Fighting The MAGTF:  The Multiple GCE Dilemma
AUTHOR Major Luciano S. Silva, USMC
CSC 1990
SUBJECT AREA Foreign Policy
                EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
THESIS:  If the MAGTF is going to be able to fight across the
entire spectrum of war using combined, joint or uni-service GCEs
it must establish doctrine for employment of multiple GCEs.
ISSUE:  The Marine Crops has come a  long way since recognizing
the need for inovative changes in the permanent organization of
the MAGTF headquarters.  However, very little ground has been
broken in establishing doctrine for the employment of multiple
GCEs within the MAGTF.  Normally the GCE is organized under the
headquarters of a single combat organization.  Traditionally,
this is the preferred way.  The issue arises when one or several
components of the MAGTF are composed of joint or combined forces.
What considerations should we looked at when attacking another
service component to the MAGTF?  Should it be a separate GCE.
Will commonalty of equipment exist?  What about combined
operations?  Most combined forces, regardless of size, will not
subordinate themselves below the MAGTF level.   Size than is a
problem, politics is another.  Fire support coordination with
multiple GCEs is the most difficult issue facing the MAGTF
commanders.  When to create an FSCC at the MAGTF is the most
difficult issue to be resolve.  Finally, the collocation of the
DASC with the senior FSCC in the MAGTF with multiple GCEs is
another issue.  Normally, one DASC will support a MAGTF of MEB
size and above.  Employment of two GCEs will require the DASC to
be employed in a modified manner, a manner for which little
doctrine exists.
CONCLUSION:  The MAGTF concept possesses a doctrinal organization
that is well proven.  It is time to move beyond this concept and
start developing procedures for the employment of multiple joint,
combined or uni-service GCEs. Only then can the full potential of
the MAGTF be exploited in a joint or combined arena.
THESIS:  If the MAGTF is going to be able to fight across the
entire spectrum of war using combined, joint or uni-service GCEs
it must establish doctrine for employment of multiple GCEs.
I.   Introduction
II.  Multiple GCEs
       a.  Historical
       b.  Current doctrine
       c.  OH-6-1 definitions
       d.  Unique GCE arrangements
           (1)  uni-service
           (2)  joint
           (3)  combined
           (4)  reserve
III.   Fire Support Coordination
       a.  MAGTF with a single GCE
       b.  MAGTF with more then one
       c.  MAGTF in joint and combine operations
     Simply stated the primary function of the Marine Corps is to
respond to the needs of our country for a highly mobile,
instantly ready combat force skilled in the conduct of amphibious
assault against a hostile shore.
     Naval amphibious forces featuring a Marine Air Ground Task
Force (MAGTF) can emphasize either a posture of peacetime
presence and a deferred wartime responsiveness or a posture of
wartime responsiveness and a reduced peacetime presence.(1:4)  A
Naval projection force of Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF),
Marine Expeditionary Brigade (MEB) or Marine Expeditionary Unit
(MEU) size can be employed as the major combat component of an
amphibious, joint or combined task force.  Moreover, whether
delivered by sealift or airlift, or as a forward-afloat peacetime
presence, the MAGTF represents a responsive, combined arms naval
force capable of rapidly unleashing a wide range of flexible,
decisive combat power in combined, joint or uni-service
     The Marine Corps has come a long way since recognizing the
need for innovative changes in the permanent organization of the
MAGTF Headquarters.  However, very little ground has been broken
in establishing doctrine for the employment of multiple GCEs
within the MAGTF. If the Marine Corps is going to be able to
fight across the entire spectrum of conflict using combined,
joint, or uni-service GCE's, we must establish doctrine for
employment of multiple GCE's within the MAGTF.
Historical Prospective
     To understand the dilemma of addressing multiple GCE's
within the MAGTF structure we need to understand, from a
historical prospective, the evolution of the MAGTF.  The Spanish-
American War lessons learned, demonstrated the need for
establishing an instrument of naval power projection more
powerful than the traditional ship's party.  The General Board of
the Navy acted upon those lessons, charging the Marine Corps with
responsibility for the assaults, a powerful projection function
within the fleet.  The final outcome of the Spanish-American War
lessons learned was the establishment of an Advanced Force Base
concept that was to demonstrate its utility in Veracruz [1914],
Haiti [1915], and Santo Domingo [1916].(2)
     World War I provided the Marine Corps the opportunity to
demonstrate its "force in readiness" concept.  While maintaining
both identity and unit integrity, Marine forces were nonetheless
fully integrated into the American Expeditionary Force structure,
in an obvious continental, vice naval, mission. Again the Marine
Corps demonstrated the flexibility and responsiveness of an
expeditionary force across the spectrum of war fighting
     The Marine Corps experience as an expeditionary force prior
to WW II provided many critical lessons that would eventually
shape the structure of the Marine Corps into an air-ground
combined arms team.
