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The MEU(SOC) Airfield Seizure
AUTHOR Major Scott G. Duke, USMC
CSC 1990
SUBJECT AREA Strategic Issues
                EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
Although there exists a scarcity of information on how to
conduct airfield seizures, the currently configurated
MEU(SOC) units possess the assets and operational capability
of conducting this special operations mission.
ISSUE:   Each of the three expeditionary force Commands have
been tasked to have trained and forward deployed MEU(SOC)
units that  are available around the world that can be
committed if so ordered by National Command authority.  Each
MEU(SOC) unit is tasked to be capable of executing the
eighteen seperate special operations missions. An additonal
requirement has been developed for the MEU's to have the
ability to conduct air field seizure operations.  The
airfield seizure mission can be broken down to three distinct
missions, airfield seizure for the induction of operations,
as it relates to the in-extremis hostage rescue mission.  A
historical study of the recent past reveals that a nation
could call on its armed forces to execute the seizure of an
airfield for any of these three types of missions.  Although
many official Marine Corps source documents require forces to
be able to conduct this special operations mission, they lack
detail on the visionary concepts of the task organization and
the actual execution of forces on the ground.
CONCLUSION:  As U.S. forces redeploy from Europe and the
Pacific, reaction time to respond to a crisis overseas will
grow exponentially as well as the requirement to utilize
airfields for the induction of forces and logistics for
sustainability.  The Amphibious Ready Group, spearheaded by a
MEU(SOC), possesses the capability to seize a hostile
airfield for the induction of the nations follow on forces.
                 THE MEU (S0C) AIRFIELD SEIZURE
THESIS STATEMENT.  Although there exists a scarcity of
information on how to conduct airfield seizures, the
currently configurated MEU(SOC) units possess the assets and
operational capability to conduct this special operations
    I.  Creation of the MEU(SOC) program
        A.  CMC MEU(SOC) guidance to the force commanders
        B.  MEU(SOC) missions
        C.  MEU(SOC) special operations missions
        D.  Development of the airfield seizure mission
    II. Historical view of the airfield seizure operation
        A.  Israel raids Entebe Airfield
        B.  Egyptian Commandos at the Cyprus Airfield
        C.  U.S. Army rangers at Salines Airfield, Grenada
III.    U.S. Marine Corps documents concerning the airfield
        A.  The expeditionary enviorment study
        B.  FMF airfield seizure sources
IV.     A method of conducting the MEU(SOC) airfield seizure
        A.  Airfield seizure mission assumptions
        B.  Common airfield facility characteristics
        C.  Airfield Destruction / seizure task organization
        D.  Concept of operations for executing the airfield
        E.  Command and control of the airfield seizure
                         THE MEU(SOC) AIRFIELD SEIZURE
     Although there exists a scarcity of information on how
to conduct airfield seizures, the currently configurated
MEU(SOC) units possess the assets and operational capability
to conduct this special operations mission.  In the mid-
1980's the United States Marine Corps identified a
requirement for forward deployed forces that possessed
enhanced skills in rapid response planning and maritime-
oriented special operations.  Marine planners would base
these specially trained units around the previously-
established Amphibious Ready Group (ARG).  The ARG would now
be composed of the Amphibious Squadron (Phibron) and a Marine
Amphibious Unit (Special Operations Capable).  The name of
this unit would eventually be changed to Marine Expeditionary
Unit or MEU(SOC).  General A.M. Gray, Commandant of the
Marine Corps, gave initial guidance that he wanted each of
the three Marine Expeditionary Force commands to have trained
and forward deployed MEU(SOC) units available around the
world which could be committed if so ordered by the National
Command Authority.  General Gray presented his concept in
further detail to his Force Commanders in a 1986 MAU(SOC)
Implementation Plan. (3:3)
     As the MEU(SOC) program developed it was determined that
the MEU's must be capable of conducting the following three
broad missions as listed in the Joint LFTC Atlantic/ Pacific
MEU(SOC) Training Handbook. (9: I-1-I-5)
         (a)  To develop a broad capability that ranges from
              being a contingent of a U.S. presence mission,
              to conducting amphibious assaults for a limited
         (b)  To act as an advance force for a follow-on
              MAGTF or other force.
