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"Marine GCI": Past, Present And Future
AUTHOR Major William J. O'Connell, USMC
CSC 1988
SUBJECT AREA Intelligence
Thesis statement:  This paper will trace the historical
development of the equipment and mission of the Marine Air
Control Squadron (MACS), commonly known among United States
Fighter and Interceptor aircrews as simply "Marine GCI".
I.   The Humble Beginning
     A.   The Marine Air Warning Squadron (MAWS)
          1. Organization and Equipment
          2. Mission and Operations
     B.   The Marine GCI Squadron (MGCIS)
          1. Organization and Equipment
          2. Mission and Operations
II.  The Transition -- A New Era Dawns
     A.   The Early Marine Air Control Squadron
          1. Organization and Equipment
          2. Mission and Operations
     B.   Modernization arrives on the battlefield (circa
III. The Marine Air Control Squadron Today
IV.  What Does the Future Hold?
     A.   Tactical Air Operations Module
     B.   Marine Airborne Early-Warning
     C.   Passive Sensors
                      EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
I.   Purpose:  To trace the historical development of the
equipment and mission of the Marine Air Control Squadron
(MACS), commonly known among United States Fighter and
Interceptor aircrews as simply "Marine GCI".
II.  Problem: Despite the importance placed on the air war
in the modern era, few people realize that the key
ingredients in air warfare, and air defense in general, are
radar detection and fighter control.
III. Data:  Today's Marine Air Control Squadron can trace
its roots back to the Air Warning Squadrons of World War II.
First formed in 1943, these squadrons were created to fill a
critical need for early-warning and intercept direction for
both day and night fighters.  In the 40 years since, the
MACS has undergone major evolutionary, and in some cases
revolutionary, changes in mission and equipment.  It now
employs sophisticated radars and a major computer-based
digital data exchange capability with both U.S. and Allied
nations.  MACS squadrons have participated in every major
conflict which has involved the United States.  The MACS
will continue to evolve to meet the ever-changing threat,
and to be able to respond quickly and appropriately.
IV.  Conclusion:  The Marine Air Control Squadron continues
to make a vital contribution to the successful accomplish-
ment of the mission of Marine aviation.
V.   Recommendation:  That when discussing Marine aviation,
care be taken to further emphasize the role of the Marine
Air Control Squadron in the prosecution of the air war.
Great men of all time are remembered in rhyme;
Brave men, stand immortal in stone.
We never forget the valiant who met
Danger's challenge and faced it, alone.
The pilots who soar with thundering roar
Are saluted in musical lines.
But there's one motley crew, a forgotten few,
On whom glory's light seldom shines.
They spend their long nights in figuring drifts,
Settings and headings and mach.
They wait for their bird to give them the word,
And pray that he doesn't break lock.
Their problems magnetic often give them a headache,
They slowly go blind watching squawks.
Their nightmarish sleeps run in twelve-second sweeps,
And they worship a black little box.
He runs the whole show, tells the birds where to go,
Selects headings and type of attack,
Watches for strangers and imminent dangers,
Guards their safety, and then brings them back.
A pilot's up there, somewhere in the air,
Pressure's dropping; he's out of the race.
The Controller's on call to get on the ball
And give him a steer for the base.
He'll moan and he'll groan, he'll cry into the phone
Until contact is made with his chicks.
But there's one lonesome call that he dreads most of all:
"Where are they?  Get me a fix!"
When nothing is flying, he'll stand around lying,
Telling tall tales of his skill
At nighttime tomcatting, and daytime combatting
And how he moved in for the kill.
When the mission's all through, and the bleary-eyed crew
Adjourns to the Club for a snack,
The pilots come in and they say with a grin:
"Good show!  We came right down the track."
     This flying's a game that brings pilots great fame,
     But just half the team flies, as a rule.
     The other half is found away down on the ground --
     The Controllers -- a good one's a jewel.
     The preceding jingle, of unknown origin, has been
around for many years; it attempts, in a lyrical sense, to
explain the role of the air defense controller.  However, to
the uninformed, it will raise more questions than it
answers.  What does a controller do; how and where does he
do it?  This paper will trace the historical development of
the equipment and mission of the Marine Air Control Squadron
(MACS), commonly known among United States Fighter and
Interceptor aircrews as simply "Marine GCI".
