To the Caves Of Tora Bora:
Taliban Learns the Meaning of "The Marines Have Landed" |
Arthur P. Brill, Jr.
Lt. Col. Arthur P. Brill Jr., USMC (Ret.), a feature writer based in Washington, D.C., commanded a Marine rifle company in Vietnam and served as a Marine Corps public affairs officer and, later, as a spokesman for the State and Justice Departments and for President Reagan's Organized Crime Division. He writes frequently on national-security issues for Sea Power and other defense publications.
The Navy Annex Building on Columbia Pike in Arlington, Va., was the last sight some of the passengers on American Airlines Flight 77 saw before it sliced into the Pentagon on 11 September. With its landing gear down, the Boeing 757 flew so low that it shook the Annex and rattled windows. The Marines inside the Annex thought a freight train had passed overhead.
"My assistant ran into my office and said, 'That was a cruise missile!' A moment later, we heard the crash," recalls Lt. Gen. Gary S. McKissock, deputy commandant for installations and logistics. Miraculously, no Marines were killed at the Pentagon, but several were injured, including Peter M. Murphy, the commandant's counselor. The plane hit so dangerously near some Marine offices, including those assigned to Marine aviation, that they had to be destroyed.
The head of Marine air, Lt. Gen. William L. Nyland, was at a meeting in another part of the building when the crash occurred. The attack was a total surprise. There had been no fire drills at the Pentagon for some time, but instinct and military discipline resulted in an orderly evacuation. Nyland exited through the River Entrance and worked his way through the turmoil--and through aircraft debris--to the heliport area not far from where his office spaces were.
"My heart went into my throat," Nyland said. "I thought, 'Oh, my God! Amelia, Pat, Bruce--the admin folks across the hall--I might never see them again.' It took a long two-and-a-half hours to find out they were okay."
Nyland got the good news at what became his post-9-11 offices, in the Navy Annex Building next to Arlington National Cemetery. Amid the flames, dense smoke, and shock, those Marines not involved in rescue work formed a line of "green," from private to general, as they instinctively trudged up the hill to the Annex. There was work to do.
"It was like displacing a command post," said Lt. Gen. Emil R. Bedard, deputy commandant for plans, policy, and operations, who stayed at his Pentagon desk with his Marines until smoke darkened the hallway.
Back to the Family Home
The Annex, originally a WWII military hospital, served as Marine Headquarters (HQMC) for many decades until the Corps moved to the Pentagon in the mid-1990s. Several HQMC staff sections are still housed there, including the Marine command center. Other offices were kept functional with backup phones and computers.
"Thank goodness for old 'HQMC,' because we were back in business within 30 minutes of that airplane hitting," said Assistant Commandant Gen. Michael J. Williams. "All I had to do was walk up the hill and turn the lights on."
Soon, the Annex was "one big family." Because the Navy's Pentagon spaces were hit so hard and its command center was destroyed, Marine Commandant Gen. James L. Jones invited several of his Navy counterparts and their staffs to co-locate with the Corps. The Marines made room, the Navy reestablished its command center, and for the first days of this new type of war the Annex's halls bustled with busy people in Navy blue as well as Marine green.
"It shows the utility of a backup command post," said Jones. "The continuity of our command and control never changed."
The reality that Washington, D.C., was, is, and for the foreseeable future probably will be a target hit home on 11 September, but the well-rehearsed contingency plan to evacuate the nation's leadership by air was not used. The Corps uses the Annex for "lesser" incidents, real and simulated, and the other services are now considering the establishment of alternate locations as well. In addition, all of the nation's service chiefs, including Jones, are thinking about working in offices more distant from their deputies than at present.
"These are wartime conditions with two schools of thought. Either fortify one location or spread out," said Jones. "Where does a service chief go to show a different face in Washington? We know where the Marine commandant goes."
While the Pentagon's fires were still raging, the senior Navy-Marine leadership was busy assessing the suddenly changed situation in an historic afternoon meeting in Annex conference room #2206, familiar to HQMC Marines who had served during the Korea, Vietnam, and Desert Storm eras. The meeting was chaired by Secretary of the Navy Gordon R. England; the Navy's uniformed leaders sat on one side of the table, the Marines on the other.
"Each staff officer assessed his responsibilities in a deliberate and reasoned manner. They quickly regained their balance while that building burned," recalled McKissock.