         (c)  To provide immediate response capability across
              a wide spectrum of contingencies by conducting
              special operations missions.
     Mission statement three further elaborated eighteen
separate special operation missions that ranged the spectrum
from counter intelligence operations to in-extremis hostage
rescues.  Over the relatively few years in which these
eighteen special operations missions have been developed, an
additional requirement developed that the MEU's must be
capable of conducting airfield seizure operations.
     Viable airfield seizure operations and techniques may be
utilized in either the advance force mission or the in-
extremis MEU(SOC) missions.  From a historical perspective,
recent world events have demonstrated the requirement for a
nation to have the ability for either forcible entry or
assistance with a host nation in seizing airfields.  Three
countries; Israel, Egypt and the United States each found the
necessity to send in armed forces to seize control of another
country's airfield.  The results of this difficult mission
ranged the spectrum from total success to abject failure.
On Sunday, 27 June 1976, airlines Flight 139, in route
to Paris from Athens, Greece was hijacked by the Palestine
Liberation Organization(PLO).  The French Airbus with 250
passengers and a crew were first forced by their terrorist
captors to refuel in Benghazi, Libya,  then forced to fly to
Entebbe, Uganda.  The passengers of flight 139 remained under
gunpoint and threat of execution while the State of Israel
desperately pondered the difficult task of
conducting a raid 4000 miles from its homeland.
     On February 16, 1976, two terrorist assassinated the
editor-in-chief of Cairo's daily newspaper the Al Aharam, and
then hijacked a Cyprus Airways DC-8 with eleven hostages.
The Egyptian Government planned to free the hostages as the
DC-8 made stops at several middle eastern countries.  When
the terrorists eventually stopped in Cyprus, the Egyptians
dispatched a C-130 aircraft loaded with Commandos.  The LFTC
raid planning course describes the action at Cyprus in the
following manner:
     "The landing ramp at the tail end of the C-130 cranked
down and a commando squad began moving toward the DC-8.  As
they advanced, Cypriot police and militia moved out from
behind the terminal building.  An Egyptian commando raced up
the landing ramp, firing at the door.  As if on signal, the
Cypriots began to fire at the Egyptians.  The battle lasted
fifty minutes.  Taken completely by surprise, the Egyptians
retreated to shelter and began to return the Cypriot fire.
Hit by an anti-tank rocket the Egyptian C-130 went up in
flames.  The Egyptian Commandos surrender with losses of 20
wounded and 15 dead." (8:2)
     On D-Day, 25 October, 1963, A Co 1st/75th rangers had
been given the mission of airfield clearance of Salines
Airfield, Grenada.  The company prepared to conduct its
airborne jump at 0500.  The rangers       will find that
their operation will not go as planned.  A key element of the
rangers plan to secure the Salines Airfield was based on the
tactical element of surprise.  Due to the 7 hour C-130 flight
time from the United States and the backing up of the planned
H-Hour in order to gain additional intelligence, the Rangers
would be required to make a daylight drop at Salines.  Major
Mark Adlkin, in his work Urgent Fury revels how the rangers
lost the element of tactical surprise.
     "Barbara and George Reeves, a retired British couple in
their house at Lance Aux Epines and Major Einstein Louison
who is in a cell at Richmond Hill Prison have something in
common.  In the early hours of the morning of October 25,
they heard an aircraft drowning around and around overhead.
Estimates of the time vary from 3:00 A.M. to 4:30 A.M., but
all are emphatic that there were planes about long before the
main parachute drop at Salines."(1:193)
         In researching recent operations that involved
airfields such as Entebee.  Cyprus and Grenada , it appears
that the ARG could be assigned and be expected to execute
three separate and distinct missions as they related to an
airfield seizure concept (ASC).  The three missions are
security (Cordon Operations), destruction operations, and
finally the seizure of an airfield for follow on forces.
     The security mission would most often be assigned in a
relative low threat environment or in a permissive
environment, with host country support, and possibly in
conjunction with Joint Special Operations Capable (JSOC)Units.
Typical scenarios will have elements of the MEU isolating the
objective area (airfield) and JSOC units executing the actual
strike or in-extremis hostage rescue.