                     THE HUMBLE BEGINNING
	Today's Marine Air Control Squadron can trace its roots
back to the Air Warning Squadrons of World War II.  First
formed in 1943, these squadrons were created to fill a
critical need for early-warning and intercept direction for
both day and night fighters.  They were an outgrowth of the
ground controlled intercept (GCI) section of the Marine
Night Fighter Squadron (VMF(N)), the first recorded use of
radar in the Marine Corps.
     The original Marine Corps plan called for the activa-
tion of 32 Air Warning Squadrons for the Pacific theatre.
(13:MACS)  However, in actual fact only about half that
number were formed, and only 11 squadrons saw duty in the
Pacific. (10:442)
     These AWSs were equipped with various types of ground-
to-ground and ground-to-air radios and a mixed suite of
long, medium and short range radars:  two SCR-270 long range
search radars, one SCR-527 medium range control radar, and
usually three SCR-6O2 early-warning short range radars.  (An
interesting aside about the SCR-527 radar -- when the Marine
Corps took delivery of its second SCR-527 from the General
Electric Company in Syracuse, New York, the radar was con-
sidered obsolete by the Royal Air Force, which had already
been using it. (10:162))  The coordination of the various
inputs received by the radar operators from these different
radar sets, sometimes spaced more than 50 miles apart, was
accomplished at the Air Defense Control Center (ADCC),
located at the squadron headquarters.  The various ADCCs
would in turn forward tracking information to the overall
area Air Defense Coordinator.
     The initial mission of the Air Warning Squadron was to
"furnish early-warning information on approaching air and
sea attack and to provide fighter direction against this
attack." (13:MACS)  This mission was modified a short time
later to read:
     Warn of approach of enemy aircraft, to control
     interceptions by friendly planes and to receive,
     evaluate, collate and disseminate all information on
     air and surface craft furnished by an Air Defense
     Control Center. (13:MACS)
     Following a six month period of intensive training, the
first of the Marine Air Warning Squadrons was ready for
combat.  On 20 February, 1944, Air Warning Squadron One
(AWS-1), under the command of Captain W. D. Felders, arrived
on Engebi Island in the Marshall Islands and on 1 March
assumed responsibility for the control of all friendly
aircraft in the area. (10:233)  Marine Air Warning Squadrons
took part in all of the major campaigns throughout the
remainder of the war in the Pacific.  This effort reached
its zenith during the battle for Okinawa, when five Air
Warning Squadrons (AWSs 1, 6, 7, 8 and 11) were used to
completely encompass the island within its air warning/
defensive umbrella.  An interesting point concerning AWS-7
-- "on 19 August, 1945, Pineapple Base [AWS-7's operational
callsign] was the first [Radar] station to pick up the
Japanese peace envoy's aircraft on its way to Ie Shima."
     Following the end of hostilities in the Pacific, in
October, 1945, two Marine Air Warning Squadrons (AWS-7 and
11) deployed to Peiping, China with Marine Air Group 24 in
support of the Nationalist Chinese in their civil war with
the Communist Forces.  Air Warning Squadron Seven remained
in China until January, 1949.
     During that time, many changes were underway concerning
the future and structure of Marine Aviation.  As is commonly
the case following wars, force structure cuts were in the
offing; numerous AWSs were decommissioned, their equipment
and personnel parceled out to the remaining units, while
others were combined to make a third unit.
     Another change then affected the Marine Air Warning
Squadrons, a change in designation.  During the period June
to August, 1946, the Marine Air Warning Squadrons were
recombined and redesignated as Marine Ground Control
Intercept Squadrons.  Some examples of these combinations
were:  AWSs 1 and 11 combined to become MGCIS-2; AWS-13 was
redesignated MGCIS-4, while the original AWS-4 was decommis-
sioned; and AWS-7 became MGCIS-7. (13:MACS)  At the same
time, and perhaps even more significantly, the MGCISs
received improved communications equipment and several new
radar sets:  the AN/CPS-5 primary air search radar; the
AN/MPS-4 height finding radar detector; and the AN/TPS-B
early-warning radar.  These new items of equipment, vastly
superior in capabilities to the systems that the AWSs had
taken to war in the Pacific, came at a critical time, for in
little more than a year after MGCIS-7 had returned from
China, the drums of war began to beat anew and on 17 Septem-
ber, 1950, landing through Inchon, the radar crews of
MGCIS-1 again found themselves in combat. (6:169)
     Along with the new equipment and the new designation,
the Marine Ground Controlled Intercept Squadrons found
themselves with a new mission:
     The Marine Ground Controlled Intercept Squadron is to
     provide, operate and maintain radio -- radar facilities
     for air surveillance and fighter direction within an
     air defense system. (13:MACS)
     By March, 1951, enemy air power in Korea had increased
significantly, and the problems of United Nations air
defense multiplied.  As a result, General Harris, Commanding
General, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, requested a second MGCIS
be sent to Korea to help cope with this situation.  On 5
March, MGCIS-3 sailed from San Francisco. (5:90)  During the
Korean War, the MGCISs participated in most of the major
operations in support of the United Nations air effort.
