Report to Congress on Marine Littoral Regiments

The following is the Aug. 25, 2022 Congressional Research Service In Focus report, The U.S. Marine Corps Marine Littoral Regiment (MLR). From the report On March 23, 2020, the U.S. Marine Corps (USMC) announced a major force design initiative planned to occur over the next 10 years referred to as “Force Design 2030.” As part […]

The following is the Aug. 25, 2022 Congressional Research Service In Focus report, The U.S. Marine Corps Marine Littoral Regiment (MLR).

From the report

On March 23, 2020, the U.S. Marine Corps (USMC) announced a major force design initiative planned to occur over the next 10 years referred to as “Force Design 2030.” As part of this initiative, the Marine Corps aims to redesign its force to place a stronger emphasis on naval expeditionary warfare and to better align itself with the National Defense Strategy, in particular, the strategy’s focus on strategic competition with China and Russia. As part of this redesign, the Marines plan to establish at least three Marine Littoral Regiments (MLRs) organized, trained, and equipped to accomplish a number of missions within contested maritime spaces.

MLR Missions

According to the Marines, the MLR is to be capable of the following missions:

  • Conduct Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations (EABO) which is a form of expeditionary warfare involving the employment of naval expeditionary forces with low electronic and physical signatures, which are relatively easy to maintain/sustain. These forces are to be arrayed in a series of austere, temporary locations ashore within a contested or potentially contested maritime area to conduct sea denial, support, sea control, and fleet sustainment operations; · Conduct strike operations with a variety of systems;
  • Coordinate air and missile defense operations;
  • Support maritime domain awareness;
  • Support naval surface warfare operations; and
  • Support information operations.

The MLR’s Operational Environment

The Commandant of the Marine Corps’ May 2022 Force Design 2030 Annual Update states:

The security environment is characterized by proliferation of sophisticated sensors and precision weapons coupled with growing strategic competition. Potential adversaries employ systems and tactics to hold the fleet and joint force at arm’s length, allowing them to employ a strategy that uses contested areas as a shield behind which they can apply a range of coercive measures against our allies and partners.

Operating in this environment, MLRs are envisioned to serve as what the Marines call a “Stand-In Force (SIF),” primarily to “help the fleet and joint force win the reconnaissance and counter reconnaissance battle within a contested area at the leading edge of a maritime defense-indepth.”

Download the document here.

Marines Pitching Service as Western Pacific Recon Asset for Combined Joint Force

MARINE CORPS BASE HAWAII — As the Marine Corps reshapes its force for a future conflict in the Western Pacific, the service is refining how to meet the reconnaissance mission for the wider U.S. military. The Marine Corps is a year away from the initial operational capability milestone for the Stand-in Forces concept, meaning Marines […]

Marine Corps Cpl. Alexander Tran, intelligence specialist with 1st Battalion, 12th Marines, 3rd Marine Division, launches a RQ-20B Puma at Pōhakuloa Training Area, Hawaii, July 20, 2022. US Marine Corps Photo

MARINE CORPS BASE HAWAII — As the Marine Corps reshapes its force for a future conflict in the Western Pacific, the service is refining how to meet the reconnaissance mission for the wider U.S. military.

The Marine Corps is a year away from the initial operational capability milestone for the Stand-in Forces concept, meaning Marines would have the capabilities needed to deploy for missions in the region.

In a recent interview with USNI News, Col. Stephen Fiscus, the assistant chief of staff for force development at Marine Corps Forces Pacific, described the vision for SIF as having nearly all of the service’s force laydown in the Indo-Pacific acting as the reconnaissance arm for the combined joint force.

“To be inside and to be able to understand and report on what the enemy is doing, basically to be able to … the wonky way of describing it is the ability to gain and maintain custody of high-value targets and hold them at risk, with our own resources or joint force resources,” Fiscus said.

“[Special Operations Forces] has the capability to do that, but certainly the Marine Corps has the capability to do that at much greater scale, and with much greater persistence. SOF can’t do it at scale and at the capacity that we can,” he added.

The Marines argue that because they’re already operating in places like Okinawa, Japan, part of the first island chain that is in the range of Chinese weapons, they are in the position to perform the reconnaissance and counter-reconnaissance missions in a potential conflict.

“As part of the Stand-in Force, what that really means to the [Marine Littoral Regiment] is, we look at it to deter malign behavior, to operate inside the enemy’s weapons engagement zone, to support sea control and sea denial operations and then ultimately … to set the conditions for joint force and combined follow-on actions as part of that Stand-in Force,” Col. Timothy Brady, the commanding officer of the recently re-designated 3rd Marine Littoral Regiment, told USNI News.

While the new 3rd MLR is a piece of the Stand-In Force, the concept would employ most of the Okinawa-based III Marine Expeditionary Force and the Marine Expeditionary Units embarked on the Navy’s amphibious ships and operating in the Pacific.

“The Stand-in Force … pretty much requires almost all of III MEF, elements of I MEF, and the transiting MEUs in order to make it fully capable. It requires almost all of the [U.S. Indo-Pacific Command]-assigned force. And the infrastructure from Marine Corps Installations Pacific that enables that is pretty key to that as well. So it requires all of it. So to focus on just, on one entity is kind of missing the totality. The whole MAGTF, or Marine Air-Ground Task Force concept, is applicable to the Stand-in-Force,” Fiscus said.

The ability to see and realize information, Fiscus said, is the cornerstone of delivering the type of lethality the Marine Corps is historically known for bringing to conflict.

Landing Craft, Air Cushion 76 assigned to Assault Craft Unit 5, prepares to land on Marine Corps Base Hawaii, during Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) 2022, July 11, 2022. US Marine Corps Photo

“It’s understanding what your target is, where it is, and the effect that it’s going to have on the network that you’re influencing. You can translate that directly from what we were doing in counter-insurgency operations with the effect on an insurgent network, all the way down to a peer and pacing threat,” he said.

“And what’s going to happen when you take this asset out? It’s fairly easy to be lethal, to pull a trigger – whether that trigger is the 566 from a rifle or all the way up to using a Naval Strike Missile or a [Tomahawk Land Attack Missile], or some other huge asset and you’re targeting a capital asset. The need is to understand what you’re doing and understand immediately what’s going to happen. And that’s what Stand-in Forces bring, is they bring that whole package to the naval expeditionary force that really closes a pretty significant gap,” Fiscus continued.

3rd MLR Experimentation

U.S. Marines with 3d Marine Littoral Regiment, 3d Marine Division, post security during a field training exercise at Marine Corps Training Area Bellows, Hawaii, May 30, 2022. US Marine Corps Photo

After converting the 3rd Marine Regiment into the 3rd Marine Littoral Regiment in March, Brady says they now have the relevant units in place to do full-scale experimentation.

The MLR consists of a Littoral Combat Team, a Littoral Logistics Battalion, and a Littoral Anti-Air Battalion. In June, the Marine Corps converted 1st Battalion, 3rd Marines into the 3rd MLR’s Littoral Combat Team and also re-designated Combat Logistics Battalion 3 into the Littoral Logistics Battalion that is now under the 3rd MLR, Brady said. That means the 3rd MLR now has all three units operating under the new construct.

“This provides us the opportunity – as we continue to train and experiment moving forward – with all of the primary capabilities now being organic to the MLR, to be able to develop our concepts of employment for our future Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations,” Brady said.
“Because it will take portions of all those different units to provide the capabilities necessary to be able to do the sea control and sea denial operations, to be able to provide the long-range precision fires, to be able to provide the air direction, air control early warning activities, to be able to provide the sensors necessary to the joint force,” he continued. “It will take an aspect of each one of those battalions to be able to actually produce the capability for it in the battlespace. So for the very first time, we have all of those capabilities as part of this unit and that’s what we’re looking forward to training in the future with.”

The Hawaiian islands, where the 3rd MLR is based, are uniquely suited to experiment with the Marine Corps’ Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations concept – which would see Marines quickly moving between islands and shorelines to set up ad-hoc bases and fire anti-ship missiles – because they are similar to the first island chain, Brady said.

“To EABO in and of itself – to be able to seize and secure key maritime terrain – is not anything new to the Marine Corps. But the purpose of EABO is a paradigm shift. The purpose now is once we do seize and secure that maritime terrain is to look outward, right, to be able to support the naval expeditionary campaign and the larger naval campaign with that battlespace awareness … along with those long-range precision fires,” Brady said.

During the biennial Rim of the Pacific 2022 exercise, the Marine Corps is employing the EABO concept in two different scenarios: to enable an amphibious landing and to enable the transit of a carrier strike group.

“So specifically to RIMPAC, having an amphibious task force as well as a carrier strike group operating in the notional operating environment, we are supporting their maritime maneuver. And ultimately the MLR helps the joint and combined force achieve multi-domain integrated naval power to be able to impose asymmetric threats on the enemy,” Brady said.

Digital Interoperability

A Marine Corps AH-1 Super Cobra participates in a sink exercise (SINKEX) during Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) 2022, from Marine Corps Base Hawaii on July 22, 2022. US Marine Corps Photo

Brady described a layered approach to how his unit is working toward operating with the joint force and ultimately allies and partners, also known as the combined force, which the Marines have the chance to work with at RIMPAC.

But working across the various platforms means they need what the Marines have defined as digital interoperability, or a way for all of the systems from the different U.S. services and other nations’ forces to communicate with each other.

