Access Denied: A New Role for the Marines in the WestPac

Official caption: “Nissan Atoll, Green Islands, South Pacific, 31 January 1944: Inside enemy territory, a recon party lands, senses keyed up for sounds of the Japanese troops known to be present. A perilous fact-finding mission is underway.” The SMLEs and Mills bombs on the men in the center of the landing craft point to Commonwealth troops in Marine frogskin camo. The non-camo’d fellows at the ramp are likely USCG. A Marine is at the rear

Gen. David H. Berger, who celebrated his 40th anniversary in the USMC and is currently serving as the Marine’s 38th Commandant, wrote an excellent piece in this month’s Proceedings on the subject of “Stand-in Forces,” the pared-down direction the service is going towards in which they can (quietly) seize and hold forward areas with small units to deny access to larger sea forces.

From Berger’s piece:

Small, lethal, low signature, and mobile, stand-in forces (SIF) are relatively simple to maintain and sustain, designed to operate across the competition continuum within a contested area as the leading edge of a maritime defense-in-depth. Depending on the situation, SIF may include elements from the Marine Corps, Navy, Coast Guard, special operations forces, interagency forces, and allies and partners. This last element is the most critical: every aspect of these deployments must be carried out in close partnership with host nations and partners. Whenever U.S. forces operate in a host nation, they must do so with the full involvement of that nation in conceptualizing and executing the overall mission.

The main ideas behind the SIF concept are deceptively simple. First, find a potential adversary’s people and things (such as weapon systems, sensor systems, submarines, etc.) in a given area, and then track them at a level that facilitates targeting by fleet or joint weapons until they leave that area. This finding and tracking effort starts as soon as the possible target is identified and continues at every point along the competition continuum. Next, SIF must be hard for a potential adversary to find by maintaining a low signature, moving frequently and unpredictably, and using deception. If armed conflict begins, use knowledge of the adversary to help the fleet or other elements of the joint force attack quickly and effectively, blind the adversary, and deny him maritime areas to disrupt his plans and force him to move into other places where SIF and the fleet have an advantage.

Stand-in forces’ enduring function emerges from these straightforward ideas: win the reconnaissance and counter-reconnaissance fight in support of the fleet and joint force—and do so at every point on the competition continuum.

The full piece, which is a good read, is here.

In very related news, the Navy/Marine Corps Expeditionary Ship Interdiction System (NMESIS), which recently proved capable of hitting a target in a SINKEX at least, is set to become operational in 2023 with the newly formed 3rd Marine Littoral Regiment. Basically, a pack of Naval Strike Missiles on a remote control JLTV truck platform, the unmanned launcher can be landed by LCAC, LCU, or the planned new Light Amphibious Warship (LAW) LST design as well as (likely) by the CH-53 or C-130.

Naval News talked to the USMC about the NMESIS system, including this gem on why it is remote controlled.

Naval News: Why is the launcher “unmanned” ? Is it because it is intended to be controlled by company (i.e. small) sized Marine units ? Or is it because NMESIS is intended to be deployed on remote islands or locations with no human operators on those islands?

USMC: The launcher is remotely operated in order to enable a smaller, more expeditionary deployable capability. Additionally, remote firing position increases personnel survivability. Marine crews are still expected to be in the vicinity to provide security for the systems.

Food for thought.

A Navy Marine Expeditionary Ship Interdiction System launcher, a command and control vehicle and a Joint Light Tactical Vehicle are transported by a U.S. Navy Landing Craft Air Cushion from Pacific Missile Range Facility Barking Sands, Hawaii, out to U.S.S. San Diego, Aug. 16, 2021. The movement demonstrated the mobility of a Marine Corps fires expeditionary advanced base, a core concept in the Marine Corps’ Force Design 2030 efforts. U.S. Navy and Marine Corps units came together from across 17 time zones as they participated in Large Scale Exercise 2021. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Luke Cohen, released)

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