Marines Train for ASW


U.S. Marines with Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 267, Marine Aircraft Group 39, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (MAW), drops a sonobuoy during the Advanced Naval Basing evolution of Summer Fury 21 at San Clemente, California, July 20, 2021.

Advanced Naval Basing offering forward logistics and support, as well as sensor and strike capabilities that make a significant contribution to undersea warfare campaigns in the Indo-Pacific region.

Summer Fury is an exercise conducted by 3rd MAW in order to maintain and build capability, strength, and trust within its units to generate the readiness and lethality needed to deter and defeat adversaries during combat operations as the U.S. Marine Corps refines tactics and equipment in accordance with Force Design 2030.



Video by Cpl. Nicolas Atehortua 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing

Operations in the Information Environment: The Perspective from MARFORPAC Marines

By Robbin Laird

During my August 2021 visit to MARFORPAC, I had a chance to talk with the specialists in information operations within the command. In particular, I met with Mr. Justin Bogue, Information Maneuver Branch Deputy, Maj. Melissa Giannetto, MARFORPAC PsyOp Officer and Maj. Nick Mannweiler, COMMSTRAT Operations.

Clearly, one major change since my last visit to MARFORPAC in 2014-2015 has been a renewed focus on information operations.

With the Russian seizure of Crimea which involved significant use of information warfare, and the ramp up of information operations including cyber in the Pacific – China, North Korea and Russia – a focus on crisis management operations needs to incorporate information operations as a core capability.

It needs to be, in the words of one participant in the discussion, “not a bolt-on capability but a core integrated capability.”

A key change which the Marines have made to build out modern IO capabilities has been the formation of MEF Information Groups (MIG) in each Marine Expeditionary Force.

And those MIGS are operating as centers of excellence to shape the practical side of information operations, but also as magnets for change throughout the Marine Corps as a whole.

During a visit to 2nd MEF this past summer, I discussed why the formation of the MIGs was so important as part of the reshaping of the Marine Corps capabilities for full spectrum crisis engagement.

As Col. Brian Russell, the Commander of II MEF Information Group put it: “the MIG was borne out of the MEF Headquarters Group here. We had some of the components already, but they were reorganized under a different construct with some different capabilities, like the communication, strategy and operations company. Psychological operations capabilities, defensive cyber capabilities, were packaged in this MEF Information Group.

“I think the key for the MEF Information Group is taking all those capabilities and making them work together rather than having operational silos such as just coms and just intel; we need to work information operations as a whole.”

The participants in the conversation at Camp Smith with the information operations officers underscored Russell’s core point.

It was about forging a coherent capability to build in information operations elements within operations.

As one participant put it: “It has taken time but over the past few years, we have been able to get wider recognition of the importance of information operations for the Marines and there is now much greater practical focus on how to do this more effectively going forward.”

And one aspect of that challenge going forward is working through what the relationship between what has been traditionally called public affairs is with operational information war. Or put another way:

What is the relationship between COMSTRAT and Information Operations?

Another participant underscored that information operations were a key part of how the U.S. and allied militaries operated in the Cold War.

Some of these skill sets need to be recreated but to do so in the digital age and one where cyber war is a key reality as well.

In the briefing given by the information operations team, one slide highlighted “how the Marines fight in the information environment.”

And the focus was upon how the MIG was positioning itself as a core element within the MAGTF to shape a way ahead for integrated information operations.

Because the Marines are full spectrum crisis management force, IO needs to be addressed across the spectrum of operations from HADR ops, to higher end forcible entry operations.

In the briefing, the team highlighted this in the following slide:

With a focus on more joint force integration of the Marines with the Navy, in particular, it was increasingly important that coordination among service-based IO needs to be coordinated, and common approaches and language shaped to execute more effective joint operations.

And IO against peer competitors was at a very different scale than what has been learned and practiced in the Middle East land wars.

Events at the local level in INDOPACOM can become strategic in character rapidly: how best to handle the management of IO at local levels and ensure that they work hand in glove with effective strategic level decisions?

The exercise piece is of growing importance as well.

Training and exercises are becoming of increasing importance in shaping joint and coalition force capabilities. But they are messaging events as well. How to bring these two strands within exercises more effectively together, namely effective combat training and effective political impacts through messaging?

We discussed the crucial importance of collating information and lessons as well learned in crises, exercises or other information operational events.

And here the team highlighted that from the beginning the MIGS are working closely with one another, and there are clear efforts to shape a coordinated community which can indeed share experiences and knowledge gained from those experiences.