“As we build those kill webs, that digital interoperability, you know the communications and the [command and control] systems, and we’re actually applying all those sensors and eventually the long-range precision fires, is we’re doing that internally to that Stand-in Force, the MAGTF, right, the Marine Corps,” Brady said.

“At the next level we’re really doing that across the joint force and looking at how to do that better. And then what RIMPAC provides us the opportunity to do is to do that with the combined force, right, the allies and partners, because to close those kill webs requires a lot of digital interoperability across multiple different systems, to be able to do it at speed and to be able to do it with all those nations that will be together inside the first island chain,” he continued.

In the type of conflict environment the services are preparing for in the Indo-Pacific, forces need multiple avenues to share information.

“If one type of way form is shut down and we can’t use it, there needs to be other pathways that we can take advantage of to move that information along, again, to generate that tempo for the commander so he can make a timely and accurate decision,” said Maj. Adrian Solis, a fires expert at MARFORPAC.

Future Capabilities

A Marine with 1st Battalion, 12th Marines, 3rd Marine Division, triages a victim during a simulated mass casualty evacuation training event at Pōhakuloa Training Area, Hawaii, July 22, 2022. US Marine Corps Photo

While Fiscus said the Marine Corps has what it needs to communicate with various assets across the joint force to share targeting information and execute missions under the Stand-in Forces concept, he said the Marines need more of the platforms they’re currently experimenting with – like the MQ-9A Reaper used for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.

“A lot of our platforms right now, we have one or two of them. And we have a plan to get more, but we have one or two of them. So we’re fairly finite,” he said.

The service also wants to make some of their capabilities and assets lighter so Marines can move quickly and carry what they need on their backs while moving around islands and shorelines.

“Making them small, deployable forward and getting them out to where [Brady] can access them and tactical commanders can fuse all of those systems is a big part of the experimentation in the systems that we’re doing. We have answers that say yes, we can do that. We can see them. We can put them together,” Fiscus said.

“Doing it sustainably and in austere environments and amidst allies and partners – because remember, we’re standing in, chances are we’re standing in next to somebody. All of the allies and partners that we’re sailing with that he’s working with right now, they by nature of where they’re located are standing in too. So we anticipate being with them on their terrain,” he added.

With IOC a year away, Brady and Fiscus said they’re focused on getting more capabilities to experiment with, like the stern landing vessel the Marine Corps wants to use while the service continues developing the Light Amphibious Warship. LAW is meant to have a beachable capability to shuttle Marines directly to islands and shorelines without needing to pull into a pier and a leased stern landing vessel will allow the Marine Corps to experiment with the capability in the interim.

I MEF in southern California will start the experimentation with the stern landing vessel, and then it will head to Hawaii. Fiscus said the 3rd MLR should have the platform within a year.

The service also now has a platoon of several dozen Marines who will do research and development work in Norfolk, Va., on the service’s future Long Range Unmanned Surface Vehicle, or LRUSV, Brady said.

“The Long-Range Unmanned Surface Vessel … that’s something that will provide additional reach and availability of weapons and systems well out into the maritime domain,” Brady said. “All of those things are coming in the next couple of years that will further enable us to provide additional capabilities to the joint and combined force.”

Metal Shark is on contract to build several LRUSV prototypes for the Marine Corps through an other transaction authority agreement, the company announced in January 2021.

While the Marine Corps first envisioned the LRUSV to function as an ISR platform and a way to bring more fires to the fight, Fiscus said the service wants to experiment and see what else the platform could do. 

“Its principal mechanism right now, as it was conceived, was the ability to sense and bring additional firepower, organic precision firepower to the totality of the package. But that doesn’t limit it from what it’s possibilities could be once we understand – you know, right now we’re still in that concept phase. But the initial concept the way it was scratched out was for an additional surface ISR and organic precision fires platform,” he said.

While IOC is about a year away and will mean the Marines are ready to deploy under the SIF concept, Fiscus said achieving full operational capability will require the Marine Corps to remain deployed for longer and sustain the force’s operations.

“By achieving IOC of the Stand-in Force, the totality of the Stand-in Force, you will have a deployable and sustainable capability for that to go forward, supported by the full MAGTF. That includes the full sense and make sense. So we will have our Group 5 [unmanned aerial system] – the MQ-9A – up with the ability to connect the whole package and do it. IOC means we have the capability and it’s deployable,” Fiscus said.

The 3rd MLR “be forward doing it, supporting operations, activities, investments – OAIs – but you’ll see the totality of the value proposition fieldable and presentable in its full depth. It may only be for finite periods of time because … the difference between IOC and FOC is depth and sustainability and how long that presence can be forward and impactful.”

New Marine Littoral Regiment Will Make Debut in This Year’s RIMPAC Drills

Marines with 3rd Marine Littoral Regiment will join ground forces along with a fleet of ships, submarines and aircraft from 26 countries for this year’s multinational, Rim of the Pacific maritime exercise off Hawaii, officials told USNI News. “As the world’s largest international maritime exercise, RIMPAC provides a unique training opportunity designed to foster and […]

U.S. Marines with 3d Marine Littoral Regiment, 3d Marine Division, post security during a field training exercise at Marine Corps Training Area Bellows, Hawaii, May 30, 2022. US Marine Corps Photo

Marines with 3rd Marine Littoral Regiment will join ground forces along with a fleet of ships, submarines and aircraft from 26 countries for this year’s multinational, Rim of the Pacific maritime exercise off Hawaii, officials told USNI News.

“As the world’s largest international maritime exercise, RIMPAC provides a unique training opportunity designed to foster and sustain cooperative relationships that are critical to ensuring the safety of sea lanes and security on the world’s interconnected oceans,” 3rd Fleet officials said last week in an announcement. “The theme of RIMPAC 2022 is ‘Capable-Adaptive-Partners.’ Participating nations and forces will exercise a wide range of capabilities and demonstrate the inherent flexibility of maritime forces.”

About 25,000 military personnel will participate in RIMPAC 2022, which kicks off June 29 and runs through Aug. 4, with 38 surface ships, four submarines and more than 170 aircraft taking part in training at sea and ashore.

“It’s a return to a full-scale exercise,” Cmdr. Sean Robertson, a 3rd fleet spokesman, said Friday.

The biennial exercise, hosted by Pearl Harbor, Hawaii-based U.S. Pacific Fleet, was scaled down and shortened in 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. That year, 10 countries participated in a force of 5,300 personnel along with 22 surface ships, one submarine and aircraft operating at sea over a two-week period in August 2020 off Hawaii.

Participating with U.S. service members are forces from 25 nations: Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Denmark, Ecuador, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Israel, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Peru, the Republic of Korea, the Republic of the Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Tonga, the U.K. and the U.S.

The forces will exercise a range of capabilities, including disaster relief, maritime security operations, sea control and complex warfighting, according to 3rd Fleet. That includes training in amphibious operations, gunnery, missile, anti-submarine and air defense, counter-piracy operations, mine clearance operations, explosive ordnance disposal, and diving and salvage operations.

While most of the training and exercise events will be held in and around the Hawaiian islands, a portion of the exercise – largely focused on mine warfare – will take place in Southern California, Robertson said.

This year’s international participants include Ecuador, a first for the South American nation, Robertson said.

While the Hawaii-based 3rd Marines have regularly joined in previous RIMPAC exercises, this year marks the first that it, as 3rd MLR, will participate in its recently-designated form. In March, the Marine Corps officially turned the previously infantry-focused regiment into one that would be structured with smaller, maneuverable, expeditionary advanced base detachments and equipped with anti-ship capabilities – changes more aligned with the service’s Force Design 2030 strategy to reshape its forces focused to “outpace a pacing threat,” as officials have said, in the Indo-Pacific.

That “pacing threat” includes China, which first participated in RIMPAC in 2014 and in 2016 but in 2018 the PLA Navy was disinivited due to China’s deployment of anti-ship missiles, electronic jammers in the South China Sea. Tensions in the region have only grown with continued operations and China’s militarization in the region and expanding global influence.

Third Fleet will lead the exercise as the multinational, Combined Task Force commander, with Royal Canadian Navy Rear Adm. Christopher Robinson as the CTF deputy commander, Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force Rear Adm. Toshiyuki Hirata as the vice commander and U.S. Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Joseph Clearfield, who is the Marine Forces Pacific deputy commander, as the Fleet Marine Force commander. Commodore Paul O’Grady of the Royal Australian Navy will command the maritime component and Brig. Gen. Mark Goulden of the Royal Canadian Air Force will command the air component.

This year marks the 28th iteration of RIMPAC, which first began in 1971 as an annual event but shifted to biennial in 1974. It follows on a March planning conference in Hawaii attended by 1,000 members of participating countries and a smaller staff exercise held in San Diego that “allowed its attendees to walk through scenarios in a computer-based format in advance of executing operations at sea off the coast of Hawaii this summer,” according to a Navy news story.

Marines Look Beyond LAVs as Recon Roles Expand

Marines are rethinking how the service does reconnaissance beyond its traditional light armored vehicles as part of the ongoing Force Design 2030 effort, officials said last week. With more unmanned systems on the market and the Pentagon continuing a shift toward potential operations in the Indo-Pacific, the Marine Corps in the next year plans to […]

Sgt. David Seeley, a squad leader with Battalion Landing Team 3/4, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), and a native of Dunwoody, Georgia, walks past a light armored vehicle (LAV) at Camp Hansen, Okinawa, Japan on Feb. 8, 2021. Marine Corps Photo

Marines are rethinking how the service does reconnaissance beyond its traditional light armored vehicles as part of the ongoing Force Design 2030 effort, officials said last week.

