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Should The United States Marine Corps Retain Tactical Aviation Assets

Should The United States Marine Corps Retain Tactical Aviation Assets?

 

CSC 1995

 

SUBJECT AREA - Aviation

 

 

 

 

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

 

Title: Should the USMC Retain Tactical Aviation Assets?

 

Author: Major C.F.Mitchell, United States Marine Corps

 

Thesis: Marine Corps TACAIR assets are struggling to

survive in light of the declining defense budget, but this

is precisely the reason why the USMC should retain TACAIR

assets. No other service can provide the war fighting

capability per dollar spent.

 

 

Background: Whenever defense budgets are cut Marine Corps

TACAIR is usually one of the first areas up for review.

There are individuals in the USAF and USN who believe that

either service can provide TACAIR support to the Marine

Corps ground combat element if required. The history of

Marine Corps TACAIR employment up to current operations

today show that Marine Corps TACAIR assets are required.

The USAF and USN are both augmented today by Marine Corps

TACAIR just to fill their peacetime commitments. The cost

of Marine Corps TACAIR is significantly less expensive to

operate, maintain and deploy in comparison to the USAF or

USN.

 

 

Recommendation: The USMC must remain proactive in defending

its TACAIR assets by stressing the operational requirements,

fighting capability and effectiveness it provides per dollar

spent.

 

Should The United States Marine Corps Retain Tactical

Aviation Assets?

 

OUTLINE

 

Thesis: Marine Corps TACAIR assets are struggling to

survive in light of the declining defense budget, but this

is precisely the reason why the USMC should retain TACAIR

assets. No other service can provide the war fighting

capability per dollar spent.

 

I. Introduction

 

II. Historical Employment of Marine TACAIR

A. Korea

B. Vietnam

C. Persian Gulf

 

III. Service Doctrine

A. United States Air Force

B. United States Navy

C. United States Marine Corps

 

IV. USMC TACAIR Employment

A. Cost Comparison with USAF/USN

 

V. Conclusion

 

 

SHOULD THE UNITED STATES MARINE CORPS

RETAIN TACTICAL AVIATION ASSETS?

 

 

 

 

The United States Marine Corps should retain tactical

 

aviation (TACAIR) assets. No other service can compete with

 

the USMC in providing a war fighting capability and

 

effectiveness, per dollar spent. Marine Corps TACAIR assets

 

are struggling to survive in light of the declining defense

 

budget; the target primarily being the F/A-18 Hornet. This

 

is not a new controversy but one that has surfaced time and

 

again long before the F/A-18 program went into development.

 

The issue always raised is that the United States Air Force

 

(USAF) or United States Navy (USN) can provide TACAIR

 

support to the United States Marine Corps (USMC) when

 

required. This issue surfaces whenever purse strings

 

tighten or roles and missions come up for review. Here we

 

go again! The Navy would like to absorb Marine TACAIR and

 

the Air Force would possibly benefit dollar-wise if Marine

 

TACAIR ceased to exist. The argument about which branch of

 

the services (including the Marine Corps) can effectively

 

support the Marine Corps ground combat element (GCE) during

 

amphibious landings or once established ashore, is wrought

 

with egos, rice bowls and professional jealousies.

 

The bottom line is dollars. Whether TACAIR supports

 

Marines in Somalia or the Persian Gulf, Marine Corps TACAIR

 

can do it for less cost than either the USAF or USN, and be

 

just as effective.

 

This paper will present a review of the historical

 

employment of Marine TACAIR, and aviation doctrine of the

 

USAF, USN and USMC. Current USMC TACAIR employment followed

 

by USMC TACAIR costs versus the USAF and USN is then

 

discussed.

 

This is not an argument concerning roles and missions.

 

Marine TACAIR exists to support the Marine on the ground.

 

Whether GCE support occurs during amphibious or land based

 

operations utilizing close air support (CAS) or deep air

 

strikes (DAS) is irrelevant.

 

On 3 August 1950, the first Marine air strikes during

 

the Korean War, flown by VMF-214, flew off Navy aircraft

 

carriers striking strategic targets at Chinju and Sinban-ni.

