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Marine Expeditionary Unit

The Marine Corps operational doctrine emphasizes the air-ground team integrated at relatively low command levels. The Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU -- pronounced M-YOO) is the smallest type of MAGTF. The Marine Expeditionary Unit was formerly referred to as Marine Amphibious Unit (MAU). The change in name reflects capabilities beyond amphibious operations. With a strength of about 2,200 personnel, the MEU is normally built around a reinforced infantry battalion, a composite aircraft squadron, and a MEU service support group. It is commanded by a colonel and is routinely deployed with an Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) to form a forward deployed, sea-based, naval expeditionary force. A deployed MEU is vital element of the National Military Strategy requirement to maintain a capable forward presence. It is capable of conducting amphibious operations of limited duration, acting as an advance force for a larger follow-on MAGTF and providing an immediate response capability to a wide spectrum of crises/contingencies by conducting maritime-oriented missions. A MEU is capable of rapid deployment and employment via amphibious shipping, strategic airlift, marrying with MPF assets or any combination thereof. Capabilities of the MEU in intelligence, command and control, communications, and combat power are enhanced by significant augmentation of FMF assets.

The MEU is unique in that its air and ground combat elements are combined with combat service support under one commander. The air/ground task force concept is designed to thoroughly exploit the combat power inherent in air and ground assets by closely integrating them into a single force. The MEU brings all the supplies it needs to sustain itself for quick mission accomplishment or to pave the way for any follow-on forces. The MEU is an expeditionary intervention force with the ability to rapidly organize for combat operations in virtually any environment.

A primary goal for all forward deploying MEU's is to be trained, evaluated, and certified to conduct selected maritime special operations. Following the certification, the MEU will be designated as Special Operations Capable (SOC). To receive the certification, the MEU undergoes an intensive 26-week, standardized predeployment training program that includes an exercise and a final evaluation. The MEU must demonstrate competence across the entire spectrum of required capabilities, be able to plan and execute any assigned mission within six hours of notification, and conduct multiple missions simultaneously. These MEUs are augmented with selected personnel and equipment to provide enhanced conventional and selected maritime special operations capabilities.

The designation "Special Operations Capable" is never granted until a unit successfully completed a special training syllabus, had been rigorously tested, and was certified to perform 18 special missions: amphibious raids, limited objective attacks, non-combatant evacuations, show of force, reinforcement operations, security operations, training foreign military, civil action, deception operations, fire support coordination, counter-intelligence, initial terminal guidance, signal intelligence-electronic warfare, tactical recovery of personnel and aircraft (TRAP), clandestine reconnaissance, military Operations in urban terrain (MOUT), special demolitions operations, and in-extremis hostage rescues.

Marine Corps Forces Atlantic and Pacific maintain forward-deployed MEUs (SOC) in the Mediterranean Sea, the western Pacific, and the Indian Ocean or Arabian Gulf region. The MEU (SOC) can be thought of both as a self-contained operating force capable of missions of limited scope and duration and as a forward-deployed extension of the Marine expeditionary force. The forward-deployed MEU(SOC) is uniquely organized, trained and equipped to provide the naval or joint force commander with an expeditionary force that is inherently balanced, sustainable, flexible, responsive, expandable, and credible.

Normally embarked aboard three to four ships of an Amphibious Ready Group (ARG), it is task-organized to accomplish a broad range of mission requirements. When embarked aboard amphibious shipping the MEU deploys with 15 days of accompanying supplies in classes I, II, VIII, and IX. The ARG deploys with 15 days of class III(B), IV, and V embarked as Landing Force Operational Readiness Material (LFORM) to support the embarked MEU.

The MEU is comprised of a command element (CE); a reinforced infantry battalion as the ground combat element (GCE); a reinforced helicopter squadron as the aviation combat element (ACE); and a combat service support element (CSSE) designated the MEU Service Support Group (MSSG).

The Command Element (CE) provides command and control of the three Major Subordinate Elements (MSEs). In addition to the MEU commander and his supporting staff, the CE includes specialized detachments providing a direct action capability, naval gunfire liaison capability, reconnaissance and surveillance, and specialized communications and electronics warfare capabilities.

When the MEU is in CONUS and not embarked aboard ship, the Marine Expeditionary Force Commander exercises operational control (OPCON) of the MEU. When embarked aboard ARG ships, the Fleet Commander in whose area of operation the ARG is operating normally exercises OPCON of the MEU during routine activities. During contingencies, command relationships are prescribed in the alert, warning, and/or execute order. The MEU may be designated a separate component within a Joint Force or designated as the landing force of an Amphibious Task Force. It is considered unacceptable for the MEU Commander to be designated as a functional warfare commander within the Navy Composite Warfare Commander construct; nor is it acceptable for the MEU to be embedded in a command relationship that fails to provide the Commander, Landing Force the decision-making authority and span of control prescribed in Joint doctrine for landing force operations.

