Marine Corps Doctrine: Can The Ace Support It?
SUBJECT AREA Aviation
Author Major Lawrence W. Astyk, USMC
TITLE: MARINE CORPS DOCTRINE: CAN THE ACE SUPPORT IT?
THESIS: Marine aviation must adapt to the current
Marine Corps doctrine of warfare by maneuver. The
secret to this adaption is real integrated training
with the other elements of a MAGTF.
BACKGROUND: Marine aviation may be facing its
greatest challenge since its inception. It is
undergoing a major doctrinal change as far as its
employment as part of the Marine air ground team,
while at the same time it is potentially facing the
largest cuts in its budget and force structure since
the Korean War. The issue at hand is whether or not
Marine air can support current Marine doctrine and
what will be its role in this new doctrine. Some
people feel that the complexibility of maneuver
warfare will overcome the ability to coordinate the
air effort. Some other people also believe that we
don't have the equipment required to support such
operations, expecially during a time when the budget
will continue to shrink.
RECOMMENDATIONS: Marine aviation must increase its
integrated training with the other elements of the
MAGTF if it is to adapt to maneuver warfare. This
is especially true at the MEB and MEF level.
CONCLUSIONS: The mission of Marine aviation and its
six functional areas will hold it in good stead in
supporting its ability to conduct warfare by maneuver.
MARINE CORPS DOCTRINE:
CAN THE ACE SUPPORT IT?
Thesis: The Marine Corps is undergoing doctrinal changes that
effect it from the way it trains to the way it fights.
Marine aviation must enhance its integrated training if
it is to adapt a doctrine of warfare by maneuver.
I. Roles and requirements
C. Control of Aircraft and Missiles
A. Integrated training
Marine Corps Doctrine: Can The Ace Support It?
The mission for the Marine Air Ground Task Force (MAGTF)
commander is to employ his Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF) as
part of a Joint Task Force (JTF), with the purpose of
reestablishing pre-conflict boarders of an allied North African
The threat in the MEF's area of responsibility (AOR) consist
of two mechanized rifle brigades and one mechanized armored
brigade. These ground forces are being supported by a large
tactical air force that has a limited capability to conduct
night operations. The enemy has pushed itself deep into our
allied country's boarders and has established defensive
After analyzing the situation, the MAGTF commander and his
staff have determined that the enemy's strength lies in his
mobility and firepower of his large ground force, along with his
potential air power. The enemy's weaknesses are his long lines
of communications and his limited ability to project air power
during nighttime operations.
The MAGTF commander's intent is to shape the battlefield
through maneuver warfare. This will allow him to isolate and
fix individual enemy elements thus reducing their ability to
provide mutual support with their superior mechanized and
armored capabilities. The enemy's capability to conduct both
offensive and defensive operations must be reduced significantly
before the MAGTF commander can commit his ground combat element
(GCE) in a major engagement.
The MAGTF commander realizes that at this time the enemy has
superior tactical mobility on the ground. To counter this
advantage of the enemy, the MAGTF commander decides that in
phase one of his concept of operations that the air combat
element (ACE) will be the focus of effort. The ace is given a
mission order designating itself as a maneuver element and the
focus of effort of the MEF in phase I. The ace and his staff
now start the planning process necessary to accomplish the
mission they have been given by the MAGTF commander.
The Marine Corps is undergoing doctrinal changes that effect
it from the way it trains to the way it fights. A major issue
often discussed during this period of change is whether or not
Marine aviation can support Marine Corps doctrine, which is
today based on warfare by maneuver.