 

VMF-323, operating off the USS Badoeing Strait, flew the

 

first Marine close air support sorties for 8TH Army units.1

 

Marine Night Fighter Squadron 513 (VMF(N)-513) based at

 

Itazuki, Japan, flew night interdiction missions operating

 

under 5TH Air Force. During the first 42 days of flight

 

operations Marine sorties totaled over 950, of which over

 

300 sorties flew in support of the United States Army (USA)

 

and Republic of Korea (ROK) Army.

 

VMF-323 embarked on the USS Badoeing Strait, and VMF-

 

214 embarked on the USS Sicily, provided CAS and air cover

 

for the amphibious landing at Inchon. After securing the

 

beachhead, MAG-33 established itself at Kimpo Airfield.

 

Marine TACAIR doctrine is built around supporting

 

amphibious landings. This does not necessarily mean they do

 

it from aircraft carriers. Another amphibious landing,

 

planned for Wonsan on the east coast of North Korea, was

 

supported by Marine air from Kimpo and eventually Wonsan

 

airfields. Throughout the war Marines continued to fly off

 

aircraft carriers and airfields. The support structure,

 

much like today, allowed this to take place and is the

 

essence of flexibility.

 

The Vietnam War saw Marine aviation primarily land-

 

based at Da Nang and Chu Lai. Marine All-Weather Fighter

 

Squadron 212 (VMF(AW)-212) embarked aboard the USS Oriskany

 

and attacked strategic ground targets in North and South

 

Vietnam. General Westmoreland projected a need for more

 

TACAIR assets, which could only be provided by Marines at

 

that time. Admiral Sharp (CINCPAC) and General Westmoreland

 

requested that a second air base be established in South

 

Vietnam and received approval from the Secretary of Defense

 

in March 1965.2 That base became Chu Lai and initially

 

operated as a short airfield for tactical support (SATS)

 

until the runways and support facilities were constructed.

 

The main employment of Marine TACAIR was in the

 

delivery of air-to-ground ordnance in direct and close

 

support of ground troops. The Navy wanted more Marine

 

squadrons afloat to support the carrier decks, but that

 

meant decreasing the number of squadrons ashore supporting

 

Marine ground units; the Marine Corps could not do both.

 

Higher sortie rates are generated when supporting ground

 

units with TACAIR from land bases vice aircraft carriers.

 

Twelve of the Marine Corps 27 fighter-attack squadrons

 

deployed to Vietnam.

 

During the Persian Gulf War Marine TACAIR flew

 

primarily from land bases with the exception of 20 AV-8B

 

Harriers aboard the USS Nassau. TACAIR assets during the

 

first phase of the war struck strategic targets as far north

 

as Baghdad and eventually transitioned to striking tactical

 

targets. A myriad of missions to include deep air strikes

 

(DAS), interdiction, suppression of enemy air defenses

 

(SEAD), and CAS was accomplished by 202 TACAIR assets, which

 

accounted for over 9,000 sorties flown and 33,000 pieces of

 

ordnance delivered.3 A total of 566 Marine aircraft (fixed

 

wing and rotary wing) in theater accounted for approximately

 

11% of total coalition sorties flown during the war, with

 

only 7% of the total aircraft supporting the war.4

 

 

USAF Doctrine

 

Current USAF doctrine of "Global Reach-Global Power,"

 

described in Air Force Manual 1-1 (AFM 1-1), outlines the

 

doctrine and priorities for employment of aerospace power in

 

future conflicts and will carry the USAF into the next

 

century.

 

United States air power is defined as the United States

Air Force--not because of its name or any theoretical

concept that air power must be unitary, but because of

the military tasks that have been assigned to the Air

Force, that it is organized and prepared (given the

means) to perform, and that will not be performed at

any significant level of effort except by the USAF.5

 

The basic tenet of AFM 1-1 is that "Controlling the

 

aerospace environment is a prerequisite to accomplishing

 

other aerospace roles and missions." AFM 1-1 also points

 

out that "The most effective and efficient scheme is

 

control of all aerospace assets by a single joint force air

 

component commander (JFACC), responsible for integrating

 

employment of all aerospace forces within a theater of

 

operations."

 

The USAF has in the past and will continue to argue

 

that there is no requirement for USMC tactical aviation

 

assets and that when required the USAF can provide the

 

support to the ground combat element (GCE).

