United States Special Operations Command: How Marine Corps Participation Could Enhance Current Special Operations Capabilities CSC 1993 SUBJECT AREA - Operations EXECUTIVE SUMMARY Title: UNITED STATES SPECIAL OPERATIONS COMMAND: HOW MARINE CORPS PARTICIPATION COULD ENHANCE CURRENT SPECIAL OPERATIONS CAPABILITIES Author: Major Charles M. Sellers, United States Army Thesis: Now, over 5 years later, congressional intent is as yet unrealized, in that Marine Corps forces earmarked for special operations missions remain outside the purview of the United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM), resulting in duplication of effort and waste of resources. This problem can be rectified by assignment of the force reconnaissance direct action platoons to USSOCOM. Background: Special operations (SO) are different from conventional operations, both in the skills and the equipment required to accomplish assigned tasks. The requirements of counterterrorist missions include the highest degree of pistol and assault rifle marksmanship, applied in the fluid and confusing environment of close quarter battle. These skills demand many hours of training, in an extensive variety of simulated combat situations, to reach the level of proficiency required of the SO soldier. Unification of SO has been achieved only with great difficulty. Critical review of the Iran rescue attempt in 1980 identified command and control as a major contributor to failure of the operation. The invasion of Grenada reinforced this finding, further increasing congressional pressure for reform of the military approach to SO. The National Defense Authorization Act of 1987 finally cleared the way for unification of special operations forces under a single command. The United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) was activated on 16 April 1987, with responsibility for doctrine, training, and budgeting for all United States special operations forces. Army, Navy, and Air Force so units were eventually consolidated wider the new command. The Marine Corps successfully argued for retention of its force reconnaissance elements, claiming that it had no special operations forces, though it soon created the Marine expeditionary unit (special operations capable), or MEU(SOC). In 1989, the Marine Corps added direct action platoons to its existing deep reconnaissance platoons, with the mission of conducting, among numerous other tasks, in-extremis hostage rescue, requiring high levels of proficiency in close quarter battle skills. With the formation of the direct action platoons, the Marine Corps, for all practical purposes, entered the realm of SO. Recommendation: That Marine Corps force reconnaissance direct action platoons be assigned to USSOCOM, thereby reducing duplication of effort and waste of resources. UNITED STATES SPECIAL OPERATIONS COMMAND: HOW MARINE CORPS PARTICIPATION COULD ENHANCE CURRENT SPECIAL OPERATIONS CAPABILITIES OUTLINE Thesis: Now, over 5 years later, congressional intent is as yet unrealized, in that Marine Corps forces earmarked for special operations missions remain outside the purview of the United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM), resulting in duplication of effort and waste of resources. This problem can be rectified by assignment of the force reconnaissance direct action platoons to USSOCOM. I. Characteristics of Special Operations A. Definition B. Categories 1. Counterterrorism 2. Direct Action a. Hostage Rescue b. Special Skills 1) Weapons Proficiency 2) Close Quarter Battle II. Steps Toward Unification A. Catalysts of Change 1. Iran Rescue a. Operation Overview b. Holloway Commission c. Special Operations Advisory Panel 2. Grenada a. Continued Congressional Pressure b. Joint Special Operations Agency B. National Defense Authorization Act of 1987 1. Authorization for Unified Command 2. Focus on Support to Warfighting CINC 3. Emphasis on Unity of Command III. USSOCOM A. Responsibilities 1. Doctrine 2. Training 3. Budget B. Service Participation 1. Army 2. Navy 3. Air Force IV. Marine Corps Special Operations A. MEU(SOC) 1. Mission 2. Capabilities B. Force Reconnaissance 1. Deep Reconnaissance Platoons 2. Direct Action Platoons V. Advantages of Consolidation A. Centralized Direction B. Enhanced Commonality 1. Philosophy 2. Doctrine 3. Training 4. Budget C. Reduced Duplication Charles M. Sellers MAJ, SF CG 2 UNITED STATES SPECIAL OPERATIONS COMMAND: HOW MARINE CORPS PARTICIPATION COULD ENHANCE CURRENT SPECIAL OPERATIONS CAPABILITIES On October 14, 1986, the National Defense Authorization Act of Fiscal Year 1987 was passed. This act included a proviso amending the Goldwater-Nichols Department of Defense Reorganization Act of 1986, calling for creation of a "unified combatant command for special operations forces." (3:144) The new law clearly showed congressional intent to unify special operations forces under a single command. Now, over 5 years later, congressional intent is as yet unrealized, in that Marine Corps forces earmarked for special operations missions remain outside the purview of the United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM), resulting