     The Advanced Base Force was reorganized into the East Coast
Expeditionary Force, with infantry, artillery and tactical air
squadrons forming an "Air-ground team" that became the forerunner
of the present day MAGTF.  This concept, not always use during
WW II, was first tried in the Korean War by the 1st provisional
Marine Brigade at the Pusan perimeter.   Unfortunately this
concept did not become a permanent organization until the 1980's.
     It was not until the 1980"s that serious discussions about
the present MAGTF were initiated.   Recognizing the need for
innovative change, the Marine Corps in 1983 decided to establish
permanent, standardized headquarters for its MAGTFs.(3:2)   This
process,due for completion in 1990, is completed.
Current Doctrine
     The doctrinal concept of the Air-Ground combined armed team
is not new.  It is based upon tasking in the National Security
Act of 1947.  This tasking provided the foundation for the
structure and operation of a Marine Air-Ground Task Force
(MAGTF).(4:1-1)   The MAGTF structure includes four major
elements: a command element, and subordinate ground combat,
aviation combat, and combat service support elements. See figure
I for the basic structure.   It is the doctrinal concept of the
Ground Combat Element (GCE) that I will now examine.
      The GCE is define as:
          The GCE is task-organized to conduct ground
          operations.   It is constructed around an in-
          fantry unit and varies in size from a reinforced
          battalion to one or more Marine divisions.  The
          GCE also includes combat support and combat ser-
          vice support units.  It is the GCE that executes
          maneuver and is the focal point for the applica-
          tion of firepower and the execution of combined
          arms. Normally, there is only one GCE in a MAGTF.(5:1-4)
This definition conveys the wrong assumptions.  First,that the
GCE will be composed of Marine ground forces only.  Second,that
if two or more divisions make up the GCE, a separate headquarters
already exists. Third,that only one GCE is in the MAGTF.  This is
a simplified way of looking at a complex issue. OH-2 further
          When operations with multiple GCE's of some duration
          are anticipated, the preferred alternative is to
          establish or add a separate GCE headquarters. For MAGTF's
          smaller than a MEF, a regimental headquarters may be added
          to coordinate two battalion-size GCE's, or a small
          division operational headquarters may be added to
          coordinate two regimental-size GCE's. When this occurs,
          review the task organization to ensure its adequacy
          and redesignate a MEU as a MEB or a MEB as a MEF.(4:2-6)
Click here to view image
     Since the establishment of permanent MAGTF headquarters in
1983, doctrine and procedures for compositing MAGTFs has been
continually refined. However, procedures for compositing GCEs are
almost nonexistent.  Furthermore, as noted in the above
definitions, in cases where the MAGTF plans to employ multiple
GCEs procedures are confusing and contradictory.  While the
Marine Corps day to day focus is on the forward deployed MEUs and
crises response, _the Marine Corps bread and butter in the joint
and combined arena, is the MATF's versatility to rapidly
composite into a full MEF capable of sustain operations ashore.
To assume that the GCE of a compositing MAGTF will be made up of
Marine forces only is limiting the capabilities of the MAGTF.
Recent operations such as "Operation Urgent Fury" and "Operation
Just Cause", have demonstrated the inclination by the JCS to
ensure that every service gets a piece of the action.
Furthermore, "Operation Just Cause" benefited from the lessons
learned of past joint operations and streamlined the employment
of ground forces under a single commander.  Within the Marine
Corps, the MAGTF's _versatility as well as its responsiveness,
are to a great degree the results of the close integration of the
ground, air and combat service support elements.  There is a
common bond. Training, doctrine and background ensures that time
is not lost developing operating procedures during employment.
This will not be the case if the GCE is composed of joint or
combined forces.