In short, part of the strategic shift which the Marines are undergoing from the land wars to full spectrum crisis management is learning how to master information operations.

And to do so in way that is integrated within kinetic operations as well.

Also, see the following:

The Role of II MEF Information Group: The Perspective of Its Commanding General

For an article by Col. Russell which discusses the challenges which the MIGS are addressing, see the following:

On the COMSTRAT and IO challenge, see the following article:

See also, the following story about the standup of the MIG in III MEF:

Okinawa’s Marine Expeditionary Force Information Group is ready to fight in the information environment

By Sgt.George Melendez

III MEF Information Group reached a historic milestone during the conclusion of the III Marine Expeditionary Force Exercise on Okinawa, May 10, 2019. It is ready to begin operating in the information environment, also referred to as the Initial Operational Capability, by supporting operations in the Indo-Pacific region. This operational level command and control focused exercise contains a fictional scenario developed with a real-world near-peer competitor in mind.

“MEFEX was the first time that we did this and it’s to try to show the value added from the Information Command Center,” said Col. Larry Jenkins, the commanding officer of III MIG. “Showing that we have made ourselves more lethal, more survivable and more flexible.” 

The ICC is a new concept but is shaped similar to the Marine Corps’ ground, air and logistics command units. It will bring together information-related capabilities that have existed in the information domain prior to the MIG standing up and focus them in a unified effort on a singular objective to gain information superiority over an adversary. 

“(We) want to change the way the Marine Air-Ground Task Force fights, and get it to think of the operations in the information environment as maneuver warfare in a different domain,” said Jenkins.

Examples of the IRCs working alongside of the ICC are cyberspace, electronic warfare, military deception, special technical operations, psychological operations, communications strategy and operations, and intelligence.

The intent of command in the ICC is putting information-related authorities at our level instead of where they traditionally reside in the higher units. Granting those authorities down provides a space to create tempo and speed for subordinate commanders in the information domain, explained Lt. Col. James McGrath, the III MIG operations officer. 

In order to grant proper authorities to the ICC, staff members from different units needed to be trained to synchronize with the other IRC’s they may have never worked with before. The training took approximately six months and was executed by building tactics, techniques and standard operating procedures through battle drill rehearsals and staff exercises. 

“So, if you look at it now there’s a spectrum of capabilities for the MIG. At the one end, the high end, is the MIG staff here; all the subject matter experts in all of the capabilities that we have been taught and come to understand and integrate into the information environment,” said Jenkins. “On the other end is the standup of tactical-level capabilities within the six battalions that we have in the MIG to execute operations.” 

With one historic milestone reached, III MIG’s long term goal is to reach full operational capability by 2025 so they can continue to achieve information superiority throughout the information environment.

May 5, 2019

Shaping a Way Ahead for Pacific Defense: The Evolving Role of the USAF


By Robbin Laird

During my recent visit to Hawaii, I had a chance to talk with Brigadier General Michael Winkler, Director of Strategic Plans, Requirements and Programs at the Pacific Air Force.

We discussed a wide range of subjects, but in this article, I will focus on our discussion of the way ahead for PACAF and the joint force in crafting a way ahead for Pacific defense.

The U.S. services and our allies are focused on shaping innovative ways to deliver effective warfighting and deterrent capabilities. For the USAF, a key focus is upon building out fifth generation airpower, leveraging that capability across the joint force, crafting, shaping and delivering a more distributed force labelled as Agile Combat Employment, and preparing the ground for the coming of the new bomber as a key weapon system for the Pacific.

BG Winkler underscored that PACAF is focused on the importance of operating as a joint force and doing so by learning from its ongoing operational engagements.

As he put it: “Our vision for the Pacific is to operationalize the Pacific AOR. In so doing, we need to take a proactive approach.  Too often we operate in the Pacific theater at the speed of staff. What we need to do in the Pacific theater is to act at the speed of operations.”

With the current force, a key path to unleash enhanced capabilities is being able to leverage airpower in enhance the capabilities of the air-maritime force, up to and including the role of the USCG. The presence force throughout the Pacific, whether American, partner or coalition provides the baseline for engagement with competitors and adversaries.

Leveraging presence to connect to a wider integrated force is a key way ahead to deal with the challenges in the Pacific.

BG Winkler put it this way: “A United States Coast Guard National Security Cutter might be facing a challenge.

