The MEU(SOC) Airfield Seizure AUTHOR Major Scott G. Duke, USMC CSC 1990 SUBJECT AREA Strategic Issues EXECUTIVE SUMMARY TITLE: THE MEU(SOC) AIRFIELD SEIZURE THESIS: 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 OUTLINE 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 mission. 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 seizure 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 seizure E. Command and control of the airfield seizure mission 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 duration. (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 night. (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 Shipping. (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 m-151) (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 two. 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 sustainability." 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. BIBLIOGRAPHY 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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