One must fully understand Marine aviation as it is today
before one can determine or suggest changes to it for future
use. The primary mission of Marine Corps aviation is to
participate as the supporting air component of the Fleet Marine
Force (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. (5:5)
Marine Corps aviation is organized, trained, and equipped as
a completely expeditionary air arm. This expeditionary aspect
sets Marine Corps aviation apart from other aviation
organizations. Marine Corps doctrine envisions that Marine
Corps aviation will support the landing forces throughout an
assault landing and subsequent operations. Marine Corps
aviation must be prepared to provide this support by operating
tactical aircraft squadrons from carriers as part of carrier air
groups or from airfields within striking distance of an
amphibious objective area. It must be prepared to operate,
after rapid establishment ashore, from minimal airfields within
the objective area during the assault phase of an amphibious
operation. Plans should provide for early seizure of bases for
operating aircraft and sites for landing force early warning and
air control facilities. As soon as possible, additional Marine
Corps air units should be deployed into those airfields within,
or contiguous to, the objective area. Marine Corps aircraft
operating from such facilities will be utilized through the
Marine air Command and Control System (MACCS) to fulfill an
increasing amount of the total air support requirements.
The Marine Corps has developed an effective aviation combat
arm capable of meeting all requirements of a landing force.
These requirements call for a flexible, responsive aviation
combat element specifically tailored to meet the anticipated
tactical situation. Air component tasks include seeking out and
destroying enemy forces and supporting installations, gaining
and maintaining air superiority, preventing movement of enemy
forces along routes of communication and to provide direct air
support to the ground combat element.
Over the years the different tasks required of Marine
aviation have been divided into six functional areas. The six
functions consist of air reconnaissance, antiair warfare,
assault support, offensive air support, electronic warfare and
control of aircraft and missiles. A brief description of the
individual functions will lay down the ground work for how
Marine aviation is structured as we stand today.
Air reconnaissance is the acquisition of intelligence
information employing visual observation and/or sensors in air
vehicles. These capabilities include the employment of
photographic, electronic and visual reconnaissance/surveillance.
Included in the visual category is the use of aircraft to
provide tactical air observers, artillery and naval gunfire
spotters, and ground unit personnel conducting visual
Antiair warfare is that action required to destroy or reduce
to an acceptable level the enemy air and missile threat. It
includes such measures as the use of interceptors, bombers,
antiaircraft guns, surface-to-air and air-to-air missiles,
electronic countermeasures, and destruction of the air or
missile threat both before and after it is launched.
assault support are those actions required for the airlift
of personnel, supplies, and equipment into or within the battle
area by helicopters or fixed-wing aircraft. Vertical assault
airlift is the use of assault aircraft to provide tactical
mobility and logistic support required by ground combat
elements. Air delivery is the use of fixed wing tactical
transports to move high priority cargo and personnel within the
immediate area of operations. Inflight refueling and air
evacuation also come under assault support.
Offensive air support (OAS) are those air operations that
deliver firepower against enemy ground forces for the
destruction or neutralization of installations, equipment and
personnel. OAS missions are classified according to the degree
of coordination required with ground elements. Close air
support (CAS) are air actions against hostile targets which are
in close proximity to friendly forces and which require detailed
integration of each air mission with the fire and movement of
those forces. Deep air support (DAS) are air actions at such
distances from friendly units as to require no coordination with
the fire and movement of those units. The term DOS connotes
delivery of firepower beyond the fire support coordination line
Electronic Warfare (EW) are military actions involving the
use of electromagnetic energy to determine, exploit, reduce or
prevent hostile use of the electromagnetic spectrum and action
which retains friendly use of the electromagnetic spectrum. EW
includes identification and location of electromagnetic energy,
electronic jamming and electronic deception.
Control of aircraft and missiles is a synthesis of a
multitude of tasks which integrates the other five functions of
Marine aviation and allows them to be conducted simultaneously.
It also provides the command and control interface with the
other elements of the MAGTF.
Now that we have determined the mission and functions of
Marine aviation, let's look at the status of the equipment
presently in the Marine Corps to support those requirements. We
will divide our equipment into five categories, fixed-wing
aviation, rotary-wing aviation, reserve aviation, Marine air
Command and Control Systems and ground-based air defense.
Under fixed-wing aviation we will start with AV-8B Harrier.
The "B" version of the Harrier ensures a state of the art
aircraft for our light attack community into the 21st century.
We will have an all AV-8B light attack active force by 1992.
