By Robbin Laird
I first visited 2nd MAW in 2007, at the beginning of the Osprey era. There I saw a small number of the aircraft on the tarmac and met with pilots and maintainers at the beginning of a long period of disruptive change, a period of change which delivered new capabilities, and new approaches for the USMC in global operations.
With this visit, I had a chance to follow up on discussions earlier this year with MAWTS-1 and with NAWDC about the dynamics of change with regard to the Marine Corps role in naval operations.
This changing role is being shaped at a time when the U.S. Navy is focused on blue water maneuver warfare, and the Marine Corps part of this might be referred to as a naval expeditionary force-in-readiness in support of fleet operations.
But whatever the long-term vision, the future is now.
With the world as it is, and with the rise of 21st century authoritarian powers working skill sets for full spectrum warfare, for 2nd MAW it is about the challenge of being able to fight now and prepare for the future by leveraging current operations and shaping new approaches.
Over the next few weeks, I will generate a series of articles with regard to my visit and the insights I gained from this combat force as they train as they fight, and train as they will need to fight as the threat evolves.
My host for the visit was Major General Cederholm, the CG of 2nd MAW. The CG has flown almost every aircraft in the 2nd MAW inventory, most recently being the F-35. At the end of my visit, we sat down and discussed how he viewed the challenges facing his command and key priorities moving forward.
Without a doubt, the key theme for the CG was readiness to be able to fight with the force he has and to do it on demand.
The readiness theme is one that strategists far from the force can readily forget, but for the operational commanders, and those responsible for the train and equip functions, it is the baseline from which operational realities start.
When I interviewed the U.S. Navy Air Boss earlier this Fall, he underscored how important the challenge of readiness, understood in terms of available fully mission capable aircraft was to the Navy.
Question: What are the biggest challenges you faced when you became the Air Boss?
Vice Admiral Miller: “There were three main things when I came in, and most of them were near term focused.
“Readiness was unacceptable.
“For example, 50% of our FA-18s weren’t flyable. Readiness was clearly the first and the highest priority.
“The second one was to shift our training from counter-terrorism to what we need to fight and win a great power competition.
“The third involved manning challenges. We had gotten ourselves to where we had no bench.
“:We were putting our combat teams together right at the end game and sending them out the door on deployment, and we really weren’t cultivating the expertise we need for the high-end fight.
“We knew that meeting these challenges was not an overnight challenge, but required a sustained effort.”
Major General Cederholm underscored very similar themes.
He started by underscoring that in his view 2nd MAW was “America’s Air Wing.”
“We operate all over the globe. Right now, we have forces all the way from Europe into the Far East, and everywhere in between.
“The sun never sets on 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing. We have to have a ready force and generate combat power today as we face the challenges of transformation tomorrow.
“We can never lose our readiness trait, or our ability to respond immediately when called upon.
“We’re looking at efforts right now to increase our readiness and our availability across fully mission capable aircraft, which is basically our no-go criteria when it comes to combat operations. The metric that matters to me is the availability of fully mission capable aircraft, not simply availability of an aircraft.
“When we send aircraft into harms way, we owe the aircrew and the Marine Riflemen, a fully mission capable aircraft.
“In this context, we are focused on increased reliability of parts and weapons systems. I have been focused significantly in my career on training; now I am laser focused on the logistics side as well.
“We are examining reliability across the parts for every type, model, and series of aircraft at 2nd MAW, and working with various institutions to improve reliability.
“Even if there are higher upfront costs to get reliability enhanced, it will be cheaper in the long run for the operation of a more resilient force, which is clearly what one needs when the demand is to fight right now, when the phone rings.”
With regard to the training side, the focus is upon transformation as well.
The shift on the demand side to deal with the pacing threat means that the force needs to be more capable of operating as a distributed but integrated force.
This means as well that the Marines operating the various units in 2nd MAW need to be prepared to work the shift between being a force supporting a command or becoming the lead element in an operation.
This kind of problem-solving flexibility is a key theme at NAWDC and MAWTS-1 and, it is not surprising, to find the same focus upon training for flexibility at 2nd MAW as well.
This is especially true of assault support innovations.
The MV-22B was birthed at 2nd MAW and the disruptive change which Osprey introduced is still driving changes with the force.
The CH-53K is now at VMX-1 as the Marines prepare for it to generate similar processes of change.
“Changes, great changes, in Marine Corps assault support have always originated in 2nd MAW – today is no different.”
The Marines are reworking the maintaining side of the business. “We are revising our table of organization and manpower for logistics.
“We are looking for new balances of working relationships as well between contracted maintenance and uniformed maintainers to free up capability for front line squadrons.
“Our biggest project associated with transformation is in this manpower area.”
With regard to transformation, 2nd MAW as a ready to fight now force works with what they have but are opening the aperture to rethinking about how to use the force elements they have but to operate them in new ways.
I saw a lot of evidence of this point during my stay and will write about them in forthcoming articles.
These changes include new ways to operate the AH-1Zs and UH-1Y with the Ground Combat Element. New training approaches are underway to provide new engagement approaches by operating 2nd MAW with 2nd MEF to deliver new combat approaches to deploying the force.
A recent Deepwater exercise highlighted new ways to leverage assault support and to operate in an extended battlespace. Romeos are starting to train with Vipers to give the fleet better self-defense capabilities. There is a new focus on how Marine Air works with the fleet to contribute to surface and sub surface missions as well.
“We don’t need to wait for force design initiatives to come to fruition to increase our lethality and transform our operating concept.
“We’re doing that through training inside our own formations, our own platforms and focusing on better ways to deal with the pacing threat.”
The CG highlighted a key way the Marines working with the Navy can enhance combat flexibility within the fleet.
I have argued that the shift from the ARG-MEU to the amphibious task force if appropriately understood can allow that task force to provide significant contributions to sea control and sea denial.
The way the CG put it was as follows: “We are changing our mindset.
“We can swap out the composition on an amphibious deck within two hours to tailor the force to the mission or the threat.
We can configure for HADR operations and swap out with a ship like the USS America into a full up lethal strike asset with F-35s and Ospreys onboard. Mix and match and swapping out assets is a part of working the chess board for 21st century combat operations.”
Another example of the mindset change being worked on the training side can be seen in 2nd MEF/2nd MAW cooperation.
“With the pacing threat, we may not conduct mass regimental lifts.
“I am excited to be working with Second Marine Division with regard to battlefield planning and training on the correlation of what forces they will insert and what assault support is most appropriate to that effort.
“You are taking a smaller element of the GCE, combining it with a smaller element of the ACE, and operating in a chain saw like fashion.
“This means that every seat on the assault aircraft, every pallet being lifted, has to have a design purpose for force inserts. We are changing the way that we think about resupply for the insertion force.”
In short, the challenge is to operate now, but generate change.
As Major General Cederholm put it: “We are generating combat power and transitioning at the same time.”
Maj. Gen. Michael S. Cederholm’s welcome video to 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina, July 9th, 2020. (U.S. Marine Corps video by Cpl. Paige C. Stade)