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MAGTF:  Inefficient And Misunderstood
AUTHOR Major Harry D. Persons, USMC
CSC 1989
SUBJECT AREA - Operations
THESIS: GCE Commanders are ill prepared to make
aviation related decisions.
     The US Marine Corps has no formal school for the
education of Marine ground officers that covers
integration of  the six functions of Marine Aviation
into the MAGTF mission.  Marine Corps doctrine calls
for the G-3 of the GCE of a MAGTF to develop the
courses of action for the MAGTF if it is a one GCE
MAGTF.  The ACE is relegated to doing staff estimates
on the courses of action developed by the GCE G-3.  A
lack of understanding of Marine Corps Aviation
capabilities has led to the assumption that the ACE is
nothing more than a supporting arm for the GCE.  The
ACE should be considered a maneuver element of the
MAGTF.  It can delay, deceive, destroy and control.
Only the missions of occupy and seize should be
restricted for the GCE.  Technological advances in
aviation related weaponry occur continuously.  Keeping
up with the advances and modifying tactics is a full
time job for aviation operators.  For a ground officer
to be schooled in aviation tactics and keep up with
changes in hardware and tactics is impossible.
SOLUTION:  Recognize the ACE as a maneuver element of
the MAGTF.  This would force the MAGTF staff to develop
the courses of action.  All newly assigned MEF and MEB
staff officers should attend a WTI class prior to
assuming their positions on their staff.
Thesis Statement:  GCE Commanders are ill prepared to make
aviation related decisions.
I.   Ground officer training in efficient aviation utilization is
     A.  Formal Schools
     B.  On the Job training
II.  MAGTF Courses of Action are developed by the GCE Operations
     A.  ACE allocates the number of sorties available to the
GCE for the scheme of maneuver.
     B.  ACE provides supportability input to the GCE Commander
     C.  ACE is not given any authority in the formulation of
the COA's,
III.  Intergration and efficient use of the six functions of
Marine Aviation is poorly understood.
     A.  Force multiplier aircraft.
     B.  Multi-mission capable aircraft perform in several
functional areas.
     C.  Need for intergration of assets to maximize
     D.  WTI Course exposure to the six functions.
IV.  Viet-Nam Mentality
     A.  Marine Corps attitude is related to experience.
     B.  Low surface to air/air to air threats of Viet-Nam has
continued to dominate Marine Corps attitudes toward air
V.   Lessons Learned
     A.  Top Gun
     B.  Naval Strike Warfare Center
VI.  Threat Levels and Effect on GCE COA's
     A.  Low
     B.  Medium
     C.  High
VII.  Options
     A.  Educate the Ground Officers
     B.  Change the Doctrine: Make the MAGTF G-3 responsible for
developing the COA's with his staff.
     C.  MEF and MEB staff members should be required to attend.
         the WTI execution phase.
      The Marine Corps prides itself in being the only
U.S. service organized as an air-ground team.  The Marine
Corps plans on deploying to combat areas as a Marine Air
Ground Task Force (MAGTF).  Each MAGTF has a headquarters
element, a ground combat element (GCE), an air combat
element (ACE) and a combat service support element
(CSSE).  By doctrine the GCE commander "identifies,
plans, establishes target priorities and coordinates the
air attacks on both the first and second echelon targets
in accordance with the ground scheme of maneuver."1  GCE
commanders are ill prepared to make aviation related
     The GCE commander must have an understanding of the
abilities and limitations of his supporting ACE in order
to be successful and efficient.  Currently the Marine
Corps has no training exercise that incorperates all six
functions of Marine aviation in conjunction with a
manuvering GCE.  Lip service is given to the problem at
different levels of Marine education.  All Marine Second
Lieutenants attend The Basic School and receive a brief
course on air capabilities.  The small percentage of
Marine Captains who are selected to attend Amphibious
Warfare School receive another dose of aviation
capabilities.  Marine Majors who attend Command and Staff
College concentrate on organizations and orders.  Some
attention is given to utilization of the ACE, however
coordination of assets in order to maximize capabilities
and minimize limitations is not taught to all students.
On the job training is the only way for the average
Marine ground officer to learn about coordination and
limitations of the ACE, and only a handful of such billets
are currently available.
      Marine Corps doctrine dictates that the GCE
Operations Officer prepare courses of action for the
MAGTF (in the case of a one GCE MAGTF),2  The allocation
of numbers of sorties that the GCE can expect during the
operation is furnished to the GCE Operationa Officer by
the ACE prior to the developemnt of the courses of
action.  This is a "Bean Counter" approach to warfare.
