The Hunter Warrior Experiment showed how lightly-armed units can dominate large coastal regions, not by landing on the beaches, but by leaping over them in V-22s, spreading out and operating deep inside enemy territory. They used hand-held Apple Newton computers to send out hard-to-detect digital bursts to call in long-range, precision firepower from ships, choppers, fighters and other military assets.
This experiment tested the tactical concept of squads acting as independent elements on the dispersed battlefield. To do this, a communications system allowed the squads to talk to their headquarters elements at distances of 100 miles. This type of radio did not exist, so we took existing palm-top computers, tied them into a digital radio and built a communication infrastructure of towers in the desert. The result was a communication system that was a "surrogate" and allowed us to see if squads could act as independent units on the dispersed battlefield.
In October 1995, Gen. Charles C. Krulak's foresight led to the creation of the Commandant's Warfighting Laboratory and a program called Sea Dragon, conceived to test and implement new innovations. The Commandant of the Marine Corps' vision for the 21st century warrior became visible to the rest of the world 01 March 1997 when the first of three Advanced Warfighting Experiments, Hunter Warrior, began in Southern California. The AWE is not a field exercise or a technical or operational test; it is an experiment.
The Hunter Warrior experiment was designed to examine three specific areas. Each encompasses numerous objectives and experiments.
The first objective area covers tactical operations on the dispersed, noncontiguous battlefield. How small units perform against a numerically superior force on a battlefield that has no front, flank or rear areas, is a key component of this objective.
The second area is command, control, communications, computers, and intelligence, and the single battle concept. Creating and using a shared, digital communications network will be crucial in many different areas. Experiments in C4I examined the digital network and information-sharing.
The third objective is enhancing fire support and improving targeting. To dominate the broad, dispersed battlefield of the future, effective and efficient use of all indirect fires is absolutely necessary.
This experiment evaluated the ability of sea-based forces to operate successfully on a digital and extended battlefield using these new concepts and technologies. These concepts and technologies are intended to result in additional capabilities to the core competencies that already exist.
The Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force (Experimental), known as SPMAGTF(X), is the force conducting the Hunter Warrior experiment. The SPMAGTF(X), manned by about 2,000 Marines, is composed of: a command element; a ground combat element (Battalion Landing Team, 3rd Battalion, 4th Marines); an aviation combat element (Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron-364 (Rein)); and a combat service support element (CSS Enterprise).
During the experiment, the units simulated sea-based operations. The command element was located in an experimental combat operations center at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif., as a surrogate for a command center at sea. The majority of the ground, and all of the air combat elements, were also stationed there, as if on ships, Harris said. Marines were inserted by air into Marine Air-Ground Combat Center, Twentynine Palms, Calif., more than 100 miles away.
Once on the ground, units conducted sequenced, force-on-force engagements to test the new concepts and technologies. Many of the advancements, such as laser range finder binoculars, unmanned aerial vehicles, palm-sized computers, and hand-held digital radios, meant the Marines had to adapt to a new era in communication.
The "Hunter-Warrior AWE" was one phase of Sea Dragon. It was the culminating experiment of the Hunter-Warrior phase (Phase I) of the Commandant's Warfighting Laboratory's (CWL's) Five-Year Plan to evaluate new tactics, techniques, procedures and technologies. Sea Dragon examined the use of these technologies when combined, for improved tactics, techniques, and procedures to provide revolutionary improvements to the command and control process.
Hunter Warrior was a large-scale, force-on-force field experiment that lasted for 12 days. It involved 7,000 Marines and took place on a battlefield that covered more than 4,000 square kilometers. Hunter Warrior tested a hypothesis: "Can we significantly extend the area of influence of modest sized forward-afloat and early arriving forces and also increase their effectiveness within that larger area of influence?" Hunter Warrior examined how technologies and tactical innovations can be used to make forward-afloat Marine Expeditionary Units (MEU) more effective. A MEU is made up of a battalion landing team (BLT) supported by an aviation combat element (ACE) and a combat service support element (CSSE).
The OPFOR was a mechanized, conventional force of 4,500 Marines. This force was armed with current Marine equipment and weapons.
Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force Experimental (SPMAGTF (X)). SPMAGTF (X) served as the friendly force. The SPMAGTF (X) mission was to locate important enemy targets (large concentrations of troops and equipment) and engage them with long-range, precision fires in order to shape the battlefield for the introduction of heavier, follow-on forces. The SPMAGTF (X) squads conducted long range contact patrols (LRCPs) to find enemy positions and report enemy activities. These squads, led by their sergeants, were inserted onto the battlefield at night and carried out missions that usually last three to five days.
Results showed the Marine Corps could indeed provide forward afloat forces with the capability to have an operational effect on a capable, larger foe through the introduction of new technologies, training and organization. The SPMAGTF (X) did have a significant operational effect on its opponent. This did not happen solely because of technology, however. Marines squads are capable of independent action on the dispersed, non-contiguous battlefield. The squads performed superbly. An example of their performance is evident is how difficult they were to find on the battlefield. In total, 28 squads were placed on the battlefield during the 12-day experiment. Only one was detected and attacked by the OPFOR. These squads did this while carrying 100-pound packs and remaining on the battlefield for three to five days at a time. The lesson in this is that junior Marines are capable at performing at a much higher standard than currently expected of them. Marines can be trained to operate independently in squads and, in future combat, whether in cities or on the open battlefield, it will be necessary for squads to be dispersed in a much greater fashion than in the past.
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