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Fighting The MAGTF In The Joint Arena; Keeping The Ace Intact

Fighting The MAGTF In The Joint Arena; Keeping The Ace Intact


CSC 1993








Fighting the MAGTF in the Joint Arena; Keeping the ACE Intact



Thesis: Fracturing or providing the air combat element (ACE) to the Joint Force

Commander (JFC) through the Joint Force Aviation Component Commander (JFACC)

for his use throughout the theater severely limits and restricts the firepower, mobility, and

flexibility of the Marine Air-Ground Task Force (MAGTF) in executing its mission.



I. Evolution of Marine aviation in the MAGTF

A. Historical beginnings as a supporting arm of ground forces

B. Development of fixed-wing and rotary wing platforms


II. Present day functions of the ACE

A. Assault support

B. Anti-air warfare

C. Air reconnaissance

D. Electronic warfare

E. Offensive air support

F. Control of aircraft and missiles


III. Role of aviation in the MAGTF

A. Supporting the MAGTF commanders scheme of maneuver

B. Importance of combined arms


IV. Present platforms

A. Missions

B. Integration

C. Expeditionary nature


V. The dilemma in the joint arena

A. Loss of sortie to the Joint Force Air Component Commander (JFACC)

B. Impact on the MAGTF


VI. Solutions

A. Marine aviation not used for missions outside the MAGTF

B. Integration of Marine aviation into Navy aviation

C. Giving excess MAGTF sorties to the JFACC


Fighting the MAGTF in the Joint Arena; Keeping the ACE Intact


by Major T. G. Boodry, USMC



With recent discussions within and outside of the armed forces concerning roles,

missions, and redundancy of capabilities; the Marine Corps has come under increasing

pressure to separate its aviation assets in the prosecution of the joint and combined

campaigns. Fracturing or providing the air combat element (ACE) to the Joint Force

Commander (JFC) through the Joint Force Aviation Component Commander (JFACC) for

his use throughout the theater severely limits and restricts the firepower, mobility, and

flexibility of the Marine Air Ground Task Force (MAGTF) in executing its mission. Since

its inception; Marine aviation has been developed, designed, and employed as an integral

part of the MAGTF and any degradation of that capability impacts the MAGTF capability

as a whole and not just the aviation component. Equally degraded is the ground

component and combat service support component of the MAGTF which forces plans and

execution of missions to be accomplished under less than optimum conditions.

The evolution of Marine aviation to its present position within the MAGTF starts with

Lt Alfred A.Cunningham when he was designated Marine Aviator number 1 in 1912. (6:

302) From that time through the beginning of World War II, Marine aviators developed

missions and doctrine for employment of aviation unique to the Marine Corps. Originally

conceived as part of the Advanced Base Force for the protection of advanced naval bases,

that role rapidly expanded. Entering late in World War I, Marine aviators in Europe

experimented with bombers, fighters and even the air dropping of food to an isolated

French regiment. From these somewhat humble beginnings, the 1920s and 1930s saw the

Marines conducting operations in the Caribbean and Central America with their aviation.

These expeditions forged the use of aviation in modem MAGTF operations. Operations in

Haiti and the Dominican Republic developed techniques for dive bombing and saw the

first use of primitive close air support. During 1927, Marines were sent to Nicaragua to

fight against Sandinista rebels. Again, aviation went along and provided reconnaissance,

dive bombing, close air support, and aerial resupply. Of note was the first use of aviation

for casualty evacuation, a foreshadowing of things to come. (6:20-23)

World War II was the rapid expansion of Marine aviation to support its ground forces.

Unfortunately, Marine aviation was not able to be in direct support of its ground forces

until late in the war. Primarily assigned the protection of rear areas in the Pacific from

enemy air attack, Marine aviators got their first chance in 1943, supporting Army units in

the retaking of the Philippine Islands. Flying from land based fields, they provided

unparalleled close air support to their Army counterparts. Of consequence was the use of

Marine aviators assigned to ground units with radio equipped jeeps to direct aircraft in

delivery of ordnance in close proximity to ground troops. (7:294-295) Late in 1944, the

decision was made to place Marines aboard aircraft carriers. This decision allowed

Marine aviation to be in place to support the invasions of Iwo Jima and Okinawa in 1945.

(7:325-331,347-348) Throughout the campaigns in the Pacific, Marine aviation

distinguished itself and continued to be innovative and dedicated to the accomplishment of

assigned missions.

The development of the helicopter after WW II and prior to the Korean Conflict as a

troop transport and evacuation aircraft set the stage for how this unique capability would

be utilized by all armed forces in the future. This capability would continue to evolve and

reach maturity during the Vietnam Conflict in the 1960s. The helicopter has added a new

dimension to ground warfare giving the MAGTF unprecedented speed and flexibility in

executing its missions.

