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Marine Corps Update: Amphibious Roots, Pacific Pivot

For the Department of Defense’s (DoD’s) smallest component, personnel and budget issues have been historic challenges, but few could match the current “perfect storm” of greater-than-expected reductions in force, ever-tighter budgets, sequestration, furloughs, and a three-week government “shut down” to start the fiscal year. All this has been taking place while the Corps has been responding to the administration’s “Pacific pivot” – focusing less on Europe and the Middle East and more on Asia and the Pacific, where a dearth of land bases is placing greater emphasis on naval forces.

Marine Corps leaders do not like the phrase “return to the sea” when describing the Marine Corps’ post-Afghanistan reset. Nonetheless, more than a decade of ground combat there and in Iraq meant large numbers of Marines – enlisted and officers – did not receive traditional maritime training or deployment.

In addition to the much-debated Defense Department (DoD) “Pacific pivot,” a greater-than-expected reduction in force, scarce funds for at-sea – or any other – training due to sharp budget cuts and sequestration, and the possible delay, curtailment, or even cancellation of acquisitions to bolster amphibious operations, the Corps once again must use innovative approaches to meet the needs of today and those of future decades.

“We must maintain a force that can balance an increasing focus in the Asia-Pacific region, while sustaining an ever-watchful eye on the Middle East and African littoral areas. America’s Marines must be positioned forward to counter violent extremists operating across multiple domains.”

“We must maintain a force that can balance an increasing focus in the Asia-Pacific region, while sustaining an ever-watchful eye on the Middle East and African littoral areas. America’s Marines must be positioned forward to counter violent extremists operating across multiple domains,” Commandant Gen. James F. Amos said.

From World War II’s island-hopping campaigns to more recent disaster-relief operations in maritime nations, the Marine Corps has striven to maintain its unique amphibious capabilities. These operations include:

  • Amphibious Assault – Forcible entry and sustainment of Marine forces onto hostile shores.
  • Amphibious Raid – Rapid ship-to-shore transit, followed by violent actions on the objective and a planned withdrawal.
  • Amphibious Demonstration – A show of force designed to deceive the enemy about actual intentions.
  • Amphibious Withdrawal – Extracting friendly forces, equipment, and civilians from a hostile area by sea.
  • Amphibious Support to Other Operations – Including disaster relief operations.

According to Lt. Col. Kevin Cagle, action officer with Marine Corps Forces Command (MARFORCOM), the ability to move equipment, personnel, and supplies from ships directly to a pier or landing craft to a landing zone in a port, harbor, or unimproved beach “is the added flexibility that amphibious forces bring to the effort: non-reliance on established infrastructure.”

31st Marine Expeditionary Unit

Marines and sailors with Company B, Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), drag a boat into position after coming ashore during a bilateral boat raid as part of Exercise Cobra Gold 2013 in the Kingdom of Thailand, Feb. 15. Cobra Gold is an annual exercise that aims to improve interoperability between the United States, the Kingdom of Thailand, and many other participating countries. Amphibious training efforts continued to ramp up in 2013. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Codey R. Underwood

One milestone in the Corps’ re-focus on maritime operations came in 2010 with the resurrection of a multinational amphibious exercise in the Pacific called Dawn Blitz, the culmination of a series of training events designed to test the ability of the Navy and Marine Corps to plan and execute complex amphibious operations from ship to shore. Dawn Blitz 2010 and 2011 were the first and largest amphibious exercises for San Diego Navy and Marine Corps units since 9/11. Dawn Blitz 2013, in June, involved more than 5,000 U.S. Marines, sailors, and coalition forces from Canada, Japan, and New Zealand, as well as military observers from seven countries.

Dawn Blitz 2013 training comprised large-scale amphibious assaults, sea-basing operations, mine warfare operations, live-fire opportunities, battlespace shaping operations, force-on-force training, special operations forces training, operational planning, infantry immersion training, the first MV-22 takeoff and landing aboard a Japanese ship, and a major multilateral amphibious landing on Camp Pendleton’s Red Beach.

The exercise highlighted the crucial role amphibious task forces play in power projection at sea and ashore, according to Brig. Gen. John Broadmeadow, commanding general, 1st Marine Expeditionary Brigade (MEB). It also was a vital part of the ongoing return of the Marine Corps to its amphibious roots, demonstrating the ability of MEBs and Expeditionary Strike Groups (ESGs) to effect a global crisis response across a wide range of military and humanitarian operations.

“Dawn Blitz 2013 builds on an already close partnership between Canadian, Japanese, and New Zealand militaries, which strengthens our capacity to respond to a variety of regional challenges, including regional disasters,” he said.

“We heard nothing but great things from our ROK [Republic of Korea] brothers, … [who] are excited about having more Marines back in the Asia-Pacific region.”

Another effort to re-establish Corps sea-based capability in the Asia-Pacific came with a Sept. 18 re-enactment of the 1950 amphibious landing of Marines at Inchon, 25 miles south of Seoul, which cut off North Korean forces and enabled the recapture of the South Korean capital during the Korean conflict.

The memorial landing involved 150 Marines and sailors from Weapons Company, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, currently assigned to III Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF) under the unit deployment program. A Marine weapons company provides organic fire support coordination, and mortar, anti-armor, and heavy machine gun support.

“We heard nothing but great things from our ROK [Republic of Korea] brothers, … [who] are excited about having more Marines back in the Asia-Pacific region,” said 1st Lt. Jonathan M. Brown, a platoon commander with the Assault Amphibious Vehicle (AAV) company that supported the landing. “The Corps is putting Marines back [in the Asia-Pacific region] and re-establishing a Marine Corps presence where we can provide security and operational capabilities other than warfare.

“The majority of the world is covered with water and, in coordination with naval assets, it is [important] to maintain our traditional role as ‘fighters from the sea.’ This is what separates us from other military branches.”

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J.R. Wilson has been a full-time freelance writer, focusing primarily on aerospace, defense and high...