With more unmanned systems on the market and the Pentagon continuing a shift toward potential operations in the Indo-Pacific, the Marine Corps in the next year plans to experiment with ways to perform reconnaissance and counter-reconnaissance in a sea environment, according to the service’s most recent Force Design 2030 update.

But the service says it cannot depend on ground vehicles alone to perform the reconnaissance mission.

“Our light armored reconnaissance (LAR) battalions must transition from their current ground vehicle-centric approach to an all-domain mobile reconnaissance approach. Sole reliance on armored ground vehicles for reconnaissance is too limiting, especially in complex littoral environments,” reads the Marine Corps’ latest Force Design update, released earlier this month. “Attributes such as reconnaissance, surveillance, targeting beyond the line of sight, littoral mobility, and equipment that integrates with special operations and joint forces are needed.”

A U.S. Marine LAV-25 light armored vehicle attached to Battalion Landing Team, 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), engages a target with an M242 25mm chain gun during exercise Alexander the Great 2019 in Volos, Greece, Jan. 8. Exercise Alexander the Great 2019 is combined training exercise between U.S. and Hellenic armed forces. US Marine Corps photo

During a roundtable with reporters last week, Lt. Gen. Karsten Heckl, the deputy commandant for combat development and integration, acknowledged that Marines will perform reconnaissance differently, depending on the region and operating environment.

“[Light armored reconnaissance] in the Indo-Pacific with III [Marine Expeditionary Unit] is most likely going to look different than light armored reconnaissance in II MEF,” Heckl said at the annual Modern Day Marine conference.

Heckl’s comments reflect how Marine Corps officials have recently described the service’s ongoing Force Design 2030 effort, which is aimed at preparing the Marines for conflict in the coming decade. The Marine Corps has said III MEF, based in Okinawa, Japan, will look different than I and II MEFs because III MEF is operating as the so-called “stand-in-force” in the range of Chinese weapons.

Marine Corps Systems Command, which is the service’s acquisition arm, has been working on the prototyping effort to replace the Light Armored Reconnaissance vehicle. That initiative includes evaluating a variant of BAE Systems’ Amphibious Combat Vehicle for the reconnaissance mission.

“My opinion is none of that works in the Indo-Pacific,” Heckl said of the vehicles. “I think LAR would look something more like a lot of unmanned in multiple domains.”

After several years of struggling to replace the aging LAVs, the Marine Corps embarked on a prototyping effort in 2020 that continued throughout last year.

“We are doing some demos and prototyping right now so we can get ahead and maintain decision space for the commandant as we flesh out what that recon capability’s going to be in the future,” Col. David Walsh, the acting program executive officer for land systems, told reporters. “We’ve now got a head start on if there’s a vehicle that needs to be fielded and bought to support that vision, we’ve now got a couple years head start. We’ve done some competitive prototyping and that vehicle won’t be 5 years out. It’ll be a couple years out from being fielded.”

U.S. Marines with Echo Company, Battalion Landing Team 2/6, 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit, utilize a laser rangefinder during a transit through the Strait of Gibraltar aboard San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock ship USS Arlington (LPD-24), April 26, 2022. US Navy Photo

The Force Design 2030 initiative has included the Marine Corps shedding some of its heavier equipment, like tanks, and investing in capabilities like anti-ship missiles, which the Marines want to fire from expeditionary nodes that smaller units set up on islands and shorelines.

With a heavy focus on reconnaissance, the Marine Corps’ recent Force Design update said the reconnaissance and counter-reconnaissance experimentation will influence how the service pursues ground vehicles in the future.

“Choices made in the maritime mobility discussion above will also affect the [Ground Combat Tactical Vehicle Strategy], as will its integration with our uncrewed systems roadmap. We must continually refine this strategy to ensure it is operationally suitable and logistically supportable,” the document reads.

As the Marine Corps assesses how it will operate in the Indo-Pacific, the service needs to figure out how it will perform the reconnaissance mission across a vast region that mostly includes water.

“What do our organizations already recognize? They recognize that in terms of where the commandant has pointed us, then our focus is on how we operate in and affect battlespace that includes more than land,” said Maj. Gen. Ben Watson, the commanding general of the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab.
“So if we’re going to own battlespace that includes water space, but we can only operate in wheeled vehicles and by walking around, then we are probably incapable of controlling that battlespace and maximizing our influence within it. So we’ve got to diversify the means with which we get ground.”

In addition to the maritime domain, the Marines need a strategy that factors in cyber and other non-kinetic elements, Watson said. Heckl said the MEF Information Groups would likely play a key role in performing reconnaissance missions when it comes to cyber-warfare.

“The biggest eye-opener for me as a new MEF commander was this new thing called MEF information group and the stuff – the scope, scale, breadth of what they were doing was eyewatering,” Heckl said. “But they’re short, we’re dramatically short in all [Military Occupational Safety]’s. They are low-density, high-demand. But I think that kind of highlights for you how much the MEFs are going to have to play into whatever this thing ends up looking like.”

Marines prepare to recover an RQ-21A Blackjack unmanned aerial vehicle after a training flight during exercise Black Shadow at Fort Stewart, Georgia, Jan. 19, 2021. US Marine Corps Photo

Getting after this will also likely include manned-unmanned teaming, which is how the Navy and Marine Corps now describe their unmanned systems strategy. It would pair manned and unmanned platforms together to conduct various missions.

“So how do we leverage manned and unmanned teaming and the characteristics of unmanned systems to enhance the survivability and effectiveness of our more limited manned systems. Because that also speaks to the logistics challenge, right, demand reduction. Nothing consumes more than humans,” Watson said.
“They are problems that are actively being wrestled with and that we are trying to help shape as well as support from headquarters to get after what the commandant’s looking for.”

In its recent Force Design update, the Marine Corps said it will release “an updated and refined” strategy for ground vehicles that take into account how the Marines will get after the reconnaissance and counter-reconnaissance mission.

The update also calls for the Marines to start shifting their light armored reconnaissance battalions “to mobile reconnaissance battalions,” beginning with the 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion.

The Marines have been told to use the work done by Task Force 61 Naval Amphibious Forces Europe/2nd Marine Division, recently created by U.S. 6th Fleet, as a springboard.

“Mobile reconnaissance battalions do not have to be mirror-imaged,” the update reads.  

Marines Look to EPFs, ESBs as Interim Solution for Light Amphibious Warship

WASHINGTON D.C. — With the Light Amphibious Warship delayed by several years, the Marine Corps is looking to ship classes already in the fleet as an interim solution to move Marines around the Indo-Pacific. The Marine Corps’ annual Force Design 2030 update, released on Monday, described plans to use the Expeditionary Fast Transport and Expeditionary […]

Expeditionary fast transport ship USNS Brunswick (T-EPF 6) departs Naval Base Guam, passing the MSC expeditionary fast transport ship USNS Fall River (T-EPF 4) and marking the start of Pacific Partnership 2019. Navy photo

WASHINGTON D.C. — With the Light Amphibious Warship delayed by several years, the Marine Corps is looking to ship classes already in the fleet as an interim solution to move Marines around the Indo-Pacific.

The Marine Corps’ annual Force Design 2030 update, released on Monday, described plans to use the Expeditionary Fast Transport and Expeditionary Transfer Dock as temporary solutions while the Marine Corps refine the requirements for the LAW program.

“While we await the delivery of [Medium, Landing Ship], which post-dates the planned operational readiness of our MLRs, we will explore a family of systems bridging plan—including, Expeditionary Transfer Dock (ESB), Expeditionary Fast Transport (T-EPF), Landing Craft Utility (LCU), and leased hulls—that can provide a basic level of mobility. Although not optimal, such vessels will provide both operational capability and a sound basis for live experimentation and refining detailed requirements for the LAW program,” the latest Force Design 2030 document reads.

The annual update from Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger details the service’s progress on its modernization overhaul, an effort to make the Marines lighter and able to operate with less of a footprint for distributed operations in a potential conflict with China.

Speaking Tuesday at the annual Modern Day Marine Conference, deputy commandant for combat development and integration Lt. Gen. Karsten Heckl said the Marine Corps has already signed a contract to lease a commercial stern landing vessel so the recently converted 3rd Marine Littoral Regiment out of Hawaii can experiment with the LAW concept. The Marine Corps will receive that ship this year during the late summer or early fall timeframe and will send it straight to the 3rd MLR for “aggressive experimentation,” according to Heckl.

“As you know, the LAW is a few years out. So we’re taking [the] opportunity to do some experimentation and refine the prototyping so that we get what we need – what the Marines need,” he said during a panel at the conference.

The Marine Corps has the option to lease two more vessels, which could help the service as it develops LAW, Heckl said. The Marines have said they need to purchase the LAW quickly, but the procurement has been delayed in the last two budget cycles. The Fiscal Year 2023 proposal now shows the first LAW purchase in FY 2025.

