Visiting MAG-39: An Osprey Update


By Robbin Laird

During the first week of January 2023, I had the chance to travel to San Diego to visit Camp Pendleton and various U.S. Naval commands.

The visit to Pendleton was to MAG-39. The history of MAG-39 can be found at the end of the article.

I had a chance to talk with LtCol Nelson, the MAG-39 XO who is an experienced Osprey operator. He started as a CH-46 aviator but has flown the Osprey for more than a decade and has about 2100 flight hours on the aircraft to date.

Interestingly, his Osprey experience is largely aboard MEUs. He is not a desert rat but has extensive experience in expeditionary operations from the sea.

The next day I was going to visit the CMV-22B team at North Island and talked to him about the MAG’s role in helping the CMV-22B team standup. It has been significant in the standup process as Marine maintainers and operators have worked closely with the Navy team standing up the aircraft. That standup period has ended, but as the Navy works the con-ops of an Osprey focused on logistics in the distributed battlespace and as the Marines work their expeditionary basing, there will be significant cross-learning through the operational lens.

The Navy is focusing on the key role which the CMV-22B can provide in terms of contested logistics.

But as LtCol Nelson pointed out: “The Marines have from the beginning in their use of the Osprey experienced the challenge of contested logistics. That is our bread and butter. The Navy is focused on a different architecture in terms of the distributed maritime battlespace but contested logistics support by the Osprey has been part of our bread and butter operational experience for some time now.”

LtCol Nelson emphasized that the Navy and USMC working together on logistics in a common enterprise was a clear possibility.

As he noted: “I do see a distributed maritime logistics network being used interchangeably for the benefit of the whole in a naval aviation enterprise. That’s logical and attainable.”

When I visited 2nd MAW in 2020, I had a chance to discuss the Deep Water exercise, in which the Osprey played a very interesting role, one which I discussed with LtCol Nelson. In that exercise, the Osprey played the C2 role.

As I noted in assessing the event: “The planning and execution focused on bringing a disaggregated force into an objective area that required integrated C2 with Ground, Aviation and Logistics Combat Elements. This C2 functionality was delivered in part by an Osprey operating as an airborne command post with a capability delivered by a “roll-on/roll-off” C2 suite.

“The use of MAGTF Tablets (MAGTAB) provided a key means of digital interoperability that allowed for real-time information sharing to ground elements and aviators. The MAGTAB provided the visual representation of the integrated effects and outcomes to the command element. ISR was provided by USMC assets and by a USAF JSTARS aircraft. They used their Network-on-the-Move Airborne (NOTM-A) system to provide interoperability for the commander and assault force.

“As Major Rew put it, “I think having the NOTM-A kit on the Osprey is a big win because it provides so much situational awareness. With the Osprey as a C2 aircraft, there is added flexibility to land the aircraft close to whatever operational area the commander requires. There are many capable C2 platforms across the DoD but not all of them also have the ability to immediately land adjacent to the battlefield like the Osprey does.”[1]

What LtCol Nelson suggested that when focusing on the Osprey in its logistics role not only could you encompass a C2 role but think of it as a platform which can do “information logistics.”

As he put it: “We are not just moving things around the battlespace but information as well.”

This role could be of increasing importance as the naval forces use unmanned surface vessels as a key element for deployed ISR.

Not only could the Osprey drop USVs out of the aircraft and deploy them, but could have ISR/C2 teams to work the data.

If one looks at the Navy’s Resolute Hunter exercises, one sees the shift from ISR operators collecting data to becoming C2 decision makers with the ISR data that they collect onboard the aircraft.[2]

This could well the information logistics role which LtCol Nelson was underlining.

In short, as the Osprey looks towards the next decade of innovation, the interactive efforts of the Navy and the USMC open up new vistas.

The land wars constrained the innovative tiltrotor aircraft.

Now looking at the Pacific with its vast areas in which to operate and to sustain those operations, the Osprey becomes the indispensable aircraft, and a driver for further change in shaping the capabilities of the distributed kill web force.

The History of MAG-39

The 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (3rd MAW) was commissioned on the 167th anniversary of the Marine Corps, November 10, 1942, at Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Cherry Point, North Carolina with a personnel roster of 13 officers, 25 enlisted men and one aircraft-a trainer.