“And because we haven’t fully integrated their sensor suite in with the rest of the DoD capabilities, they aren’t going to be as informed as they need to be because we haven’t made those connections or able to leverage the full range of U.S. combat power.

“We are working towards enhanced integratability in the force. A game changing capability is based on ensuring that every sensor out there is connected to a network, and that network shares information with everybody that we allow access to it.  And we would want to make sure that all of our allies and partners have access to that network.

“Certainly, all the U.S. forces forward deployed would have access to that network, as well.

“We’ve got a lot of work to get from where we are today to actually being able to build that capability, but that’s one of the things that we need to redouble efforts on. Access to the right information  is going to be the key to the next conflict. I also think that both parties in the next conflict will probably be trying to prevent the other country from being able to have an information advantage. “

Throughout the discussion he highlighted the importance of what I have referred to as full spectrum crisis management capability.

The USAF needs to be able to contribute across the conflict spectrum, precisely because deterrence works only if demonstrated power is engaged from the lower to higher ends of conflict.

BG Winker argued: “The more we build out our phase zero peacetime capabilities, the more we organize, train and equip our force right now to be able to have that information advantage.

“We need to continue to practice those tactics, techniques and procedures in phase zero, as we’re doing normal training operations, or even normal real-world operations in phase zero.

“Every single HADR event is an opportunity to shape a mixed force that can then share that same type of data. I think that using those training reps as an opportunity to better build our joint interagency situational awareness is definitely a step in the right direction.

“We have tools to do that right now. We don’t have to wait for a 5-year, or 10-year advanced battle management solution. We’ve got Link 16 networks, we’ve got radios, we’ve got a lot of different ways that we can communicate information.  To the degree that we can do that more machine to machine, I think that’ll be a more efficient way of doing it, because we’re going to start to develop large amounts of data.

“So much data that the human that’s trying to assimilate all that data now becomes the choke point in the process. So, the more that we can get the machines and the artificial intelligence finding the anomalies in the normal activity for us, the easier it will be for us to be able to process that data and start to capitalize on information advantage.

“But we certainly don’t need to wait for future capabilities; we can enhance joint capabilities across the spectrum of warfare now by working more integration with the key elements of air, sea and land power.”

PACAF is working the agile employment concept as a key part of shaping the ability of the Air Force to operate across the expanse of the Pacific and to do so in a more survivable mode.

When I met the current PACAF Commander in Australia, he was the commander of 11th Air Force. And during a 2018Williams Seminar, he discussed the need for what would now call Agile Combat Employment. I wrote about his assessment in my book on the evolution of Australian Defence strategy published earlier this year.

At the Williams Foundation Seminar in Canberra in March 2018, the 11th Commander, Lt. General Kenneth Wilsbach, highlighted the nature of the challenge requiring the shift to mobile basing as follows:

“From a USAF standpoint, we are organized for efficiency, and in the high intensity conflict that we might find ourselves in, in the Pacific, that efficiency might be actually our Achilles heel, because it requires us to put massive amounts of equipment on a few bases. Those bases, as we most know, are within the weapons engagement zone of potential adversaries.

“So, the United States Air Force, along with the Australian Air Force, has been working on a concept called, Agile Combat Employment, which seeks to disperse the force, and make it difficult for the enemy to know where you are at, when are you going to be there, and how long are you are going to be there.

“We’re at the very preliminary stages of being able to do this but the organization is part of the problem for us, because we are very used to, over the last several decades, of being in very large bases, very large organizations, and we stove pipe the various career fields, and one commander is not in charge of the force that you need to disperse. We’re taking a look at this, of how we might reorganize, to be able to employ this concept in the Pacific, and other places.”

Now PACAF Commander, Wilsbach has made this a core effort.

And this is how BG Winkler underscored the effort: “PACAF has done a pretty decent job over the last three years of getting the Air Force to embrace this idea of agile combat operations and to export it to Europe as well.

“The whole idea, if you rewind the clock to the mid 80s, early 90s, was that  every single base in the United States Air Force that was training for conflict would do an exercise where you’d run around in chemical gear.

“At that point in time, there was a large chemical biological threat, and the Air Force recognized that it needed to be able to survive and operate in that chemical threat. So, we trained to it.

“I think the new version of that chemical biological threat is the anti-access area denial umbrella. The idea of agile combat employment is our capability to survive and operate and keep combat momentum underneath the adversary’s anti-access area denial umbrella.

“Basically, we are focusing on our ability to survive and operate in a contested environment.

