Lt. Gen. Mills: Marines Have a Place in 'Air-Sea Battle'

By Dan Parsons
PANAMA CITY, Fla. — The Marine Corps intends to play a central role in the U.S. military's future deployments in the Asia-Pacific region. Although the Navy and the Air Force are leading the development of the so-called "air-sea battle" concept for how the military will fight wars in the coming decades, Marines will serve an important function as the nation's crisis-response force, said Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Richard Mills, deputy commandant for combat development and integration.
“Our position is this: The Marine Corps-Navy team is uniquely positioned to operate across the entire domain [in the Pacific],” Mills said at the National Defense Industrial Association’s annual Expeditionary Warfare conference. “We believe we can redefine the concept to tie power projection into the equation of air-sea battle.”
Since the Obama administration announced an intention to focus on the Pacific theater once current conflicts end, the concept of air-sea battle has gained increasing attention. The plan calls for a forward-deployed Navy fleet supported by long-range Air Force strikes to neutralize “anti-access, area-denial threats” by nations with long-range precision-guided missiles and other threats like undersea mines.
Mills made a play on that concept’s name, saying that what is needed instead is an ability to prosecute a “single-naval battle.”
“We probably no longer have the inventory or capability to position large forces back in the continental United States then make a large movement across the sea like we did in times past,” Mills said.
The plan instead is for thousands of Marines, stationed throughout the region, to converge with joint forces from the other services at a point of crisis, be it a natural disaster or an armed conflict. Marines would deploy in a ratio of one to two by air and sea.
The days of full-scale invasions like Iwo Jima in 1945 are “pretty well behind us,” Mills said. The focus is now on “littoral maneuvering” with the littoral zone extending up to 200 miles out to sea.
An assault would come in two echelons, each of two Marine Expeditionary Brigades. A MEB is made up of about 14,500 sailors and Marines aboard 30 ships equipped with V-22 Ospreys, Harrier jump jets and amphibious and ground vehicles.
The last time a MEB came together in a real-world scenario was in 2001, when a Marine Air Ground Task Force invaded Afghanistan. That temporal gulf presents problems with systems integration, communication and training between Marines and sailors, Mills said.
“The big challenge is if you look at the high-end range of military operations, we have to work with the Navy to perfect our command and control relationships and those are things that have not been done for a longtime. It will involve new technologies and training and those things are expensive and have a long lead time.”
The Marine Corps is working with the Navy to pin down exactly how large future MEBs should be and what mix of vehicles they should have, including the Joint Light Tactical and Amphibious Assault vehicles, Mills said.
The main vessel of a MEB is the big-deck amphibious assault ship. The Navy is in the process of building two new LHA, or Landing Helicopter Assault ships to replace again vessels. The pair of 800-foot flattops don’t have well decks from which to launch amphibious vehicles. Mills said LHA-8 “may need to have that capability and probably will” when construction begins in 2017.
The proliferation of “relatively low cost, sophisticated weapons” like undersea mines and ballistic missiles present a new threat to a service that has enjoyed almost complete air superiority and control of the sea during its most recent conflicts, Mills said.
“We’ve had air dominance for a long time,” he said So these new weapons that threaten both our surface forces and airpower, those are things we haven’t had to face in quite a while.”
Photo Credit: Marines

Topics: Expeditionary Warfare

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