A Landing Craft Air Cushion is launched from the Military Sealift Command mobile landing platform USNS Montford Point (MLP 1) during Pacific Horizon 2015. US Navy Photo

The Marine Corps envisions LAW as a shore-to-shore connector that can haul 75 Marines for $150 million or less per hull. Heckl said he believes ports and large runways will be among the first targets in a potential conflict in the Indo-Pacific, meaning the Marine Corps cannot rely on the ability to offload Marines and gear at a pier. This is where the LAW would come into play, as the ship would have beaching capability. Heckl said the Marine Corps needs 25 LAWs.

“We have five companies doing prototyping now, to figure out what it’s going to be,” he said of the LAW. “This is simply going to inform it and make it a better product. Now obviously having a gap is a risk and in the military world that’s usually bad. We don’t like that kind of risk, but I think there’s a lot of options out there,” like EPFs and ESBs, Heckl added.

The deputy commandant pointed to the Marine Corps using USNS City of Bismarck (T-EPF 9) last year for experimentation during the Koa Moana exercise in Palau.

“That’s a real capability I think we’ll want to keep around. A ship that can do 35 knots, carry a few hundred Marines and their gear with a flight deck … there’s a lot of options,” he said of the EPFs. “I think you’ll see when we get that contracted vessel out in Hawaii and we have the Marines in 3rd MLR and the III [Marine Expeditionary Force], we’re going to probably see great things,” he added.

As for the larger amphibious ships, Heckl again emphasized the Marine Corps’ 31-ship requirement – 10 big-deck LHAs and 21 LSDs or LPDs. As part of the next phase of the Force Design process, Berger called upon the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab to work on a “Concept for 21st Century Amphibious Operations” by January 1, 2023.

Asked about the concept on Tuesday during a roundtable with reporters, MCWL commanding general Brig. Gen. Benjamin Watson said the Marine Corps will work with the Naval Warfare Development Center on the effort because the concept is naval.

“We think it’s important that a lot of the early analytic work and a lot of the differences in Force Design have been focused on how do we operationalize this idea of a stand-in-force. But in doing that – just like the commandant addressed the fact that early we focused a lot on the Marine Littoral Regiment and perhaps not enough on putting that in the context of the MAGTF – we see the same thing with amphibious operations,” Watson said.

“Backing it out and taking a look at the range of amphibious operations from crisis response, in many cases at the lower end of the spectrum of conflict, all the way up to what is still a joint force requirement for forcible entry, within which we believe the Marine Corps then still has a requirement for amphibious forcible entry … We really need to take a look more holistically at the range of amphibious operations in concert with the Navy,” he added.

The construction of the Amphibious Ready Group and the Marine Expeditionary Unit has not changed over the last four decades while the battlefield has changed “dramatically,” Heckl said.

Gunner’s Mate 2nd Class Michael Eberhart, assigned to the amphibious transport dock ship USS Somerset (LPD-25), watches the amphibious assault ship USS Makin Island (LHD-8) maneuver past the Somerset in the Gulf of Oman on March 23, 2021. US Marine Corps Photo

“On the low end of the spectrum – range of military operations – it largely looks the same. But as you progress up that escalation ramp, the divergence is significant,” he said.
“It used to be that when we got in the Marine Corps, we said, ‘25 nautical miles over the horizon, you’re safe.’ Not applicable today anymore so it’s got to change.”

The Marine Corps is also wrapping up an amphibious requirements study, but officials have been explicit in arguing the Navy needs 31 larger amphibious ships.

“That composition and the capacity of the future amphibious fleet does affect how we employ that amphibious force in the future,” Watson said.

As for the larger amphibious ships, Berger on Tuesday made a case for the various ways the Navy could use well decks on the amphibs to perform different missions.

“I think it’s much more versatile than we thought of in the past. As more and more uncrewed technology comes to maturity and the cost of production goes down, I think new capabilities are within reach,” Berger said. “Think for a minute. Marines aboard amphibious ships. That team – that Navy-Marine Corps team – employing unmanned underwater vessels from the ARG/MEU. Dozens of unmanned undersea vessels. You could use them as sensors, perhaps for anti-submarine warfare.”

Berger pointed to finding mines and performing counter-reconnaissance and ways to use the UUVs.

Amphibious Combat Vehicles (ACVs) with the 3rd Assault Amphibian Battalion, 1st Marine Division return to the well deck of amphibious transport dock ship USS Anchorage (LPD-23) during waterborne training in the Pacific Ocean on Feb. 13, 2022. US Marine Corps Photo

“They can be weapons themselves. We could also employ uncrewed surface vessels from the well deck, both for [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance] and for fires. You could do it for logistics,” he said. “Our initial experimentation with the Long Range Unmanned Surface Vessel – armed with loitering munitions, again all unmanned, largely autonomous – has demonstrated already the potency of that kind of capability. What if you operated decoys on the well deck? Electronic warfare capabilities from the well deck? Limited really only by your imagination is the well deck.”

Because what’s inside the well deck is hidden, Berger said an adversary will spend time trying to figure out what’s inside.

“It slows down their decision-making. That’s what we want. I think that’s applicable in the Mediterranean. I think it’s applicable in the Mideast. I think it’s applicable in the first island chain,” he said.

Fewer Marines, More Sensors Part of Berger’s Latest Force Design Revision

THE PENTAGON – Reducing the Marines to 175,000 and adding more sensor capability to smaller units are part of a wide swath of adjustments the Marine Corps is pursuing in the latest iteration of its modernization drive. Released on Monday, the Force Design 2030 annual report is the Marines’ latest refinement of plans to orient […]

Marines with 1st Battalion, 2d Marine Regiment (1/2), 2d Marine Division, board a KC-130J Super Hercules at Yuma Proving Grounds, Arizona, April 22, 2022. US Marine Corps Photo

THE PENTAGON – Reducing the Marines to 175,000 and adding more sensor capability to smaller units are part of a wide swath of adjustments the Marine Corps is pursuing in the latest iteration of its modernization drive.

Released on Monday, the Force Design 2030 annual report is the Marines’ latest refinement of plans to orient the service to face complex threats in the maritime environment within the next decade.

“We’ve gained quite a bit of momentum on Force Design but the learning continues,” Lt. Gen. Karsten Heckl told reporters last week in a roundtable ahead of Monday’s release.

The revision, in line with the latest budget submission, calls for shrinking the service down to 175,000 Marines with an emphasis on developing more mature Marines who stay in the service for longer.

“Over the past two years, we reduced our end-strength by approximately 7,000 Marines primarily through [divestments]. In the next year, we will continue our balanced approach and reduce the number of personnel in the service headquarters, supporting establishment, and component commands by 15 percent,” reads the revision signed by Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger.

At the same time, there is a parallel drive to keep Marines in for longer. The service only retains about 25 percent of the 38,000 Marines it recruits annually past their first term of service.

Marine Corps Gen. David Berger, the Commandant of the Marine Corps, speaks to Marines and Sailors assigned to the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), during a distinguished visit aboard Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD-2) on Feb. 20, 2022. US Marine Corps Photo

Berger and Deputy Commandant for Manpower & Reserve Affairs Lt. Gen. David Ottignon have been vocal about working to change the Marine Corps culture into one that retains its personnel, instead of the high turnover that has characterized the service.

By the summer, the service owes Berger a plan “to change the ‘recruit and replace’ paradigm, we will implement measures to professionalize our career retention force and further incentivize retaining our most talented Marines,” reads the design.

The plan looks to “achieve greater average time in service and thickening of the E-4 to E-7 ranks to support a more mature force, while not disadvantaging or disincentivizing the most talented Marines—who must be allowed to move as rapidly as their talents dictate.”

The service is weighing how it will develop the more mature force, either by incentivizing Marines to stay on active duty longer in an ‘invest and retain’ model, improving training and education or a combination of both, Maj. Gen. Eric Austin, director of the Capabilities Development Directorate, told reporters last week.


Download document here.

“When you say more mature forces, it’s probably somewhere between an older, more experienced Marine and a better trained Marine,” he said.

Some of that will come from how Marines are trained, Berger told reporters last week. The Marine Corps will still rely on physical aspects and endurance and perseverance already featured in training programs, but the service is also understanding that new Marines learn differently.

“We want to send him to a school for two weeks, and they’re like, ‘Give me half an hour on my own, I got it. If I got a question, I’ll let you know.’ They learn in a different way at a different speed,” Berger said.

Marine Corps AN/TPS-80 Ground/Air Task Oriented Radar system (G/ATOR), assigned to Marine Air Control Squadron 2, 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing (MAW), scans for and tracks aircraft at Siauliai Air Base, Lithuania, April 26, 2022. Marine Corps Photo

In particular, the service wants to retain Marines who are trained in information and cyberwarfare, disciplines that are prized by civilian industry and where service members are heavily recruited for jobs after they’re trained by the military.

In particular, the Marines want to include signals intelligence and electronic warfare Marines in the infantry battalion, “which is obviously kind of a low-density, high-demand skill set. So that’s changing how we train and how many of those Marines we have to train,” Austin said.

A major investment for the service will include more sensors controlled by Marines instead of relying solely on joint tools for targeting awareness for the Marine Littoral Regiments, Marine Corps Warfighting Lab director Maj. Gen. Benjamin Watson told reporters.

