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Does A MAGTF Commander Have Sufficient Capability

Does A MAGTF Commander Have Sufficient Capability

Within The MAGTF Command Element To Command A JTF?


CSC 1992









Author: Major Edward M. Walsh, United States Marine Corps


Thesis: By comparing the mission requirements of a Joint

Task Force (JTF) Headquarters (HQ) with the capabilities of

a Marine Air-Ground Task Force (MAGTF) Command Element (CE)

it will become apparent that the MAGTF CE can be a JTF in

only limited scenarios.


Background: The JTF is the warfighter of the future as the

U.S. draws down its forces. The MAGTF Command Element's

task organization is identical to that of a JTF Headquarters.

The MAGTF strategic mobility and forward deployed

position make it ideal to pick up the role of JTF HQ.

However, there are doctrinal problems that don't count the

Navy and Marine Corps as seperate Services therefore while

embarked with the Navy. Problems with lack of equipment in-

teroperability and manpower shortages will limit the MAGTF

CE's capability to be a Joint Task Force HQ except in very

few circumstance.


Recommendation: Marine Corps needs to think about update

doctrine and tables of organization as a cheap fix to the

limitations. The procurement of equipment can come later

when all the services decide to work together on acquisi-








I. Introduction


II. Joint Task Force (JTF)

A. Definition

B. Organization


III. Marine Air-Ground Task Force (MAGTF)

A. Definition

B. Organization

1. Special Purpose MAGTF

2. Marine Expeditionary Unit

3. Marine Expeditionary Brigade

4. Marine Expeditionary Force

C. Employment examples


IV. MAGTF Command Element Limitations

A. Intelligence Limitations

B. Manpower Limitations

C. Communication Limitations

D. Liaison Requirements

E. Lack of joint doctrine


V. Over-the-horizon

A. Multipolar world

B. MAGTF Command Element Assessment


APPENDIX A National Command Structure Diagram

APPENDIX B JTF Headquarters (HQ) Wire Diagram

APPENDIX C MAGTF Command Element (CE) Diagram

APPENDIX D MAGTF Table of Organization (Current and Proposed)



Mayaquez, Desert One, Beirut, and Grenada. What do


these four military operations have in common ? Failure of


a joint (multiservice) task force to accomplish expected


results. Congress decided it was time to spruce up the tar-


nished image its military had achieved and in 1986 enacted


into public law the 1986 Department of Defense (DOD) Reor-


ganization Act (Goldwater-Nichols Bill). This act served to


promote unity of effort among the Services and streamlined


the chain of command throughout the DOD hierarchy. (See Ap-


pendix A) The nation's warfighters are now the Commanders-


in-Chief (CINCs) of the unified and specified combatant


commands.(1:2-19) The CINCs' chain of command has been


clearly defined -- he only takes orders from the National


Command Authority (NCA).


The five unified commands are made by dividing the


world geographically and assigning each CINC an Area of


Responsibility (AOR). There are four options from which a


CINC may choose to organize his command. They are:


1. Subordinate unified command


2. Service Component Command


3. Functional Component Command


4. Joint Task Force (JTF)


Presently the unified combatant commands are organized


using a combination of the four options. The potential for


multiple problems widely dispersed within a CINC's


geographic command is very real. The CinC must keep the big


picture in view and not become overly focused on one crisis


at the expense of the remainder of the AOR. This would


therefore point to the use of a JTF as the force of choice.


Recently a Marine Service component commander was iden-


tified for assignment to each unified combatant command.


This coupled with the drawdown of U.S. forces, increases the


likelihood that a Marine may be designated as a Commander,


Joint Task Force (CJTF). By comparing the mission require-


ments of a JTF Headquarters (HQ) with the capabilities of a


Marine Air-Ground Task Force (MAGTF) Command Element (CE) it


will become apparent that the MAGTF CE can be a JTF HQ in


only limited scenarios.


What is a JTF ? A JTF as defined by joint doctrine is:


. . . a force composed of assigned or attached elements

of the Army, the Navy or the Marine Corps, and the Air

Force or two or more of these Services, that is con-

stituted and so designated by the Secretary of Defense,

by a CINC, or by the commander of a subordinate unified

command or an existing joint task force. (18:3-27)


A JTF is established to perform a specific task


(mission). The exact structure of the force organization is


dependent upon the mission assigned and the environment in


which it will take place. These tasks may be of limited


duration or open-ended. The tasks of limited duration re-


quiring the employment of a JTF are frequently time sensi-


tive in nature, while examples of JTFs of limited duration


might be in response to requests for humanitarian assistance


(i.e., disaster relief or refugee assistance) or in response


to a localized conflict. The tasks of the open-ended JTFs


are prolonged missions dealing with one issue. Examples of


open-ended JTFs are JTF Four, Five and Six which are in-


volved in the drug interdiction campaign along the southern


borders of the United States.