The Korean and Vietnam conflicts continued to refine and incorporate new

technologies into Marine aviation. The command and control system continued to grow

and remain responsive to the commanders needs for aviation. In most cases, Marine

aviation was not employed with a ground component as a MAGTF but were employed as

extensions of either Air Force or Navy units. Through the 1980s, continuing emphasis was

placed on acquisition of modern multi-role aircraft to meet the needs of firepower and

mobility for the MAGTF.

Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm were the culmination of the acquisition and

training process for Marine aviation. Equipped with modern aircraft and equipment, there

was no mission they could not accomplish under the doctrinal functions assigned.

Working in a combined theater, all their aircraft and equipment could be integrated with

US and Coalition forces. Armed with such a capable force, fixed wing aviation was

continually tasked by the JFACC to strike targets outside of the MAGTF Commander's

area of interest. In many cases, Marine ground commanders felt their areas of interest

were not being served by their fixed wing counterparts as they should have been,

underscoring the need for more defined and understandable relationships in joint warfare.

Marine development of aviation platforms has been specific to assigned roles and

missions. Though intimately tied to the Navy for research, development and funding; the

Marines have striven for multirole, flexible aircraft on the leading edges of aviation

technology. Examples from the past include the F4U Corsair and the UH-34 Sea Horse.

The Corsair originally developed for the Navy was turned over to the Marines in 1943

when early models did not meet carrier suitability requirements. By late 1943, all eight

Marine fighter squadrons in the Pacific were outfitted with the F4U. They preformed

admirably in bombing, strafing, rocket delivery, photo-recon and aerial combat. (6:54)

The Sea Horse, developed after the Korean War, proved invaluable in the early stages of

Vietnam as the first helicopter truly capable of providing assault support to ground forces.


More recent unique aircraft acquired to meet the needs of the MAGTF include: the

CH-53E Sea Stallion, the AV-8 Harrier, and the MV-22 Osprey; although not yet in

production. The CH-53E provides the MAGTF with a heavy lift capability beyond any

helicopter in the Western World. Its capability is vital in the amphibious role for ship-to-

shore movement. The AV-8 continues to evolve and is presently the most capable fixed-

wing vertical short takeoff and landing (VSTOL) attack aircraft in the world. With the

acquisition of the MV-22, the Marine Corps will gain a true rapid over-the-horizon assault

capability utilizing the best of helicopter and fixed-wing capabilities. Each of these aircraft

represent leading technologies and provide additional capability and flexibility to the

MAGTF Commander.

Historical beginnings of Marine aviation have evolved into present day functions to

meet the needs of the MAGTF Commander and his force in accomplishing assigned

missions. The doctrinal functions of Antiair Warfare (AAW), Offensive Air Support

(OAS), Assault Support, Air Reconnaissance, Electronic Warfare (EW), and Control of

Aircraft and Missiles are integral to the MAGTF and even though these functions may be

supplied by other services, the MAGTF is a packaged force, trained together to optimise

the limited firepower and capabilities of the individual elements of the force.

Anti-Air Warfare (AAW) is the keystone for MAGTF air operations. The primary

purpose of AAW is to gain and maintain air superiority. Providing air dominance over the

battlefield allows the MAGTF to conduct ground and air operations without interference

from enemy air action. (4:2-1) The MAGTF contains an internal capability to protect its

own assets with aircraft and personnel that work with and understand the commanders

intent and objectives.

Offensive Air Support encompasses deep air support (DAS), close air support (CAS),

and close-in fire support (CIFS). DAS is involved with battlefield shaping and does

not require close integration with friendly ground force's fire and manuver. It does require

a knowledge of the MAGTF commander's intent and scheme of manuver. CAS and CIFS

require detailed integration with friendly force's fire and manuver and is concerned with

the delivery of ordnance in close proximity of engaged ground forces. Present platforms

allow the MAGTF Commander to reach to and beyond his area of interest to influence

enemy actions within his area of responsibility. (4:2-2)

Assault Support provides the ground combat element (OCE) with the ability to attack

from the third dimension with unprecedented speed and flexibility primarily through the use

of organic MAGTF helicopters. Assault support allows forces to bypass obstacles, avoid

hostile areas, and manuver over the entire battlefield. Additionally, assault support

provides for aerial supply, aerial refueling, air evacuation, tactical recovery of aircraft and

personnel (TRAP), and battlefield illumination. (4:2-4) In keeping the MAGTF

responsive to changing situations, assault support aircraft can move portions of the GCE

to meet new threats that foot-mobile or ground vehicle-mobile forces cannot.