The GCE Operations Officer formulates his courses of
action based upon numbers of sortiea available and he
determinea how the sorties will be used.  After the
courses of action are formulated the ACE Commander is
required to produce a staff estimate on the different
courses of action.  The ACE staff estimate does nothing
more than point out which course of action is moat
supportable from an aviation standpoint.  By doctrine the
ACE Commander is not included in the preparation of the
courses of action, where his expertice could be used to
insure maximum utilization of the assets, not just the
numbers.   In this day and age of multimillion dollar
aircraft with multiple mission capabilities (force
multipliers) and dynamic aviation tactics driven by
technology and the threat, it is a travesty to relegate
the ACE Commander to a position of staff officer to the
GCE Commander.
     The six functions of Marine Air are:  1) Offensive
Air Support, 2) Antiair Warfare, 3) Assault Support, 4)
Air Reconnaisance, 5) Electronic Warfare, 6) Control of
Aircraft and Missiles.3  The separation  of
responcibilities between each of the functions is
impossible.  If, for example, and F-18 is on an antiair
warfare mission (flying over the battlefield on a combat
air patrol with the purpose of intercepting and
destroying enemy aircraft) and his controller redirects
his F-18 to engage a ground target (offensive air
support) he could attack the target if he had the proper
type of ordnance on his F-18.  The F-18 is one of the
worlds finest fighter attack aircraft capable of multiple
missions.  The capabilities of the aircraft are kept
confidential and in places difficult for the average
ground officer to keep abreast of.  The only place in the
Marine Corps where MAGTF air assets are brought together
for employment, with live ordance, against a surface and 
air threat is a MCAS Yuma, Arizona.  At Yuma, Marine
Aviation Weapons and Tactics Squadron 1(MAWTS 1) is 
responcible for teaching two Weapon Tactics Instructor
(WTI) Course each year to representatives from the
different functions of Marine Air.  Those who attend the
class receive classroom training on  intergration of air
assets, then they fight an air war with all the different
types of aircraft, ordnance and radar associated with a
MAGTF.  The attendees to the WTI Course are the
recipients of the only Marine Corp air integration course
with a practical application.  The graduates of the
course (WTI's) are suppose to return to their squadrons
where they will instruct their squardon-mates on the
utilization of all the assets of Marine Air.  Parts of
the six functions may be practiced by squadrons, but
there is no place in the Marine Corps where all functions
can be employed against an air  and surface threat in
conjunction with a GCE.  Few non-aviators realize that it
takes most fixed wing aviators five or six years to gain
the required experience necessary to be able to fly the
demanding sorties at WTI without killing themselves.  The
WTI's are the only Marines who have experienced the  "Big
Picture"  in the modern era;  in them rest the real
corperate knowledge of how the six functions of Marine
Aviation fit together in a coordinated effort.  It is a
severe loss to the Corps that after graduating and
instructing for two years, the required pay back time for
attending WTI, many of the WTI's leave the service for
civilian employment.  As they walk out the door they take
with them the valuable investment the Corps has made in
them.  More  importantly they have little opportunity to
interact and educate their ground officer contemporaries,
     The Marine Corps has been famous for fighting its
last war over and over again.   It is true we are
creatures molded by experience; the problem may be we
have not experienced a high tech enemy in our history.
Is there an active duty Marine who has experienced the
horror of being bombed?  Air superiorty has become an
expected tactical advantage by the GCE.  It is not a law
of science that when the Marines are on the ground the
air above will only allow friendly aircraft to fly in it.
The Viet Nam mentality still exists today for many ground
officers when they say, "when I want air, you give me
air."  This attitude has been nurtured by the aviation
side of the Marine Corps.  By doctrine the ACE is
responcible for formulating and executing the antiair
warfare (air superiority) plan for the MAGTF.  The
antiair plan is formulated in the famous "Bean Counter"
approach of how many of ours does it take to counter the
number that we know the enemy has.  After the "Bean
Count" analysis has been achieved the ACE informs the GCE
that the remainder of the air assets are available for
GCE utilization.  The GCE then compares his close air
support requirements and interdiction requirements
against his allocation of air sorties.  If the GCE "Bean
Count"  is less than or eaual to the ACE "Bean Count" then
the war proceeds.  Why is the ACE relegated to counting
beans and not an intergral part of the formulation of the
courses of action?
     Aviation has always worked best when a sanctuary has
been established for air operations over the battlefield
(air superiority).  Tremendous technological changes have
occured in the surface to air threat since the Viet-Nam
era, specifically surface-to air missiles and
antiaircraft guns that are radar equipped for targeting.