"Ahead of the Breaking Wave"
The Marines were personally shocked by the magnitude of the attack. For the first time, deployed Marines going to battle were concerned more about the safety of their families and buddies back home than about themselves. Nonetheless, the Marine Corps was prepared for this different type of war. In recent years, Marine leaders did a lot more than just talk about asymmetrical warfare--they planned, organized, and trained for it. "I honestly believe the Corps is ahead of the breaking wave on this one," said Jones.
Kandahar, Tora Bora, and Jalalabad, Afghanistan, are new to Marines, but not night raids, urban movement, and/or non-state "actors"--i.e., Osama bin Laden and his followers. Above all, the Marine Corps knows that highly disciplined, well-trained warfighters make the best peacemakers and anti-terrorists.
"Our past leaders like Chuck Krulak and 'Rip' Van Riper [former Commandant Gen. Charles C. Krulak and retired Lt. Gen. Paul K. Van Riper] ought to feel pretty damn good," said Williams. "... [For] the war we're fighting, we bought the right stuff and better things are coming."
The "dirty little battles" of the 21st century already have begun. As of late December, about 2,000 Marines from two Marine Expeditionary Units (MEUs) had already completed a variety of missions in southeastern Afghanistan while participating in the destruction of the Taliban and the search for bin Laden and his al Qaeda terrorist leadership. Formed into a "light" brigade (called Task Force 58) under Brig. Gen. James N. Mattis, the Marines arrived in-country in late November from ships 400 miles away. Their initial bases of operations were the Kandahar airport and Camp Rhino, a forward desert base about 55 miles south of Kandahar.
The Taliban and al Qaeda discovered--much more quickly, probably, than they had ever imagined--that today's well-supplied Marines shoot straight, operate at night in small units that have trained together for months, have sharp leaders, and are supported by deadly accurate aviators. "The calls for well-trained small units of Marines will go up," predicts Williams. "The world's terrorists are not all in Afghanistan."
FAST, CBIRF, and AT Units
Some Marine units were involved early in defending the home front. Marine squadrons flew combat air patrols over the United States, a Marine Fleet Antiterrorism Support Team (FAST) platoon provided security for the USNS Comfort (a hospital ship dispatched to New York City), and the Marine Chemical & Biological Incident Response Force (CBIRF) swept the U.S. Capitol for anthrax.
"On September 10, we had ready Marine units," said Lt. Gen. Robert Magnus, deputy commandant for programs and resources. "After the 11th, we did one thing differently." He was referring to establishment of the Corps' new antiterrorism (AT) brigade, which was created after a meeting Jones convened, the day after the attack, with his senior leadership to discuss how the Marine Corps could best help the nation confront terrorism at home while maintaining the ability to perform its principal missions overseas.
Marines are involved in every war plan. If a war breaks out anywhere in the world where U.S. interests are involved, the U.S. warfighting commander in chief (CINC) for that area expects Marines to show up. "We can never lose sight that there is a tremendous conventional threat out there," warns Bedard.
After the 11 September attack, Americans were shocked, grieving, and afraid. Having just experienced what Israel and other nations live with on a daily basis, they wanted protection. That need has grown significantly as more and more Americans realize that nuclear terrorism could make the Pentagon and World Trade Center disasters pale in comparison.
"We have a fundamental lifestyle change here, and homeland security will be more visible," said Lt. Gen. Garry L. Parks, deputy commandant for manpower and reserve affairs.
The Corps formed the AT brigade by packaging its existing AT units and a new infantry battalion into one command under the auspices of Lt. Gen. Raymond P. Ayres Jr., commander, Marine Corps Forces Atlantic. The Corps' new 4th Marine Expeditionary Brigade (4th MEB) received its colors at Camp Lejeune, N.C., on 29 October.
The Marines have requested an end-strength increase of 2,400 personnel, primarily to fill out the additional infantry battalion. Under an emergency provision, England has authorized the manpower increase for the duration. The Corps wants formal approval as soon as possible, though, and appropriation in FY 2002 of the $75 million needed to support the battalion, and $100 million per year thereafter. "We didn't say we'll form the unit if you give us the money," said Magnus. "This is the right thing to do."
Theoretically, the Corps could pay for the battalion by cutting costs elsewhere, but doing that would hurt the readiness of other units. Congress is expected to formally approve the AT initiative with few if any dissenting votes. In fact, if the 4th MEB is used often and is successful, Jones could form another AT brigade, oriented more toward the Pacific.