Following the armistice in July, 1953, as they did after
World War II, the MGCISs would remain in Korea to help
insure peace.  MGCIS-1 left Korea in April, 1955.
     As was the case following World War II, the end of
hostilities in Korea caused considerable activity with
regard to the future of Marine Corps aviation.  Numerous
conferences were held concerning the number and types of
aircraft needed to meet the challenges of the cold war, the
concern over nuclear weapons, and the future of jet avia-
tion.  In fact, the overall missions and tasks of Fleet
Marine Force Aviation organizations -- their scope, design
and structure -- were all discussed and considered for
change.  The future of the Marine Ground Controlled Inter-
cept Squadrons was to be no exception.  The first major
change realized was in the form of another redesignation; by
the end of April, 1954, the Marine Ground Controlled Inter-
cept Squadron was renamed the Marine Air Control Squadron
(MACS).  The driving force behind the recommendation for
this redesignation is interesting, to say the least:  "For
purely functional identification purposes, the board recom-
mends the title designation for the MGCIS be changed to
Marine Air Control Squadron." (14:IV-2)
     The mission statement for this newly named organiza-
tions was also changed:
     As the basic air control unit of the Tactical Air
     Control Center of the Marine Aircraft Wing, install,
     operate and maintain ground electronics equipment for
     the detection and interception of enemy air targets and
     control of aircraft of the Marine Aircraft Wing in
     support of Fleet Marine Force operations. (13:MACS)
     Of note here is the increasingly more complex wording
of the mission statements as opposed to the rather simply
stated missions of World War II.
     Not only did the name of the basic unit change during
this period, so did the internal structure.  The Air Defense
Control Center (ADCC) was replaced by the Counter Air
Operations Center (CAOC).  The CAOC was defined as:
     A subordinate operational component of the [Marine] Air
     Control System designed for control and direction of
     air defense operations.  It is under the operational
     control of the/a TADC (Tactical Air Direction Center)
     or TACC (Tactical Air Control Center), as appropriate.
     During this same period, and in response to a better
understanding of the threat posed to the Marine Corps by
guided missiles during and after an amphibious operation,
the Marine Corps again modified the mission statement of the
MACS to read:
     Install, maintain and operate ground facilities for the
     detection and interception of hostile aircraft and
     missiles and for the navigational direction of friendly
     aircraft in the accomplishment of support missions.
     Along with the cosmetic changes came technological
improvements in radar sets.  These new MACS started swapping
out their older sets and taking delivery of newer radars
during this time frame.  Radars such as the AN/TPS-17 search
radar, AN/TPS-15 radar, and AN/TPX-17 radar interrogator
system, along with improvements to the AN/TPS-1B, all
combined to give the MACS a considerably improved detection
and controlling capability.
     In addition to the newer radars, another item to assist
the MACS was on the drawing board -- the Marine Tactical
Data System (MTDS).  The requirement for MTDS evolved from a
1956 Marine Corps study of air defense problems. (13:MACS)
The study determined that the manual air control system then
available could not effectively deal with the current and
projected requirements of the Marine Corps.  An automated
information processing and data exchange system was required
to reduce the defensive reaction time created by a high
speed threat.  In 1961, a MACS (MTDS Test Unit) was formed
for the purpose of determining the feasibility of the MTDS
project. (13:MACS)  The MTDS program was planned to be com-
patible with similar U.S. Navy programs:  Navy Tactical Data
System (NTDS) and the Airborne Tactical Data System (ATDS).
     Throughout the period following Korea, Marine Air
Control Squadrons polished their skills in exercises and day
to day garrison operations.  Improvements in early-warning
and fighter-controlling techniques were continually being
tested and evaluated.  Technological advancements in radar
systems and communications were also being incorporated.