in duplication of effort and waste of resources. This problem can be rectified by assignment of the force reconnaissance direct action platoons to USSOCOM. The operational methods and equipment employed by special operations forces differ significantly from those of general purpose units. The Joint Staff Officer's Guide, AFSC Pub 1, defines special operations (SO) as, "Operations conducted by specially trained, equipped, and organized DOD forces against strategic or tactical targets in pursuit of national objectives." (4:I-32) FM 100-25 further describes SO, stating: Politico-military considerations frequently shape SO, requiring clandestine, covert, or low-visibility techniques and oversight at the national level. SO usually differ from conventional operations in their degree of risk, operational techniques, mode of employment, independence from friendly support, and dependence upon operational intelligence and indigenous assets. (2:2-1) Public Law (10 USC 167) identifies numerous categories of either primary missions or collateral activities with direct relation to the conduct of SO. Direct action and counter- terrorism are among the categories specified. (2:3-1) Direct action missions include those designed to capture or recover designated personnel or materiel. Hostage rescue, often directly linked to the counterterrorism arena, is by nature a direct action mission. Hostage rescue is unique among SO categories, in that it often requires more highly specialized tactics and procedures for successful mission accomplishment. Necessary skills include highly surgical close quarter battle techniques, specialized breaching procedures, and intimate familiarity with the complete range of improvised explosive devices. The numerous tasks in each skill area are highly perishable, requiring focused, continuous training on a wide variety of sub-tasks, ranging from the highest degree of handgun proficiency to total familiarity with the latest in international, civilian-manufactured explosives. Mastery of the weapons used in SO missions is perhaps the most difficult and most perishable of the many skills that the special operator must acquire. From the beginning, he is trained to be unquestionably capable of what, in special operations terminology, is called the "5 per cent shot." This term refers to the amount of body area, usually a head or shoulder, exposed by an armed opponent holding a hostage as a shield in front of him. Many consecutive hours of training are necessary before an operator can achieve the confidence level necessary to take such a shot. Any miscalculation or lack of ability on his part could result in serious injury or death for the hostage, failure of the mission, and serious political consequences. How does the special operator attain such a high degree of weapons proficiency? The answer lies in a thorough, well- grounded training program, a key ingredient of which is the controlled repetition of proper shooting techniques. The operator candidate begins his weapons training with concurrent programs of pistol, rifle, and assault rifle marksmanship. He is thoroughly indoctrinated into the basic principles governing the employment of each class of weapon through a progressive training program based on the building-block technique. The training objectives in each line of instruction build on the preceding objectives, ultimately producing an individual firmly confident in his marksmanship abilities, regardless of the difficulty of the tactical situation. Pistol marksmanship, not widely taught in basic training, is perhaps the subject area with which most candidates are initially unfamiliar. Beginning with dry fire training, using an unloaded weapon, the student learns the correct grip, stance, breathing, and body control necessary to attain the high standards of accuracy which will be required of him. He learns the proper techniques of the firing stroke, or the sequence in which the pistol is drawn from the holster, aimed, and fired. The student learns, through seemingly endless periods of repetition, the instinctive acquisition of proper sight picture and alignment. Many hours are spent in dry fire training before a round is fired on the range. Pistol marksmanship training progresses systematically through an extensive series of training simulations, each of which is aimed at programming correct techniques into muscle memory through repetition. The drill sequences, by design, address a wide range of possible combat situations. Single and multiple targets are engaged from a variety of shooting positions: while stationary, while turning and firing, and while walking or running. Strong-hand and weak-hand shooting are practiced to prepare the student for wounds received in combat, preventing the use of both hands on the weapon. Reload drills are emphasized until they become second nature. Throughout the program, silhouettes representing hostages are placed progressively closer to those representing terrorists, so as to increase the need for accuracy while engaging the threat. From the beginning, the student is