Photo Information

A landing craft air cushion heaves through a near-shore swell on Camp Pendleton's Red Beach coastline during assault training exercise Dawn Blitz. The weeklong Navy/Marine exercise involved 4500 sailors and Marines, seven ships, 60 amphibious assault vehicles, 16 landing craft air cushion and numberous fixed-wing and rotary aircraft.

Photo by Don Bartletti

Marines return to their amphibious roots

10 Dec 2010 | Capt. Timothy Patrick

After nearly a decade of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Marine Corps has been inappropriately branded as a second land army.

In response to this misconception, the Corps returns to its amphibious roots Dec. 11 with exercise Bold Alligator 2011, an operation with the Navy's Sound Fleet which reestablishes Marines in their traditional role as "fighters from the sea."       

Initiated by Navy and Marine Corps leadership, Bold Alligator ‘11 is a two-part exercise leadership designed to reacquaint brigade and group-level commands with their amphibious doctrine, tactical skill sets and logistical requirements.

"Though we have focused (at this level) almost exclusively on land warfare in Iraq and Afghanistan for the last decade, amphibious operations continue to be the mainstay of our Corps’ mission," explained Col. Scott D. Aiken, operations officer for II MEF. "We have been working toward this for more than two years now and it’s one of the first of many steps in the direction to revitalize our core competency."

During these two years, planners from the Marine Air-Ground Task Force Staff Training Program located in Quantico, Va., have been busy engineering scenario-based environments to test the Navy/Marine Corps team on their amphibious competence and the dozens of different missions that fall under amphibious operations.

"Amphibious operations are much more than just assaults," said Lt. Col. Bowen Richwine, lead action officer for the MEF’s part in the exercise.

In fact, since 1990, the Navy/Marine Corps team has conducted more than 110 amphibious operations throughout the world - many of which were non-combatant evacuations, disaster relief, or similar crisis-response operations conducted in austere and uncertain environments.

"While assault is one reason for maintaining amphibious capabilities, the utility in conducting raids, demonstrations and amphibious support to noncombatant operations is immense," Richwine explained. "Amphibious forces also have enormous deterrent value against potential adversaries."

Bold Alligator ‘11 is the first installment in what will be regularly scheduled large-scale amphibious exercises involving the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade and the Navy’s Expeditionary Strike Group 2. This December, Marines and sailors will conduct the exercise from two Navy landing helicopter assault amphibious ships, the USS Iwo Jima and USS Bataan, and multiple simulation centers which will provide in-depth analysis of landing timetables, weather conditions and fires effects. The next scheduled event for the training cycle is a live exercise scheduled for February 2012.

The scenario for the exercise includes the conduct of a forcible entry operation to enable a noncombatant evacuation in the midst of a violent sectarian conflict. This complex but realistic mission requires the ability to respond rapidly, project a credible security force ashore, and organize the evacuation of thousands of noncombatants.

In many cases, these capabilities can only be provided by amphibious forces. Bold Alligator ‘11 is not only designed to retain proficiency in amphibious operations for the Navy/Marine team, but also to update concepts, procedures and techniques, and to incorporate the new enablers developed since the units last focused on amphibious operations at the MEB/ESG level in 2001.

"We need to continuously refine our thinking and our training with amphibious capability," explained Richwine. "We have the opportunity to develop new skill sets across the entire range of military operations - from humanitarian assistance to contested beach assaults, and everything in between."

WHAT ARE AMPHIBIOUS OPERATIONS?

In a doctrinal sense, the term "amphibious operations" is a broad concept that covers a great range of military actions involving land operations, sea operations and the confluence between the two. Generally, amphibious operations are launched from the sea by naval shipping onto foreign or domestic shores in order to conduct a host of missions ranging from humanitarian assistance and disaster relief to full-scale assaults in combat environments. There are some misconceptions that amphibious operations are synonymous with beach landings or that the U.S. has not conducted an amphibious operation since Inchon during the Korean War.

In the past two decades, our nation has conducted more than one hundred amphibious operations in response to international security threats and crises with the vast majority of these falling into noncombatant evacuations, disaster relief or similar crisis response operations – a response rate more than double that during the Cold War era. Amphibious operations are more than just assaults. The utility in conducting raids, demonstrations and support to other noncombatant operations is immense.

Some amphibious operations/missions include: raids, counter-piracy, security cooperation, show of force/deterrence, humanitarian assistance, demonstrations, assault, withdrawal, crisis response, noncombatant evacuation and disaster relief.

WHY ARE AMPHIBIOUS OPERATIONS IMPORTANT?

Amphibious forces offered by the Navy/Marine Corps team are the only viable option that can assure access to littorals, straits and many other parts of the world to conduct robust military operations across the spectrum of conflict.

The world’s oceans account for nearly 90 percent of all international commerce. Straits are geographical areas littered across the oceans near land masses that constrict the passage of shipping to narrow passages. These straits often serve as strategic chokepoints that offer potential control of the world’s sea lanes of communication. Because international shipping lanes are forced to go through these specific vulnerable locations, they are often referred to as the "geographical Achilles heels of the global economy."

Many straits are in close proximity to politically unstable nations, which increases navigation risks and compromises access and use. These strategic passages can be mined, blocked by sinking ships, or interdicted by naval forces, artillery or missile systems.