“PACAF has taken a realistic approach that is fiscally informed because it would be very difficult for us to go try to build multiple bases with 10,000-foot runways, and dorms, and ammunition storage all over the Pacific.  ”

“What we’ve done instead is concentrated on a hub and spoke mentality, where you build a base cluster. That cluster has got a hub that provides quite a bit of logistic support to these different spoke airfields. The spokes are more expeditionary than most folks in the Air Force are used to.

“The expeditionary airfield is a spoke or a place that we operate from. It’s not 10,000 feet of runway, it’s maybe 7,000 feet. We’re probably not going to have big munitions storage areas, there’s probably going to be weapons carts that have missiles on them inside of sandbags bunkers.

“And we’re going to look a lot more like a Marine Expeditionary base than your traditional big Air Force base. It’ll be fairly expeditionary.”

We then discussed the challenge of reducing the number of USAF personnel necessary to sustain air operations, along the lines which the Marines have focused upon.  “The MOS challenge is a very real problem for us. And I think we’re starting to figure out how we’re going to get around that. We’re calling it multi capable airman, where we do some degree of cross training. So, your average crew chief now can actually do other flight line tasks like load missiles, and vice versa, your fuels folks actually can do some minor maintenance tasks. It is very much more along the lines of the USMC model.

“The goal is to have airmen do more things, which then means we don’t need to deploy as many of them to one location to still get the job done. And then, we’ll work a logistics schema maneuver from the hubs to the spokes to do the things you’d mentioned previously, the fuel resupply, the munitions resupply, any other expendables.”

We then focused on  the shift of ISR from intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance to information, surveillance, reconnaissance, and the shift to decision making at the tactical edge.

As BG Winkler underscored: “Our allies and partners are a huge part of everything that we’re going to end up doing out here in theater.  We like to think that they are an asymmetric advantage, and the more that we can get the coalition plugged in. It’s not just U.S. sensors that are out there feeding the rest of the joint coalition force, but it is important to tap into the allied and partner sensors.

“I do think that we’re at a precipice for information warfare, and the fact that some of the forward based sensors that we have like the F-35, can generate way more intelligence data then our traditional ISR fleet, like the E3. Australia’s flying the E7, fairly modernized, very robust ISR capabilities on those.

“I think there’s been some discussion within the United States Air Force about whether or not we need to up the game and maybe make an E7 purchase, as well.

“But we are getting to that point where the forward base fighters actually are so much more technologically advanced than our ISR fleet, that it makes you question where the ISR node should be. I agree, it doesn’t necessarily need to be all the way back in Hawaii. It could be somewhere else in the theater.

“But the Air Force, as you’re aware, has traditionally operated with AOC as the central node for command and control in the Pacific.  We’re trying to figure out as an Air Force what the future looks like.

“But I don’t think that future is going to be five years from now. I think it might be 10 years from now.

“And in the short term, what you’ll probably see is a something that allows us to operate from the AOC, protect our capabilities to operate from the air operation center, to be able to help synchronize fighters throughout the entire AOR, but then set up subordinate nodes that are probably forward of the AOC.

“If the AOC does get cut off or shut down, for some reason, you do still have subordinate C2 nodes in the theater that can keep the continuity of operations, and keep some battlefield momentum up, to continue to take the fight to the enemy.

“And I think we’re all getting more serious about electronic warfare.

“I’ll be interested to see how those capabilities mature over the next 10 years. I think we’re at a situation right now, where electronic warfare a lot of ways still is a supporting force to the kinetic stuff.

“The big question in the electronic warfare is, knowing you’ve got a limited number of assets that can do it. Where do you want to prioritize that?

“And that question drives you back right to, who is doing the command and control? How are you integrating the most effective electronic warfare to support the highest priority kinetic warfare?

“That’s a commander’s decision, so the important part of that is the Joint Force Commander or the Joint Task Force Commander, or whoever is running the fight, needs to very clearly articulate to his subordinate commanders, who is the supported  commander for synchronizing those joint fires?

“Because without knowing that ahead of time we may possess all of the capability in the world as a joint force but we will never employ it as effectively as we could.”

We then discussed training.

And with the coming of the B-21 in the mid-term, preparing for the coming of the B-21, not as a platform, but a weapons system, notably integrated in the air-maritime fight is a key consideration. The role of an expanded ability to work in the synthetic environment is important, but BG Winkler felt that progress has not been rapid enough in this domain, and live training is critical and to do so in ways that better emulate the Red side threat.

