessons learned in the exercises and real world combat are folded into dynamic learning process so that the Marines can prepare for Hybrid War of the type which Francis Tusa envisages.
And the shock of moving from COIN to hybrid war for some in the military and in the defense analytical community is a profound one.
As a senior retired and well respected Marine Corps general put it with regard to the need to shift from the COIN template:
Those who yearn to re-fight the large scale “boots on the ground” nation-building battles we conducted in Iraq and Afghanistan are not going to get their way.
Land-centric warriors loved the primacy of their position in those wars, but our political leaders learned that the world’s representative democracies do not have the stamina (or stomach) required to win those wars over the course of the many years that are required.
In my view, we are unlikely to see thousands of US troops on the ground doing nation building again any time soon.
However, there is a core group of “revered thinkers” who built there résumés on “drinking tea” and “eating soup” in foreign lands.
It’s no surprise that people who base their entire credibility on nation building would oppose the F-35 and other legitimate technological advances in modern warfare.
And the crucial need to reform C2 approaches from the overlay bureaucratic and centralized C2 structures which have grown during the COIN years was highlighted as well by a recently retired, and widely respected chief of Air Force.
The CAOC (Combined Air Operations Center) worked well in the first Gulf War because it held true to the concept of decentralized execution.
It has morphed into centralized micromanager of air ops and post office box for the Joint force.
It didn’t function all that well in 2003 and Afghanistan has just made it worse.
We are wasting our Air Power assets (without significant C2 reform).
The slideshow of photos provided by 2nd Marine Air Wing show various aspects of the exercise in process.
In the first photo, 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing Marines initiate and assist with flight requests during Wing Exercise 15 at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina, Oct.13, 2015. Performing defensive and offensive measures to counter both traditional and irregular threats based on today’s real world adversaries, the Marines and Sailors learned to work together to accomplish various missions by conducting Tactical Air Command Center operations during Wing Exercise 15, at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina, Oct. 13-16.
In the second picture, Lt. Col. Bradley Philips updates Col. Mark Palmer, the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing chief of staff, on the status of current operations for the aviation combat element during Wing Exercise 15, at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina, Oct. 13, 2015. During the exercise, the Marines participated in various scenarios that tested their ability to use defensive and offensive strategies in order to maximize readiness and efficiency of 2nd MAW. Phillips served as the senior watch officer during the exercise.
In the third picture, 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing Marines assess scenarios with fixed-wing assets during Wing Exercise 15, at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina, Oct. 13, 2015. Performing defensive and offensive measures to counter both traditional and irregular threats based on today’s real world adversaries, the Marines and Sailors learned to work together to accomplish various missions by conducting Tactical Air Command Center operations during Wing Exercise 15, at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina, Oct. 13-16.
In the fourth picture, Lt. Cmdr. Laura Anderson coordinates medical support for the aviation combat element during Wing Exercise 15, at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina, Oct. 13, 2015. Marines assigned to battle staff positions participated in operational planning teams requiring staff input across the entirety of 2nd MAW. Medical planners were a vital link in the exercise as they coordinated a multitude of casualty evacuations and general health and welfare for U.S. Marines and Sailors within the ACE.
In the fifth picture, planners within the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing assess available wing assets in order to support a request made by ground forces during Wing Exercise 15, at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina, Oct. 13, 2015. 2nd MAW aviation assets and its highly trained personnel provide the ground combat element and Marine Air-Ground Task Force commander with unprecedented reach and tactical flexibility. Performing defensive and offensive measures to counter both traditional and irregular threats based on today’s real world adversaries, the Marines and Sailors learned to work together to accomplish various missions by conducting Tactical Air Command Center operations during Wing Exercise 15, at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina, Oct. 13-16
In the final picture, Lance Cpl. Michael Lobiondo, left, and Lance Cpl. Matthew Cancino patrol a compound during Wing Exercise 15, at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina, Oct. 14, 2015. During the exercise, the security detail patrolled the area to maintain security. While they’re maintaining security, Marines with 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing provide defensive and offensive countermeasures in order to increase the overall readiness of the aviation combat element and supporting units.
By Cpl. U. Roberts | 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing | October 16, 2015
The U.S. Marine Corps is the nation’s crisis response force, forward deployed and poised to rapidly respond to crises within the arc of instability and within regions of anticipated future conflicts.
The ability to provide support from the air is predicated on the ability to bring airpower as close as possible to the fight. There isn’t a force more capable of responding quickly in any environment around the world than the Marine Air-Ground Task Force. It is the adaptable, rapidly deployable nature of Marine Aviation that makes this possible.
Marines with 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing began refocusing training requirements on near-peer adversaries by conducting Tactical Air Command Center operations during Wing Exercise 16, at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, Oct. 13-16.
“The idea behind the exercise was to train the battle staff,” explained Col. Kenneth Woodard, exercise director and 2nd MAW operations officer. “The MAW must be ready to deploy and employ as a wing-level headquarters in a major theater war … WINGEX provided us an opportunity to test the battle staff and prepare it for this requirement.”
The battle staff is composed of primary and special staff sections across the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing. It supports the aviation combat element’s capability to operate, plan and execute all functions of Marine aviation across the range of military operations.
While it is not possible to plan and be prepared for every future engagement, 2nd MAW plans to optimize its readiness and continuously enforce and maintain standards in an effort to increase the capability of defending the homeland and supporting the ground combat element.
Although the exercise lasted four days, the planning phase and coordination required spanned 10 months. Marines assigned to battle staff positions participated in operational planning teams requiring staff input across the entirety of 2nd MAW.
In effort to make the constructive simulated exercise realistic, planners from the II Marine Expeditionary Force Battle Simulation Center integrated the ground combat element, logistics combat element as well as higher commands such as II MEF and host nation militaries, forcing the ACE Marines to coordinate not only among themselves, but also across the entire MAGTF.
Performing defensive and offensive measures to counter both traditional and irregular threats based on today’s real-world adversaries, the Marines and Sailors learned to work together to accomplish various missions.
“Working with the different agencies across the wing and outside entities was a major takeaway from this exercise,” explained Capt. Kevin Tingley, the future operations rotary wing planner. “It allowed many of us who haven’t actually deployed in this capacity to truly see the inner workings of what makes the MAGTF work.”
While the purpose of the exercise is to strengthen war-fighting capabilities, the exercise will help key personnel identify training achievements and deficiencies to prepare for future combat operations.
“After several years of sustained combat operations, we need to continue training and executing our mission requirements so that we can ensure we are equally as responsive tomorrow, as we were in past operations,” said Maj. Gen. Gary Thomas, 2nd MAW commanding general. “Outstanding support to the MAGTF is a mindset.
There is a global demand for forces to remain ready, and if we are going to do something, we are going to do it well. This exercise speaks to the quality of the battle staff’s preparation and execution to make it happen.”
Although WINGEX has come to an end, the continuous training and betterment of 2nd MAW Marines and Sailors will continue to evolve when 2nd MAW participates in the II MEF-wide exercise, next year. Nonetheless, if the nation calls for the rapid insertion of ground units or the need for close air support — the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing will be there to answer the call.