under considerable pressure, knowing that hitting a hostage equates to mission failure. Pistol marksmanship closely parallel those in assault rifle marksmanship. The operator generally carries both pistol and assault rifle, and either could be his primary weapon in a given situation. Learning to transition smoothly from assault rifle to pistol, without losing the flow of the tactical situation, is crucial, in that imprecise execution of the maneuver could cost precious time, resulting in the death of the operator, the hostage, or both. Weapons mastery is but one of the many skills required of the special operator. Tactical application of weapons skills occurs during the conduct of close quarter battle (CQB). The CQB environment, in which the candidate must learn to apply the shooting techniques he has learned, is fluid and often confusing, requiring the ability to make immediate decisions, and act upon them without hesitation. In the CQB environment, the operator acts as part of a close-knit team, each member of which knows instinctively how his teammates will react in tactical situations. The extremely high level of understanding between teammates is developed slowly through long-term working relationships, common doctrine, and the bonds formed through shared experiences. The almost subconscious level of cohesion among members of a team who have worked together for extended periods of time, years in many cases, cannot be duplicated in a six month training cycle. Just as shooting and CQB skills are highly perishable, requiring continuous training, evaluation, and retraining, so are the skills necessary to successfully pursue reconnaissance as a primary mission. Both areas require dedication of extraordinary amounts of time and effort to achieve and maintain required proficiency levels. Because of this, teams are normally assigned a primary mission of either assault or reconnaissance, with the other role assigned as an alternate. Sufficient time is simply not available to achieve adequate proficiency in both areas simultaneously. Any attempt to do so would be likely to degrade proficiency in each. Just as the skill areas of the special operator are different from those of the conventional soldier, so are the types of equipment required for accomplishment of SO missions. Peculiar mission requirements dictate the expenditure of large amounts of money on both the research and development and the purchase of many nonstandard items of equipment. Unified direction of budgetary programs and initiatives is necessary to provide common doctrine, ensure interoperability, and eliminate duplication of effort and waste of increasingly scarce resources. Unification of special operations forces has been achieved only with great difficulty. Arguably the single, most important catalyst toward unification was the failure of the Iran rescue operation on 24 April 1980. Undertaken as a long-awaited response to the seizure of the United States Embassy in Tehran on 4 November 1979, the operation pointedly underlined major shortcomings in the United States military's approach to special operations. The plan called for the rescue operation to be conducted in three phases. (7:120) In Phase I, an Army special operations assault force, led by Colonel Charles Beckwith, was to fly, via intermediate staging bases in Germany and Egypt, to a secret base in the Iranian desert, approximately 490 kilometers southeast of Tehran. At this location, codenamed Desert One, the C-130 aircraft carrying the assault force would meet 8 Navy RH-53D helicopters, flown from the USS Nimitz in the Gulf of Oman by Marine Corps pilots. After refueling from the C-130s, the helicopters would transport the assault force to another secret landing zone in the vicinity of Tehran. From this location, two agents would lead the assault force to a hide site in a remote wadi, in which they would wait for nightfall. Meanwhile, the helicopters would proceed to a separate hide site to await the ground element's call for extraction. After nightfall, Phase II would begin with a route reconnaissance by Colonel Beckwith and one of the agents. The other agent, with 12 driver/translators, would collect 6 Mercedes trucks, in which the force would be transported to Tehran. Once in the city, the assault force would simultaneously rescue the hostages in the embassy and Foreign Ministry compounds, then recall the helicopters for airlift out of the city. In Phase III, the helicopters, with the assault force and hostages, would rendezvous with C-141 aircraft at Mansarieh airfield, approximately 56 kilometers south of Tehran. The airfield was to be seized by a contingent of Army Rangers during Phase II, concurrent with the assaults on the hostage locations in the capitol. Abandoning all remaining helicopters at the airfield, the entire force would be evacuated by C-141, with the Rangers leaving last. Command and control for the operation was centralized at the highest levels, with real-time communications links between the National Command Authority and the joint task force (JTF) in the theater of operations. President Jimmy