United States Marine Corps Organization and Missions
In 2005, the U.S. Marine Corps maintains a high operational tempo, with combat deployments to the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility — including Afghanistan, Iraq, Kyrgystan and Uzbekistan — security operations from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to Southeast Asia, and peacekeeping and humanitarian operations from Europe to Africa.
Almost one year after major combat operations ceased, 25,000 Marines were redeployed to Iraq to combat a burgeoning insurgency. That redeployment was in effect a test of the renewed emphasis on operational readiness and flexibility championed by Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Michael W. Hagee.
One way the service is developing greater flexibility is through new concepts for assembling and deploying forces. Together with the U.S. Navy, the Marine Corps is developing an organizational paradigm that replaces the Cold War-era Amphibious Ready Group — a typical formation of transport ships that hosted a Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) during nominal six-month deployments overseas — with the Expeditionary Strike Group (ESG).
The ESG adds the Tomahawk Land-Attack Missile striking power of surface combatants and nuclear-powered fast-attack submarines with amphibious transport capability. Embarked abroad, a 1,500- to 3,000-man MEU now deploys with greater flexibility and firepower.
The first ESG, led by the amphibious assault ship Peleliu and the 13th MEU (SOC), or Special Operations Capable, deployed from the West Coast in August 2003, followed by ESG-2, led by the amphibious assault ship Wasp and the 22nd MEU (SOC). In late 2004, the Navy and Marine Corps passed a milestone in shared command and control with ESG-3, led by the amphibious assault ship Essex and commanded by Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Joseph Medina. The group was deployed on security operations to the North Arabian Gulf and other areas.
The Marine Corps has long been a force of first resort, in large part because of its expeditionary nature.
Signed by President Harry S. Truman on June 28, 1952, Public Law 416 from the 82nd Congress provided for three standing Marine divisions and air wings, and equal status for the commandant with the Joint Chiefs of Staff when matters of direct concern to the Marine Corps were under consideration.
Half a century ago, as Congress passed legislation to ensure “the maintenance of a Marine force,” members urged “the need for a Marine Corps as a ready force is paramount.” As the service fights in the global war on terrorism and prepares to face other unknown challenges of a new century, the Marines are determined to remain at the tip of America’s spear.
The Commandant of the Marine Corps
The 33rd Marine Corps Commandant, Hagee is a strong supporter of evolving the capabilities of his service as a component of the joint force. He is committed to bringing the Marine Corps forward as a leading element of the transformed joint force, one that embraces technology to maintain dominance on the battlefields of the future.
Hagee believes effective transformation comes from melding technological enhancements with the wisdom of experience, the same line of thinking that inspired the Navy and Marine Corps to develop the ESG concept. He also is an advocate for the Sea Base concept, an idea that would inspire the development of platforms and systems to allow forces to arrive, assemble, deploy and be sustained by a formation of ships at sea.
“During Operation Iraqi Freedom, we put about 70,000 Marines into Kuwait in less than 60 days with all their equipment and all their sustainment,” Hagee said in announcing his goals for the future of the Marine Corps last spring. “Compared to how long it took us in Desert Storm, that is really quite fast. … With sea basing, we could put almost the same force together in less than two weeks.”
Sea basing will require the Navy and Marine Corps leadership to change their concepts for manning, training and equipping forces. Additionally, Hagee views sea basing as a starting point for joint and interagency cooperation, before, during and after a conflict. That has led to some new thinking on the part of Marine Corps leadership about the role of the military.
Hagee has also embraced Distributed Operations, a new operational concept that allows small units to operate independently in the battlespace, interconnected by a technology/communications “net.” These small units would then have the ability to swarm on an objective, or re-aggregate into a traditional assault force. The Distributed Operations concept is now in the beginning of an 18-month experimentation phase to determine its combat viability.
The commandant encourages cooperative efforts by government agencies and international nongovernmental organizations. He argues that these elements must be part of the process leading up to conflict “from the get-go.”
“We need to ensure that as we win the battles we also are shaping the battle space to be successful after combat operations have ended,” Hagee said.
The Marine Corps accounts for a 4 percent share of the Department of Defense budget’s total obligation authority. Marine Corps units provide considerable value for investment, including 23 percent of the nation’s active-duty ground forces, 20 percent of the nation’s tactical fixed-wing aviation capability and 17 percent of the nation’s attack helicopters. The Marine Corps owns 33 percent of the nation’s combat service support capability. At any given time, about 23 percent of the Marine Corps is forward-deployed.
Organization, Missions and Capabilities
The major Marine Corps force providers are U.S. Marine Forces Atlantic, headquartered near Norfolk, Va., and commanded by Lt. Gen. Martin R. Berndt; and U.S. Marine Forces Pacific, based at Camp Smith, Hawaii, and commanded by Lt. Gen. Wallace C. Gregson.