     William Stevenson in his book 90 Minutes at Entebbe
outlines in detail how Israel conducted its highly successful
hostage rescue in Uganda.  However, this work reveals that
the Entebbe raid could be viewed as a destruction raid as
well as a hostage rescue.  While on the ground, the Israeli
forces were successful in destroying the Ugandian command and
control facility and they destroyed all Russian-built MIG jet
fighters on the ground.
     The third of the three airfield seizure missions, the
seizure of a facility for follow on operations, could have
been applied at the Salines Airfield in Grenada.  Major Mark
Adkin brings up numerous problems that the ranger
battalions of the 1st/75th and 2nd/75th had in securing the
airfield in his book, Urgent Fury.  Many of the problems
experienced by the army at the Salines Airfield, such as
command and control, loss of tactical surprise, and
logistical problems resulting from the use of a too-distant
support base located in the United States, could have been
avoided.  The Salines airfield seizure may have been more
easily and economically handled had a forward deployed MEU
seized the airfield for the later induction of the
follow on army ranger forces.
     The Marine Corps War Fighting Center at MCCDC, Ouantico,
Virginia in conjunction with the Marine Corps Intelligence
Center, has recently published a document entitled The
Expeditionary Environment Study. The study lists 69 countries
that may be considered as having application for the
induction of Marine forces in an expeditionary environment.
The area study broke the world into five separate
geographical areas and assessed the potential of separate
countries to meet the expeditionary environment criteria.
The area study is broken down in the following manner:
Click here to view image
In comparing each of the specific countries listed with
the range of the CH-53E Helicopter (575NM), it was determine
that the airfield seizure concept for a MEU(SOC) is
applicable to at least a portion of 68 of the 69 countries
listed in the study.
     Having been given a tasking to develop an airfield
seizure capability by the Marine Corps and identifying
potential expeditionary environment countries, several source
documents were reviewed.  These source documents were
reveiwed to see what the actual MEU(SOC) concept of operation
is for conducting the airfield seizure operation of today.
The documents viewed were the Joint LFTC Atlantic/Pacific
Standard MEU(SOC) Training Handbook, III, the 26 MEU SOP
Airfield Seizure, and the BLT 3/8 Combat SOP MEU(SOC).  The
references ranged from one and one half pages to 31 pages.
However, while the largest document was filled with planning
considerations, it did not provide a clear vision or concept
on the actual method of conducting the airfield seizure.
MEU(SOC) units, as currently configurated with their ACE
assault support aircraft, have the capability to conduct
viable operations in each of the three variations of the
airfield seizure.  The method used to conduct the airfield
seizure is based on the following assumptions:
     (a)   A plan is developed that has an expectation for
           success utilizing largely ARG assets.
     (b)   Additional assets from fleet, theater and national
           resources will be requested.  Realizing that in
           some scenarios the organic ARG airfield seizure
           may not be the theater main effort, all support
           requested may be either reduced or not available
           at all.
     (c)   The airfield seizure operation will be executed
           during the hours of darkness.  The success of the
           plan cannot be based solely on surprise.  With the
           proliferation of surface to air weapons held by
           even third world countries, survivability and the
           success rate of the assault element will be
           greatly enhanced if the operation is conducted at
     (d)   The ARG will require a minimum six hour window
           from receipt of the initiating directive/execution
order to the first launch of helicopters from ATF
     (e)   The seizure of air facilities for follow on forces
           in a medium to highly-defended airfield will
           require Fleet close air support (CAS), and the
           immediate availability of follow on forces to
           utilize the now friendly controlled runways.
     Realizing that each mission is situational dependent,
the basic characteristics and physical layout of all air
facilities share many common characteristics.  Capitalizing
on these key denominators, a list of common control points
has been developed.  Each control point or target is planned
for either destruction, suppression or physical occupation
depending on the nature of the mission.  The common control
points listed in descending priority are as follows:
     (a)   Airfield Control Tower.
     (b)   Command and Control facilities GCI, GCA Systems.
     (c)   Combat Air Threat-Hip, Hinds, Fixed wing aircraft.
     (d)   Hanger and Repair facilities.
     (e)   Reaction forces that could influence the mission
           (e.g. local security, standby forces, barracks).