The key element to forming a JTF is the command, con-


trol, communication and information provided by the HQ. The


JTF HQ is normally organized along the lines of a typical


general staff, J-I through J-6. (See Appendix B) These


staff members are required to coordinate the deployment,


employment and sustainment of forces. As a minimum the JTF


will have to establish a Joint Logistics Center (JLC) to


coordinate the movement and sustainment of forces to the


Area of Operations (AO). A Joint Intelligence Center (JIC)


is necessary to collect, process, analyze and disseminate




Once in the AO the proper employment of JTF forces


necessitates a Joint Operations Center (JOC) with a Joint


Targeting Coordination Board (JCTB). The need for a Joint


Forces Air Component Commander (JFACC) is situationally de-


pendent on the amount of aviation assets assigned to the


JTF. The forces assigned to the JTF may be organized either


by function, Service, or a subordinate JTF may be formed.


Lastly, the capability to communicate with the estab-


lishing authority, supporting commands and within the forces


assigned, no matter where they are based, will put a heavy


demand on communication assets. The NCA has recognized this


communications requirement and has the capability to augment


two JTF's with a Joint Communication Support Element (JCSE)


which assists in communicating to the NCA/CINC.


The Marine Corps' organization for combat is the MAGTF


which possesses a great deal of capability. The MAGTF is a


task organization of Marine forces under a single command


and is structured to support a specific mission. (20:220)


The MAGTF CE is organized in an identical manner to a JTF


HQ. (See Appendix C) Both the MEF CE and the JTF HQ have a


staff section that performs essentially the same functions.


The MAGTF is comprised of three major subordinate elements


based on function; the Ground Combat Element (GCE), the


Aviation Combat Element (ACE) and the Combat Service Support


Element (CSSE). (16:16) These subordinate elements can be


likened to the JFACC and the Joint Land Component Commander




There are four sizes of MAGTFs, each size will be task


organized according to the mission:


1. Special Purpose MAGTF (SPMAGTF) - A relatively new


concept, the SPMAGTF can be task organized a number of ways.


One example includes heavy logistics and transportation as-


sets (trucks and aircraft) with only a small number of


security personnel. The most likely employment of this as-


set is in support of a humanitarian or disaster relief mis-




2. Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) - The current MEU's


that are forward deployed will continue the forward presence


mission and be available for crisis response. A MEU, unless


adequately reinforced, is not considered a JTF candidate due


to its dependence on the Navy.


3. Marine Expeditionary Brigade (MEB) - Although this


size MAGTF still exists an initiative has been introduced


that will do away with it and change it to "MEF Forward".


The one problem with this initiative is that the Marine


Corps did such a good job of selling the MEB concept of


employment that it's firmly entrenched in joint doctrine.


4. Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF) - This is the


largest of the MAGTF with a Marine division, air wing and


force service support group and will be the one referenced


through out the rest of the paper when comparing


capabilities with those of a JTF HQ committing to a combat




A MAGTF may be employed over a wide range of situations


due to its flexibility in task organizing, inherent


strategic mobility or simply because its forward deployed


position will allow it to respond to a crisis more readily.


However a MAGTF when employed with the Navy is only a com-


bined arms task force -- it's not a joint task force because


according to joint doctrine:


A JTF may be organized with two or more Service

components; however, Navy and Marine Corps forces are

normally considered as one Service component when

employed together and do not constitute a JTF.

(21 :II-10)

The question then is, under what circumstances would a


MAGTF CE be a JTF HQ ? The most probable circumstances


short of war is a SPMAGTF supporting a humanitarian assis-


tance or disaster relief mission. While the MEF is the war-


fighter for the Marine Corps. The MEF Assault Echelon (AE)


can be deployed into a theater using amphibious ships


prepared to conduct a forcible entry , with follow on


Marine, Army and Air Force forces being flown in. If there


were any chance of a MAGTF being a JTF in a conflict it


would more than likely be the MEF, but only if Marines made


up the preponderance of forces.


Southwest Asia (SWA) was a proving ground not only for


weapons technology, but also for the technology of command,


control, communications and intelligence gathering systems.


It was here the lack of interoperability showed up the dif-


ferences between the Service acquisition programs and the


fact the military might not have been as joint as it


thought. By using some of the lessons learned from SWA the


limits of a MAGTF are readily identified in the areas of in-


telligence, manpower, communications, and doctrine.


