Sailors and Marines stand at attention aboard the amphibious dock landing ship Pearl Harbor. The Navy and Marine Corps are examining new ways to work together for the pivot to the Pacific. (MC2 Jason Behnke / Navy)
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The Navy and Marine Corps are mapping a blue-green plan for the Pacific that will get beyond the traditional three-ship configuration in which 2,200-member Marine expeditionary units deploy with the Navy’s amphibious ready groups, said Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jon Greenert.
Officials are also reviewing future roles for elements of both Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command and the service’s Force Reconnaissance communities.
Greenert told Navy Times in a recent sit-down interview that he and Commandant Gen. Jim Amos have a team working on a new “Single Naval Battle” concept that will look at putting Marines on a variety of new ships. The concept calls for the services to better integrate their operations, removing perceived gaps or seams between forces operating by air, land and sea.
Eventually, the Navy and Marine Corps want to operate an amphibious ready group off the coast of Southeast Asia, Greenert said, but it will take time to free up the necessary number of amphibious ships.
“Until we get to that point, we may have an amphibious ship, a joint high speed vessel and [mobile landing platform] free for a while,” Greenert said. “What can we do with that? So, we will have to be innovative and willing to tailor our lift that would culminate by the end of this decade in an ARG/MEU level in Southeast Asia.”
The first MLP, the USNS Montford Point, was christened in March. The Navy plans to build three more in coming years, incorporating an unusual design that includes a ramp that will allow larger ships to transfer vehicles to the MLP directly. The ship will frequently be used as a transfer point to deliver vehicles to shore by smaller landing craft.
Amos, speaking April 8 at the Sea-Air-Space symposium outside Washington, D.C., said the MLP will allow the Corps to easily move tanks, 7-ton medium tactical vehicle replacement trucks and other vehicles through sea basing. He estimated the military is 10 percent of the way toward developing concepts for the ship, which is scheduled to begin operational usage in 2015.
“This will be the very first time that we’ve had the ability to really do at-sea, sea-based logistics in a combat environment,” Amos said. “We won’t need a port with this ship.”
Col. Jerome Driscoll is director of the Ellis Group, which Amos approved in 2011 and charged with developing new concepts for amphibious warfare as the service adapts to changing realities.
Driscoll said the Corps must study how it will incorporate a variety of ships the service has never used before, while also considering existing vessels it doesn’t commonly use. He cited a 2005 example in which a platoon from 3rd Marine Regiment, out of Marine Corps Base Hawaii, deployed to the Pacific aboard a destroyer.
“We’re talking a lot more about deploying Marines on platforms that we haven’t deployed them off in a while, or maybe ever,” he said. “It may call for the use of ships that we don’t usually use in the formation, but their capability is coming online.”
Spec ops at sea
With the Afghanistan mission winding down, members of MARSOC, the Corp’s elite special forces arm, are making a return to the sea.
The command is beginning to develop recommendations on where it could be postured in the Pacific, what level of collaboration it should have with Naval Special Warfare Command and conventional Marines in theater, and what capabilities it should offer top commanders in the region, said Maj. Jeff Landis, a MARSOC spokesman.
“We will maintain that persistent, agile capability in key theaters with fully enabled [Marine special operations companies], capable of both partner nation engagement and crisis response and provide SOF support to maritime and amphibious operations,” Landis said. “Those forces will be under operational control of the theater special operations commander and ready to conduct distributed engagements with partner nations aimed toward conflict prevention, with the capability to quickly aggregate for other actions as directed.”
This month, MARSOC officials will travel to U.S. Special Operations Command headquarters in Tampa, Fla., for a war game that will shape MARSOC’s future work in amphibious operations and examine how special operators can work better with Marine air-ground task forces.
Landis said the command’s leaders routinely discuss the future of maritime operations with Rear Adm. Sean Pybus, head of NSWC, including developing special operations concepts involving new ships such as the littoral combat ship and the afloat forward staging base Ponce, designed to be a base of operations for everything from counterpiracy to mine clearing and disaster relief.