Multiple GCE's
     Normally the GCE is organized under the headquarters of a
single combat organization.  Traditionally, this the preferred
way.   However,in the future this will not always be the case.  We
have to plan on multiple GCE's being employed.   As an example, we
can have two units of equal size which are too big to combine
into one, or, to subordinate one into the other.   For the most
part it don't make sense to put two divisions size units together
for reasons of span of control, fire support coordination,
control of aircraft,  and command and control.  Another reason
could be political.  As noted in numerous exercise conducted by
MAGTF's with joint, and combined military forces, there's a
reluctance, regardless of size, for these forces to subordinate
themselves lower than the MAGTF level.   Size than is one problem,
politics is another.(6)
     Several organizational concepts are feasible for
establishing command and control of this nonstandard GCE.  OH-6,
now canceled, offered the following options:
       a. One is to allow the MAGTF commander to function
       simultaneously as the GCE commander.
       b. Another solution is to add a headquarters cell from
       the parent command of one of the two infantry
       organizations (e.g., in a Marine Expeditionary brigade
       (MEB) with 2 RLT's add a headquarters from the parent
       division of one of the RLT's and designate it as HQ _
       division (-).
       c. A third alternative is to designate the senior of the
       two subordinate element  commanders as GCE commander.(7:3-3)
In analyzing these options they both have disadvantages and
advantages.  In option one, the difficulty is not so much in
competing demands for the personal attention of the commander,
but in greatly increased requirements for his staff. This is
particularly true in the communications section due to greatly
increased responsibilities and in the fire support coordination
center (FSCC) since the FSCC of the GCE normally functions as the
FSCC of the MAGTF.  Fire support coordination in multiple GCEs
will be discussed in a later section.   In both of these areas the
MAGTF staff would require augmentation to function as GCE
headquarters. Since there would be little reduction command and
control requirements for the two infantry headquarters of the
GCE, this augmentation could not likely come from them but would
have to be obtained from sources external to the MAGTF,
preferably at the activation of the MAGTF.  In option two, if the
MAGTF were being deployed as the forward element for follow-on
forces, which would include the remaining elements of the parent
command, then having a headquarters cell already forward deployed
and functioning would facilitate further operations (e.g., the
remaining regiments and separate battalions of the division in
the above example arrive in theater and the division is
reconstituted with its headquarters already in place).  In the
third option, this could possibly be accomplished with less
personnel augmentation than designating the MAGTF headquarters as
GCE headquarters, but it carries the disadvantage of causing a
maneuver commander. whose primary responsibility is controlling
and directing his own organization, sometimes in intense combat
situations, to control and direct the activities of a like-sized
organization as well as his own.
     SO what procedures should we use when employing multiple
GCEs?  As noted above, procedures for employment of the MAGTF in
joint operations are well defined. The MAGTF could be employed in
a uni-service role reporting directly to the unified commander.
It could be employed under the operational control of a Joint
Task force commander, or within a joint command as a component
command. The problem arises when joint forces are assigned to the
MAGTF.   Figures I and II depict two possible options for task
organizing a joint MAGTF.
Click here to view image
     Army units operating with Marines is not a new  concept.
The V Amphibious Corps had Army units assigned to the landing
force during WW II, as did III MEF in I corps in South Viet Nam.
This is not the issue.  In todays environment, given the
instability of the Third World, the war on drugs, changes in
Europe and a declining defense budget, the force of choice
will more likely be a small MAGTF (MEU/MEB) with joint Army,
Navy, and Air Force units assigned for a quick operation.
The scenarios are numerous, and are not relevant to the
issue, suffice it to say that procedures are needed to
ensure a smooth interaction of forces within the MAGTF.
     What consideration should be looked at when attaching
another service component to the MAGTF, such as the 82nd Airborne
Division?  Should it be a separate GCE?   [Figure II]   Should we
form one GCE? [Figure III]  Will commonalty of equipment exist?
These are questions that are best addressed by doctrine and
procedures.   I don't think that we need a hard and fast rule as
to when we create another GCE or GCE's.  The commander should
have the flexibility base on his estimate of the situation to
organized his forces as best as he see fit to accomplish his
mission. What he needs is well defined procedures that will
facilitate his decision making process as he considers his
options.  Consider the following examples, a joint MAGTF has
two GCE's, one Army and one Marine. The Marine GCE does an
Amphibious assault and the Army GCE an Airborne drop.
Coordination between GCE is minimal until the forces do a link
up.  Coordinations of all maneuver for the command objective is
being done at the MAGTF level. The Army GCE will get an Anglico
team for full integration within the MAGTF combined Arms team.
Very little contact and coordination is required between the
GCEs.  On the other hand, if the two GCE's are going to do an
operation that require close cooperation, as when one unit is
abreast of each other, there needs to be more exchange of
personnel than just an Anglico team.  We must consider liaison
teams for boundaries, COCs, FSC ect. This is one of several ways
that we can overcome the lack of common training procedures and
employment of organic weapons system.  We still used two GCE's
but in the latter case we need more lateral as well as horizontal
     What about combined operations?  This type of operation will
be characterized more by politics than sound tactical doctrine.