“You got to be able to sense the target before you can engage and a complete reliance on non-organic capabilities, like somebody else to do that sensing for us and find the target, confirm it, etcetera as part of the kill-chain is a position we prefer not to be in. We’d prefer not to have that as our only option,” Watson said.
“If we have a missile that shoots 100 nautical miles and we want a sensor that’s organic to us that can find a target well beyond that … What we’re trying to do is develop a balanced portfolio of capabilities that when we try to close kill-chains against a modern, multi-domain adversary, we’ve got the complete tool kit.”

The idea is in line with the Marine Air-Ground Task Force (MAGTF) philosophy in which Marines support other Marines on the ground, in the air and in the logistics chain.

“Our [Marine Littoral Regiments] will possess an organic capability to sense the maritime battlespace in order to gain and maintain custody of targets as a reconnaissance/counter-reconnaissance task and to assure their ability to deliver maritime fires, even when the larger sensor network is degraded or compromised,” reads the revision.

The service’s Ground/Air Task Oriented Radar (G/ATOR) and the future sensor payloads on its emerging fleet of unmanned aerial and surface vehicles will be part of a larger targeting net that will work with the Navy Marine Expeditionary Ship Interdiction System (NMESIS), a converted Joint Light Tactical Vehicle chassis that carries a battery of Naval Strike Missiles and other netted weapons, the new document says.

As part of the ongoing Force Design testing, “with the Strategic Capabilities Office and the Navy, we also conducted a ground launch of a Tomahawk Land Attack Missile mounted on a remotely operated mobile launcher,” reads the report.

US Marine Corps Rouge Fires missile system.

The new revision comes as the service has drawn criticism from retired general officers who have argued that Berger cut too much heavier equipment too quickly in his modernization overhaul and that the Marine Corps is placing too much emphasis on countering China, and not enough on the service’s other missions, like crisis response.

In particular, Berger has been the subject of criticism from former Navy Secretary Jim Webb, who penned an opinion piece criticizing Berger’s decisions, like the Marine Corps shedding its M1A1 Abrams main battle tanks for a lighter force that focuses on anti-ship missiles.

“So I take criticism on my shoulders, not Gen.Heckl’s, but mine, for if it’s not balanced over the last three years, I need to recognize where to rebalance and to push information and to draw feedback from more proactively,” Berger said. “Part of the challenge, as it always has been, is at a certain limit in one or more of those audiences reach a classification barrier that’s a bit of a challenge.”

In its report, the Marines said the service placed too much emphasis on the radical changes that would create units like the MLR, crafted to hunt Chinese surface ships, rather than acknowledging the enduring Marine Corps mission based on larger amphibious ships and the Marine Expeditionary Units.

The service “does not have the luxury of focusing on a single threat, to the exclusion of all others, and basing our design on such a narrow point of view. We are building a force capable of executing our concepts, not a force exclusively tailored to them,” reads the report.

In comments to reporters, Heckl drew a distinction between the MLR and the larger MEU.

“The MEU and the MLR are designed to be complementary, but they’re organized differently and they operate differently. A MEU being a more robust organization that’s designed to operate persistently from amphibious platforms, and execute operations really across the range from humanitarian assistance, disaster relief up to amphibious raids or higher-end combat operations,” Heckl said.
“The Marine Littoral Regiment – although we believe it has applicability globally – it’s not designed to execute operations across that entire range. It’s tailor-made really, to operate as part of a force that stands in close to an adversary that minimizes its vulnerability by operating in small, low signature, highly mobile formations, but packs a big punch, particularly in maritime littoral combat.”

Sailors and Marines man the rails of the Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge (LHD-3) as they depart Naval Station Norfolk, March 16, 2022. US Navy Photo

As the Marine Corps continues to refine the Force Design, a key unanswered question is how many amphibious ships the Navy needs to support the Marines’ mission. Berger and Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday are split over how many large amphibious ships the Navy needs and how quickly the planned Light Amphibious Warship enters the fleet.

“This will require a mix of vessels that are complementary to, but different from amphibious warships. We must conduct a thorough analysis to understand and resource all aspects necessary to realize these capabilities, to include manpower and training, as we consider resourcing these as requirements,” reads the document.

The Navy is currently working with the Marine Corps on an amphibious lift requirement study due to Congress in the next several weeks.

Marines Committed to New Force Design, Despite Criticism From Retired Generals

The Marine Corps’ top requirements officer on Wednesday defended the service’s modernization overhaul against recent criticisms that the Marines are on the wrong path. Lt. Gen. Karsten Heckl, the deputy commandant for combat development and integration, acknowledged that the Marine Corps has not successfully communicated its Force Design 2030 efforts. “I clearly as the requirements […]

Marines board the Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge (LHD-3) via landing craft, air cushion, March 21, 2022. US Navy Photo

The Marine Corps’ top requirements officer on Wednesday defended the service’s modernization overhaul against recent criticisms that the Marines are on the wrong path.

Lt. Gen. Karsten Heckl, the deputy commandant for combat development and integration, acknowledged that the Marine Corps has not successfully communicated its Force Design 2030 efforts.

“I clearly as the requirements officer of the Marine Corps did a poor job explaining this,” Heckl said.

Heckl, who also leads Marine Corps Combat Development Command, argued the need to counter China is what led to the overhaul of the force, pointing to the 2018 National Defense Strategy, which identified China as the main challenge for the U.S.

“We always, always build to the worst-case scenario, which in this case clearly is China, not just militarily,” but also their ability to influence and project economic power,” Heckl said speaking at a U.S. Naval Institute-CSIS Maritime Security Dialogue Wednesday.
“This is much worse than the 70-year Cold War with the Soviet Union.”

The remarks come as Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger’s modernization plan, an effort to reshape the service into a lighter, more mobile force for a potential future conflict against China, has received public criticism in recent months from retired officers.

Heckl noted the Marine Air-Ground Task Force (MAGTF) is still part of the Marine Corps and that the goal is to provide commanders more resources to operate in the threat environment.

“But the MAGTF still exists. As I said earlier, the stand-in force is the III Marine Expeditionary Force. They’re there, now. We are giving them tools – we’re going to give the commanding general of the III Marine Expeditionary Force more tools to deal with the pacing threat that would have application across theaters,” he said.

A key part of the Marine Corps’ vision for operating in the Indo-Pacific is setting up ad-hoc bases on islands and shorelines throughout the region where they could then fire weapons like anti-ship missiles as a way to create chaos during a conflict.

Heckl referenced a recent conversation he had with the chief of the Swedish Navy, who said there are thousands of islands and archipelagos off Norway, Sweden and Finland. “She wants us to come up and exercise,” Heckl said of Rear Adm. Ewa Skoog Haslum.

His remarks address one concern of retired officers, which is that the Marine Corps is too focused on the Indo-Pacific.

Marines with 1st Platoon, Charlie Company, 3rd Assault Amphibian Battalion, 1st Marine Division and Japan Ground Self-Defense Force (JGSDF) soldiers with 2nd Amphibious Rapid Deployment Regiment receive a safety brief prior to executing amphibious operations during Exercise Iron Fist 2022 at the Del Mar Boat Basin, Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California, Jan. 11, 2022. US Marine Corps Photo

“We have three Marine Expeditionary Forces around the globe that we’re going to make more capable through the modernization efforts of Force Design. It’s just that simple,” Heckl added.

The Marine Corps general compared the current criticisms of Force Design to “false allegations” about the MV-22 Osprey during its early days when the Marines experienced several crashes.

As for tanks, which the Marine Corps has already divested from its inventory, Heckl argued a conflict that would require tanks would be a joint fight, meaning the Army would participate. He acknowledged tanks could play a role in a conflict in Taiwan, but likely not in other parts of the Indo-Pacific.

The Amphibious Combat Vehicle, Heckl said, “is very survivable, very mobile,” and the 30-mm cannon variant could, like tanks, blow holes through walls in an urban warfare environment.

“We’re also fielding … long-range precision fires, right, that we can use to strike and in an urban environment could change the calculus a little bit,” he said.

Marine Corps 2nd Lt. Evan Blaskowski, an infantry officer with Kilo Company, 3d Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division (1st MARDIV), observes a target during Exercise Steel Knight 22 (SK-22) at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif., Dec. 8, 2021. US Marine Corps Photo

A key concern among retired officers critical of the modernization overhaul is combined arms, which Heckl argued has “changed fundamentally” due to technology.

“In this case, combined arms is much more than towed cannon artillery, tanks and aviation. I will tell you it starts in the information environment, which is often where we don’t do so well, and then cyber, space,” he said.

“As a MEF commander, people would be like, ‘well we’re going to be this number of days left of bang.’ Stop saying bang. What is that? Again, old think. ‘Well, it’s Marines. It’s when I shoot stuff and kill things.’ No. Information environment. Cyberspace. Bang is happening now. So that is illustrative … of how dramatically it has changed. Combined arms – and now, with again, one of the primary drivers of force design was the proliferation of long-range precision weapons that can hold us at arms length.”

Part of the Marine Corps’ modernization efforts includes experimentation with the infantry battalions. When the service embarked on its Force Design work, Heckl said the average size of an infantry battalion was 896 Marines and the lowest number of Marines the service has assessed is 735.

“We think it’s probably going to be in there somewhere. We don’t know. That’s why the fleet right now – all three MEFS are involved in infantry battalion experimentation, right, IBX,” he said. “Each one has a dedicated battalion – that started when I was at 1 MEF – that is focusing on a specific aspect of force design. And then that’s being fed back from the fleets into headquarters Marine Corps to make the appropriate, iterative adjustment.”