In order to carry the fight to the enemy, the MAGTF CE


must have the intelligence capability to see through the fog


of battle and anticipate the enemy's actions. The Marine


Corps' in house intelligence gathering capability was


limited to RPV flights, some ground sensors and from return-


ing pilots. Definitely not enough to fight a campaign with


in the joint arena as a JTF HQ. Much was said about the


retirement of the RF-4B reconnaisance aircraft, but there


were work-arounds to the problem. One problem identified


was lack of knowledge concerning what assets were available


from other Services and national assets. (34:22)


Manpower shortfalls showed up almost immediately within


the CE when round the clock planning began. Although the


Marine Corps advertises the capability for taking 15, 30 and


60 days of logistical sustainment in various MAGTFs, it


doesn't possess the capability to sustain 24 hour operations


over those same periods of time. (32) Taking a quick look at


the current Table of Organization (T/O) for a MEF CE it is


quite obvious these numbers are nowhere near adequate for


the size of threat that would require the commitment of a


MEF. (See Appendix D) In the past the problem has been solved by


either forming ad hoc staffs or double and triple-hatting


present staff personnel. The result is usually marginal


performance or the Marine performs well for a limited period


of time (with only 2 to 3 hours of sleep a night).


Unfortunately the Marine Corps is not going to get


any more people to flesh out its staffs, as the Services


drawdown to the base force numbers in DOD's plans.


Then how does the Marine Corps intend to increase MEF


staff capabilities if it can't even meet the demands of 24


hour operations as it stands today, let alone those require-


ments of a JTF HQ ? (See Appendix E for complete listing of


JTF HQ functions [14:Fig 5-7])The present initiative is to


have reservists fill the MEF staff positions. (See Appendix


D)        This is a quick fix and gives the MEF staff some con-


tinuity over the years.


Another identified alternative is to draw personnel


from the supporting establishments (i.e., MCCDC, MCB's,


MCSSS, etc.) to fill the needs of the MEF CE's. The Marine


Corps did this to a small degree during Desert Shield/Storm,


but only to the detriment of the supporting structure's


capability. Marines walked into unfamiliar situations and


went through the usual growing pains of being the new guy on


the block.(27) This "battle rostering" can not be just


another ad hoc attempt by the Marine Corps to throw warm


bodies at the problem.(4) A solution would be to identify


staff augmentees by specific billet who would train with the


staff during exercises, for example the Executive Officer at


OCS could be designated as the G-3A for II MEF. This help


would reduce the unknown quality factor and stigma as-


sociated with staff augmentees as being on the "B" team.


The supporting establishment must be able to continue


its mission as well. The drawdown in civilian personnel


will only serve to increase the workload on the military.


An alternative to both of these manpower shortfalls is to


augment the supporting establishment with more reservists.


The reservists would drill with the supporting establishment


and offer the continuity in peacetime that civilians




It doesn't matter what the size of the HQ staff is if


they can't communicate with their units. Present communica-


tions equipment in the Marine Corps operate at about one-


third to one-half the capacity of the Army and the Air Force


gear. An example is the data/message switch of the Marine


AN/MSC-83 switch which can process 450 messages an hour


whereas the Army and Air Force TYC-39 can process 750 mes-


sages in the same timeframe and uses satellites. The MSC-63


might have to resend the message 5 times by satellite before


ensuring it was passed. The Marine Corps can increase the


number of messages it can send by linking some MSC-63's


together, but it increases the strategic lift requirement.


Communications and computers are allowing information


to be passed in huge volume at phenomenal rates of speed.


The problem encountered is in the processing of this infor-


mation and then disseminating it all in time to have an ef-


fect upon the enemy. The limiting factor is that the the


Operations Center becomes overwhelmed with information.


Too, often command and control problems have been dis-


guised as communication problems. Commanders have asked for


all the available information because they didn't know what


they needed and inundated their staffs with needless work or


overloaded the communication nets. This can be prevented by


refining staff procedures through training exercises. There


is only one person who sets the pace of the staff -- the


commander through what he deems to be important information.


The army calls them Commanders Critical Information Require-


ment (CCIR) these give the staff direction on where the com-


mander is going to be looking.


What has technology's effect been on the planning


process ? Up until recently the Marine Corps' planning


process had been the traditional bottom up approach -- the


GCE was fighting the battle and taking the enemy in his gun-


sights and generating the requests for support. Technology's


influence has been to push the battlefield out away from the


GCE not just in terms of weapons range, but the tempo at


which war is conducted.


The Marine Corps has recognized that to bring the


synergistic effect of the entire MAGTF to bear upon a foe it


must be done by planning ahead from the top. The MAGTF com-


mander has a better vantage point to see what needs to be


accomplished and what resources are at his disposal. This


transition to top down planning better supports the precepts


of maneuver warfare.


"Experience shows liaison is a particularly important


part of command, control and communication in a joint


force." (19:37) Since 1978, after action reports have


reflected the benefits of having a good liaison and the


penalties of not. The Marine Corps is notorious for making


the mistake of sending someone so junior in rank and with


such little support that it's a waste to even send him. The


key questions here are: with whom does a command need to


provide liaison with, of what rank should the liaison be and


what are the possible benefits ?