While a similar concept as joint operation can be employed, it is
doubtful a combine force, regardless of size, would subordinate
itself below the MAGTF level. For command and control purpose a
foreign contingent should be a separate GCE.  (Figure IV)
Depending on the size of the foreign GCE fire support
coordination and other support can be accomplished through the
USMC components of the MAGTF.  In essence if the foreign
contingent is a small force, treat it like another battalion.
Click here to view image
      Should the MAGTF reserve be a separate GCE?
Normally the MAGTF will not have a reserve.  However, if
a reserve is designated will it be control at the MAGTF
level?  Not necessarily. It will depend on the MAGTF concept of
operation and the commanders intent.  If he decides he needs a
reserve, he may put a string on the GCE reserve. Consider the
following example. The GCE is composed of two divisions.  Based
on the MAGTF's concept of operation the MAGTF commander doesn't"t
see a need to hold a separate reserve. However, he wants to have
the flexibility if something comes up and he needs to rapidly
exploit it, to have the option of having a force available for
his used. In this case he would go down to one of his divisions
and put a string on that GCE's reserve.(6) This will require the
GCE to clear employment of the reserve prior it being  committed.
There is no requirement for the MAGTF to have a specific task for
this reserve; it just have to be available should an opportunity
     Now let assume that the MAGTF commander is executing an
operation that involves complicated maneuvers by his two GCE's.
His intent being to place the enemy in a situation where he can
deliver a decisive blow.   He feels that this task will require a
helicopter-borne operation, beyond the control of the two
maneuvering GCE's. In this case he decides to designate a MAGTF
reserve under the command of another task force commander. By
doing so the MAGTF commander now possess the flexibility to
commit the helo-borne force at the decisive moment, his intent
is to strike the enemy deep and he feels that his two
maneuvering GCE's will be to consume executing their scheme of
maneuvers to effectively control this additional force. In
essence he has elected to create a new (temporary) GCE to
execute the mission of the MAGTF reserve; exploitation.
Fire Support Coordination
     For a composite MAGTF (a MAGTF formed with forces drawn form
more than one MEF) to be an affective combat force, all FMF units
of the same type must be guided by common concepts and skilled in
Common procedures. In fire support coordination , units must have
a common understanding of the fire support coordination roles and
responsibilities and a common set of procedures. The same
argument can be made for compositing GCE's or for employment of
multiple GCE's. The most difficult issue facing the MAGTF with
multiple GCE's is in fire support coordination In a MAGTF with a
single GCE headquarters, the primary responsibility for planing
and coordinating fire support is in the GCE. The GCE and ACE both
have weapons and target acquisition assets for providing fire
support, but only the GCE has a FSCC.  The FSCC is the single
agency in the MAGTF with sufficient target analyses and
communications capability to plan fires, perform targeting,
integrate fires with maneuvers and accomplish coordination during
execution with minimal delay.  To separate the FSCC from the GCE
operations section defeats one of the primary purposes of fire
support coordination. The GCE operations section is responsible
for planning, monitoring, and, if necessary, altering the scheme
of maneuver.  So what do we do when the MAGTF employs multiple
     Under present doctrine fire support coordination is executed
at the lowest echelon possible.   For this reason the MAGTF
headquarters does not posses a FSCC.  The Supporting Arms Special
Staff (SASS) in the MAGTF, simple functions as an advisory body
to the MAGTF Commander.   The question now arises whether or not
an FSCC is necessary at the MAGTF level.   Doctrinally, OH-2
states that there are three possible options for organizing the
MAGTF'S  FSCC when two or more GCEs are assigned to a MAGTF.
       (1) Employ the FSCC of one of the GCE's as the
       MAGTF's FSCC. This arrangement will require personnel and
       equipment augmentation for effective coordination of its own
       fires as well as those of LF.
       (2) The FSCC of higher headquarters of one of the GCE's or a
       like FSCC may be assigned to the LF to function as its
       FSCC. For example, a MAU with two battalion-size GCE's
       may use a regimental FSCC as the LF FSCC. This requires
       tasking from commands out side the MAGTF and may be best
       employed when a smaller MAGTF (e.g.,MAU) is the lead force
       for a larger MAGTF :(e.g.,MAB).
       (3) The MAGTF may organize its own FSCC using its
       supporting arms special staff as the nucleus. This will
       require augmentation from either external agencies or
       from the separate GCE's. (4:5-14)
       This is an simple approach to a complicated issue.
I submit that these three options need to be look at
based on the environment the MAGTF is operating in.  The MAGTF
does not need an FSCC if it only has one GCE.