The Ground Combat Element (GCE) of a MEU is a Battalion Landing Team (BLT), is a reinforced infantry battalion of approximately 1,200 Marines, including three Rifle Companies. These attachments normally include artillery, engineers, light armored infantry (LAI), antiarmor, assault amphibian, and division reconnaissance units.

  • Artillery battery configured with six 155mm howitzers. The artillery battery includes its own truck platoon with a mix of 1-ton and 5-ton trucks for carrying ammunition and other supplies, and for towing artillery pieces.
  • Light Armored Reconnaissance (LAR) detachment configured with seven to sixteen Light Armored Vehicles (LAV) provides mobile reconnaissance screening and strike capability with its LAVs and organic infantry/scouts.
  • Assault Amphibian Vehicle (AAV) platoon configured with fifteen AAV's: provides amphibious-assault, ship-to-shore movement and ground mobility.
  • TOW platoon: provides a heavy anti-armor capability with 8 TOW anti-armor missile launchers.
  • Tank platoon (when required for a specific operation) configured with four M1A1 main battle tanks.

The Aviation Combat Element (ACE) of a MEU is a reinforced medium helicopter squadron. This squadron is normally reinforced with a mix of transport helicopters, attack helicopters, a detachment from the Marine Air Control Group (MACG), a Low Altitude Air Defense (LAAD) section, and a detachment from the Marine Wing Support Group (MWSG). VSTOL attack aircraft and aerial refueler/transport aircraft, if not embarked, may be provided as reinforcements if required.

  • Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron (HMM), configured with twelve CH-46E helicopters, provides medium-lift assault support and is the core of the ACE.
  • Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron (HMH) detachment, configured with four CH-53E helicopters: provides extended-range, heavy-lift assault support.
  • Marine Light Attack Squadron (HMLA) detachment, configured with four AH-1W attack helicopters, and three UH-1N utility helicopters: provides close air support, airborne command and control, and escort.
  • Marine Attack Squadron (VMA) detachment, configured with six AV-8B Harrier aircraft provides organic close air support (when required for a specific operation -- not all MEU deployments include the Harrier). The AV-8B Harrier VSTOL jet may be substituted for the attack helicopters. When appropriate shipping (i.e., LHA, LHD) is not available, the detachment trains with the MEU throughout the Predeployment Training Program (PTP), and then is placed on CONUS standby and prepared to deploy within 96 hours.
  • Marine Aerial Refueler/Transport Squadron (VMGR) detachment, configured with two KC-130 aircraft: provides refueling services for embarked helicopters and AV-8B aircraft, and performs other support tasks (e.g., parachute operations, flare drops, cargo transportation, etc.) as required. Maximum flexibility is maintained with an airborne C3 capability. The detachment trains with the MEU throughout the PTP, and then is on CONUS standby and prepared to deploy within 96 hours.
  • Marine Air Control Group (MACG) detachment that encompasses the Low Altitude Air Defense (LAAD) Battery detachment: provides low level, close-in air defense.

The Combat Service Support Element (CSSE) of a MEU is a MSSG formed from the FSSG. Relatively small in numbers, usually with less than 300 Marines and Sailors, a MEU Service Support Group provides combat support, specifically: supply; maintenance; transportation; explosive ordnance disposal; military police; disbursing (pay services); water production and distribution; engineering; medical and dental services; fuel storage and distribution; and other services to the deployed MEU. The MSSG normally consists of an executive staff, two support platoons, and six service support platoons. The two support platoons are the Headquarters Platoon and the Communications Platoon. The six service support platoons are the Engineer Support Platoon, the Maintenance Support Platoon, the Motor Transport Platoon, the Landing Support Platoon, the Supply Platoon, and the Medical Platoon. Within its organic assets, the MSSG is capable of providing limited line haul transportation, limited third echelon repairs, and Arrival Airfield Control Group (AACG) or Departure Airfield Control Group (DACG) functions.

In 1991 there were six permanent MEUs, three on the US east coast and three on the west coast. At any given time, two MEUs were forward deployed, two others were in training, and the remaining two were either standing up, standing down, or in transit. While MEU headquarters were permanent organizations, the units assigned to them rotated on a 15-month cycle (nine months stateside and six months deployed). A normal deployment included the "work up," a six-month training and familiarization program that welded separate MAGTF units into a unified combat-ready force; a six-month deployment, known as a "pump"; and the return trip which included the turnover, wash down, and homebound transit.

All elements come together for six months of training then deploy for six months as a forward-deployed, self-sustaining Marine Air-Ground Task Force. There are seven MEU's in the Corps, three on each coast of the United States and one in Okinawa, Japan [the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit was activated on 09 September 1992]. The East Coast MEUs maintain a near-constant presence in the Mediterranean, while the West Coast MEUs deploy to the Western Pacific, to include the Persian Gulf. Each MEU follows a similar work-up/deployment cycle.




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