Additionally, the littorals are home to 80 percent of the world’s population, most of which lives in urban areas beleaguered with poverty, lack of food, water, education and reliable medical care, making these locations most susceptible to influence of violent extremist ideologies that use these conditions as a basis to generate popular support for their anti-Western actions and rhetoric.

Because of these factors, amphibious forces have an enormous impact on the international security environment. Our distinctive ability to gain access to critical areas anywhere in the world with ground, air and logistics forces enables the Navy and Marine Corps to shape actions across the range of military operations to resolve conflict, conduct humanitarian assistance or combat the enemy in remote, austere environments that would otherwise be inaccessible.

STRAITS AND MARITIME CHOKEPOINTS

Examples include: Strait of Hormuz – provides transit for 88 percent of all the petroleum exported from the Persian Gulf Strait of Malacca - one of the most important strategic passages in the world because it supports the bulk of the maritime trade between Europe and Pacific Asia Strait of Bab el-Mandeb - a strategic link between the Indian Ocean and Red Sea that controls access to the Suez Canal, which in turn accounts for 14 percent of global commerce Passages of Bosphorus and Dardanelles – the only links between the Black Sea and Mediterranean Sea, thus one of the few passages for commerce and petroleum from the Caspian Sea to the Mediterranean community Panama Canal - handles nearly 12 percent of the American international seaborne trade.

AMPHIBIOUS OPERATIONS SINCE 1990

1991: A large amphibious assault force, composed of United States Marine Corps and naval support, was positioned off the coast of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. This force was composed of 40 amphibious assault ships, the largest such force to be assembled since the Battle of Inchon in 1950. The purpose behind this amphibious maneuver (known as an amphibious demonstration) was to prevent six Iraqi divisions poised for the defense of the littorals, during the Gulf War, from being able to actively engage in combat at the real front. The operation was extremely successful and kept more than 41,000 Iraqi forces from repositioning to the main battlefield. As a result, the Marines maneuvered through the Iraqi defense of southern Kuwait and outflanked the Iraqi coastal defense forces.

1991: Marine Expeditionary Units, serving as part of an Amphibious Task Force and returning to the U.S. after the Gulf War were diverted to the Bay of Bengal after the region was struck by a tropical cyclone. This was part of Operation Sea Angel, one of the largest military disaster relief efforts ever carried out. The efforts of U.S. troops are credited with having saved as many as 200,000 lives.

1992: The 13th MEU conducted amphibious operations when it provided disaster relief in the wake of earthquakes in the Philippines. The 13th MEU also arrived off the coast of Somalia in early October 1993 in response to increasing hostilities there, and served as a temporary deterrent against civilian and nonpartisan violence.

1996: Elements of the Guam Amphibious Ready Group and the 22nd MEU, were ordered to the vicinity of Monrovia, Liberia to help defend the U.S. embassy and facilitate evacuation of friendly and allied civilians, as part of Operation Assured Response. Through the combined efforts of Navy, Air Force, Army and Marine Corps personnel, 309 noncombatants were evacuated — including 49 U.S. citizens.

1999: The 15th MEU, along with 17 other nations, contributed forces to the United Nations to create the International Force for East Timor, aimed at ending the surge of violence within the country. The task force landed in East Timor in September and brought the bloodshed there to an end.

2001: The Marines and sailors of the 15th MEU set new standards for Marine Corps amphibious doctrine when they conducted an amphibious assault more than 400 miles into the land-locked country of Afghanistan. Landing at a remote airbase 90 miles southwest of Kandahar, the Marines established America’s first Forward Operating Base while maintaining the first significant conventional ground presence in Afghanistan.

2003: Elements of the 26th MEU were ordered into northern Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, where the unit joined coalition forces in the vicinity of Mosul. The mission of the MEU was to promote stability in the region and eliminate any remaining Iraqi forces still loyal to Saddam Hussein and the Baath Party regime.

2004: The 15th MEU was on station in Southeast Asia to support the relief efforts in the wake of the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami which inflicted catastrophic damage to Sri Lanka, India and Thailand.

2005: The USS Iwo Jima served as a sea base off the Gulf of Mexico, where the 24th MEU supported recovery and relief efforts in response to Hurricane Katrina, bringing much needed supplies, logistics and medical support to the flood victims.

2009: Off the coast of Somalia, when pirates boarded the Maersk Alabama, the 13th MEU and the USS Boxer were on station to support the counter-piracy operations.

2010: With Haiti’s airfield overwhelmed and their seaport disabled by wreckage following an earthquake, the USS Bataan and Nassau ARGs and the 22nd and 24th MEUs were mobilized to provide relief, as one of the few viable options for the delivery of humanitarian aid. Within three days, 5,000 Marines and sailors arrived, bringing much needed manpower to the disaster area.

2010: Marines with the 15th MEU liberated the Magellan Star, a German- owned cargo ship, and rescued the crew from Somali pirates without firing a shot.

2010: Naval ships and assets from more than 20 nations, along with 26th MEU comprise the Combined Maritime Forces, tasked with stemming piracy in the Gulf of Aden, the Gulf of Oman, the Arabian Sea, Red Sea and the Indian Ocean.

2010: The 15th and 26th MEUs were involved in providing relief support to flood victims in Pakistan.