CAX - Combined Arms Exercise
The Combined Arms Exercise (CAX) program at the Marine Corps Air-Ground Combat Center (MCAGCC), Twenty-nine Palms, California, is the Marine Corps' most advanced live-fire unit-level combined arms training program for ground and air fire support with maneuver at the tactical level. The Marine Air Ground Task Force Training Command at Twentynine Palms is the premier live-fire base in the Marine Corps. Each year roughly one-third of the Fleet Marine Force and Marine Reserve units -- some 50,000 Marines in all -- participate in the base's training exercise program. It draws military personnel from all over the world for Combined Arms Exercises. A CAX involves several hundred Marines playing a war game against a fictitious enemy in which ground troops, armor, artillery, and aircraft engage enemy movements simultaneously.
The Marine Corps' Combined Arms Exercise (CAX) Training Program, developed to enable commanders and Marines to practice combat essentials skills, began in 1975 and allows for both brigade and battalion sized live-fire and maneuver exercises. The operating procedures permit Marines training at the Combat Center to maneuver both on foot and mounted on vehicles through live-ordnance impact areas. It further permits most air and ground weapons commonly found in a Marine Air Ground Task Force to be employed closely, in accordance with current doctrine in a combined arms setting.
The procedures taught at CAX (Combined Arms Exercise) are applicable across all terrain, not just desert warfare. Similar training is not possible aboard other bases. There are too many constraints," Taylor said, adding that "internal friction" such as broken equipment and loss of communications adds to the realism of CAX training. Marines can't effectively train for this set of target skills with MILES (Multiple Integrated Laser Engagement System) gear or force-on-force exercises. With new technology, services have become more inclined to depend heavily on non-live-fire target training. Combined arms skills are perishable and demand frequent sustainment.
After ten days of vigorous training here, the 3400 Marine reservists making up Marine Air Ground Task Force 24 put what they learned to the test in the Final Exercise of Combined Arms Exercise 7-01. The Marine Air Ground Task Force is composed of four elements: the Command Element, Air Combat Element, Ground Combat Element, and Combat Service Support Element. Units from all over the country made up MAGTF 24. Throughout the Combined Arms Exercise, each element goes through practical training that is applied in the FINEX. The training is exhausting and repetitive but necessary to understand the individual role of each Marine and how the components fit together. The FINEX is a battalion size attack up the Quackenbush Corridor.
Warriors of Marine Air Ground Task Force-2, battling a blazing sun and treacherous, rocky terrain completed their Combine Arms Exercise 9 training 15 August 2001 by defeating a notional enemy during the Final Exercise (FINEX). After receiving a call for assistance from an allied nation, "Task Force Betio," or 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marines, positioned itself north of the "port city" of Twentynine Palms to help clear enemy forces from the area.
In the three-day exercise, MAGTF-2 was able to destroy the 111th Mechanized Brigade by seeking out and destroying its advance units and staging a well-planned defense. With protective screens by Light Armored Vehicles to the west and Kilo Company to the east, M1A1 Abrams Tanks, artillery, 81 mm mortars, combined anti-armor teams, and rotary and fixed wing assets conducted deliberate assaults on forward enemy artillery and reconnaissance elements. This allowed India and Lima Companies, 3/2, traveling in Amphibious Assault Vehicles, to complete the first day's mission of securing the task force's first two objectives.
Day two found the elements of the reinforced battalion dug in and awaiting the enemy's next movement south. Throughout the day and night, combined arms pounded the advancing foes, reducing the threat to a mere fraction of its original strength. Finally, quiet fell on the battlefield as dawn made its approach. As FINEX neared its conclusion, one task remained. Reconnaissance elements had identified platoon-sized enemy emplacements north-east of Betio's position. The task force mobilized, snaked through the rocky canyons and annihilated the unfortunate opposition with a final devastating blow from the "Betio Bastards" and supporting elements.
The 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit performed so well in Afghanistan in 2001, largely because its ground and air-combat elements trained together at a CAX aboard the combat center, honing their ability to perform combined-arms operations competently.
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