An elite unit of about 85 Marines is scheduled to deploy in April as part of
a Navy SEAL squadron. The detachment, for all intents and purposes, formalizes
the Marine Corps’ relationship with the U.S. Special Operations Command.
Although Marines often have fought alongside special operations forces, there
is now a “formal commitment” by SOCOM and the Marine Corps to set
up a more structured organization that links the two, explained Vice Adm. Eric
T. Olson, deputy commander of SOCOM.
In November 2001, the Marine Corps and SOCOM signed a so-called memorandum
of agreement that set a foundation for closer cooperation. In the battlefield,
however, that cooperation already was under way, regardless of the MOA, said
Navy SEALs and Marines who fought together in Iraq and Afghanistan were unaware
of the MOA until after they returned to the United States, Olson told the NDIA
Expeditionary Warfare conference. “Although there is much recent discussion
of SOCOM-Marine Corps integration, it’s not as if SOF and Marines haven’t
already been working in close cooperation for a long time.”
Approximately 100 Marines currently are filling front-line jobs in support
of special operators. The Corps has fought with SOCOM in Somalia, Yemen, Philippines,
Georgia, Kuwait, Qatar, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Marines and SOF have conducted
joint heavy-lift helicopter support, security operations, recovery of aircraft
and personnel, close air support, logistics and engineering, casualty evacuation
and intelligence sharing, officials said.
The SOF-Marine relationship will be moving to a new level, said Olson. The
Marine detachment scheduled to deploy in April establishes “structures
and oversight to enhance interoperability between our forces,” he said.
“It’s about time.”
Additionally, a joint program is in place for the Marines and SOF to share
acquisition and developmental information on weapon systems, munitions and communications.
“Previously restricted SOF equipment information will be shared,”
said Olson. Examples of joint programs include rotary wing support for air assault
and parachute operations.
Under a recent pilot program managed by the European Command, the theater SOF
commander and Marine units collaborated in deploying amphibious ready groups.
This is the type of cooperation that is most helpful, said Olson. “It
compels the development of tactics, techniques and procedures to improve responsiveness
of forward-based SOF and Marines to prosecute time-sensitive operations.”
Marines and SOF officials will co-chair a joint test and experimentation program,
specifically designed to help commanders plan unconventional operations, in
an “interagency and coalition environment,” said Olson.
These programs have paid off so far, he said, by allowing SOF and Marines to
share the workload. Marines, for example, took over from the 10th Special Forces
Group the responsibility for training troops from the former Soviet Republic
of Georgia, under the Georgia Train and Equip Program.
Although senior officials have discussed the possibility of creating a MAR-SOC
(a Marine component of SOCOM), so far there are no plans to do so, said Olson.
“It’s too early to tell. … MAR-SOC is not a stated goal of
the Marine Corps or the Special Operations Command.” SOCOM has no funds
in its budget to support Marine Corps training, equipment and operations.
“What we are going to observe is a natural migration, progression toward
interoperability and evaluation of the capabilities that each component offers
in SOCOM,” Olson said. “At some future date, we will determine whether
that migration will lead to the development of a Marine component of SOCOM.”
The commander of SOCOM, Army Gen. Bryan “Doug” Brown, noted that
the Marine Corps assigned its first general officer to SOCOM in October 2002.
Last year, the Joint Special Operations University established a permanent chair
at the Marine Corps University in order to further student education of the
roles and capabilities of SOF, Brown said in a written statement to National
Defense. The Marine Corps will establish a similar chair at JSOU in early 2004.
Brown pointed out that the Marine Corps collaborated with SOCOM on 11 programs,
including the CV-22 tilt-rotor aircraft, small unmanned aerial vehicles, lightweight
counter-mortar radar, chemical-biological defense equipment, and C4I systems
engineering and integration. Marine Corps forward air controllers, said Brown,
“have developed and taught numerous Special Operations terminal air controller
courses to SOF personnel.”
The 85-member Marine detachment that will deploy with the SEALs also includes
several sailors, said Brig. Gen. Robert B. Neller, director of the Marine Corps
Operations Division. “A lot of guys volunteered to do this,” he
said. The selection was painstaking, he noted. “We pick the best people.
SOCOM has very high standards.”
The detachment will have a headquarters with a small planning capability, a
recon platoon and an intelligence unit (collecting and analyzing both signals
and human intelligence), in addition to a fire support team.
“We are all curious to see how this works out,” said Neller. Ultimately,
the SEAL squadron commander will render the final judgment.
The detachment is scheduled to deploy in April 2004 with Naval Special Warfare
Squadron 1. Later in the year, said Neller, “We’ll assess it and
decide whether to keep it or not, or expand it.”
Commissioned at Camp Pendleton, Calif., the Marine detachment will report to
Navy Cmdr. Bill Wilson. Naval Special Warfare Squadron 1 typically supports
the Pacific and Central Command theaters. It includes six SEAL platoons and
several detachments: command-and-control, special boats, SEAL delivery vehicle,
explosive ordnance disposal and tactical signals intelligence. One of the detachments
will be made up of Marines.
Traditionally, SOCOM splits the six platoons and sends three to PACOM and three
to CENTCOM. The Marine detachment will go to CENTCOM. The intent is to keep
that detachment as one unit, rather than split it between the two theaters. However, if operational requirements warrant, the commander can split the detachment.
“We want to keep the detachment together to evaluate the contributions
to the deploying squadrons and to the commander of SOF in the theater, and the
combatant commander,” said Rear Adm. Albert M. Calland III, commander
of the Naval Special Warfare Command.
For Marines, Neller said, “it’s a great opportunity to move up
to this level.” Unlike conventional Marine units, this detachment will
not rotate its members. “We put a lot of money into training and equipment.
They will stay for a while.”
A Marine Corps official told National Defense that, most likely, the detachment
will stay together for three to four years. By comparison, the battalions and
squadrons assigned to a Marine Expeditionary Unit get rotated after six-month
“If we decide to keep this thing, I can see where periodically a Marine
would go down to division or force recon and take with him the experience he
had,” Neller said. “And we would let a superior individual move
As the joint organization evolves, a certain level of “healthy”
competition between Marines and SEALs is to be expected, said Calland. “There’ll
be that healthy competition that makes us all better.”
Another sign that Marines are moving aggressively to integrate with SOF is
that the Corps is upgrading its newest utility helicopter, the UH-1Y, with a
special warfare kit.
The upgrade gives the helicopter the ability to insert Marines into special
warfare situations where landing the helicopter is not possible.
Recent tests by the Naval Air Systems Command included static line hung jumper
evaluation, special purpose insertion extraction rig, rappelling, fast rope
and free-fall parachute operations from 10,000 feet.
Correcting power deficiencies in the currently fielded Hueys is one of the
primary reasons for the upgrade, as well as providing a platform for the Marines
capable of inserting small combat teams into confined or rugged areas, said
a NAVAIR spokesman.
The UH-1Y, compared to its predecessor UH-1N, is equipped with more powerful
General Electric T-700 engines and an all-composite four-bladed rotor system.
“Our special warfare missions play an essential role in the Marine Corps’
MAGTF concept and Sea Power 21 Sea Strike core capabilities,” explained
Maj. Brad Schieferdecker in a NAVAIR news release. “The UH-1N’s
restrictive power margin and weight restrictions have reduced our ability to
do these missions in recent years,” said Schieferdecker, who serves as
the H-1 upgrades deputy program manager for engineering and manufacturing development.
The Marine Corps expects to buy 100 UH-1Y Hueys by 2014, as part of an aviation
upgrade program that also includes 180 AH-1Z Super Cobras.