These new skills and systems were immediately put to the
test, when on 19 May, 1962, MACS-4 packed up its AN/TPS-15,
the AN/MPS-16 and the MPS-11 search radar and deployed as an
element of the Provisional Marine Air Group, 3rd Marine
Expeditionary Unit to Udorn, Thailand.  The mission given to
the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Unit was to assist Thailand in
defending her northern and eastern borders against Communist
incursion from Laos.  "...In its northern location, MACS-4
has become the northern most element of U.S. Forces in
Thailand with the Laotian border lying only 23 miles north."
(13:MACS)  MACS-4 remained in Thailand until July, 1962.
     During the early 196Os, testing and evaluation was
being conducted on a myriad of new radars and equipment.  A
whole new family of radars had emerged and was being fielded
to the MACSs as replacements for the old and outdated radars
then in use: the AN/TPS-22 long range search radar, the
AN/TPS-34 search radar, the AN/TPS-37 height finding radar,
and the AN/UPS-l medium range search radar.  These new radar
sets all gave the MACS increased surveillance and detection
capabilities.  In addition to the improvements in equipment,
the MACS was also undergoing an organizational change; the
old CAOC was phased out and replaced by the Tactical Air
Operations Center (TAOC).
     Further, Litton Industries was well on its way in the
process of developing, in conjunction with the Marine Corps,
the first of the Tactical Data Communications Centrals
(TDCC), the "brains" of the Marine Tactical Data System.
Marine Air Control Squadron Three took delivery of the first
MTDS system for operational testing in July, 1966. (13:MACS)
     However, July, 1966 would prove to be not soon enough.
In May, the MACS went back to war, this time in Viet Nam.
Marine Air Control Squadron Nine was directed to deploy from
its base in Atsugi, Japan to Viet Nam in May, 1965; its
mission was to provide early-warning from Phu Bai.  The
squadron installed a second radar site and the manual TAOC
at Chu Lai and functioned as a Control and Reporting Post
(CRP) for the U.S. Air Force's "Panama" radar station.
MACS-9 operated out of these locations until September,
1965, when it was replaced by Marine Air Control Squadron
Seven, which had just arrived from Okinawa.  This was the
first combat for MACS-7 since World War II. (13:MACS)
     During this period, MACS-3 was making rapid progress
with the certification of the MTDS system.  Marine Air
Control Squadron Four had taken delivery of its various sub-
systems from July to December, 1966, and had established a
vigorous training program for its personnel, operators and
technicians alike, in preparation for assignment to combat.
     The automated system exceeded all expectations in its
improvements over the older manual system.  MTDS gave the
controllers the ability to handle more than 20 simultaneous
intercepts and the computer could track up to 250 air
targets.  The system and controllers of MACS-4 were ready;
it was time to go to war.  MACS-4 deployed to Da Nang, Viet
Nam, in June, 1967, replacing MACS-7, which redeployed to
Camp Pendleton, California. (13:MACS)
     Litton provided and MACS-3 certified MTDS systems for
delivery to the remaining MACS as soon as they were avail-
able off the assembly line.  However, the production sched-
ule was such that from 1968-1971, there were two separate
types of MACS within the Marine Corps:  MACS (Table of
Organization 8630) and MACS/MTDS (Table of Organization
8631); the former was a manual TAOC and the latter an
automated TAOC.  It was not until 1972 that all the TAOCs
were automated.
     The acquistion of new and revolutionary technology was
not limited to the MTDS; the Marine Corps was also exploring
greatly improved and updated radars.  In 1968, MACS-3 began
testing the AN/TPS-32, a unique radar in that it, a single
radar, provided the controller with a three-dimensional
picture.  Previous radars had been two-dimensional, and
required a separate height finding radar to provide altitude
information on contacts. (13:MACS)
     Marine Air Control Squadron Four left Viet Nam in
February, 1972. Before it left, its MTDS had provided a
foundation for all future operations with the Navy and Air
Force through the successful operation of the South East
Asia Interface, which forwarded digital track data on a
continual basis between the 7th Air Force and CTF 77.