Besides the tremendous flexibility the Harrier provides with its
vertical/short takeoff and landing (V/STOL) capabilities the
Marine Corps now has its first operational night attack capable
Harrier Squadron. This capability along with its ability to
operate off our amphibious assault ships will insure that the
MAGTF commander has that required fire support necessary
throughout every phase of the operation. The present multiyear
procurement contract--24 aircraft per year for 3 years--will
bring our total procurement to 276 aircraft. (3:59)
The F/A-l8 Hornet is another fixed wing aircraft that the
Marine Corps is still procuring. The Hornet is an excellent
multi-mission, force multiplier aircraft that fulfills both
air-to-air and air-to-ground missions. The Marine Corps now has
12 single seat operational squadrons in the active force and is
in the process of standing up its first two seat night attack
Hornet squadron. The plan is to procure 4 to 6 squadrons worth
of the F/A-l8D variant to conduct night attack, reconnaissance,
tactical air coordinator airborne (TACA), forward air controller
airborne (FACA), and all the other air-to-air and air-to-ground
missions that the aircraft is capable of performing.
The Marine Corps all weather bomber, the A-6E Intruder, is
being phased out and being replaced by the F/A-1BD. This
transition is due to be completed between 1992 and 1994
depending on the Navy's requirement for the aircraft. With the
loss of the Intruder, the corps will lose its only all weather
close air support aircraft. The plan right now is to upgrade
the radar in the F/A-18D to give it a radar beacon forward air
controller (RABFAC) capability similar to the A-6E.
The EA-6B is the fixed-winged platform used in Marine
aviation to conduct electronic warfare. It is used to detect,
locate, classify, record, and jam electronic radiations. The
Prowler's primary mission is to support strike aircraft and
ground troops by suppressing enemy electronic activity and to
obtain tactical electronic intelligence. Marine Corps EA-6B's
are scheduled to receive further enhancements that will allow it
to retain its title as the worlds premier electronic warfare
platform well into the 21st century.
The RF-4B is currently utilized to conduct multisensor
reconnaissance. Its capabilities include forward and
down-looking cameras, including a panoramic model with moving
lens filaments for horizon-to-horizon pictures, along with
side-looking radar and an infrared sensor and recorder. The
RF-4B is presently being replaced by the F/A-1BD. The F/A-18D
will be equipped with an all-weather, electro-optic/infrared
imagery system with the capability for near real-time data link
of the information to a ground station. (3:23)
The OV-10 Bronco is a two place, twin engine aircraft whose
primary mission is observation and reconnaissance. It also
serves as a vehicle for artillery or naval gunfire spotters and
air controllers. The OV-1OD is able to conduct these missions
during both day and night utilizing its infrared observation
system. This system is capable of designating for laser capable
munitions. Some alternate missions for the OV-1O include
helicopter escort, close in fire support and a paradrop
capability of both troops and cargo. The OV-1O is currently
undergoing upgrades to extend its service life into the 21st
The KC-13O is a four-engine, turboprop assault aerial
refueler and transport aircraft. Its primary mission is
tactical aerial refueling. Some alternate missions include, air
delivery of cargo and troops, providing a rapid refueling
capability for both helos and AV-8B's at a forward arming and
refueling point (FARP), and delivering flares for target
illumination. By installing a UYQ-3A van the KC-13O can act as
a direct air support center airborne (DASC(A)). Its ability to
operate out of short unimproved airfields day or night make it a
tremendous intratheater asset.
Rotary-wing aviation in the Marine Corps consist of four
helicopters. These four helicopters are the UH-1, AH-1, CH-46
and CH-53. The UH-1N, provides the necessary utility support to
the landing force. The Huey provides an airborne command and
control platform when the AN/ASC-26 communications package is
installed. The UH-1N is also capable of providing armed escort,
CIFS, MEDEVAC and troop transport.