Over the court of the next year, the Marine Corps will do more experimentation with the infantry battalions on both the East and West coasts. The Marine Corps is taking the chance to perform Force Design experimentation during all of its exercises.

Marines assigned to the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) board a landing craft, utility in the well deck of the San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock ship USS Portland (LPD-27) on March 2, 2022. US Navy Photo

As for manpower, which Berger has cut in order to save money within the Marine Corps budget for the modernization initiatives, Heckl said the service is assessing the potential for a force of 175,000 Marines. The Marine Corps’ Fiscal Year 2023 budget request is seeking funds for 177,000 active-duty Marines. Heckl noted the service swelled to more than 202,000 Marines during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“Right now we don’t know the end state. Remember, 2030 is a waypoint, it’s not a destination. But we’re looking at probably about [175,000]-ish. We’ll see,” he said. “But the only lever the commandant had in the course of his move to, within our topline not ask for [more] sources, was manpower. And again, rightfully so, based on how much we had grown.”

Size is another concern among those critical of Berger’s strategy.

“I think they have several concerns. One is that the Marine Corps’s getting smaller and will be challenged to meet its global commitments. One is that the structure is too focused on the western Pacific and the Marine Corps will not be able to participate effectively in operations in other areas,” Mark Cancian, a retired Marine Corps colonel who is a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, previously told USNI News of the officers’ concerns.

Marines Stand Up First Marine Littoral Regiment

The Marine Corps this week formally converted its Hawaii-based regiment into the 3rd Marine Littoral Regiment, taking another step in the pursuit of its new island-hopping strategy in the Indo-Pacific. As part of the service’s Force Design 2030 effort, the Marine Corps converted the 3rd Marine Regiment into the 3rd Marine Littoral Regiment in a […]

Marines with 3d Marine Littoral Regiment, 3d Marine Division present arms during the redesignation ceremony of 3d Marines to 3d MLR aboard Marine Corps Base Hawaii, March 3, 2022. US Marine Corps Photo

The Marine Corps this week formally converted its Hawaii-based regiment into the 3rd Marine Littoral Regiment, taking another step in the pursuit of its new island-hopping strategy in the Indo-Pacific.

As part of the service’s Force Design 2030 effort, the Marine Corps converted the 3rd Marine Regiment into the 3rd Marine Littoral Regiment in a Thursday ceremony at Marine Corps Base Hawaii.

“The concept of this 3rd Marine Littoral Regiment standing up – re-designating 3rd Marine Regiment to 3rd Marine Littoral Regiment – is a visible, physical representation of the Marine Corps’ change to outpace a pacing threat, so that we are in the best position to offer conventional [and] integrated deterrence …. in support of our National Defense Strategy,” Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. Eric Smith told reporters earlier this week.

Military officials describe China as “the pacing threat,” and the Marine Corps’ vision for Force Design includes smaller units that could quickly move between islands and archipelagos, setting up ad-hoc expeditionary advanced bases and firing anti-ship missiles.

Part of the shift to the 3rd MLR construct includes those smaller units – about 75 to 100 Marines in an Expeditionary Advanced Base detachment – that are constantly prepared to deploy to the first and second island chains, as opposed to the historic six-month deployments.

“They are strategically placed via our organic mobility throughout the first and second island chain in order to change an adversary’s calculus,” Smith said. “Again, these units – instead of a captain who’s in charge of 175 Marines, [need] to have a captain or a first lieutenant who’s in charge of 75 Marines with a very specific task.”

Marines with 3rd Marine Littoral Regiment, 3rd Marine Division conduct the redesignation ceremony of 3rd Marines to 3rd MLR aboard Marine Corps Base Hawaii, March 3, 2022. US Marine Corps

The ACMC listed four capabilities the MLR needs: long-range fires – like the Navy-Marine Corps Expeditionary Ship Interdiction System (NMESIS) program that features a Naval Strike Missile mounted on an unmanned JLTV chassis; – the MQ-9A Reaper drone for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance; radars and communication systems like the AN/TPS-80 Ground/Air Task Oriented Radar (G/ATOR); and “organic mobility” with platforms like the Long-Range Unmanned Surface Vehicle (LRUSV) that Marines could employ with the Light Amphibious Warship and other larger amphibious ships.

“The equipment’s going to change over the years. State of the art technology will change in five years or six years, but the MLR will stay as an organization that is purpose-built to deploy immediately in small-task organized units so that its signature is such that it is not easily detectable, and yet it packs enough of a punch that the adversary has to account for it. They have to consider it because that takes pressure off the rest of the joint force,” Smith said.

While the threat will decide where the Marine Corps bases its equipment, Smith said the service also needs to adhere to the environmental and legal mandates, depending on the host nation, before choosing where the equipment will live.

But the Marines have four goals to achieve with the MLR in the Indo-Pacific by the end of Fiscal Year 2023.

US Marine Corps Rouge Fires missile system.

“Those capabilities broadly are additional organic lift – aviation lift and I’m talking KC-130s – into the Indo-Pacific theater, long-range strike into the Indo-Pacific theater. And that means our Navy-Marine Expeditionary Ship Interdiction system, which was successfully demonstrated at last year’s Large-Scale Exercise,” Smith said.
“We have to show our long-range intelligence, surveillance reconnaissance air platform – the MQ-9 Alpha extended range – we have to introduce that into the theater in ’23. And then we have to stand up the 3rd MLR,” which is what the Marines did this week. “And that represents our ability to live, train and deploy in these small disaggregated units.”

The Marine Corps already has G/ATOR systems in Okinawa, Japan, and has experimented with LRUSV using a rigid-hull inflatable boat (RHIB) and will keep testing the use of LRUSV with ships from Metal Shark. The service is also leasing one stern landing vessel through the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab so it can use the platform for testing before 2023.

“We know what we want to do with the vehicle – there’s no doubt about the concept of employment. Now we’re talking about the specifics of beachability and exact size. that’s what the analysis of alternatives for which ship do you procure – that will determine that. But we already have a surrogate that we will lease to use for experimentation,” Smith said. “And we might additionally lease two more for a total of three because we don’t want to wait for the LAW to come online for us to then confirm – not come up with – but confirm our concept of operations.”

Smith said the 2023 timeline stems from the need to show Congress and the Defense Department that the Marine Corps has made progress on Force Design and the service’s obligations to provide capabilities to combatant commanders that can help deter an adversary.

“We can’t wait until the adversary has reached their full potential and then try to divert them, to change them. We have to change that trajectory now, meaning by the end of Fiscal Year ’23,” he said.

Adversaries, according to Smith, don’t like the Marine Corps’ strategy because of the unpredictability and maneuverability a unit like the MLR brings.

“They don’t like the fact that units are highly mobile, that they have a low signature and that they – the adversary – doesn’t know where these things are. Because we’re talking about an organization that’s 75 Marines who have organic mobility, either by air or by surface connector. And once they’re ashore, they have organic mobility in the form of Joint Light Tactical Vehicles and relatively small trucks that are inherently mobile and have capabilities to shut down a network, to strike a capital warship and then fade away and move again,” he said.
“Adversaries hate that because they don’t have effective control over their – the adversary’s – plan. So all of our assessments, wargaming and analysis say that we are on the right track. We are constantly adjusting the exact size of an infantry battalion, the exact number of missiles a unit needs to carry so that it matches our logistics capability, the exact signature that they will put out – that is constantly adjusting based on the adversary’s ability to pick up our signature.”

U.S. Marines with 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, currently attached to 4th Marine Regiment, 3d Marine Division, demonstrate expeditionary advanced basing capabilities Oct. 7 to 8, 2020, as part of Exercise Noble Fury, from Okinawa to Ie Shima and across surrounding waters. US Marine Corps Photo

The current plan is for the Marine Corps to have three Marine Littoral Regiments all based in the Indo-Pacific. It will eventually convert the 4th Marine Regiment and the 12th Marine Regiment – both based in Okinawa – into MLRs. The service needs all three MLRs operating by 2030, with Smith estimating a transition for one organization in the 2025-2026 timeline and 2027-2030 for third one.

“By ‘30, we will have all three of them and what we’ll do is we will confirm with this first regiment what is exactly needed. We’ll take our time. That may mean the second MLR to stand up is a little slower than we thought, but it’ll be easier to do because we’ll know exactly what sized unit to put in there – exactly how many master sergeants, exactly how many staff sergeants, exactly how many missiles,” the ACMC said. “So all of them have to be stood up 2030, which is when we would consider the decade of uncertainty beings. You have to be ready because again the pacing threat’s moving.”

Smith acknowledged the 3rd MLR could be a little bigger than previous estimates of 1,800 to 2,000 Marines and sailors, but said the organization will be smaller than the 3rd Marine Regiment. The MLR is slated to include a Littoral Combat Team, Littoral Logistics Battalion, and a Littoral Anti-Air Battalion. Smith said the service is still working on the Littoral Anti-Air Battalion, so depending on new technologies that come online, the MLR could require fewer or more Marines and change in size over the next one to three years. But Smith said it’s unclear if that change will be a difference of 50 Marines or 300.

As the Marines perform more exercises and collect more data, the service will have the chance to hone the number.

“Changing the size of the unit every single day – you don’t do that. You might do it annually, or every two years,” Smith said. “But when there’s data sufficient to prove that we need to change, we’ll change again because the pacing threat’s always changing. They’re always moving.”