     (f)   AAA Threat (usually found at the end of runways).
The Ground Combat Element(GCE) of the MEU is the
Battalion Landing Team(BLT).  The BLT is composed of four
rifle companies, a weapons company, a headquarters and service
company, as well as an attached artillery battery,
reconnaissance, tank, AAV, and engineer platoons.  The GCE
commander thus has a variety of forces and weaponry to task
organize forces to seize or destroy a hostile airfield.
Working closely with the MEU's aviation combat element,
detailed planning and closely coordinated training will be
required to successfully execute the mechanics of landing the
assault element onto the airfield.
     The principle means of insertion of the initial assault
element is by CH-53E helicopter.  Internally transported in
the CH-53E will be three M-151 gun jeeps mounting either a 50
cal. machine gun, M-19 automatic grenade launcher, or the TOW
missile system.  The actual mix of M-151 gun variants depends
on the expected enemy situation.  The following helicopter
mixes are depicted for the initial assault element for the
airfield destruction and airfield seizure missions:
           Destruction Mission Task Oroanization
                 (a)  3 CH-53E helicopters
                 (b)  8 gun jeeps with 50 cal/M-19/Tow
                 (c)  1 command and control jeep
                 (d)  10  60 mm mortarmen 3 tubes
                 (e)  6 81 mm mortarmen  2 tubes
                 (f)  4 dragon gunners
                 (g)  2 SMAW gunners
                 (h)  2 stinger gunners
                 (i)  9 M-60 machine gun (mounted on hood of
                 (j)  24 gun jeep crew members
                          Total 54 marines
              Seizure Mission Task Oroanization
                 (a)  same as Table I
                 (b)  1 CH-53E with 45 marines embarked
     Under ideal helicopter availability conditions the MEU
will be carrying three gun jeeps in each helicopter with the
exception of one helicopter carrying a command and control
jeep for the mission commander and two gun jeeps.  The fourth
helicopter will carry a contingent of 45 Marines from the
lead assault company and will land on order of the Mission
Commander.  It is recommended that the mission either be
delayed or aborted when availability of CH-53's falls below
     Upon touch down the jeeps immediately disembark and move
down the runways to preassigned firing positions.  Each jeep
is additionally assigned both a primary and a secondary
target that has been programed for either destruction or
suppression.  Once the primary target is neutralized the
vehicle engages its secondary target which in most cases is
another vehicle's primary target   This method allows for
redundancy of fire suppression on each target in the event a
particular friendly vehicle has been taken out of action.  It
is envisioned that the six primary targets will be engaged as
close as possible simultaneously.  This coordination occurs
by predetermining the time it takes for each vehicle to reach
its attack position and conducting a running time hack that
is passed over the radio by the mission commander.
     As soon as the gun vehicles disembarks from their
individual helicopter the 60mm and 81mm mortar teams move to
their preassigned firing positions (located close to the
landing point and off of the runway).  To facilitate time,
each mortar has been assigned a preselected target prior to
leaving ATF Shipping.  Likewise, Dragon/SMAW/Stinger gunners
move to their assigned positions and either engage
preselected targets or stand ready to engage reaction force
armor, vehicles, or enemy air assets.
     For the destruction mission, the CH-53E carrying 45
marines is not envisioned.  Actual destruction of the
objective area should occur between 5 and 7 minutes.
Additionally, each jeep will be provided a duel primed
satchel charge located on the gas tank for destroying the
vehicle and cratering the runway.  At the five to seven
minute mark, all troops reembark on to the returning CH-53E's
and return to ATF Shipping under escort of fixed wing carrier
support if it is available.
     Depending on time/distance and helicopter availability,
the landing force will push ashore the following priority
assault elements for the follow on forces mission:
         (a)  Remainder of lead assault company.
         (b)  First elements of second assault company.
         (c)  Small Alpha Command Group and 81mm Platoon.
         (d)  Remaining elements of Second Assault Company.