 

 

USN Doctrine

 

The Secretary of the Navy (SecNav), Chief of Naval

 

Operations (CNO), and the Commandant of the Marine Corps

 

(CMC) developed and implemented a new Navy-Marine Corps

 

strategy on 28 September 1992. The updated strategy

 

"Forward...From the Sea" encapsulates the vision of our

 

future Navy and Marine Corps power projection role. It

 

emphasizes the capability to project power ashore with the

 

emphasis on littoral warfare.6 This doctrine, developed in

 

response to the current challenges, is a shift in focus from

 

global threats to a more regional focus, and concentrates on

 

littoral waters and maneuver from the sea.

 

A conference convened during the summer of 1993 at

 

Naval Air Station Fallon, Nevada, brought together all the

 

Carrier Air Wing Commanding Officers to discuss the future

 

of carrier aviation. Areas discussed included pilot

 

training, munitions, lines of communication, aircraft

 

procurement, and roles and missions. During two days of

 

discussions not once did the role of amphibious operations

 

or close air support come up. Let there be no doubt that

 

the mindset of today's Navy is still long range power

 

projection from the sea.

 

 

USMC Doctrine

 

The primary mission of Marine Corps aviation is to

 

participate as the supporting air component of the FMF in

 

the seizure and defense of advanced naval bases and for the

 

conduct of such land operations as may be essential to the

 

prosecution of a naval campaign.7 A collateral mission of

 

Marine Corps aviation is to participate as an integral

 

component of naval aviation.9

 

The mission of Marine Corps aviation has not changed

 

since Alfred A. Cunningham remarked, "The only excuse for

 

aviation in any service is its usefulness in assisting

 

troops on the ground to successfully carry out their

 

operations."9

 

The Commandant co-authored the current Navy and Marine

 

Corps doctrine. "Forward...From the Sea" emphasizes the

 

cohesion between the Navy and Marine Corps as the US shifts

 

from a global threat to a more littoral, regional strategy.

 

The doctrine remains predicated on the traditional

 

expeditionary role of the Marine Corps and the need for

 

joint operations capable of projecting power ashore and

 

further inland if necessary.

 

 

USMC TACAIR Employment

 

With recent reductions in the defense budget, the

 

services are reviewing their roles and missions in an effort

 

to sustain their current structure. Marine TACAIR is viewed

 

as a target for a way to cut spending. An argument used is

 

that only once since WW-II has an amphibious landing

 

occurred (Inchon) and should one occur in the future either

 

the Navy or Air Force can support it. This implies that

 

Marine TACAIR exists solely to support amphibious landings,

 

which is wrong. As stated in FMFM 5-1 "... Marine Corps

 

aviation is to participate as the supporting air component

 

of the FMF in the seizure and defense of advanced naval

 

bases and for the conduct of such land operations as may be

 

essential to the prosecution of a naval campaign." Marine

 

Corps TACAIR's sole mission is to support FMF operations,

 

regardless if the mission is amphibious or not.

 

The focus of the Marine Corps is, and has been for

 

decades, expeditionary operations and other duties that the

 

President directs. For over 40 years it has trained,

 

organized, and equipped itself for expeditionary operations.

 

Amphibious operations are just one way to employ the Marine

 

Corps under the expeditionary umbrella. Although Marine

 

TACAIR has not been involved recently in wartime amphibious

 

operations, neither has the GCE. This is not a reason to

 

dissolve the Marine GCE nor does it carry any weight in the

 

argument to dissolve Marine TACAIR.

 

Marine tactical air combat power serves Marine ground

 

forces as airborne artillery. This allows the force to

 

remain light and to maintain its expeditionary "on-call"

 

focus. The Army, in contrast, historically lacking reliance

 

on Air Force close air support, has invested heavily in

 

attack helicopters, tanks, armored vehicles, artillery

 

pieces and MLRS launchers. It also acquired the Patriot,

 

originally designed as a long-range anti-aircraft missile.