The Best of the Best
Although selected infantry units will be trained to handle emergency AT incidents when deployed, the 4th MEB is now the Corps' premier AT force, both at home and overseas. The brigade consists of the following:
Brigade Headquarters: Ayres named his vice commander, Brig. Gen. Douglas V. O'Dell Jr., a Reservist, to command the brigade, which will number over 5,000 Marines. O'Dell's staff, for now, is the 8th Marine regimental headquarters staff at Camp Lejeune. The regimental commander is O'Dell's deputy. Eventually, a permanent staff will phase in. Deployed MEB units will have a reachback capability to various AT experts in other units.
Marine Security Force Battalion: Headquartered in Norfolk, Va., the command's backbone are the 13 50-man FAST platoons that deploy separately around the world. (Under the AT plan, six more platoons may be added.) These primarily infantry Marines receive specialized security training in such helpful skills as fast-roping, sniper shooting, and close-quarters battle.
The FAST platoons, which will operate in 3-4 man teams, are similar in many respects to civilian SWAT teams. They carry a variety of security gadgets and equipment, including less-than-lethal weapons for security purposes. "FAST Marines aren't just good, they are the best," said Sgt. Maj. Alford L. McMichael, the 14th Sergeant Major of the U.S. Marine Corps.
The FAST platoons will be used primarily to provide security, not counterterrorism capability. They were used both in 1998, after terrorists attacked two U.S. embassies in Africa, and after the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000. "FAST platoons are popular. People want to use them for everything," said Ayres, who gives top priority to Navy Missions.
AT Infantry Battalion: The 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment--the air-contingency infantry battalion at Camp Lejeune--has been assigned the AT role until a permanent force of Marines is formed. (Marines rotating out of FAST units will be assigned to the AT companies.)
Ayres's first priority last fall was to get the AT battalion trained and ready. It now operates in a layered fashion, starting with platoons that train and deploy in ways similar to the FAST units, but with fewer sniper and SWAT skills. The whole battalion will seldom deploy. Platoons will be used before companies.
The $20 million allocated for new equipment for the AT units in FY 2002 will be used to buy secure radios, satellite cellular phones, sniper scopes, night-vision devices, and specialized security/protective equipment, and to replace M16 rifles with short-stock M4 rifles (which are considered better for close combat). "We can get these [items] quickly," said Brig, Gen. James M. Feigley, commander of the Marine Corps Systems Command in Quantico, Va. "Four years ago we were buying less than 10 percent commercial-off-the-shelf items. It will soon be 50 percent."
Chemical Biological Incident Response Force (CBIRF): "Sea-birf" was created by Krulak after the deadly gas attack on Tokyo's subway system. Jones moved the unit from Lejeune to Indian Head, Md., last year so it would be closer to the nation's capital. CBIRF is a deployable self-contained force of 380 trained Marines and Sailors equipped with the latest gear needed to detect, monitor, and decontaminate biological and chemical agents.
Marine Security Guard Battalion: Presently, 1,200 top Marine NCOs serve with Marine Security Guard (MSG) detachments in 130 U.S. embassies and consulates in 117 countries. At least 29 more detachments will be formed in the near future. Because U.S. embassies have been, and still are, prime terrorist targets, the State Department's requests for more MSGs could keep coming.
The MSG battalion at Quantico trains 500 new MSG NCOs each year. The MSGs work directly for the U.S. ambassador, and provide "internal" security at the embassy to which they are assigned. During a crisis, their role can expand to the compound's outer walls, which are normally guarded by "local hires"--who are often unreliable under fire. Because 40 percent of the MSG detachments worldwide consist of only six Marines, a besieged embassy might have to be quickly reinforced by AT brigade units. "... [When] the AT units reinforce each other, they all will have the same fundamental basic training," said Ayres. "They will speak the same language."
MAGTF Support: The AT brigade is a Marine Air-Ground Task Force (MAGTF) that receives air and combat service support from existing Marine assets. "We will tailor the aircraft to the mission," said Nyland. "If it's a quick trip to New York City and an AT platoon needs four Hueys and two Cobra helicopters, that's what we'll [provide]."