Carter and General David Jones, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, spoke directly by satellite radio from Washington, DC to the JTF commander, Major General James Vaught, at Wadi Kena airfield, in Egypt. Similar communications links were established from Wadi Kena to the on-scene commanders, Colonel Beckwith, commanding the ground force, and Colonel James Kyle, commanding the Air Force operation at Desert One. The overall plan was highly contingent on the helicopter element accomplishing its assigned tasks. Serious difficulties arose early in the mission. Unforeseen circumstances, long distances, and unexpectedly severe weather conditions combined to drop the number of operational helicopters to 5 - one below the established abort criteria. Colonel Beckwith, despite pressure from the chain of command above him to continue, gave the order to abort. (7:125) The mission ended in failure, even before the disastrous collision between one of the RH-53Ds and an EC-130 during ground refueling, which left 8 aircraft crewmen dead on the desert floor. The vivid images of burning aircraft and American dead following the raid stunned the world, bringing painfully to light the apparent inability of the world's greatest superpower to successfully orchestrate a global, special operations response to a blatant terrorist challenge. The "Holloway Report," named after the chairman of the committee formed to investigate the conduct of the raid, Admiral J. L. Holloway III, USN (Ret), studied 23 separate issues in depth, eventually identifying 11 major areas that had "identifiable influence on the rescue outcome or that should receive the most careful consideration at all levels in planning for any future special operation." (5:iv) Specifically, command and control was determined to be a major cause of failure, with the report stating, "Command relationships below the Commander, JTF, were not clearly emphasized. . .were susceptible to misunderstandings under pressure." (5:v) In response to the findings of the reporting committee, the Department of Defense established an advisory panel of active and retired officers, with career backgrounds in SO. The high- ranking officers assigned to the panel were to oversee and advise the planning and conduct of future SO. Creation of the panel was an initial step toward consolidation of service special operations forces under one command. The changes instituted as a result of the "Holloway Report" resulted in significant political battles among the services, with improvement in SO capabilities progressing slowly along service lines. A critical review of the Grenada operation, in October 1983, identified, once again, poor command and control as the basis for errors in execution. Reacting to the lessons learned from Grenada, the Army pushed for creation of a joint structure under which to consolidate SO activities. These actions, along with continued Congressional pressure, eventually resulted in the establishment of the Department of Defense Joint Special Operations Agency in 1984. Unsatisfied with the level of cooperative effort within the new agency, Congress, despite considerable service opposition, demanded still greater efforts toward unification. In a bipartisan effort, SO proponents called for new legislation to ensure the development of a common philosophy and support system. Congressional initiatives focused on increased continuity and professionalism among the services, with the aim of increasing overall responsiveness to National Command Authority requirements. The sustained drive toward unification finally resulted in the passage of the National Defense Authorization Act of 1987. The new law paved the way for creation of a unified command for SO. Section 1311 stated, "Unless otherwise directed by the Secretary of Defense, all active and reserve special operations forces of all armed forces stationed in the United States shall be assigned to the Special Operations Command." (1:42) The United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) was formally activated on 16 April 1987, at MacDill AFB, Florida. The primary responsibility of the new Commander in Chief, Special Operations Command (CINCSOC), in keeping with the spirit of Goldwater-Nichols, was to provide mission-ready special operations forces for employment by the warfighting CINCs. The law gave him authority for the overall development of common SO doctrine and tactics; training of assigned forces; and management of the SO budget. The intent of the law was to enhance overall efficiency by establishing unity of command over all special operations forces. Though interservice battles occurred over assignment of forces to the new command, arbitration by the Secretary of Defense eventually resulted in the successful consolidation of Navy, Air Force, and Army special operations forces under USSOCOM. The Marine Corps successfully argued for retaining control of its forces, insisting that its force reconnaissance companies were not special operations units, but simply the deep reconnaissance elements of the Marine air-ground task force (MAGTF). Congress