Here he noted that building new capabilities in Alaska, on the U.S. side, and in Australia, on the Australian side, were key ways ahead. And, although we did not discuss this, in my view, being able to operate the new bomber from these two trajectories as an air-maritime asset, or one that can work with the tactical air forces, or the fleet is a key leverage for the mid-term for the United States and the allied forces.

BG Winkler closed by linking the training discussion with where we had started the conversation, namely, working from operations to con-ops evolution. “Admiral Aquilino, INDOPACOM commander, believes that entire Pacific Ocean right now should be our training space.  Every single time that China sails a Surface Action Group, out here into the Philippine Sea, we ought to be working as a joint force to integrate and bring in additional assets that maybe we haven’t used in the past.

“For example, maybe that’s an opportunity for us to partner with the Coast Guard to figure out how we can get them added into a Link 16 network to share situational awareness.

“But we need to take advantage of the opportunities our adversaries provide us by getting out and about in the Pacific.

“And that’s how you get that training level down to the operators that are going to be pulling triggers, and assimilating information in a combat environment as you let them train.  

“Do it every single day in their weapons platform. I think any situation in this theater is an opportunity for us to practice.

“It’s just a matter of us taking the same mentality that we have in the CENTCOM AOR, where you are operating every single day and driven by what is going on in the theater and putting that into practice.”

Featured Photo: U.S. Air Force F-15C Eagles assigned to the 44th Fighter Squadron, Kadena Air Base, Japan, fly in formation during RED FLAG-Alaska (RF-A) 21-3, near Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, Aug. 23, 2021. RF-A is the world’s premier tactical joint and coalition air combat employment exercise, designed to replicate the stress that warfighters face during combat sorties. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Aaron Larue Guerrisky).

A recent example of expanded exercises with allies in the Pacific has been the “Heifara-Wakea” engagement with the French Air Force.

US And French Air Power ‘’Plug And Fight’’ Capability : Bearing the Fruit of Centuries of Cooperation

The ADF and Marine Rotational Force-Darwin: Training in the Top End


By Lieutenant Gordon Carr-Gregg

More than 2000 troops from the Australian Defence Force and Marine Rotational Force-Darwin (MRF-D) have completed a high-end live-fire warfighting exercise at Bradshaw Field Training Area in the Northern Territory.

Commander 1st Brigade Brigadier Ash Collingburn said Exercise Koolendong confirmed the ability of United States and Australian forces to quickly respond to crises in the region if needed.

“Exercise Koolendong was the culminating activity of MRF-D 2021 and a key training event for the Australian Army’s 1st Brigade in enhancing security cooperation between USMC and the ADF through combined-arms live fire,” Brigadier Collinburn said.

“It is a tangible demonstration of ADF and USMC capability to respond to a crisis in the region as a coalition force land component with an integrated coalition command structure.”

Commanding Officer MRF-D Colonel David Banning said Koolendong demonstrated that the US and Australia alliance was as strong as ever.

“The ability of MRF-D and the ADF to conduct this exercise during a pandemic is testament to the strength of our partnership,” Colonel Banning said.

“We’ve brought together all the assets of a marine air-ground task force and an equivalent ADF force, including more than 2000 troops, 500 vehicles and 20 airframes.”

2021 marks 70 years since the signing of the ANZUS Treaty with Australia’s most important defence partner.

“The Australia-US Alliance has never been more important as we look ahead to our shared strategic challenges in the region,” Colonel Banning said.

This article was published by the Australian Department of Defence on September 6,2021.

The featured photo: ADF and Marine Rotational Force – Darwin personnel on Exercise Koolendong at Bradshaw Training Area in the Northern Territory. Photo: Corporal Rodrigo Villablanca .


Cold Weather Training 2020-2021

U.S. Marines with 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment (3/6), 2d Marine Division, conduct multiple exercises as Marine Rotational Force-Europe 21.1, Oct. 2020, through April 2021.

The deployment strengthened the interoperability, mobility, expeditionary readiness and warfighting excellence of 3/6 and the Norwegian military.



Video by Cpl. Andrew Smith 2nd Marine Division

Allies, Partners and Marines in the Indo-Pacific: The Challenge of Building Effective Deterrent Forces


By Robbin Laird

In my interview with Lt. General Rudder, the Commander, U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Pacific (COMMARFORPAC), he clearly outlined the way ahead for the Marines in the Pacific and identified a number of challenges to be faced and met to shape that way ahead. During my visit to MARFORPAC in August 2021, I had a chance to discuss those challenges with a number of staff members in the command.