(13:MACS)  Today, data interchange of this type is con-
sidered routine, as is reflected by the number of joint
operations in which the Marine Corps participates.  In 1969,
with a new and relatively untried system, this was quite an
     The Marine Air Control Squadron of today is the
product of some 40 years of evolution -- truly a far cry
from the humbly equipped Air Warning Squadrons activated in
September, 1943.  The mission statement of the MACS now
     The mission of the TAOC is to detect, identify, and
     control the intercept of hostile aircraft and missiles,
     and to provide navigational assistance to friendly
     aircraft in the accomplishment of support missions.
     To accomplish this mission, the MACS has a fully
automated and upgraded TAOC, and an extremely advanced suite
of communications equipment.  As for radars, the AN/TPS-32
remains reliable and is still in use.  The AN/TPS-22 and the
old AN/UPS-1's were phased out in the early 198Os.  In theirs
place, the current TAOC employs state-of-the-art digitized
radars:  the AN/TPS-63, a lightweight, helicopter-transport-
able, short-range, Moving Target Indicator (MTI) equipped
two-dimensional radar; and the AN/TPS-59, a long range,
three-dimensional, phased-array, solid-state surveillance
radar which has been in the inventory since about 1985.
While the services of the Marine Air Control Squadron have
not been needed in war since Viet Nam, the squadrons remain
at a high level of operational readiness through numerous
combat exercises throughout the world i.e., Korea, Norway,
the Philippines and Japan.  Should the drums of war beat
again, the MACS of today is ready to answer the call to
                 WHAT DOES THE FUTURE HOLD?
     To continue to meet the challenge presented by the
ever-changing threat, the Marine Air Control Squadron must
continue to evolve, as it has for the past 40 years.  To
this end, several programs to improve the capabilities of
the squadron are in various stages of development.  One such
program is the AN/TYQ-23 -- originally called TAOC-85, now
simply referred to as the Tactical Air Operations Module
(TAOM).  Designed by Litton Data Systems of Van Nuys,
California, as a second generation replacement for the
current TAOC, the TAOM is revolutionary in design, in that
four shelters, or OMs, replace the grouping of approximately
23 shelters previously required.
     The basic system element is the Operations Module (OM).
     A single OM, housed in a standard 20 foot, ANSI ISO
     shelter, contains all mission essential equipment with
     the exception of search radar, IFF and prime power
     equipment.  Full system functional capability is pro-
     vided by a single shelter which weighs approximately
     10,000 pounds with all OM equipment, including signal
     and power cables, installed for transport. (11:1)
    Considering the limited strategic lift capability
available to the Marine Corps for equipment movement, this
new system will provide advantages far beyond those realized
by the MACS alone.  An important tactical advantage of the
new Tactical Air Operations Module is the ability gained to
remote the radars up to two kilometers away from the system
with fiber optics. (11:1)  At present, the MACS is required
to locate its primary radars within 1000 feet of the
shelters due to cable/system constraints.  Considering the
threat's ability and apparent intention to use antiradiation
weapons (ARM), the current MACS is therefore seen (at least
by those controllers who man it) as a "missile magnet".
     In keeping with the desire to upgrade and increase the
inherent capability of the MACS to counter the modern
threat, the Marine Corps is also researching the feasibility
of adding an airborne early-warning (AEW) asset to the
     To aid in preventing a surprise air attack, the
     capability to detect low-flying targets in any weather
     and terrain conditions, is a necessity.  An airborne
     early-warning aircraft would provide the most reliable,
     easily deployable and effective method of over-the-
     horizon detection and targeting of a low level threat.
     It is usually assumed that the concept of airborne
early-warning in the Marine Corps is a fairly new concept.
In fact, the topic was first raised as early as 1955:
     Although the Board feels that the Marine Corps has no
     airborne early-warning (AEW) capability today, it is to
     be reiterated that technical progress should be
     monitored, and, if equipments become available, every
     advantage should be taken of them as an effective AEW
     aircraft could materially assist in providing the
     detection so urgently required. (17:14)
     In this search for upgrades to improve the MACS, what
else does the future hold?  Space technology, advancing
faster today than ever before, causes discussions of future
developments to sound like science fiction:  passive sensors
with which the ground station would simply receive and track
the threat based solely on the aircraft's inherent electro-
magnetic radiation; the use of data provided by satellites
to control aircraft and run ground controlled intercepts.
No one can really know where technology will lead us.  With
regard to the control of aircraft and missiles, and the
future of the Marine Air Control Squadron, perhaps even the
sky is not the limit.
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