 

Over the past five years a reduction in Marine ground

 

artillery by 45 percent severely reduced the GCEs combat

 

effectiveness.10 This puts more emphasis on the use of

 

TACAIR to provide heavy firepower for ground combat. The

 

Air Force in recent years has openly put little emphasis on

 

close air support and discussed the options of dissolving

 

their A-10 squadrons. Who then will provide support to the

 

Army when required, let alone the Marine Corps should its

 

TACAIR be dissolved? Realistically the Navy, although

 

contrary to "Forward...from the Sea", can not be counted

 

on due to the aviation elements linkage to the carrier and

 

possible limited ability to navigate to within a reasonable

 

distance of the area of operations. Retired Air Force

 

General McPeak would like to believe that even if the Air

 

Force gave up the close air support mission, "In an

 

emergency, we would always be able to augment the Army and

 

Marine Corps with multirole fighters and gunships."11 In

 

light of the recent Persian Gulf War this type of thinking

 

is very flawed. US Air Force A-10 squadrons flew in excess

 

of 8,000 missions while US Marine Corps TACAIR flew over

 

9,000 missions.12 Had Air Force A-10 squadrons and Marine

 

Corps TACAIR been dissolved prior to the Persian Gulf War,

 

who would have made up the missions? Certainly not the

 

Navy, where sortie generation is limited by the carrier, and

 

neither would the US Air Force, who already had a full

 

schedule. Air Force A-10 pilots have publicly said on

 

programs such as "Wings" that they flew three times a day,

 

remaining in the cockpit for 10-12 hours reaching total

 

exhaustion. F-15 and F-16 pilots also approached over

 

tasking and required medication to help remain alert.

 

Supporting maneuvering ground forces requires much more

 

than an aircraft and pilot. If the combination does not

 

have the proper training and currency it becomes

 

ineffective. One of the most telling arguments for

 

maintaining Marine TACAIR, in light of the US Air Force

 

position to give up the close air support mission, comes

 

from the Air Force's own official history.

 

Competition in close air support from Marine Corps

aviation in Korea at first proved painfully

embarrassing to the Air Force because of the superior

performance of the Marines. Marine flyers were

specialists in close support. It was their major

mission, they were trained for it, and their equipment

was optimized for the role. They were consciously part

of a well-honed team. Little wonder that Marine

aviation was almost universally praised by ground

troops and universally feared by the enemy, according

to POW testimony. The net effect of this competition

was to induce the Air Force to match the Marine Corps

performance or lose credibility.13

 

To integrate Marine TACAIR into the Navy would create a

 

severe shortfall in Navy and Marine TACAIR assets and would

 

not save money. Merely repainting aircraft and changing

 

uniforms does not decrease spending but will decrease combat

 

effectiveness. According to "The Department of the Navy's

 

Integrated Amphibious Operations and USMC Air Support

 

Requirements Study," Marine forces in a regional conflict

 

require the support of 15 carrier equivalents if Marine

 

tactical air support is not available, support that could

 

not be provided today.14 Also, as pointed out by a Center

 

for Naval Analysis study on Navy and Marine TACAIR,

 

integration is a force structure and capability reduction.

 

Integrating blue and green TACAIR assets would reduce

 

sortie-generation capability in one major regional conflict

 

by about 20 percent and significantly reduced the Department

 

of Navy contribution to theater strike.15 With full

 

integration (or even partial integration), the CV's may be

 

required to provide increased MAGTF support. This could

 

tether the CV to Marine Corps operating areas and thus limit

 

the CV's flexibility to the theater CINCs for other required

 

operations.

 

Cost Comparison

 

The Marine Corps is a force of economy. It operates on

 

about 6 percent of the defense budget, providing 20 percent

 

of the active divisions and 14 percent of the tactical

 

aircraft. Personnel strength levels are also significantly

 

more cost effective when compared to the other services.

 

The ratio of officers to enlisted Marines is 1:9.16 The

 

ratio of officers to enlisted in the Navy is 1:7, in the

 

Army 1:5, and in the Air Force 1:4.17

 

The question to be asked is which service can

 

accomplish the mission of supporting Marines with TACAIR at

 

a lower cost? Neither the Air Force nor Navy can compete

 

with the Marine Corps when it comes down to cost

 

effectiveness. The following evaluation of TACAIR costs

 

utilized the January 1992 President's Budget. This budget

 

had been through service, Office of the Secretary of Defense

 

(OSD) and Office of Management and Budget (OMB) scrutiny.