Jointness in Action
Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld has the authority to waive the posse comitatus law for the Marine Corps, making it legal for Marines to assist in homeland security in the United States itself. If he forms a "homeland command" to handle the military's role in combating terrorism on American soil, the Corps could establish a separate Marine Forces Command to coordinate Marine participation. It is possible that Ayres's command could be assigned that responsibility.
The "jointness" that operated so well in Afghanistan from the beginning of the strikes against the Taliban might well be a glimpse of the future, according to Sen. John Warner (R-Va.), who told the press, after visiting the troops last November, that he had seen "Marines flying off Navy ships in Army helicopters that were refueled by Air Force tankers." Jones himself performed "major surgery" last year by making the Marine Corps Combat Development Command (MCCDC) in Quantico the Corps' central clearinghouse for joint matters. Lt. Gen. Edward Hanlon Jr., MCCDC commander, now has staff representatives in the Pentagon and at the U.S. Joint Forces Command in Norfolk. Hanlon's new staff role as deputy commandant for combat development also has forged a closer and more effective working relationship with HQMC. "Quantico is our long-range thinker, and HQMC does short-term things," said Jones. "We now have that balance."
Creation of the new AT unit will increase the Corps' end strength to 175,000. That number could rise slightly if more AT Marines are needed. Otherwise, the Marine Corps is now about "the right size," according to HQMC officials. The 5,000-Marine shortfall of two years ago is dwindling, thanks to steady recruiting, improved retention, a 2,000-person reduction in first-term attrition, and various "smart" initiatives that returned 1,892 Marines to tactical units.
Marine recruiters "made mission" for 78 consecutive months. The patriotic spurt that followed 11 September has helped--as has the sluggish U.S. economy. "That recruiting machine is so well-tuned, we don't see any problem on the horizon," said Parks.
Today's Marines still can "vote with their feet" by returning to civilian life, but reenlistments are up. The FY 2002 reenlistment goal is 5,900 Marines. By 1 October 2001, the first day of the new fiscal year, 3,900 Marines had already reenlisted, vs. 760 two years earlier. Parks said he will earmark 40 percent of his reenlistment bonus money to retain more career Marines this year.
"This war will not fundamentally change the Marine Corps," Jones said during a meeting in his Annex office. Other than the AT brigade, no major posture changes are in sight. Despite rumors, the Corps probably would not be affected if Congress and the administration decide to close more bases. There might well be more joint basing, however.
Not a Sprint--And Not Desert Storm
As of late December 2001 the Corps had activated about 2,240 Marine Reservists (of 7,500 authorized by President Bush). Initially, individuals with specific technical and language skills made up most of the call-ups. Others were recalled to provide security or to augment the overworked staffs of active units. (The load on Marine staff, including the requirement to provide more liaison officers to joint commands, has zoomed since 11 September.) Requests for activation of full units have increased. Thus far, an infantry battalion from the east coast and several small specialized units (civil affairs, intelligence, and a command group) have been activated. More are coming. Two Reserve platoons relieved FAST units now assigned to security duty at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. "We are going to use Reserves, but in the right way," said Bedard. "We don't want to burn them out too early. This war is a marathon, not a sprint."
"This war" also is not Desert Storm. Experts do not currently foresee any need for a massive movement of people and material, which means a different challenge for logisticians. "We will respond very quickly worldwide to specific requests," said McKissock, whose rapid distribution system could get a thorough workout. "Our deployed units are unique because of the sustainment [equipment and supplies] they carry with them."
The 15th MEU from California arrived in the Arabian Sea first with its 2,200 Marines aboard a three-ship amphibious ready group (ARG) headed by the Tarawa-class amphibious assault ship USS Peleliu (LHA 5).
It was joined in November by the 26th MEU from North Carolina, which sailed via the Suez Canal. The 26th's ARG flagship is the Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Bataan (LHD 5). By then, Navy-Marine air units were heavily involved in the war on a daily basis. Two Marine F/A-18 Hornet squadrons flying from Navy carriers pounded Taliban and al Qaeda targets constantly; the MEU AV-8B Harriers also were dropping bombs at carefully selected targets.
Landlocked Afghanistan posed several "distance" problems--none of them insurmountable, though--for the Navy-Marine team. The ARG ships were cruising in the waters off Pakistan anywhere from 400 to 800 miles away from their targets. However, the ARG/MEU combination served as a flexible offshore insurance policy to Army Gen. Tommy R. Franks, the U.S. commander for the fighting against the Taliban. Franks even diverted the 15th MEU to provide security for a World Trade Organization meeting in Doha, Qatar. The MEU's later accomplishment in seizing an objective in Afghanistan from ships 400 miles away was quite an achievement.