         (e)  Third assault Company by air provided that AAV
              and Tank platoon assets could not be
              realistically employed by utilizing a ground
              route for link up at the airfield
         (f)  105 or 198mm artillery
     Command and control of the Airfield Seizure/Destruction
mission is executed by a highly selected group of individual
from the ARG.  Each of the marines in the headquarters group
must be well-versed in order to take over the responsibility
of another team member in the event of a loss of Headquarters
personnel.  Additionally, there must be built-in
communication redundancy to insure communication between the
assault element, follow on forces in orbit and to the
amphibious Task Force.
     It is recommended that the Mission Commander be the
Weapons Company Commander for the airfield seizure due to the
large number of assets that are provided from the Weapons
Company.  It is additionally recommended that the assistant
Mission Commander and Radio assets be split on separate
aircraft for the command group.  Upon touch down at the air
facility, the Headquarters element will link up.  The
following personnel and Communication assets are provided to
the Headquarters element:
Click here to view image
         (f)  Driver (Wpns Co SNCO) PRC 77
     Communication transmissions should be limited as much
as possible during the initial assault phase.  Required
transmissions to the ATF can be affected by all the known
elements that interfere with radio communications.  Built-in
communication redundancy is therefore accomplished by
utilizing several backup systems for transmission to the
ATF(airborne relay PRC 113 (UHF/VHF), 104 (HF), SATCOMM).
     The task organization and concept for the employment of
the BLT assault element is recommended as a solution or a
means to place some focus on the mechanics of conducting the
airfield seizure.  The establishment of the MEU(SOC) program
is less than five years old.  Standardized MEU(SOC) Training
Handbooks were published in only March of 1989.  There is
much more to be written on this special operation mission as
it takes on increased importance to military planners.
     Recent world events have witnessed a substantial
weakening of the Warsaw Pact and tremendous problems in both
the political apparatus and economy of the Soviet Union.  In
light of the developments in eastern Europe, many of the
Congressional leadership question the need for large standing
armies or forces stationed overseas in Europe.  This same
leadership additionally demands that the government of Japan
spend more money in the support of our forces who are
stationed in the Pacific.  It has become increasingly clear
that demands for a peace dividend to be spent on everything
from  reduction of the national debt to increased social
service programs equates to a draw down on the force
structure of the four military services.
     As U.S. forces are redeployed to the United States
reaction time to respond to a crisis overseas will grow
exponentially.  Increased importance will be placed on
expeditionary forces such as the MEUs, Marine Expeditionary
Brigades and U.S. Army forces that can be deployed overseas
by U.S. Air Force transport.  In this scenario, the number
one question for joint and individual service planners will
be "Where is an airfield that we can utilized to begin the
build-up of forces and supplies for logistical
     The Amphibious Ready Group spear-headed by its MEU(SOC)
possesses the capability for the initial rapid seizure of
airfields located within 500 miles of a coast line.  The
MEU(SOC) can place combat power on an exact spot on the
airfield objective without the confusion, lack of mobility,
and heavy crew served weapons systems that are
characteristic of the more traditional airborne airfield
seizure technique.
1.   Adlkin, Mark. Urgent fury. The Battle for Grenada.
          Lexington:  Lexington Books, 1989.
2.   Stevenson, William.  90 Minutes At Entebbe.  New York:
          Batam Books, 1976.
3.   CMC letter Doc-11/28 Nov 86  MAU(SOC) Implementation
          plan.  Washington D.C..
4.   U.S. Marine Corps  The Expeditionary  Enviorment Study.
          Quantico, 1990.
5.   U.S. Marine Corps  26th MEU Standing Operation Order for
          Airfield Seizure.  Jacksonville, 1989.
6.   U.S. Marine Corps  BLT 3/B combat SOP MEU(SOC).
          Jacksonville, 1989.
7.   U.S. Marine Corps Landing Force Training Command Pacific
          MEU(SOC) Planning Handbook.  Sandiego, 1988.
6.   U.S. Marine Corps landing force training command
          Atlantic raid Staff planning course  The Puzzle of
          Cyprus.  Norfolk, 1989.
9.   U.S. Marine Corps Join and landing force training
          command Atlantic/Pacific Standardized MEU(SOC)
          Training Handbook Vol. I.  Norfolk, 1988.
10.  U.S. Marine Corps Join and landing force training
          command Atlantic/Pacific  Standardized MEU(SOC)
          Training Handbook Vol.III.  Norfolk, 1988.

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