The Marine Corps' attack helo is the AH-1 Cobra. The Cobra
provides armed escort, landing zone (LZ) fire suppression, CIFS,
destruction of enemy armor and defense against enemy attack
helicopters. All AH-1 helos will be of the AH-1W variant in the
near future. The ongoing modification program that converts
AH-1Ts to AH-1Ws and our previous procurement of 78 aircraft
will bring our active force total to 115 aircraft. (3:59)
The medium assault aircraft for Marine aviation is the
CH-46. The mission of the CH-46 is to provide assault transport
of combat troops, supplies and equipment. Troop assault is the
primary function of the CH-46. The CH-46 is an old aircraft
approaching the end of its service life. The Marine Corps was
planning to replace the CH-46 with the MV-22 tilt-rotor
aircraft. Due to budgetary constraints the replacement of the
CH-46 may be a CH-53/UH-60 mixture. Headquarters Marine Corps
(HQMC) is assessing how this mixture and other options can
alleviate our medium assault support shortfall.
The Marine Corps' heavy-lift helicopter is the CH-53. Its
primary mission is to provide assault helicopter transport of
heavy weapons, equipment and supplies. A secondary mission is
the movement of combat troops. The latest version of this
helicopter, the CH-53E, will be able to lift 93 percent of all
division equipment. This capability to carry a 16 ton external
load gives the ground commander the operational flexibility he
needs to reposition artillery and light armored vehicles
(LAVs). The CH-53E can carry up to 55 combat troops.
Procurement planned through FY 90 will bring a total of 125
aircraft operating well into the 21st century.
Marine Reserve aviation exists to augment and reinforce the
active aviation forces in the event of mobilization and to serve
as the nucleus of a fourth Marine aircraft Wing. (3:58). We
are in the process of replacing our reserve F-4 squadrons with
F/A-18s, and continue to receive new KC-13OTs for our reserve
KC-13O squadrons. The goal for our Reserve aircraft is
commonality with our active forces. Due to budget constraints
this goal will not be achieved as quickly as we had anticipated.
The Marine Air Traffic Control and Landing System (MATCALS)
is a tactical air traffic control program designed to replace
the precision/surveillance radars and operating shelters of the
Marine air traffic control squadrons. The first of l7 systems
was delivered to the Fleet in 1986 and initial operational
capability is scheduled for 1990. (3:60)
The Tactical Air Operations Module (TAOM) is a
transportable, modularized, software-intensive, automated air
command and control system. It is taking the place of the bulky
Tactical Air Operations Center (TAOC). The TAOM is capable of
controlling and coordinating the employment of a full range of
air defense weapons, interceptors and surface-to-air missiles in
support of the MAGTF.
Ground-based air defense is provided to the Fleet by the
HAWK and the Stinger antiair missile systems. These two systems
provide a balance of close-in and medium-range firepower for all
levels of the MAGTF composition. The ultimate goal is three
active Hawk battalions of two "square" batteries each. After
analyzing the mission, functions and supportability of Marine
aviation, one more area needs to be looked at before any serious
recommendations relating to maneuver warfare can be made. That
area of concern is the influence of present and future budgeting
restraints relating to Marine aviation.
Today the six functions of Marine aviation are very
supportable with assets already in the inventory. On the whole,
Marine aviation is standing in good stead looking forward to the
21st century. The most serious area of concern relating to the
ability of Marine aviation to conduct maneuver warfare lies in
our rotary-wing capability. Two specific problems arise in this
area. The first is the aging of our medium lift aircraft, the
CH-46. This airframe has to be replaced before the 21st century
or Marine aviation will be critically restricted in its ability
to conduct maneuver warfare or any other type of warfare.
The second area of concern is the ability of our helicopter
community to conduct tactical night operations. Our helicopter
cockpits were designed 20-30 years ago and they still lack
heads-up-displays and navigation aids required to make up a full
night capable system. Cancellation of the MV-22 Ospry hurt the
Corps' plans to upgrade cockpit aids for pilots (1:11).
"What you need for all these helicopters, if they're going
to survive in a night tactical environment, is a precise
navigation system, a FLIR, and a night vision capability all in
one," said Lt. Gen. Charles H. Pitman, head of Marine Corps
aviation, in an interview with armed Forces Journal
International last August. Marine aviation can conduct night
assault operations at this time, but its ability to perform this
function is reduced due to the workload being so high on the
aircrews flying our present day helicopters.