One of those challenges is working effectively with allies and partners in shaping an effective deterrent strategy and ensuring that coherent warfighting capabilities can be leveraged in times of crisis.

I had a chance to discuss the partnering challenges with the MARFORPAC team responsible for working those challenges.

I met with Mr. Rich Hill, G-5 International Affairs Branch Head, Maj Zach Ota, G-5 NE Asia Desk Officer, Maj Dylan Buck, NE Asia Desk Officer, Mr. Justin Goldman, TSC Plans Specialist and Mr. Scot Hasskew, TSC plans Specialist.

This is an impressive team and we had a wide ranging discussion of allied and partnering issues in the region.

Because of my engagement with the Australians as a Research Fellow with the Williams Foundation, and because the Marine Corps Rotational Force-Darwin had just been set up when I was last visiting MARFORPAC in 2014, we discussed the Australian relationship at length.

But we also discussed the tapestry of change in the Indo-Pacific as the Chinese reached out with both their economic and military power deep into the Indo-Pacific as well.

The team articulated a key point underlying the Marine Corps approach in the Indo-Pacific.

They are focused on working with allies and partners from the standpoint of crafting approaches to operations and not just taking a U.S. built template and incorporating allies into that template.

As one participant put it: “We use our training exercises to experiment with what particular allies or partners wish to do, and to work through how we can build that into an effective coalition warfighting capability.”

With the concern about what is referred to as “gray zone operations” by adversaries, deterrence delivered through interactive training throughout the region is a key focus of USMC activity in the region.

Training is a weapon system, and no more so than in shaping the ecosystem for combat operations in the Indo-Pacific through training with partners and allies.

A key point which emerged from the conversation was how training as a weapon system actually shaped joint coalition warfighting capability.

The argument went like this: The Marines are training with partners and allies throughout the Indo-Pacific and through these efforts are shaping distributed survivable and agile network of training areas with partners and allies.

This, in essence, creates combined joint task forces of varying sizes and varying locations that are scalable and agile.

And by exercising through the various training events, one is creating a deterrent effect.

By working throughout the entire geographical areas of the Indo-Pacific, the Marines are able to operate from multiple vectors, which is a core strategic focus of the Marines in the Indo-Pacific today.

A key element of innovation in the Indo-Pacific is working through a way ahead for coalition amphibious operations, from ships to the shore, from the shore to the sea and shaping distributed and flexible combat clusters throughout the region. 

We discussed how ARG-MEUs coming from CENTCOM through the Indo-Pacific both on the way and on the return have been part of the training regimes.

But clearly, a renewed emphasis on building amphibious task force capabilities in the Indo-Pacific is required going forward, but not simply in terms of the U.S. Navy and the USMC but broadening the efforts to shape coalition wide amphibious task force capabilities.

We spent much of the time discussing the Australian relationship with the USMC.

In my view, there is a significant evolution of Australian strategy underway and how that evolution crosscuts with how the Marines work their own relationship in the Pacific can provide a powerful stimulus for shaping effective deterrent forces in the region. (I wrote this prior to the announcement of the Royal Australian Navy’s nuclear submarine force which clearly underscores this point!)

MV-22B Ospreys assigned to Marine Rotational Force – Darwin conduct air movements from East Arm Wharf to Royal Australian Air Force Base Darwin, NT, Australia, April 14, 2021. Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 363 and Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 367 joined MRF-D and are prepared to respond to crisis and contingencies in the Indo-Pacific region alongside the Australian Defence Force.  (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Micha Pierce)

In part it is about the evolution of MRF-D in the future.

How do the Aussies and MRF-D expand how they work together and with what focus?

If the Australians focus significant attention on shaping distributed but integrated forces from Western Australia to their first island chain (the Solomon Islands), that area of operation which encompasses significant interaction with the partners in the region, provides a very innovative and significant area in which the Marines can themselves work their cross-cutting innovations.

For example, bringing the newly formed Marine Littoral Regiment into an area of operations from Western Australia to the Solomon Islands and building out relationships with the Australian Army as that force rethinks its role in the region would drive significant cross-cutting operational changes important for both the Marines more widely in the Pacific and the Australians in reshaping their own defense capabilities.

I introduced another idea which we discussed but I am not holding the team responsible for my own conclusions.

There clearly needs to be an area to hold regular coalition amphibious task force training.

This is no longer limited to operating as a greyhound bus delivery of capability ashore, the amphibious task forces of today are radically different and more capable in working the full spectrum of operations.