The function of Air Reconnaissance is currently gapped without a dedicated platform

with the retirement of the RF-4B, the OV-10, and the delayed introduction of the F/A-18

reconnaissance pod. This deficiency was sorely felt during Operations Desert Shield and

Desert Storm with the lack of tactical imagery for commanders in the field. The gap has

been closed slightly with the introduction of the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV)

providing realtime television and infrared imagery to the MAGTF.

Electronic Warfare sees the EA-6B Prowler as the primary platform for jamming,

suppression of enemy air defenses, denying the enemy use of the electromagnetic spectrum

and providing lethel and non-lethel fires on enemy radar and communication facilities.

Surrounding these functions is a command and control system capable of integrating

all of these functions simultaneously. Based on the concept of centralized command and

coordination and decentralized control and execution, the MAGTF Commander has at his

disposal the finest aviation control system in the world. Other US systems presently do

not have as much capability within one system encompassing air-to-ground and air-to-air

operations even though those systems may outrange the Marine Air Command and

Control System (MACCS). (4:2-8)

The role of aviation in the MAGTF is task organized to meet the mission and scheme

of manuver, no matter how large or small. Execution, in most plans, relies heavily on

combined arms for successful mission accomplishment. Marine divisions are relatively light

on artillery when compared to US Army divisions. Marine divisions contain only enough

artillery to provide direct support to infantry units. These artillery regiments consist of

light towed 105mm and 155mm caliber weapons. (5:4-12) In comparison, Army

divisions contain both direct support and general support artillery with additional

firepower at the corps level. Army artillery ranges from 105mm to heavy 8inch self-

propelled caliber weapons and the Mutiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS). (2:A-31)

(1:310,313) The MAGTF relies heavily on its organic aviation to fill the supporting arms

void with its fixed-wing and helicopter attack aircraft. The demise of the battleship and

sustantial reduction of naval surface platforms able to provide naval gunfire support to a

Marine landing force has placed a greater emphasis on organic aviation to provide

supporting fires to the landing force during the extremly vulnerable ship to shore

movement and establishment of a beachhead.

Present platforms demonstrate the continuing dedication to acquiring modern, multi-

mission capable aircraft for the Fleet Marine Forces that can integrate and communicate

with other services and allies. Most of the present aircraft are capable of conducting two

or more of the six doctrinal functions of Marine aviation. Multi-role fixed-wing aircraft

include the F/A-18 Hornet, AV-8 Harrier, EA-6 Prowler, and the KC-130 Hercules.

Rotary wing aircraft consist of the CH-46 Sea Knight, CH-53 Sea Stallion, UH-1 Huey,

and the AH-1 Cobra. While the CH-46 is an aging airframe, the follow-on MV-22 Osprey

provides a multi-mission aircraft not limited to relatively short range assault support.

All fixed-wing aircraft are able to integrate with present aviation systems of the Army,

Navy, and Air Force. Communications systems are compatible and the FA-18 is the only

tactical platform capable of data-link with both Navy and Air Force airborne and surface

radar platforms. The MACCS is the only command and control system able to data-link

with both Navy and Air Force command and control systems. In many joint exercises,

MACCS provides the link between Air Force and Navy systems.

Marine squadrons and aircrew attend Navy and Air Force schools for air-to-air and

air-to-ground training. The three major schools and courses attended by Marine aircrew

and ground controllers are the Navy Fighter Weapons School (TOPGUN) and the Air

Forces Red Flag and Cope Thunder Exercises. These courses pay dividends to Marine

aviation as the integration with Air Force and Navy aviation when required does not

experience degradation from communication or procedural problems that might be

expected. Indeed, Marine aviation is tasked with a colateral funtion to participate as an

integral component of naval aviation in Marine roles and missions statements. (3:3-17)

Inherent within Marine aviation is an organization designed for and around the

MAGTF Commander for prosecution and successful execution of assigned missions. The

expeditionary nature allows operations to be conducted from established fixed bases to

platforms at sea to remote, austere sites with little to no support. The ACE is organized

to meet the physical challanges associated with the theater of operations without external

support when combined with prepositioned equipment.

In combined and joint operations, the need for a coordinated effort in mission

execution and successful accomplishment is well understood. The need for forces to

present a seamless front and gain synergism aid in early success and is keeping with

established principals of war. For the Marine Corps and the Joint Force Air Component

Commander (JFACC) this presents a dilemma within the joint and combined battlefields.