Liaison should be provided to higher, adjacent and sup-


porting units. The liaison should have some credibility as


the representative of his commanding officer. This can only


be established quickly by sending someone with enough rank


that the command receiving the liaison believes he has the


trust and confidence of the command he is representing. For


example, it would be hard to conceive that a regimental com-


mander would confide in a lieutenant.


An effective liaison will alleviate some of the


problems of commanders having to get on the radio during the


planning process to sort out tactical questions -- the


liaison should know how the commander he represents intends


to operate. It might even be said that a good liaison is


essential to maneuver warfare, if he can anticipate ques-


tions and seek out the answer before it is asked. How a


liaison officer or team is equipped (communication and


transportation) will depend on to what type of unit he/they


will be attached. An additional consideration in staffing


the MAGTF liaison teams will be interpreters for allied na-




The only remaining question would be how do we pass on


what we learn ? "Doctrine provides a military organization


with a common philosophy, a common language, a common pur-


pose, and a unity of effort." (19:5) User friendly and in-


teroperability apply to doctrine as well as systems. The


key to doctrinal publications is presenting the information


clearly, in both format and readability. Doctrinal develop-


ment is a weak area, Marine Corps publications are woefully


out of date with the actual methods that are used in the


operating forces.


The present publications contain far too much material


and is developed in a vacuum -- shouldn't all FMFM's be


adopted by the Navy as Naval Warfare Publications, after all


the Marine Corps is the only infantry that the Navy has.


Many of the Marine Corps' FMFM's are simply Army FM's regur-


gitated. The redundant information in doctrinal publica-


tions requires constant cross referencing to see which is


the most current. The more information in a publication the


longer it will take to edit, publish and distribute. All


the information in the world could be in a publication, but


if it can't get to the people who need it -- it's useless.


People in the Marine Corps work around doctrine by im-


provising. This hurts the Marine Corps in the joint arena


when the only information available is in outdated publica-


tions. Many times Marines will say "that's what the book


says, but this is how we really do it" or "let me explain


how we do it." Maybe there'd be less of a requirement for


liaison officers.




The political picture of the world has changed greatly


in the past three years. The dissolution of the Soviet


Union no longer requires the U.S. to counter the threat for


world dominance. However, the former client states of the


Soviet Union that still have a large inventory of weapons


will now find themselves free to operate on their own


without restraints. The result is the resurfacing of old


border disputes and ethnic animosities as we have seen in


Yugoslavia and Soviet Georgia. Other possible sources of


conflict in this increasingly interdependent world will be


the continuing economic development of third world


countries. The countries within the Pacific Basin continue


to expand their economic influence while the world is becom-


ing more dependent on the oil fields of the Middle East and


Southwest Asia.


The MAGTF has a very capable force and can bring a


great deal of power to bear upon a foe, however, as its CE


is presently staffed and equipped, it could only hope to


perform as a JTF in a only limited situations. Whether the


Marine Corps wants to be considered as a possible CJTF and


on what scale must be decided soon. This decision will have


an impact on future force structure and diversions of ac-


quisition funds to be able to operate at the level of a JTF




Missions that a MAGTF CE can currently handle as a JTF


HQ are humanitarian assistance such as the operation in


Turkey to help Kurdish refugees and the Haitian refugee


problem. Another situation calling for a Marine JTF could


be disaster relief as in the eruption of Mt. Pintatubo in


the Philippines and the tidal wave that struck Bangladesh.


In all of these incidents a MAGTF participated and in some


cases acted as the CJTF.


Military operations short of war might see the intro-


duction of Marine and Army forces in a peacekeeping role


upon request of the host government. Some examples are in-


terventions in the Dominican Republic in 1965, Cyprus in


1974 and Beirut in 1958 and 1982. In these situations,


Marines might be augmented by Army military police and Air


Force surveillance assets until a United Nations force could


be put in place. The logical CJTF is the MAGTF commander.


The last situation that a MAGTF CE might be a JTF HQ


would be if forces were landed in conjunction with Army


units with the MAGTF retaining the preponderance of forces.


The size of the AO would probably be a Grenada, Falklands


Island, or even Panama. More than likely the MAGTF will act


as an enabling force, initially to demonstrate U.S. resolve


or to hold the door open for follow on forces.


The CINCs will consider the Marine Corps their force of


choice only if they know how it operates. Marine Corps


doctrine should be user friendly, be limited to amphibious


matters, the transition to land warfare and those subjects


that are unique to the Marine Corps' force structure. In


the absence of clear doctrine or good communication, a


liaison officer can be an effective representative of the







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