Top Stories 2021: U.S. Marine Corps Acquisition

This post is part of a series looking back at the top naval stories from 2021. The Marine Corps this year continued its journey to meet Marine Corps commandant Gen. David Berger’s strategic vision for the force by pursuing systems to enable the service’s Force Design 2030 goals. With a focus on operating in the vast […]

U.S. Marines with 1st Marine Logistics Group, return fire during a convoy training exercise in Camp Pendleton California. Oct 7, 2021. US Marine Corps Photo

This post is part of a series looking back at the top naval stories from 2021.

The Marine Corps this year continued its journey to meet Marine Corps commandant Gen. David Berger’s strategic vision for the force by pursuing systems to enable the service’s Force Design 2030 goals.

With a focus on operating in the vast region of the Indo-Pacific, the Marines have made capabilities like anti-ship missiles a top priority for the island-hopping campaign that would prove out the Corps’ Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations (EABO) concept.

The service also continued to make progress on ground and aerial systems crucial to the Marine Corps’ modernization efforts.

Naval Strike Missile

An Oshkosh-built Remotely Operated Ground Unit for Expeditionary (ROGUE) Fires vehicle with a Naval Strike Missile attached during a November 2020 test at Point Mugu, Calif. US Navy Photo

Central to the Marine Corps’ strategy is acquiring ground-based anti-ship missiles, which the service envisions Marines firing from ad hoc bases on island and archipelagos throughout the Pacific. The missiles will be a key capability for the Marine Littoral Regiment, a unit construct the Marine Corps is experimenting within the Pacific.

The Marine Corps asked for 29 Naval Strike Missiles in the Fiscal Year 2022 budget request and 35 additional NSMs appeared at the top of the service’s annual unfunded priorities list.

The Marines plan to field the missiles on a modified Joint Light Tactical Vehicle and have already tested out this concept, known as the Navy-Marine Corps Expeditionary Ship Interdiction System (NMESIS). Earlier this year, the Marine Corps announced it performed a test in late 2020 with Raytheon using a Remotely Operated Ground Unit for Expeditionary (ROGUE) Fires truck to launch a Naval Strike Missile.

The Navy and Marine Corps also tested the NMESIS system this summer during the Large Scale Exercise 2021.

MUX

The Marine Corps’ first MQ-9A at an undisclosed location in the Central Command area of responsibility on March 31, 2021. US Marine Corps Photo

The Marine Corps previously delayed its plans to buy a large ship-based drone, known as the Marine Air-Ground Task Force (MAGTF) Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) Expeditionary program, or MUX, after the numerous requirements made it difficult to pursue one airframe at an appropriate cost.

The service has instead opted to pursue a family of systems approach for MUX and has used the MQ-9A Reaper drones to begin meeting some missions as it works out the approach and requirements for other components of MUX.

“The Marine Corps is currently pursuing MQ-9 as the first UAS to fulfill the MUX Family of Systems (FoS) that will provide the capability necessary to modernize the aviation combat element,” Maj. Jay Hernandez told USNI News in November.
“Marine Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron 1 (VMU-1) will begin MQ-9 experimentation in 2023; the squadron will help develop operational support and tactics, techniques, and procedures, as well as leveraging payloads with high technology readiness levels that will accomplish the Tier 1 capability set,” Hernandez added.

After leasing two MQ-9As from General Atomics for several years, the Marine Corps formally purchased the two aircraft this year. The first MQ-9A went to Marine Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron 1 (VMU-1) with the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, which will experiment with the Reapers in 2023.

“The squadron will help develop operational support and tactics, techniques, and procedures, as well as leveraging payloads with high technology readiness levels that will accomplish the Tier 1 capability set,” Hernandez said.

CH-53K

U.S. Marines with Marine Operational Test and Evaluation Squadron One (VMX-1) test the capabilities of the CH-53K King Stallion on Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune on Dec. 16, 2021. US Marine Corps Photo

Fleet Marines with one of the Marine Corps’ testing squadrons started flying the CH-53K King Stallion for the first time in January, as the service prepared for the summer initial operational test and evaluation phase of the new heavy-lift helicopter program.

In September, Marines flying two CH-53Ks retrieved one of the Navy’s MH-60S helicopters in a California testing event for the IOT&E stage.

“This accomplishment highlighted the Marine Corps’ efforts to retain a next-generation heavy lift capability in support of the service’s future operating concept. Marine Corps aviation looks to the CH-53K as a much needed replacement for its current heavy lift helicopters,” the Marine Corps said in an October news release.

The Navy in its FY 2022 budget request asked for 9 CH-53Ks, which come out of the Navy’s aviation procurement account. The program is still in the low-rate initial production phase, with the Navy in June issuing Lockheed Martin-owned Sikorsky a $736 million contract modification for 9 helicopters in Lot 5 of the LRIP stage.

The Navy plans to purchase full-rate production aircraft in FY 2023. The first deployment for the CH-53Ks is slated for 2024, according to FY 2022 budget documents.

The new heavy-lift helicopter will replace the Marine Corps’ CH-53E Super Stallion.

Amphibious Combat Vehicle

An Amphibious Combat Vehicle with the Amphibious Vehicle Test Branch, Marine Corps Tactical Systems Support Activity, is staged in preparation to depart the well deck of the amphibious transport dock ship USS Somerset (LPD 25) as part of the vehicle’s developmental testing off the shore of Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California, Jan. 28, 2020. US Marine Corps Photo

The effort to replace the Marine Corps’ 1970s-era Assault Amphibious Vehicles is ongoing, as the Amphibious Combat Vehicle program continued full-rate production after reaching initial operating capability late last year.

The Marine Corps plans to purchase four variants of the ACV – a personnel carrier, a recovery variant, a vehicle with a 30-mm cannon, and a command and control variant.

BAE Systems, which is building the ACV for the Marines, in February announced it had provided the Marine Corps with the first command and control ACV.

BAE started with the personnel variant, which was the type of ACV the Marine Corps tested during the initial operational test and evaluation phase of the program that began in 2020.

Also in February, the Marine Corps issued BAE a $184 million contract modification for 36 full-rate production ACVs after awarded a contract for the first 36 full-rate production vehicles in December.

Top Stories 2020: Marine Corps Operations

This post is part of a series of stories looking back at the top naval news from 2020. 2020 was a turning-point year for the Marine Corps. After previewing changes to come in his Commandant’s Planning Guidance released last year, Commandant Gen. David Berger released a Force Design 2030 document this year outlining major changes […]

Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Austin McBain, a fire support specialist with 1st Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company, I Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF) Information Group, monitors a radio during exercise Summer Fury 20 in Yuma, Ariz., on July 14, 2020. US Marine Corps Photo

This post is part of a series of stories looking back at the top naval news from 2020.

2020 was a turning-point year for the Marine Corps. After previewing changes to come in his Commandant’s Planning Guidance released last year, Commandant Gen. David Berger released a Force Design 2030 document this year outlining major changes in how the service would operate and equip itself. No longer would the Marine Corps be a service schlepping around tanks for sustained ground operations; rather, it would be light and mobile, using small ships to maneuver around islands and shorelines to attack an adversary from all angles and challenge their ability to track and target the small and on-the-move units.

And Berger didn’t stop at just releasing the plan: divestments are starting, new units are forming, wargames and exercises are reflecting new concepts of operations.

“In my professional opinion, we have to change. We have to move out now,” Berger told lawmakers recently.

Force Design 2030

U.S. Marines with Charlie Company, Infantry Training Battalion, School of Infantry – West, fire an M98A2 Javelin guided missile system during a field-fire demonstration as part of the Anti-Tank Missileman Course at Range 204B on Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California, Jan. 22, 2020. ITB trains, develops and certifies Marines as riflemen, as well as their primary military occupational specialty within the infantry field, before sending them to join the Fleet Marine Force. US Marine Corps photo.

Berger released Force Design 2030 in March, laying out the first iteration of his vision of what the Marines needed to morph into to be successful in the future: a focus on maritime campaigning; close integration with the Navy, especially in sea control and sea denial missions; an emphasis on small units that could maneuver around islands and shorelines and bring with them logistics, anti-ship missiles, surveillance equipment, or whatever else the joint force needed dispersed throughout the battlespace.

In some ways, this vision was a culmination of everything the Marines had been working towards: many of the concepts relied on using the KC-130J on expeditionary runways and using the F-35B’s vertical takeoff and landing capabilities to get into remote areas. But in some ways it was wholly new: no longer would the Marines conducting these island-hopping missions start out aggregated on an amphibious warship, drop out the back of the well deck in a connector and then move ashore for operations; instead, the concept would rely on Marines on small ships that don’t exist today, such as a Light Amphibious Warship (LAW) that is habitable for the crew for longer durations of time but can also directly beach themselves to put Marines ashore.

The release of Force Design 2030 wasn’t the end of the effort, but rather the beginning of a massive wargaming, modeling and simulation, and live exercise bonanza that will stretch into next year.

U.S. Marines with Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 3d Marine Regiment, traverse through water during an amphibious assault exercise, Marine Corps Base Hawaii, May 28, 2020. Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 3d Marine Regiment, and Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 3d Marine Regiment, conducted an amphibious assault exercise and military operations in urban terrain to increase littoral mobility proficiency in 3d Marine Regiment and advance the goals of the Commandant of the Marine Corps 2030 Force Design. US Marine Corps photo.