Raiders "... From the Sea"
What happens after Afghanistan in the next phase or phases of the war against terrorism was still not certain as of late December. The U.S. strategy of using anti-Taliban forces to do most of the heavy work on the ground succeeded. That same approach could work elsewhere, particularly in coordination with well-crafted political and economic initiatives.
This means that the Marines could be busy for a very long time. The al Qaeda terrorist network has cells in 60 countries, most if not all of which are easily reachable by sea. Terrorist groups in Malaysia, Colombia, and the Philippines, and those known to be active in various countries in Africa, are particularly vulnerable to forces attacking from the sea. The United States knows where many of these cells are. Some targets would be difficult, but many are susceptible to surprise raids. "All three MEUs are sailing." Williams said. "The requirements for forces afloat will continue."
A forward-deployed MEU is primarily a raiding force, and no other naval/military force in the world does it better than the U.S. Marine Corps. "The MEU can move at 30 knots with built-in force protection," said Hanlon. "The enemy doesn't know where or when you are going to strike."
Before a MEU deploys, it is certified as "special operations capable" by some very hard-nosed evaluators, earning it the designation MEU (SOC)--pronounced "mew-sock." The "SOC" part enables the MEU to perform up to 20 to 30 "special missions," including several that are highly classified. Many of the missions are AT-oriented--e.g., the seizure of oil and gas platforms, hostage rescues, the boarding of hostile ships, and the evacuation of U.S. embassy personnel.
"The conventional MEU (SOCs) are highly trained to do unconventional things," said Williams. Crawling through caves could be one of those "things."
The MEU (SOCs) are extremely versatile. To help the local population survive a terrorist incident or natural disaster, the ARG carries with it a huge humanitarian load of food, water, tents, and medicine. In an emergency--e.g., when terrorists are threatening or actually harming American citizens--a MEU (SOC) also could perform a "Desert One" type of rescue mission. "MEU (SOCs) are as good as anyone in doing these missions," said Maj. Gen. William A. Whitlow, director of the Expeditionary Warfare Division in the office of the chief of naval operations (OPNAV).
Training, Sharing, Doing
Since 11 September, the Marine Corps has worked more closely than ever before with the U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM), the forces of which have been used extensively in Afghanistan. At Jones's direction, Bedard visited SOCOM a week after the attack. In November, Jones and U.S. Army Gen. Charles Holland, the SOCOM commander, signed an agreement under which, in Bedard's words. "We will train, share ideas, and do things together. ... We built the bridge and now we're walking across it."
In the next phase of the war against terrorism, the CINCs could task MEU (SOCs) to take out terrorist cells by quick strikes from the sea. If more force is needed, the CINCs could request a Marine Expeditionary Brigade (MEB) of up to 15,000 Marines.
The three squadrons of the maritime prepositioning force (MPF) already are in position to support future Marine operations. Each squadron can sustain a full 15,000-man MEB for 30 days. This might well mean, Jones said, that more joint commanders will be asking, "Where's the brigade?" instead of, "Where's the MEU?"
The Navy presently can surge up to 10 ARGs--about 22,000 Marines--fairly quickly. It takes seven ARGs to keep two to three MEU (SOCs) operational.
If Marines raid a terrorist cell, naval air might have to provide their only reliable support from the sea. Senior Marine officials are concerned about the current sparsity of naval surface fire support (NSFS). "Without offshore fire support, we need to protect ourselves and go with our own systems," said Hanlon. "Otherwise, our aviation artillery is all we have."
Equipment and Infrastructure
While Secretary England confronts the NSFS problem, the Corps is increasing its own organic fire support capabilities. The Corps' long-planned (and much-needed) lightweight 155mm howitzers, mobile field rockets, and 120mm mortars will reach the troops in a few more years. Marines use artillery only when they come ashore. But sometimes they need help getting there. "Close air support cannot do everything," said Jones. "While we don't want to use a $100,000 shell on a $5,000 target, offshore long-range precision strike is important to the joint warfighting concept."