 

It reflects the last official executive department DOD

 

budget. Operations, maintenance, and manpower costs were

 

evaluated.

 

To replace Marine Corps TACAIR with Navy TACAIR would

 

cost almost $140 million dollars more per year in operating

 

and support costs. To replace Marine Corps TACAIR with Air

 

Force TACAIR would cost almost $398 million dollars more per

 

year.18

 

The following table reflects the operating and support

 

costs per one airframe during fiscal year 1993 (FY93).19

 

Included in the cost are manpower authorizations, peculiar

 

and support equipment, necessary facilities and the

 

associated costs specifically identified and measurable to

 

the type aircraft squadron and maintenance required.

 

FY93 SINGLE ACFT

AIR FORCE A/C OPER COST (MILLION)

 

F-15 2.4

 

F-15E 2.2

 

F-16 1.8

 

A-10 1.5

 

EF-111 3.1

 

 

MARINE CORPS AV-8B 1.6

F/A-18ACD 1.6

 

EA-6B 2.4

 

NAVY F/A-18AC 1.7*

 

EA-6B 3.0*

 

*Does not include intermediate maintenance or wing

operating and manpower requirements.

 

Clearly, the above figures document that Marine Corps

 

TACAIR is an economy of force when compared to the Air Force

 

and the Navy.

 

 

Conclusion

 

The Marine Corps receives constant pressure to justify

 

their requirement in maintaining fixed wing tactical

 

aviation. The Joint Strategic Capabilities Plan (dtd 7 Aug

 

92) specifies that Marine Corps "Forces are deployed as

 

fully integrated MAGTF's ... combined arms forces consisting

 

of air, ground and combat service support units." It is

 

the "A" in MAGTF that gives the ground combat element the

 

firepower and lethality that embody the combat capability of

 

the MAGTF.

 

Due to the total force downsizing, each service branch

 

is straining to meet peacetime operational commitments while

 

trying to maintain combat readiness to support the national

 

security strategy. The United States military forces today

 

are currently capable of fighting just one major regional

 

contingency, not two, as called for in the current national

 

security strategy.

 

If Marine Corps TACAIR is decommissioned, who will

 

support the Marine Ground Combat Element (GCE)? The Navy is

 

currently straining just to equip its aircraft carriers with

 

TACAIR. Navy aircraft are heavily tasked supporting

 

existing OPLANs, and due to location, time and distance

 

factors, may not be capable to support the GCE. The Air

 

Force is also heavily committed in numerous OPLANs. Should

 

the Air Force dissolve its A-10 community (CAS mission

 

aircraft) a tremendous gap will be created. The firepower

 

contributed by the A-10 during the Gulf War had a

 

significant impact on enemy destruction in the close battle.

 

What asset will provide this support should the A-10 or CAS

 

mission be deleted from the Air Force? The F-16 and F-15E

 

could effectively do the mission, but what will be the

 

impact of taking these sorties away from their current

 

missions of interdiction and shaping the deep battle

 

Deleting Marine TACAIR would not only decrease the

 

effectiveness of the Marine Air Ground Task Force but also

 

degrade the Air Force and Navy missions by stripping

 

aircraft from them to fill the void. The CINC will have

 

fewer assets and therefor fewer options available. Sadly,

 

as the current creeping of hollow forces occurs, the end

 

result will lead to lives lost in combat due to decreased

 

capabilities.

 

Maybe the Air Force should concentrate solely on the

 

deep battle and strategic targets and relinquish the close

 

battle to Marine and Navy TACAIR-not only for the Marine

 

Corps but also the Army. Marine TACAIR can accomplish all

 

missions in the close battle as swiftly, effectively and at

 

a very significant cost savings than either the Air Force or

 

Navy.

 

There is a very justifiable requirement to retain

 

Marine Corps TACAIR assets. Losing Marine TACAIR will

 

destroy the MAGTF and its ability to support the roles and

 

missions assigned by Title 10, U.S. Code. The United States

 

National Security Strategy, which is questionably

 

supportable now, would become unsupportable.