So far, the first Marine Littoral Regiment was stood up in Hawaii to start experimenting with things like long-range ground-based anti-ship missiles, as well as either LAW prototypes or surrogates to start understanding what operations might look like with these new units and new capabilities. The service also entered into Phase III of the Force Design effort, described as a “campaign of learning approach” where teams will basically stress test the plan as it exists today by asking difficult questions of it and seeking answers through wargaming and experimentation. Much of this learning will culminate in a massive 2021 Large Scale Exercise that will involve multiple carrier strike groups and amphibious ready groups and will focus on the new operating concepts: Distributed Maritime Operations (DMO), Littoral Operations in a Contested Environment (LOCE), and Expeditionary Advance Base Operations (EABO).

Though much is still to be learned through the ongoing campaign of learning, Berger is sure enough that they’re heading in the right direction to call for a restructure of Marine forces in the Pacific, to spread out beyond hubs in Japan and South Korea. While deterring China in the Pacific is his main focus now, later experimentation may look at creating alternate unit formations better tailored to challenging Russia in the North Atlantic, for example.

Of course, this is all coming at a time when defense budgets are expected to be flat or declining, so Berger said all along that he’d create a plan that the Marine Corps could pay for within its current topline. To do so, the service has taken a “divest to invest” strategy, announcing that “by the year 2030, the Marine Corps will see complete divestments of Law Enforcement Battalions, Tank Battalions and associated Military Occupational Specialties (MOS), and all Bridging Companies. Additionally, the Corps will reduce the number of infantry battalions from 24 to 21; artillery cannon batteries from 21 to 5; amphibious vehicle companies from 6 to 4; and reduce tilt rotor, attack, and heavy lift squadrons.” A further review would be conducted to see if the aviation reductions – specifically, limiting F-35 squadrons to just 10 aircraft each instead of 16 – should lead to a reduction in the planned buy from contractor Lockheed Martin.

F-35 Operations

F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 211 and the 617 Squadron sit on the flight deck aboard HMS Queen Elizabeth at sea on Oct. 6. 2020. US Marine Corps Photo

The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter was among the best examples this year of the Marines pivoting in stride and refocusing towards Berger’s vision. Though fielding the F-35B and C jets has been decades in the making for the Marine Corps, ongoing F-35B and nascent F-35C activities this year nested well into the priorities of Force Design.

After spending 2019 learning how to incorporate the vertical takeoff and landing F-35B into the Marines’ island-hopping EABO concept, they took it a step further this year: incorporating the carrier-based F-35C into those plans.

The Marines’ first F-35Cs began flowing into Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Calif., in late January to support Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 314, the first squadron to transition to the next generation of carrier-based Marine aviation. In March the squadron was certified “safe for flight,” meaning they could train on their own without the supervision of the fleet replacement squadron, and earlier this month the squadron reached initial operational capability. Among the first things the squadron did after achieving IOC: demonstrating the ability to quickly rearm and refuel at expeditionary land bases, a centerpiece of EABO that will allow the Marines to stray far from their aircraft carriers and conduct stealthy missions on behalf of the joint force.

U.S. Marines with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 314 and Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 352, Marine Aircraft Group 11, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, conduct a new expeditionary landing demonstration with M-31 arresting gear Interim Flight Clearance (IFC), on Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif., on Dec. 3, 2020. US Marine Corps Photo

Noting an expected deployment in late 2021 aboard aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72), Maj. Robert Ahern, a pilot with VMFA-314, explained the urgency of the expeditionary landing and refueling, saying that as early as next year “we may be called upon to execute expeditionary advanced base operations. We need to be able to do this. This is something that hasn’t been done yet with the F-35C.”

A second tenet of future military concepts that the Marines’ F-35 community has focused on this year is interoperability and close collaboration with allies. In September, the “Wake Island Avengers” of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 211 flew to the United Kingdom to begin training ahead of a joint deployment aboard aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth (R08). The U.S. Marines and their U.K. counterparts conducted a group exercise and participated in NATO exercise Joint Warrior off Scotland.

“With a total of 14 jets and eight Merlin helicopters, it’s the largest concentration of fighter jets to operate at sea from a Royal Navy carrier since HMS Hermes in 1983, and the largest air group of fifth generation fighters at sea anywhere in the world,” the Royal Navy said at the time.

VMFA-211 will deploy with Queen Elizabeth in the spring.

Major Events

Recruits with Alpha Company, 1st Recruit Training Battalion, wait in line at Marine Corps Recruit Depot, San Diego, Sept. 22, 2020. US Marine Corps Photo

Despite the global COVID-19 pandemic – and the relative ease of blue-water navy exercises compared to the greater precautions needed for amphibious warfare and other ashore training drills – the Marines kept busy this year around the world.

Perhaps most challenging was the rotational deployment to Darwin, Australia, which was put on hold in March due to the growing pandemic.

In May, the service announced it would resume its annual rotational deployment after Australia agreed to grant an exemption to its COVID-19 travel restrictions. The Marine Rotational Force-Darwin (MRF-D) would involve about 1,200 Marines – just half the originally planned 2,500, due to COVID – who would train in the Northern Australia region. All were required to quarantine for 14 days upon arrival in Australia, with COVID tests being given at the beginning and at the end of the quarantine period.

Though a smaller group than originally planned, with no manned aviation assets deploying this year – but some unmanned aircraft for intelligence-gathering – the group worked with their Australian counterparts on increased interoperability in command-and-control, fire support coordination and aviation planning.

U.S. Marine Corps Capt. David Reece, a joint terminal attack controller with 1st Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company, looks over his notes during Exercise Iron Fist 2020 on San Clemente Island, California on Feb. 6, 2020. US Marine Corps Photo

Prior to the pandemic, the annual bilateral Iron Fist exercise at Camp Pendleton, Calif., took place in January and February to help improve the capability of Japan’s first Amphibious Rapid Deployment Brigade, which stood up in 2019 and will reach full capability next spring. About 310 Japan Ground Self-Defense Force soldiers came to California to operate off USS Pearl Harbor (LSD-52) and USS Portland (LPD-27), with an emphasis on infantry, amphibious assault vehicle, reconnaissance and medical training.

Japan established the ARDB to better position its self-defense forces to thwart off and defend incursions into its 3,000-plus islands — particularly in the southwest, including the disputed Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea.

Later in the year, Marines out of California were involved in fighting historic wildfires up and down the West Coast. In September Marine Wing Support Squadron 373 deployed to support the aerial firefighting mission on the Slink Fire, which spread onto training areas of the Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center north of Yosemite National Park. Later in the month, 7th Engineer Support Battalion under 1st Marine Logistics Group at Camp Pendleton was trained for ground firefighting and divided into strike teams that would be paired with a corpsman and an experienced professional firefighter. The Marines ended up at the August Complex Fire, where they were given extra responsibilities such as protecting a helicopter landing pad from the encroaching fire.

Accidents and Safety

Marine Corps AAV-P7/A1 assault amphibious vehicle driver with Bravo Company, Battalion Landing Team 1/4, 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, drives an AAV-P7/A1 up the well deck ramp of the amphibious landing dock USS Somerset (LPD 25) during training to increase Navy-Marine Corps interoperability in the eastern Pacific on July 27, 2020. US Navy Photo

Eight Marines and a sailor died when their amphibious assault vehicle sank off the coast of California on July 31.

Fifteen Marines and a sailor from 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit were aboard the AAV that had been training on San Clemente Island and then swam into the water to return to USS Somerset (LPD-25). They reported taking on water, and while eight Marines were recovered immediately – one of whom was pronounced dead at the hospital shortly afterwards – seven Marines and the sailor were still missing.

Submarine support ship HOS Dominator was brought in the next day to assist in the search and rescue, and the Marine Corps paused all AAV operations. By Aug. 2, the Marine Corps declared the missing men presumed dead and transitioned to a recovery operation.

The sunken AAV and human remains were located on Aug. 4 and recovered Aug. 8.

Two investigations were launched – a Naval Safety Center Investigation and a Command/Line of Duty Investigation – and Commandant Berger said at a recent hearing that the command investigation was nearing its conclusion but that it hadn’t reached his desk yet. Still, in October the commander of the battalion landing team was relieved of command.

A Marine KC-130 crash lands in California Sept. 29, 2020.

In Marine Corps aviation, a KC-130 and a F-35B collided in air on Sept. 29 during a mid-air refueling. The F-35B pilot safely ejected. In a feat of fantastic flying, the KC-130 pilot from Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron (VMGR) 352 lost two engines, had a potential fire onboard, had just partial control of the aircraft, and yet landed safely in a farm field and saved all Marines onboard.

An MV-22B Osprey belonging to Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron (VMM) 163, based at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, was extensively damaged while parked at a general aviation airfield near the U.S.-Mexico border. While the aircraft was unattended, a skydiving plane rolled into it, damaging the left engine compartment, wing and landing gear and both propellers.

Marine MV-22B Osprey after being struck by a Twin Otter skydiving plane on May 30, 2020. City of San Diego Photo

In March, two Marine Raiders were killed in northern Iraq while supporting Iraqi Security Forces in the fight against ISIS.

In July, an early morning shooting at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif., temporarily locked down the training grounds. After investigating, police determined a Marine died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.