Shaping a Way Ahead for the TACAIR Community: Visiting MAG-14


By Robbin Laird

During my July 2021 visit to 2nd Marine Air Wing, I had a chance to meet with the leadership of MAG-14.

I met with Col. Williams, the MAG-14 Commanding Officer, Lt. Col. Harrell, the MAG-14 Executive Officer and Maj. Cunningham, the MAG-14 Operations Officer. Based at Cherry Point, MAG-14 operates AV-8B Harriers, KC-130Js and the RQ-21A Blackjack. It is in transition from the Harriers to F-35s, and their KC-130Js are key enablers for the entire MAGTF.

2nd MAW includes Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 501 (VMFAT-501), the Warlords, which is an F-35 training squadron at MCAS Beaufort.

But the coming of operational F-35s to MAG-14 and 2nd MAW will be another driver of transformation of 2nd MAW capabilities. Operationally, 2nd MAW deploys all over the globe, to include recently working with allied F-35s in the North Atlantic and European theaters in the recent BALTOPS-50 exercise.

But transition is always challenging, and one can see significant construction in preparation for the standup of the F-35 at the base.

As Col. Williams put it: “We are in transition as we wind down the Harriers and get ready for the arrival of the F-35s in the 2023 timeframe.

“We are scheduled to receive the first six aircraft in late FY23, while VMU-2 will transition from the RQ-21 to Reapers in the FY25 timeframe.”

“We will continue to support the East Coast MEUs with Harriers, and will be sustaining the Harrier force through fiscal year 2028. When the F-35s take over the East Coast MEU’s duty that will represent a significant transformation.”

The first hangar is being built as well as the simulator building for the F-35s coming to the base. As Col. Williams noted: “We will eventually have two more hangars. A new headquarters will be built for MAG-14 as well.”

The challenge is to make the transition, but to maintain the readiness of the current force. 

Managing the two dynamics is the challenge which the MAG-14 leadership is facing. The Harriers deploy with the MEUs and as the MEUs transition towards more North Atlantic defense missions as opposed to Eastern Mediterranean missions.

The pilot and maintainer force will transition as the F-35s come onboard at Cherry Point as well.

And this aspect is a key one in managing the transition as well; the Service has used incentive programs, such as Selective Retention Bonus to encourage reenlistment and continued service of highly qualified Marines—particularly aviation maintainers.

We then discussed the KC-130J.

My own observation over the years is that the KC-130J is crucial to Marine Corps operations by providing logistic support, air-to-air refueling and close air support to fleet operating forces.

As a multi-sensor image reconnaissance and close air support platform, the KC-130J aircraft may be equipped with the Harvest Hercules Airborne Weapons Kit (HAWK) configuration as well.

The Marine Corps has integrated the Harvest HAWK system, that provides the Battlefield Commander with a limited, persistent surveillance capability with the onboard Production Target Sight Sensor (TSS).

The TSS can also provide the ability to employ precision weapons using laser guidance.

A core focus for MAG-14 is ensuring the readiness of the aircraft and crews for the KC-130Js.

Given the aging inventory of aircraft, this is a key challenge going forward.

There has been a new focus on the long-range firing function which the USMC could participate in as they address evolving concepts of operations for extended littoral operations, such as the Marine Littoral Regiment. 

The MLR is a purpose built unit designed to enable the Marine Corps’ new service strategy and employs three uniquely designed subordinate elements: a Littoral Combat Team, a Littoral Anti-Air Battalion, and a Littoral Logistics Battalion.

The LCT is designed to provide the basis for employing multiple platoon-reinforced-sized expeditionary advance base sites that can host and enable a variety of missions such as long-range anti-ship fires, forward arming and refueling of aircraft, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance of key maritime terrain, and air-defense and early warning.

It has seemed to me that the Harvest HAWK experience could be leveraged here in terms of either working with longer range missiles, or adapting a Harvest HAWK capability for the Ospreys to provide rapid insertion fires into the fight.

There is also the clear possibility that airlifters can be modified by using missiles in the box to be able to carry weapons that can be launched from the back of the aircraft.

Clearly, kill web approaches can allow for that, and setting up advanced expeditionary bases of C2 or sensor operating Marines supporting air-delivered fires is more expeditious than trying to move first to EABOs themselves.

MAG-14 is in transition, but it can be viewed as maintaining the competitive edge within a larger transition of the USMC itself.

Author’s Note: All three officers are C-130 drivers by trade and one with previous EA-6B Electronic Countermeasures Officer experience. This includes Harvest HAWK work as well, the USMC innovative approach to weaponization of the airlifter.

Featured Photo: ATLANTIC OCEAN (DEC. 14, 2019) A U.S. Marine Corps AV-8B Harrier with Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron (VMM) 365 (reinforced), 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, arrives aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Bataan (LHD 5) for deployment in the Atlantic Ocean Dec. 14, 2019. The Bataan is operating in the Atlantic Ocean in support of naval operations to maintain maritime stability and security in order to ensure access, deter aggression and defend U.S., allied and partner interests. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Tanner Seims)