Even with present and future budgetary restraints, I think
it is quite obvious that Marine aviation has the ability to
adapt to the concept of maneuver warfare without changing its
mission or functional areas. There are two matters that have to
be considered though when addressing the concern of Marine
aviation adapting to maneuver warfare.
The first matter is that of the mindset of the Marine Corps
as a whole relating to maneuver warfare. For the Ace to partake
in maneuver warfare and act as a maneuver element two things
need to be accomplished. The first thing is that the maneuver
warfare concept must be adopted by the MAGTF commander and his
three subordinate supporting element commanders. This step can
be considered as being implemented at every MAGTF throughout the
The second part of this mindset must be the requirement to
increase the exposure between the different elements of the
MAGTF. There has to be a continuing effort by every Marine to
learn as much as he can as to how the other elements in the
MAGTF can and cannot perform their missions.
This leads us to the concern of whether or not the Ace can
support maneuver warfare. To conduct maneuver warfare the MAGTF
commander is going to have to ensure that his element commanders
and himself know the capabilities and limitations of each
element in its ability to accomplish the mission. There is only
one way to achieve this level of expertise and that is through
Maneuver warfare is going to increase the demand for the ace
to become intimately familiar with the GCE's scheme of maneuver
and vice versa. The CSSE's involvement in the planning of
operations will be more critical than ever. "Much has been
written about the operations component of maneuver warfare. But
maneuver warfare operations, like all modern types of warfare,
will succeed or fail depending on the adequacy of logistics
The first challenge for an ace in maneuver warfare may well
be the analyzing of that mission type order he receives. As a
maneuver element conducting the main attack the main input as to
how he conducts that attack may well come from information
derived from the expertise of the GCE. Only Marine aviation is
organized where this sort of interplay can be taken advantage of
on a daily basis from the lowest to the highest level of the
operation. We must demand that this rapport continues to grow
throughout the Corps.
The hardest facet facing the ace in maneuver warfare will
still be the ability to locate and identify both friendly and
enemy forces and conducting that coordination required for CAS
operations. The chances are greater than ever in maneuver
warfare that there will be friendly forces established well
beyond the forward edge of the battle field (FEBA). This will
make the coordination effort twice as difficult but it can be
accomplished if we integrate our training and conduct our
training like the way we are going to fight.
In the scenario at the start of this paper it has been
decided that combined antitank teams (CAT) will be utilized well
behind enemy lines to help reduce the enemy s armored and
mechanized capability. The CAT teams will be used to try to get
the enemy to commit himself in isolated areas. The individual
teams will be supported by the ace with preplanned scheduled and
on call CAS. The CAT teams will consist of light assault
vehicles (LAV) equipped with antitank TOW missiles. The
logistical support for these CAT teams will be provided by
assault support helicopters during the night because the
resupply will have to take place behind enemy lines.
It is very obvious to see that a tremendous amount of
coordination and support will have to go into the planning of
this operation. This planning will have to be conducted by
utilizing the ability to integrate all the elements who will be
involved. It is also obvious that this sort of integrated
planning must be conducted and executed in a training
environment before it can be expected to be utilized in a real
In conclusion I believe that Marine aviation can support and
be an integral part of the Marine Corps all ground team. I
also feel that the mission of Marine aviation and its six
functional areas will enable it to conduct maneuver warfare if
we conduct true integrated training and practice the same way we
plan to fight.
1. Donovan, Elizabeth P., "Seeing the Light" Navy Times
(26 March, 1990).
2. Gray, General A.M., "Comments on Logistics," Marine Corps
Gazette, (October 1989).
3. Pitman, Lt. Gen. C.H., "Aviation Posture Statement" Marine
Corps Gazette, (July, 1989).
4. U.S. Marine CORPS, Fleet Marine Force Organization -1990.
FMFMRP 1-ll, Quantico, Virginia, 1989.
5. U.S. Marine Corps, Marine aviation FMFM 5-1 Quantico,
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