upheld the Marine Corps' position that reassignment of force reconnaissance assets to USSOCOM would result in the loss of a human intelligence capability critical to the MAGTF commander. However, the Commandant was directed to submit a report to Congress on Marine Corps SO capabilities. Despite its claims of possessing no special operations forces, the Marine Corps' interest in SO continued to increase. Based on General Kelley's report to Congress, the Marine Corps implemented a program for development of SO capabilities within the Marine expeditionary unit. The new Marine expeditionary unit (special operations capable), or MEU(SOC), would be capable of performing, among its other missions, in-extremis hostage rescue, with its implied task of achieving high levels of proficiency in nonstandard skills such as CQB, specialized breaching, and improvised explosive devices. In 1989, to better accommodate the expanded scope of responsibility, the Marine Corps reorganized the force reconnaissance companies to include five deep reconnaissance platoons and five direct action platoons. The direct action platoons received the majority of the specialized training necessary to accomplish the new missions. With the formation of direct action platoons, the Marine Corps, for all practical purposes, entered the realm of SO. The duplication of effort resulting from Marine reluctance to participate in the SO unified command can be eliminated by assignment of the force reconnaissance direct action platoons to USSOCOM, The platoons could be consolidated in a force reconnaissance direct action company, responsible to USSOCOM for training and resourcing. The company would retain responsibility for support to the deployed MEU(SOC)s, in that it would assign a platoon to a MEU at the beginning of the predeployment training cycle. The platoon would remain with that MEU(SOC) for the duration of its deployment. Habitual relationships between MEUs and force reconnaissance units would still be possible through parallel scheduling of training cycles. The overall system would insure common doctrine and training for the forces involved, while allowing undiminished support to the MEU(SOC). Greater focus would be possible during nondeployed training cycles on maintenance of the highly specialized skills necessary for successful hostage rescue and counterterrorist missions. Additionally, common funding under the USSOCOM umbrella would prevent duplication of effort and waste of resources. USSOCOM has proven its ability to provide effective oversight and guidance to the SO community as a whole. Integration of Navy, Air Force, and Army special operations forces wider a single command has markedly improved SO capabilities, as was shown during Operation Just Cause and Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. Assignment of force reconnaissance direct action platoons to USSOCOM would even further improve these capabilities. Support to deployed MEU(SOC)s by force reconnaissance direct action assets would not be diminished. Indeed, the MEU(SOC)'s direct action capability would increase, because of the added focus and concentration of effort in training which consolidation would allow. These fully trained and resourced units, operating under a common doctrine and set of procedures, would increase the level of interoperability with other SO assets and enhance the credibility of the MEU(SOC)'s response to in-extremis crisis situations. As long as the Marine Corps insists on retaining control of Marine forces dedicated to the accomplishment of what are, by definition, special operations, duplication of effort and waste of resources will continue. BIBLIOGRAPHY 1. Boykin, Col. William G. "Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict Legislation: Why was it Passed and Have the Voids Been Filled?" United States Army War College Military Studies Program Paper, United States Army War College, Carlisle Barracks, PA, 12 April 1991. 2. Doctrine For Army Special Operations Forces (SF, Rangers, CA. PSYOP, ARSOA). Field Manual 100-25, Headquarters, Department of the Army, Washington, DC, 12 December 1991. 3. Ellis, Lt. Col. John J. "Command and Control of Special Operations: A Historical Perspective, Volume II." Unpublished Research Report Submitted to the Commander-in- Chief, United States Special Operations Command in Fulfillment of a Research Requirement for the National War College. National War College, National Defense University, May 1988. 4. Magness, Lt. Col. John E. (ed.). The Joint Staff Officer's Guide 1991. AFSC Pub 1, 1991. 5. Rescue Mission Report. Special Operations Review Group, Joint Chiefs of Staff, United States Department of Defense, (August 1980), pp iv-v. 6. Rogish, Lt. Col. Joseph J., Jr. "Do Marines Belong in USSOCOM?" Marine Corps Gazette, Vol. 76, Number 7, (July 1992), pp 58-59. 7. Walmer, Max. An Illustrated Guide to Modern Elite Forces. New York: Prentice Hall Press, 1986. 8. Western, Capt. T. F. "Countering Terrorism with the MAU," Marine Corps Gazette, Vol. 70, Number 3, (March 1986), pp 40-41.
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