The Wing’s combat history began with the World War II deployment of a bomber squadron on December 3, 1943.  A little more than a year later, the Wing deployed a night fighter squadron in support of the war effort.

On April 21, 1944, the Wing boarded three carriers for a voyage to Hawaii and arrived May 8, where it assumed the functions of Marine Air, Hawaii Area.  When the Japanese surrendered, 3rd MAW was decommissioned and its personnel were assigned to other units.  The Wing had played an important, but behind-the-scenes, role in defeating the Japanese by giving the best training available to Marine pilots and support personnel.

In 1952, as the Corps again fought in the Far East, the Wing was reactivated at Cherry Point for the Korean War.  The main portion of the Wing began moving to the new MCAS Miami, Florida- the Marine Corps’ first “flying field.”

In September 1955, the Wing left Miami for MCAS El Toro, California.  3d MAW was rebuilt again, with the addition of Marine Aircraft Groups (MAG) 15, followed by MAG-36 with its helicopter squadrons at a nearby Air Station in Santa Ana, California.  Wing squadrons were detached and deployed to Vietnam as combat action in Southeast Asia flared.  At the end of the Vietnam War several units were brought back to the United States and deactivated or re-designated, creating the 3rd MAW of today.

The Wing saw action again as part of I Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF), conducting operations in Iraq and Kuwait during Operation DESERT SHIELD, Operation DESERT STORM, and Operation SABER. After the end of hostilities, 3rd MAW aircraft provided support in Operations PROVIDE COMFORT and Operation SOUTHERN WATCH over Iraq.  The Wing was once more called into service in Somalia for Operation RESTORE HOPE.

The fall of 2001 would reveal a new type of challenge, the Global War on Terror, and 3d MAW answered the call again by deploying units in support of Operation ENDURING FREEDOM both in Afghanistan and neighboring countries.  Beginning in the fall of 2002, 3rd MAW deployed forces to Kuwait in preparation for combat operations in Iraq.  3rd MAW provided decisive aviation fires for I MEF and coalition forces in liberation of Iraq during Operation IRAQI FREEDON and subsequent stability operations.  3d MAW continued to deploy in support of wars in Afghanistan and Iraq to include the 3rd MAW (Forward) Aviation Combat Element

Headquarters at Camp Leatherneck, Regional Command Southwest, Afghanistan in 2010, 2012, and 2014, the latter of which planned and executed the withdrawal of Marine Aviation Forces from the Helmand Province and subsequent end to Operation ENDURING FREEDOM.

Marines and Sailors of 3rd MAW deployed and conducted combat operations in support of Operation INHERENT RESOLVE in Iraq and Syria and Operation RESOLUTE SUPPORT in Afghanistan.

3rd MAW Marines and Sailors are forward deployed in special purpose Marine Air Ground Task Forces and Marine Expeditionary Units alongside joint U.S. forces, Allies and partners, ready to respond to any ongoing or emerging crisis or contingency.  The 3rd MAW has a well-proven, colorful battle history.  As part of the nation’s force in readiness, the Marines and Sailors of 3rd MAW stand prepared to meet any and all challenges the future may bring.  PREPARED IN PEACE AND WAR- SEMPER FIDELIS.

Featured Photo: Four MV-22B Osprey’s with 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (MAW) are staged in preparation for the loading of Marines from 1st Marine Division during exercise Steel Knight on Marine Corps Air Station Camp Pendleton, Calif., Dec. 10, 2019.


Photo by Warrant Officer Justin Pack 

3rd Marine Aircraft Wing

[1] Robbin Laird, The U.S. Marine Corps Transformation Path: Preparing for the High-End Fight (pp. 215-216). Kindle Edition.

[2] “At Naval Air Station, Fallon, in November 2020, the U.S. Navy hosted the third iteration of a relatively new exercise called Resolute Hunter. This exercise is about how to shape a new paradigm for 21st century so that Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities can be worked to provide enhanced mission execution. Much like how NAWDC has added two new warfighting competencies to its program, namely, dynamic targeting and Maritime ISR.” Robbin Laird and Ed Timperlake, A Maritime Kill Web Force in the Making: Deterrence and Warfighting in the 21st Century (p. 194). Kindle Edition.