It might make sense for the Aussies to sponsor an annual amphibious task force training exercise.

It would be bilateral at its core but of course, India, Japan, South Korea, and others who have capability to be tested in the 21st century concepts of operations for an amphioxus task force could engage in this ongoing combat learning and innovation effort.

The Marines face a challenge with regard to allies and partners and training which should be recognized as well. The Marines have built an integrated force capability which can deliver Marine Corps combat capability where needed.

If the Marines go down a path of redesigning their force only to fit uniquely into a U.S. Naval joint force integration package via a hyper-specialization focus, they become less useful to the kind of force integration which allies, and partners are engaging in to deal with the current and evolving Indo-Pacific defense threats.

But it is clear: the USMC in the Indo-Pacific will be most effective when it can integrate effectively with partners and allies throughout the entire gamut of operations from gray zone to higher levels of conflict.

Featured Photo:  Soldiers of 5th Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment embark a US Marine Corps MV-22B Osprey for an Air Mobile Operations during Exercise Koolendong 2021. Credit:Australian Department of Defence. August 20, 2021.

Australia Changes its Submarine Acquisition Path: French Reactions


By Pierre Tran

Paris – France heaped bitter resentment on Canberra’s axing an industrial partnership to build 12 attack submarines for the Australian navy, while opting to order American-designed boats as part of a strategic alliance with the U.S. and the UK.

The French foreign and defense ministers filled on Sept. 16 the airwaves with anger in response to a joint announcement the night before by Australia, the UK and the US of their  alliance, dubbed AUKUS.

Under that trilateral agreement, the U.S. will release highly sensitive technology to allow Australia to build nuclear-powered submarines of American design, with support from the UK. The U.S. has only ever granted Britain privileged access to that know-how.

“I am angry — this is not done between allies,” foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on franceinfo radio. “This is a stab in the back. This unilateral, brutal, unpredictable decision looks a lot like what Mr Trump used to do.”

France had built a relationship of trust with Australia, he said. “This confidence has been betrayed,” he said, adding that he felt “a lot of bitterness.”

Le Drian was defense minister when the French shipbuilder Naval Group won in 2016 a three-way competition with Germany and Japan to build a diesel-electric version of the French nuclear-powered Barracuda submarine for the Australian navy.

That 50-year deal was estimated to be then worth €30 billion ($35 billion) and was hailed as “deal of the century” for France and Naval Group.

The Australian switch away from building the French-designed Barracuda Shortfin boat was “serious,” and “very bad news for respecting one’s word,” armed forces minister Florence Parly said on RTL radio. The government would look at limiting any financial hit on Naval Group, she said, and did not rule out a claim for compensation against Australia.

That Australian realignment caught Naval Group by surprise as the company had been expecting to sign a contract for the basic design stage in the next few days, under an imposed deadline for a signing in September.

That two-year contract was reported to be worth €1.4 billion and opened the way for a detailed design deal. Naval Group had completed the preliminary design. The Australian media had long criticized the company for being behind  schedule and pushing the cost higher.

Naval Group had pledged to meet an Australian condition of 60 percent of local content in the future submarine program and agree to transfer technology.

French operations in the Indo-Pacific

France has invested heavily in forging close operational and industrial ties with Australia, seen as a key ally in the Indo-Pacific region.

The French air force flew in January-February under the Skyros exercise four Rafale fighter jets, two A400M transport turboprops and an A330 multirole tanker transport  jet to Australia.

That Skyros exercise was a step toward the target of flying  in two years time 20 Rafales and 10 A330 MRTTs over 20,000 km to the other side of the world in 48 hours.

As part of that power projection into the Indo-Pacific, the French navy sailed the Emeraude nuclear-powered attack submarine, supported by the Seine fleet auxiliary ship, from France in September 2020 to dock at Perth, Western Australia, on November 9. The French boat took part in the Foxfish exercise with the Australian navy.

The Emeraude sailed on to the Guam US naval base and sailed in an Aswex anti-submarine warfare exercise with a US frigate and helicopter, and a Japanese helicopter carrier, the July edition of French navy Col Bleu service magazine said.

While France appears to remain committed to building its presence in the Indo-Pacific, ties with Australia and the U.S. look like they are  hitting a low.