     As stated in OH-2 fire support coordination cannot be
separated from maneuves control.   The first option is when the
MAGTF has one GCE.  With one GCE (i.e. one maneuver element)
FSC is simplified and unit SOP's should suffice to ensure
maneuvers and fire support are properly orchestrated. In this
case the Supporting Arms Special Staff (SASS) is all that is
required at the MAGTF level. However, the MAGTF commander
needs to be focus on  what is happening with the ground
battle.  If the MAGTF commander is going to fight the MAGTF he
has to get involved with the GCE's scheme of maneuver and fire
support in order to understand what is going on in the ground.
One way is to assign one or two liaison officer from the SASS
to the GCE FSCC.
     A second option involves intricate, complex ground
operations requiring close coordination with two or more GCE's.
In this case the issues would be too many and complex to kick
down stairs to one of the GCE's and an FSCC is required at the
MAGTF level. Because of the large maneuver area used by two or
three GCE's, the significant maneuver going on, the large number
of FSC issues that would have to be resolved, simply designating
a senior FSCC from one of the GCE's will not work.
     The third option involves the MAGTF in defensive operations
with multiple GCE's. Due to the nature of the defense a more
centralize control of fire support is desire.  The MAGTF
commander may not only desire to create a FSCC at the MAGTF
level, he may also pull the general support artillery from
the GCE's and form a MAGTF artillery group.   This will not
only provide him with a FSCC, but the tools necessary to
influenced the action with general support artillery into
any one of the GCE's areas of operations without the delay
that would accompany lateral coordination between the GCE's
     A final issue centers around the collocation of the Direct
Air Support Center (DASC) with the FSCC of the GCE in a multiple
GCE scenario.  Normally, one DASC will support a MAGTF of MEB
size and above.  Employment of two GCEs will require the DASC to
be employed in a modified manner, a manner for which little
doctrine exists.  Concept of employment for the DASC as described
in OH 5-8, Control of Aircrafts and Missiles, states:
          "Coordination and control of direct air support
          functions for MEF operation require a substantial
          DASC capability based on the number of TACP's
          (size of GCE) that will request air support, as
	    well as the number of aircraft anticipated.  Collo-
          cation of the DASC with the senior FSCC generally
          means at the "Division FSCC." Integration of direct
          air support assets and other supporting arms to
          effectively contribute to the MAGTF point of main ef-
          fort requires solid communications as well as a con-
          tinuous exchange of information between the DASC
          and the FSCC. However, extensive communication re-
          quirements with other agencies, aircraft, terminal
          controllers, and air defense weapons systems re-
          quire that communications considerations take
          priority in DASC siting."
     These procedures do not take into consideration the
problems associated with supporting multiple GCEs.  From the
GCE's prospective the biggest concern will be keeping track of
helicopters supporting the separate GCEs.
     The GCE will always operate as part of a MAGTF.  Ground
maneuver has been and will continue to be the focus of effort of
the MAGTF.  We need to have the doctrine and procedures that will
facilitate employment of multiple joint or combine GCE's.  These
procedures are not intended to take the place of unit SOP's but
serve as a starting point when planning to employ joint or
combined GCE's in the MAGTF.  No set of procedures will be
totally effective, but must provide enough of the Do's and Don't
to ensure the exchange of critical information with the variety
of forces that a MAGTF will employ.  The MAGTF concept
possesses a doctrinal organization that is well proven.  It is
time to move beyond this concept and start developing
procedures for the employment of multiple joint, combined or
uni-service GCEs.  Only then can the full potential of the
MAGTF be exploited in a joint or combined arena.
1.   Bednarsky, Remained H., Major, U.S. Marine Corps, "A Marine
          Air-Ground Task Force Combat Model," Command and Staff
          College, 1 May 1979, P.
2.   Martelo, Frank J., Lieutenant Colonel, U.S. Marine Corps,
          "Historical Evolution of the MAGTF Concept," Lecture
          presented at Command and Staff College, January 2,1990.
3.   U.S. Marine Corps.   Advance Amphibious Study Group Background
          paper.   The permanent MAGTF headquarters concept and how
          it applies in the formation of a composite MAGTF, second
          edition,  (15 July 1985), P.2
4.   U.S. Narine Corps.   The Marine Air-Ground Task Force, OH-2
          Quantico, 1987
5.   U.S. Marine Corps.  Ground Combat Operations, OH 6-1.
          Quantico, 1988
6.   Zinni, Anthony, Colonel, U.S. Marine Corps, Personal
7.   U.S. Marine Corps.  The Ground Combat Element (GCE). OH-6,
          Quantico, 1986
8.   U.S. Marine Corps.   Advance  Amphibious Study Group Concept
          Paper Guidelines for forming a composite MAGTF. third
          edition, 1 Aug. 1985

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