Do the Marine ground officers who are responsible for the
formulation of MAGTF courses of action understand that
aviation plays a dominant role in two of the three key
elements of maneuver warfare?  The first is the seeing of
the  battlefield, the second is the shaping of the
battlefield, and the third is the maneuvering on the
battlefield.  How many Marine Ground officers are willing
or able to plan for the ACE to perform the first two
functions of maneuver warfare?  The process is by no
means simple, and in view of continually changing
technolgical advances being made by our adversaries and
our own forces, keeping up is a full time job.
     The US Navy was not satisfied with the performance
of US Navy fighter pilots during the early portion of the
Viet-Nam conflict.  Naval Fighter Weapons School  (Top
Gun) was established at Naval Air Station (NAS) Miramar,
California with the purpose of instructing fighter pilots
on how to be efficient in the use of their weapons
systems.4  Prior to the formation of Top Gun, the kill
ratio for US Navy vs N Vietnamese fighter pilots was
 2.5:1.  Top gun graduates  scored an impressive 10:1 kill
ratio against N Vietnamese fighters.   It should be noted
that the US Air Force did not have a fighter wapons
school during Viet-Nam and that their kill ratio remained
about the same during the conflict.   Both the U.S. Navy and
Air Force fought against the same pilots and aircraft.
     Following the poorly executed US Navy air strike, in
1988, against surface to air weapons in the Bekaa Valley,
the then Secretary of the Navy, John Lehman, ordered the
formation of Naval Strike Warfare Center (NSWC)  at NAS
Fallon, Nevada.  The desired result of NSWC was similar
to that of Top Gun,  improve weapon system efficiency.5
At NWSC the emphasis is placed on integration of Carrier
Air Ground assets against targets in different air threat
scenarios.  The results have been encouragin,  the strike
on Libya is an example.   Capt Bob "Bubba" Brodsky,
Commanding Officer of NSWC, recently commented.
     Tactical warfare today has entered a new era.
     It has became  increasingly complex--the days of
     just strapping on an airplane and driving off
     to move mud, drop bombs on the bad guys, are
     gone forever....Lebanon taught  us a painful
     lesson. 6
The US Navy saw a need to improve training for its pilots
after experienceing unsatifactory results both fighter
and attack.  The US Marine Corps need not experience an
unsatisfactory event to realize a major problem exists
with MAGTF planning.
     Much of the current military mental gymnastic energy
is applied to catagorizing war on the spectrum of
conflict.  Low intencity conflict (LIC) is characterized
by a political-military confrontation between contending
states or groups below conventional war.   Four examples
are:  insurgency-counterinsurgency, terrorism
counteraction,  peacekeeping,  and  peacetime  contingency
operations.7   The conflict spectrum continues up through
high intencity conflict (HIC) which is the unrestricted
use of military power by the belligerents.8   Completely
seperate from the spectrum of conflict is the air threat
spectrum which also runs from low to high.  Low air
threat is characterized by surface to air weapons of 25mm
or smaller, medium air threat by radar guided AAA
(anti-air artillary) and IR (infrared) SAM's (surface to
air missiles), high air threat by radar guided AAA radar
and IR SAM's, and aircraft.   A dangerous situation may
exist when assuming that a low level of conflict will
have a corresponding low air threat level.  Many Russian
pilots can testify that the LIC in Afghanistan was not a
low air threat senario.  The Afghanistan rebel aquisition
and use of the US made Stinger IR surface- to-air missile
moved the air threat into the mid level.  The lessons
learned by the Russians were expensive prior to making
adjustments to the air threat level.  US Navy and Air
Force tacticians, when planning the strike against Lybia
in 1988, may or may not have been aware that the strike
was executed in a LIC, terrorism counteraction, and that
they in fact faced a high air threat level,  an integrated
air defence of SAM's, AAA and aircraft.
     Even if the most likely scenario for the employment
of U.S Marines is a low intensity conflict there is no
guarantee that a corresponding low air threat level will
exist.  In fact more and more countries and insurgents
now have access to man portable surface-to-air missiles.
The US Marine Corps has only one formal school which
teachew employment of the six functions of Marine
aviation against differing levels of air threat and how
each level effects tactics and weapons delivery.  That
school is the WTI Course taught by MAWTS-1, however, no
actual ground combat element is involved.   It is somewhat
ironic that the individual who will draw up the MAGTF
courses of action and who will depend upon Marine Air for
fire power has had little training in air integration.
      The Commandant of the Marine Corps has stated that
the Marine Corps will deploy as MEB's (Marine
Expeditionary Brigades) and employ as MEF's (Marine
Expeditionary Forces); both of these organizations
contain all six functions of Marine Aviation.  Technical
advancements in friendly and enemy aviation capabilities,
whether air-to-air, surface-to-air, air-to-ground or
command and control, are changing continuesly.  Keeping
up with advancements and designing tactics to optimize
capabilities is a full time job for aviation operators.