“This decision is contrary to the letter and spirit of the cooperation which existed between France and Australia, founded on a relationship of political confidence as well as development of a high level defense industrial and technology base in Australia,” Le Drian and Parly said in a Sept. 16 joint statement

“The American choice, which leads to Australia setting aside an ally and European partner such as France from a structural partnership, at a time when we are facing unprecedented challenges in the Indo-Pacific region…marks a lack of coherence that France can only take note and regret,” the ministerial statement said.

Naval Group takes hit

“This is a major disappointment for Naval Group,” the company said in a statement, adding that over the last five years the company and its partners had “given their best” and “delivered on all its commitments” in France and Australia.

Naval Group will sit down with the Australian authorities to consider the effect the policy switch will have.

“The analysis of the consequences of this sovereign Australian decision will be conducted with the Commonwealth of Australia in the coming days,” the company said.

Thales, which is a supplier of subsystems to Lockheed Martin and holds 35 percent of Naval Group, said there was no “material impact” on its earnings. The orders from Lockheed Martin were less than €30 million, or less than 0.1 percent of the order book of €34.6 billion, the electronics company said. The stake in Naval Group contributed €22 million in 2020 earnings, or two percent of total earnings.

But in 2016, Thales had expected its share of the Australian submarine program to bring in some €1 billion, with an estimated €100 million per boat based on prospective sales of sonar and electronic warfare systems.

The Australian decision will have little effect in the short term for Naval Group, as the order book was fairly full with work on the Barracuda nuclear attack submarine and frigate for defense and intervention (FDI), and there were studies for the French next generation aircraft carrier and nuclear ballistic missile submarine, said Jean-Pierre Maulny, deputy director of Institut des Relations Internationales et Stratégiques, a think tank.

But the company needs to boost exports, which will cut dependence on domestic orders and  boost its order book for the medium term, he said. Greece is looking to order frigates, while the Netherlands is holding a competition for submarines.

On Greece, France has pitched four FDI frigates, with the first to be built in  France and three in Greece, modernization of the present Greek Meko frigates, and local shipbuilding.

There has been an offer of a “gap filler,” with supply of two second hand French frigates, but that appears to be off the cards as the French navy needs all its warships, a defense official has said.

“The U.S. is an ally and also a competitor,” Maulny said.

The U.S. and UK pursue strategic interests, though it would have been courteous for the U.S. to give early notice to France.

London Seeks to Calm Waters

Across the Channel, the UK has sought to play down tension with France.

“As the prime minister set out in the house, we have and continue to have a very close relationship with France,”  a spokesman for the prime minister, Boris Johnson, told the Downing Street lobby, the Guardian daily reported.

“We have longstanding security and defense relationships, as exemplified by the Lancaster House treaties and as exemplified by our combined joint expeditionary force.”

The 2010 Lancaster House treaty maintains existing cooperative industrial programs but has failed to generate new arms projects for British and French industry, former British ambassador Peter Ricketts has pointed out.

A senior French navy officer has previously said the 1998 St Malo bilateral agreement between France and the UK created a structure for close operational ties between the two navies.

It remains to be seen whether that closeness will be backed by French political will.

For the UK, building the Astute class of nuclear-powered attack submarines for the Royal Navy was only made possible with U.S .help in technology transfer and engineering skills, media reports have said.

The UK’s membership of the AUKUS trilateral alliance means “Global Britain with the Americans,” Maulny said.

Britain needs to negotiate a trade treaty with the U.S., having left the European Union and cast off the EU trade agreement with Washington which covers the 27 EU member states.

The U.S. working an Australian submarine deal from France follows a widely held perception that president Joe Biden influenced Switzerland’s pick of the F-35 in a closely fought fighter competition.

Meanwhile, British sources told the Guardian daily the Australians opened talks about the nuclear power deal in March.

Australian prime minister Scott Morrison came to Paris in June, and his talks with Macron included French and Australian engagement in the Indo-Pacific and work on the future submarine program.

The sinking of that Australian Barracuda submarine program has prompted France to raise the banner for European strategic autonomy.

“The regrettable decision which has just been announced on the FSP program can only strengthen the need to raise loud and clear the question of European strategic autonomy,” the French ministers said. “There is no other credible way to protect our interest and our values in the world, including the Indo-Pacific.”

Macron takes up in January the rotating six month presidency of the European Union.

It remains to be seen what the German elections will deliver and whether Macron can rely on political support from Berlin in his drive for a stronger European arms industrial base and operational capability.

Featured Photo: France’s Defense minister Jean-Yves Le Drien and Australia’s then-PM Malcolm Turnbull (center right and center left) inspecting the submarine model in 2016