The need for integrated aviation operations in support of the Joint Force Commanders

(JFC) intent and concept of operations may require the use of MAGTF aviation assets

outside of their areas of responsibility or interest. While tasking Marine aviation away

from the MAGTF may provide synergism to the JFC, it removes the synergism from the

MAGTF with the loss of firepower and mobility in the execution of its missions. The

MAGTF then becomes less than the sum of its parts. If the MAGTF cannot be split, then

what is the solution? Should the JFACC not be able to task Marine aviation in conducting

the air campaign for the JFC?

The first solution to this dilemma would favor the MAGTF Commander in that none

of his aviation assets could be tasked by the JFACC and that his aviation and ground

forces would be employed only as a single force in complying with the JFC missions and

taskings. While this solution would husband assets for their use in MAGTF operations, a

smart JFC would not allow capable fixed wing assets to sit idle while the theater campaign

is being prosecuted outside of the MAGTF area of responsibility.

A second solution is the full-time integration of Marine fixed-wing aviation into Navy

aviation; leaving a carrier air wing or Air Force squadrons to provide all fixed-wing

support to the MAGTF Commander. This might at first seem to be an attractive option to

both the Navy and the Marine Corps; the Navy then has enough aircraft to man and justify

its desired number of aircraft carriers and the Marine Corps does not lose, on paper, its

fixed wing squadrons. The reality is both services lose in the long run. The Marine Corps

loses that asset to the Navy and will not regain use of those squadrons so long as they

remain assigned to a carrier air wing. Additionally, the Navy does not really have the

numbers of aircraft it requires; creating a "hollow force" that cannot execute in times of

national crisis when fully manned and trained Navy and Marine forces are required to

carryout policy of the nation. While this approach has been used to a limited extent in the

past, it should be kept as a short term solution to manning and aircraft shortages. The

loss to the MAGTF of its fixed-wing aviation is difficult to quantify. Besides the loss of

firepower in direct support of the MAGTF; when involved in training and actual execution

of combat operations, the MAGTF Commander will tend not to rely on assigned fixed-

wing assets for supporting fires, prefering to utilize only those supporting arms at his

direct disposal within the MAGTF and accepting the loss of fixed-wing aviation as a

responsive supporting arm. The MAGTF must train and execute as a whole to achieve the

maximum combat power possible through synergism.

The solution to this issue does not lie with either the JFACC or the MAGTF

Commander but somewhere in-between. The MAGTF Commander must be informed on

aviation issues to understand and articulate his actual aviation needs. He must realize the

flexibility and responsiveness of aviation must be exercised and not allowed to sit idle

when not required for MAGTF operations. The JFC through his JFACC must realize the

lack of heavy firepower in the MAGTF GCE and be responsive to the needs of the

MAGTF in employment of their aviation as a supporting arm. The real issue is not one of

doctrine but of education in Marine aviation matters for commanders and staffs within the

MAGTF and the JFC, JFACC and their staffs. Marine officers must become articulate on

this issue and insure those Marine officers assigned to joint staffs are equally well


The starting point for Marine aviation in the joint arena must be the transfer of those

sorties in excess of those required by the MAGTF to the JFACC for his use in prosecuting

the theater campaign. If the Marine Corps is unwilling to supply those excess sorties, it

opens itself to criticism that it is not responsive to the JFC and is conducting operations

that can be accomplished by other air arms just as efficiently.

For eighty years, Marine aviation has been an intergal part of the Marine Corps.

Acquisition of aircraft and training of personnel has been directed toward supporting the

MAGTF Commander in the successful accomplishment of assigned missions. The present

force is well trained, responsive and able to fully integrate into the joint arena. The

Marine Corps must continue to educate itself and others on the unique expeditionary

capabilities the Marine Air-Ground Task Force brings to the battlefield.




1. Dastrup, Boyd L. King of Battle: A Branch History Of The U.S. Army's Field

Artillery; Ft Monroe, Va: Office of the Command Historian, United States Army

Training and Doctrine Command, 1992.


2. Field Manual 100-15, Corps Operations, dated 13 September 1989


3. Fleet Marine Force Manual 1-2, The Role Of The Marine Corps In The National

Defense, dated 21 June 1991.


4. Fleet Marine Force Manual 5-I, Organization and Function Of Marine Aviation,

dated 16 October 1991.


5. Fleet Marine Force Reference Publication 1-11, Fleet Marine Force Organization

1992, dated 2 March 1992.


6. Mersky, Peter B. U. S. Marine Corps Aviation: 1912 To The Present. Annapolis,

Ma: The Nautical and Aviation Publishing Company of America, 1983.


7. Sherrod, Robert, History 0f Marine Corps Aviation In World War II San Rafael,

Ca:Presidio Press, 1952.


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