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Sea Platforms

Coastal connections: US marines test technology and tactics to secure the shoreline

13 December 2017
US marines disembark a landing craft air cushion along the California coast near Camp Pendleton to begin the ‘Red Beach’ tactical manoeuvring portion of the bilateral exercise ‘Dawn Blitz 2017’. Source: US Navy

The USMC is continuing its push to return to its expeditionary roots, focusing on equipment and systems that get it from ship to shore and inland more quickly and easily while enhancing operations in forward locations. Michael Fabey reports

After years of ground combat operations, particularly in Iraq, the US Marine Corps (USMC) has returned to its roots as an expeditionary naval force. However, the combined USMC and US Navy (USN) team is discovering a much more challenging littoral environment now than it faced at the end of the last century. To meet this challenge, new equipment, tactics, and strategies are being developed to facilitate successful amphibious operations along the contested coastlines.

LCACs remain the mainstay ship-to-shore vehicles for the USMC during amphibious operations, with the capability to reach three-quarters of the world’s coastlines. (IHS Markit/Michael Fabey)LCACs remain the mainstay ship-to-shore vehicles for the USMC during amphibious operations, with the capability to reach three-quarters of the world’s coastlines. (IHS Markit/Michael Fabey)

While the marines still mount the type of full-frontal beach assaults that have become their trademark operational manoeuvre through previous decades, they are also now learning to rely on a new set of unmanned platforms, enhanced aircraft capabilities, and newly created expeditionary equipment – as well as the communication networks and logistic trains to support them – in a way the corps has never attempted before.

USMC Commandant General Robert Neller identified the new amphibious battle strategy during the Modern Day Marine conference in Quantico, Virginia, in September 2017 as the Littoral Operations in a Contested Environment (LOCE) concept. The LOCE refines the Marine Corps Operating Concept (MOC) released in 2016 and also supports the Marine Corps Force 2025 initiative.

After more than a decade and a half of ground combat operations, US marines are again focusing on amphibious operations and expeditionary missions, paying particular attention to maintaining fast and safe access in the littorals. (IHS Markit/Michael Fabey)After more than a decade and a half of ground combat operations, US marines are again focusing on amphibious operations and expeditionary missions, paying particular attention to maintaining fast and safe access in the littorals. (IHS Markit/Michael Fabey)

Earlier, speaking before the US Senate on budget matters in May, Gen Neller testified, “The MOC embraces our naval character, expeditionary mindset, and professional approach to constantly improve and build on our foundations of manoeuvre warfare and fight as a combined arms force.” The way the combined USN and USMC team operates will change, Gen Neller said. Instead of relying on the navy to control the sea as it transports marines for amphibious operations, the corps will also have to help seize the seas, partly through the creation of a new operational organisation called the Littoral Combat Group that would restructure amphibious-ready groups and the embarked Marine Air-Ground Task Force (MAGTF).

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