Below are some additional "blue-green" force-structure highlights:
Only 10 of the 12 San Antonio-class LPD 17s needed have been budgeted to date, so funding for the remaining two is still needed. Despite delays attributed to the new way the ships are being built, the first LPD 17 should deploy in 2005. "The new process is slower up front, but once the first ship is built, we'll be cranking along," Whitlow said.
The LHA replacement may turn out to be a modified big-deck LHD designed to carry the next generation of Marine Corps aircraft and ground vehicles. The current LHD is both affordable and the right size to operate in littoral waters.
Jones envisions a future "lily pad" U.S. base structure overseas that would let Marines train for 30 days in one country and then move to the next one. Marines are experimenting with high-speed catamarans for possible intratheater use, but not to replace amphibious ships.
The Corps also has requested funds to buy Blount Island, Fla., where the MPF (maritime prepositioning force) ships are maintained, but getting that money might be a problem. Because the leases on current MPF ships run out in 2009, Jones wants the future MPF examined in very close detail.
Sea-basing is still the goal. "Living over the horizon is not a permanent status. We have to do something ashore from there," said Jones. "We'll do that in 2008." He was referring to completion of the Corps' ongoing "transformation," when the current Marine acquisition programs blossom into assets in the active inventory. The MV-22 tiltrotor Osprey, the joint strike fighter (JSF), the advanced amphibious assault vehicle (AAAV), and other platforms and systems will enable future Marines to do things the Corps cannot do now. "This [the transformation acquisitions] isn't something on paper," Jones commented. "The exciting thing is that it's actually happening."
Tomahawks and Terrorists
The Corps' transformation was not reflected in Rumsfeld's QDR (Quadrennial Defense Review) report to Congress, which paid scant attention to the value of Army and Marine ground forces and focused instead on advanced technology and long-range strike capabilities.
Afghanistan proved once again the huge role that technology now plays in defeating U.S. enemies. But it is extremely difficult, often impossible, to use a Tomahawk missile to take out terrorists who are living among innocent civilians.
Although Marine cost-cutting business practices had been well received by the Bush administration, Marine leaders were not at all certain where the Corps stood on 10 September. "While good in readiness, we were wrestling with some serious budget problems," Jones recalled. "It was unclear how it would shake out."
September 11 jolted Washington back into reality. Priorities changed. What were major issues one day were hardly worth discussing the next. Overnight, the $1.5 billion in additional funding the Corps needed to modernize in the next seven years was no longer a problem--not a truly major problem, at least. The Corps is allocated roughly 14 percent of the Department of the Navy's budget--i.e., about $14 billion in "green" dollars. By 2006 that total will grow to almost $16 billion, if not more. "The Corps is in great shape on the 'green' side," said Magnus. "We have no unfunded requirements, providing that Secretary England's request for the 2003 to 2007 defense plan is approved."
Below are some of the principal highlights of the Corps' much-improved funding situation:
The projected "time to replace" of the Marine Corps' shore infrastructure (buildings, warehouses, etc.) has dropped to 81 years since 11 September; the Corps' previous average replacement time for shore facilities was 147 years.
The backlog of maintenance on Marine bases and stations had escalated to $750 million as of 10 September. By late December the backlog was down to $100 million. "That's impressive," said Magnus. "We are talking about facilities where Marines live, work, and train."
The Corps has virtually eliminated its 6,800-unit housing deficiency, and expects to zero out its $300 to $400 million inventory of inadequate family housing by 2005 instead of 2007, as previously projected.
The Corps now expects to reach the DOD standard for bachelor enlisted quarters in 2010 vice 2038.
Fixing the Osprey
One negative note is that the achievements of Marine aviation last year were largely overshadowed by the Osprey's problems. Marine air enjoyed its best safety record ever. A year ago, many of the Corps' aircraft were grounded for various reasons, but it now seems that those problems may be history. There are a few lingering concerns, but the AV-8B Harrier is doing well, thanks in large part to a full-court effort--with Rolls Royce and the Navy--to fix the aircraft's engine. All three of the deployed MEU (SOCs) have Harriers flying.
"Our pilots aren't complaining about flight time. Everyone, including Harrier pilots, is averaging 15 to 20 quality sorties per month," said Maj. Gen. Charles F. Bolden, Jr., commander of the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, which is based in Miramar, Calif.