For a GCE Commander or his G-3 to be aware of every
neoteric advance in aviation and how it will effect the
battle would require an officer of immense knowledge
combined with a willingness and ability to keep up with
     The staff planning for both the MEB and the MEF
should be conducted at the operational level of war.  The
operational  level of war "involves fundamental decisions
about when and where to fight and whether to accept or
decline battle.   It requires broad vision, ability to
anticipate, a careful understanding of the relationship
of means to ends, and effective joint and combined
operations."9  By definition the operational level of war
is "executed at the MAGTF level or higher."10  The beat
staff to determine the "when and where" and also weigh
"means and ends" of the MAGTF is not the GCE Staff.  The
GCE Staff lacks the training and exposure to aviation
integration and capabilities.  Neither the MEB GCE nor
the MEF GCE Staffs contain sufficient aviation officers
to provide adequate insight into aviation considerations.
Is there a Regimental Air Officer, the aviation staff
officer for a MEB GCE, who can explain to the  GCE G-3
that the six functions of Marine Aviation available to
the MEG should make the ACE the Focus of Effort for the
MAGTF in certain senarios?  The doctrine of having the
GCE G-3 develop the courses of action is an ipso facto
agreement by the Marine Corps that the GCE will be the
Focus of Effort.  MajGen Dailey recognized the lack of
integration when he wrote:
     We fail  to force the issue durinf planning and
     excuting variuous exercises... the exercises
     objectives do not call for the advanced level
     of aviation play....the overriding reason for
     the failure to use air decisively is that
     exercises are designed for the ground Marines'
     benefit with little concern for aviation
     training objectives... How many exercises
     include proper employment of tactical aviation
     as a major consideration of the exercise
     objectives?  How many include aviation as the
     point of main effort (now called focus of
     effort)?  How many times has aviation been used
     to turn the tide of battle?.. This is an area
     that offers tremendous potential for us to
     improve our combat effectiveness.  If the
     exercises  limitations don't permit execution,
     then at least the intellectual consideration of
     possibilities will create an awareness of the
     capabilities and make them part of our normal
     approach in considering tactical options.11
     The Marine Corps will be stuck in the quagmire of WW
II thinking until it realizes that the ACE is not only a
supporting arm but a maneuver element capable of
accomplishing all the missions assigned to the GCE except
for those of seizing and occuping.  The ACE can delay,
deceive, destroy and somewhat control.  If the Marine
Corps is willing to admit that the ACE is a maneuver
element of the MAGTF that alone will would be the
doctrinal change required to get the MAGTF Staff to
develop the curses of action.  Current doctrine states
if there is more than one maneuver element in a MAGTF
that the MAGTF Staff will develop the courses of action.
The MAGTF Staff should be able to be more objective in
the deciding of "when and where" and also weighing "means
and ends."    The  ipso facto rule of making the GCE the
focus of effort would be done away with and the MAGTF
staff could weigh the abilities of each maneuver element
to perform specific missions in order to acccomplish the
MAGTF mission.  The changing of the status of the ACE
from a supporting arm to that of a maneuver element
should not be interpreted as the infamous tail trying to
wag the dog, but rather a necessary step required to more
efficiently employ the MAGTF.  All MEB and MEF Staff
members should be required to attend the execution phase
of a WTI Course prior to assuming responcibilities on
their staffs.  The knowledge gained and the exposure to
aviation capabilities and weaknesses will undoubtedly pay
dividends in the future.
     1MCDEC, USMC, Tasking USMC Fixed-Wing Tactical
Aviation, OH 5-3 (Quantico, 1982), p. 1-3.
     2MCCDC, USMC, Introduction to Amphibious
Operations,CC 2100 (Quantico, 1988), p. 1-SO-2b.
     3MCDEC, USMC, Marine Aviation, FMFM 5-1 (Quantico,
1979), pp. 5-8.
     4John Joss, Strike: US Naval Strike Warfare Center
(Novato, CA: Presidio Press, 1989), p. 31.
     5Joss, p. 27.
     6Joss, p. 31.
     7MCCDC, USMC, Ground Combat Operations, OH 6-1
(Quantico, 1988)  pp. 2-6/2-7.
     8Ground Combat Operations, p. 2-6.
     9Ground Combat Operations, p. 2-4.
     10Ground Combat Operations, p. 2-4.
     11"Air Issues Reviewed," Marine Corps Gazette
(February 1989), P. 24.

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