Marines are organized based on the Marine Air-Ground Task Force (MAGTF) structure, which is a basic, scalable organization including a ground combat element, an air combat element, a command-and-control element and a combat service support, or logistics, element. The largest MAGTFs are the Marine Expeditionary Forces (MEFs), including between 20,000 and 90,000 Marines equipped with 60 days worth of supplies when deployed. The MEF’s combat forces include the ground combat elements of Marine divisions and the aviation combat elements of Marine air wings, of which there are three each in active service. The Marine Expeditionary Brigade (MEB) is a MAGTF with between 3,000 and 20,000 Marines, with 30 days worth of supplies.
The smallest MAGTF is the MEU, with 1,500 to 3,000 Marines. An MEU (usually also earning certification as SOC) is the typical deployed formation embarked aboard the amphibious ships of a Navy ESG. An MEU (SOC) has been trained and tested at carrying out missions ranging from conventional amphibious operations to peacekeeping and the rescue of American citizens and other civilians endangered by civil insurrections. The MEU is usually commanded by a Marine colonel, and carries aboard ships 15 days worth of supplies.
The Marine Corps maintains three MEFs: I MEF on the West Coast, headquartered at Camp Pendleton, Calif., and commanded by Lt. Gen. John F. Sattler was deployed to Iraq in 2004; II MEF on the East Coast, headquartered at Camp Lejeune, N.C., and commanded by Lt. Gen. James F. Amos; and III MEF, deployed to bases in Japan and Okinawa and commanded by Lt. Gen Robert R. Blackman Jr.
The I, II and III MEFs also include the command elements of the First, Second and Third MEBs, which can be raised and deployed as needed, aboard the amphibious ships of a Navy ESG.
The Marine Corp Reserve forces include the Fourth Marine Division, the Fourth Marine Air Wing and the Fourth Service Support Group. Three missions have been assigned to the Marine Corps Reserve force including: to augment and reinforce active component Marines during crises, to provide peacetime operational tempo and personnel tempo relief for the active units, and to be participating citizens in local communities.
Dependent upon the size of the force in question, the ground combat element of a deploying MAGTF may include infantry, engineers, reconnaissance and headquarters units; 155mm field artillery; M1A1 main battle tanks; light armored vehicles; and amphibious assault vehicles. Aviation combat elements include the aviators and support personnel for variously composed fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft units.
Marine Corps aviators fly a variety of aircraft, including F/A-18C/D Hornet strike fighters, AV-8B Harrier II short takeoff/vertical landing attack planes, EA-6B Prowler electronic warfare planes, KC-130 Hercules tanker/transports, CH-46 Sea Knight transport helicopters, CH-53 Sea/Super Stallion helicopters and UH-1 and AH-1 utility/attack helicopters.
In addition to MAGTFs, Marines also perform specialized missions worldwide. For example, more than 1,200 Marines serve as security guards at approximately 130 U.S. embassies and consulates in 117 countries.
Marines develop advanced warfighting capabilities and materiel at the Marine Corps Combat Development Command — commanded by Lt. Gen. James N. Mattis — and the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory — commanded by Brig. Gen. Thomas D. Waldhauser — co-located at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va.
MEFs: The Corps’ Standing MAGTFs
The Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF) is described by the Marine Corps, in its annual Concepts and Programs publication, as the “principal Marine Corps warfighting organization, particularly for a larger crisis or contingency.” A MEF, which is normally commanded by a lieutenant general, can range in size from less than one division to several divisions and aircraft wings, working together with one or more force service-support groups.
The MEFs, which usually carry enough supplies to sustain them for up to 60 days, “are capable,” according to Concepts and Programs, “of both amphibious operations and sustained operations ashore in any geographic environment. With appropriate augmentation, the MEF command element is capable of performing the mission of a joint task force headquarters.”
The MEFs are considered to be the Corps’ primary Marine Air-Ground Task Forces (MAGTFs) in the sense that they are configured as MAGTFs in peacetime as well as in time of war. There currently are three standing MEFs, each with a division, aircraft wing and Force Service Support Group. I MEF is headquartered at Camp Pendleton, Calif., and II MEF at Camp Lejeune, N.C.; III MEF is forward-deployed in Okinawa. The Corps’ component headquarters, Marine Forces Atlantic and Marine Forces Pacific, may form smaller MAGTFs from these standing MEFs.
A Typical MEF
MEF Headquarters Group
Intelligence Battalion Company
Marine Liaison Element
Combat Service Support Element
Force Service Support Group
Transportation Support Battalion
Engineer Support Battalion
Aviation Combat Element
Marine Aircraft Wing
36 AH-1 W
18 UH-1 N
Air Defense Vehicles and Weapons
Ground Combat Element
1 Headquarters Battalion
3 Infantry Regiments
1 Artillery Regiment
1 Tank Battalion
1 Amphibious Assault Vehicle Battalion
1 Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion
1 Combat Engineer Battalion
1 Reconnaissance Battalion
Vehicles and Weapons
58 M1A1 Main Battle Tanks
233 Amphibious Assault Vehicles
130 Light Armored Vehicles
72 M198 155mm Howitzers
161 Light and Medium Mortars
72 Javelin Antitank Missiles
186 TOW Antitank Missiles