 

The United States Air Force and Navy do not have the

 

equipment or manpower to replace Marine Corps TACAIR during

 

wartime operations. Even now, during peacetime, neither the

 

USAF nor USN could fill in required USMC TACAIR UDP,

 

exercise and boat commitments that are tasked by the

 

Department of Defense. Marine TACAIR is currently being

 

considered to augment USAF aircraft standing alerts

 

overseas.

 

The bottom line is dollars. If Marine TACAIR can

 

operate at a lower cost, which statistics show that it does,

 

then why are taxpayers spending more money on a more

 

expensive product to achieve the same results? Cutting back

 

Marine Corps TACAIR is not the answer.

 

 

1 Thomas E. Doll, USN/USMC Over Korea (Squadron/Signal

Publications Inc., 1988), 58

 

2The Marines in Vietnam 1954-1973, (History and Museums

Division, Headquarters, U. S. Marine Corps,1985), 95

 

3Marine Aviation Brief For The Secretary of Defense,

USMC Aircraft and Munitions: Performance in Desert Storm,

(WDID SWA 0049, 25 June 1991)

 

4Ibid

 

5Air Force Manual 1-1, Basic Aerospace Doctrine of the

United States Air Force, (Washington, DC: GPO, March 1992),

219-220

 

6RADM Riley D. Mixson, "Naval Air: Projecting Power,"

Naval Aviation News, November-December 1992, 1

 

7US Marine Corps, Marine Aviation FMFM 5-1, Marine

Corps Development and Education Command, (Quantico, VA

1991), 1-1

 

8Ibid. 1-1

 

9Ibid. 1-1

 

10LtCol M.Scott Craig, "Let Marines Keep Tactical Air

Power," Defense News, October 24-30, 1994

 

11Col Robert S. Melton, "The Value of Marine

Aviation," Marine Corps Gazette, December 1994, 32

 

12Gulf War Airpower Survey, Volume V, Department United

States Air Force, Washington, D.C., 1993

 

13Col Robert S. Melton, "The Value of Marine

Aviation," Marine Corps Gazette, December 1994, 33

 

14LtCol M. Scott Craig, "Let Marines Keep Tactical Air

Power," Defense News, October 24-30, 1994

 

15Marine Corps Projects at CNA, "Navy/Marine Corps

TACAIR Integration," April-June 1994

 

16Department of Defense, Defense 94 ALMANAC, Issue 5,

(Washington, D.C. GPO, 1994), 24

 

17Ibid. 24

 

18Cost figures were based on the January 1992

President's Budget and calculated by HQ, USMC for the

Aviation Comment on: CMC Memorandum to PP&O concerning

Marine TACAIR brief "RELEVANT, CAPABLE, FLEXIBLE, READY."

 

19 Ibid.

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

 

Air Force Manual 1-1, Basic Aerospace Doctrine of the United

States Air Force, (Washington, D.C.: GPO, March 1992).

 

Craig, LtCol Scott M. "Let Marines Keep Tactical Air

Power." Defense News, October 24-30, 1994.

 

Department of Defense, Defense 94 ALMANAC, Issue 5,

(Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1994).

 

Doll, Thomas E. USN/USHC over Korea. Squadron/Signal

Publications Inc., 1988.

 

Marine Aviation Brief For The Secretary of Defense. USMC

Aircraft and Munitions: Performance in Desert Storm.

WDID SWA0049, 25 June 1991.

 

Marine Corps Projects at CNA. "Navy/Marine Corps TACAIR

Integration." April-June 1994.

 

Melton, Col Robert S. "The Value of Marine Aviation."

Marine Corps Gazette, December 1994.

 

Mixson, RADM Riley D. "Naval Air: Projecting Power." Naval

Aviation News, November-December 1992.

 

U.S. Air Force. Gulf War Air Power Survey, Department of the

United States Air Force. Washington, D.C., 1993.

 

U.S. Marine Corps. The Marines in Vietnam 1954-1973. History

and Museums Division. Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps,

1985.

 

U.S. Marine Corps. Marine Aviation FMFM 5-1. Marine Corps

Development and Education Command. Quantico, VA, 1991.

 

U.S. Marine Corps. Doctrine for Amphibious Operations

LFM 01. Washington, D.C., 1986

 



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