The investigations into a fatal Osprey accident in late 2000 put the aircraft on life support last year. Aviation experts, and budgetcutters, questioned the MV-22's safety, cost, and viability. Some allegations also had surfaced about data-tampering by Marines to enhance the Osprey's performance records.
Matters of integrity, honesty, and adherence to high standards are extremely important to Marines, and possible violations are never taken lightly. Jones handled the issue openly. Of eight officers investigated, Ayres found three at fault for minor infractions. The others were cleared. "This was no conspiracy, just a few overzealous folks who did the wrong thing," said Williams.
A special DOD panel pointed out the continued existence of certain problems, but validated the Osprey's tiltrotor technology. The MV-22 survived to fly another day, and Marine leaders are confident it will prove itself. They salivate at having its range available in the Arabian Sea, but that will not happen this year.
"We know what's wrong with the airplane and we are going to fix it," said Magnus. The MV-22 has experienced a number of software problems, and its hydraulic lines are too close to the electrical wires. The Marines will test the fixes in March or April, then fly the aircraft under tightly controlled test conditions. "We are not date-driven," said Nyland. "When the time is right, we'll say to VMMT-204 [the Osprey squadron at Marine Corps Station, New River, N.C.] 'Gentlemen, start your engines.'"
Meanwhile, Marines are fighting from recently revamped CH-53E Sea Stallions and old CH-46 Sea Knight helicopters. Fortunately, Marine air has a clear road map to refurbish its older or "legacy" aircraft. In many cases, the various engine and avionics fixes that have been developed to remedy previous deficiencies make these aircraft both safer and more combat-capable than they were years ago.
Marines are excited about Rumsfeld's JSF contract decision. They like Lockheed-Martin's STOVL (short takeoff/vertical landing) version of the JSF. The Corps is scheduled to receive the first of its 609 JSFs in 2008. When it deploys in 2010, the JSF will truly enhance Marine aviation capabilities. A bonus for the Corps is that Rumsfeld's JSF decision might stifle the Navy's general misgivings about the validity of STOVL aircraft. "These arguments [about STOVL capabilities] come around invariably when resources are short," said Nyland.
Eye of the Dragon
The Navy and Marine Corps are back to the UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) drawing board. The "Fire Scout" vertical-takeoff UAV is considered by many to be too vulnerable, and may never reach the field, even though its technology is impressive.
The Marine Warfighting Laboratory (the Lab) in Quantico is working on two smaller UAVs. "Dragon Warrior" is a vehicle-mounted 250-pound UAV with a laser designator planned for MEU use. The first prototype flies in April. "Dragon Eye," a tiny UAV that fits into a backpack and that will reach the troops in 2004, will enable rifle companies to see over the next hill.
"We are thinking ahead, but trying to help our customers today," said Brig. Gen. William D. Catto, the Lab's commander.
Other promising Lab projects include "Dragon Runner," a shoebox-sized unmanned ground vehicle. Marines can heave it through a second-story window to check out the occupants. "Dragon Fire" is an extremely accurate 120mm mortar in the 6,000-meter range.
Marines also are using urban warfare techniques developed by the Lab, but combat skills in this area are perishable and can be maintained only by frequent practice. Meanwhile, projected casualty rates have dropped from 25 to 33 percent per day to "only" about 12 percent, but that is still too high." There is no easy way to do this ... [fight in urban terrain] unless you rubble the place," Catto said.
The Lab's Center for Emerging Threats (CET) gives cultural lectures to deploying MEUs and trains them in both civil affairs and psychological operations. The CET also studies asymmetric warfare. "Our enemy doesn't care what he does to himself or his people," Catto said. "There is no clean way. You have to find him, identify him, and either put a bullet or a knife in him. Killing somebody isn't hard. Killing the right guy is hard."
The Marines who deployed to Afghanistan were there hunting for "the right guy" in a fast-moving and totally unpredictable combat environment. If all goes well, the nations that have been supporting terrorism for the past several decades will learn some hard lessons from the Taliban government's swift collapse--and from the demonstrably strengthened American resolve to rid the world of the scourge of international terrorism. Otherwise, Marines will be pursuing different "right guys" in other countries for many years to come.
It will never again be "business as usual" for Marines since Flight 77 flew over the Navy Annex Building on 11 September. The lives of all Americans have changed. But the entire Free World can take comfort from the fact that the lives of terrorists and the countries that support them will no longer be the same either. *