The Navy and Marines have recently begun to make public the results of the Bold Alligator 2012 amphibious exercise held earlier this year. An article in the latest Proceedings (1) describes some of the findings. For those who aren’t familiar with it, the exercise was an attempt to re-establish an amphibious capability in a Marine Corp that had largely forgotten its primary purpose due to extended land battles over the last decade or so. Indeed, the author states,
“Many participants , from novices to veterans, had never participated in combined naval amphibious operations prior to the exercise.”
The exercise involved 27 ships and 15,000 personnel.
While discussing the Expeditionary Strike Group (ESG) and Marine Expeditionary Brigade (MEB) forces, the author assesses them with the following statement.
“… the most recent iteration [the exercise] reveals our ESG/MEB-sized naval forces to be in the early part of the ‘walk’ phase of the ‘crawl, walk, run’ approach.”
The author noted a lack of expertise and familiarity among participants with the details of amphibious operations and goes on to list additional shortcomings such as the importance of integrating Navy and Marine staffs, incompatibilities between Navy and Marine communications equipment, and the realization that the various commands are still trying to determine the optimal means of command and control.
This exercise and its findings represent a sad state of affairs regarding our amphibious capability. We have institutionally forgotten how to conduct amphibious operations. It’s kind of embarrassing to hear Naval and Marine personnel proudly talk about our progress in the amphibious realm. Didn’t we master the art in WWII? Sure, the equipment has changed over the years but how did we allow our amphibious expertise to atrophy so badly? Communications incompatibilities? Really? Didn’t we learn this lesson after
I won't belabor this any further other than to state the obvious - our leadership has failed us badly over the years.
I know, many of you are going to excuse the leadership by saying that they had no choice. The Marines were ordered to commit to an extended land battle and it was bound to happen. No one's fault, right? Wrong! What good leadership should have done was to loudly and persistently point out what was happening to the Marine Corp. They should have taken the issue to Congress and the public. Where were the leaders willing to sacrifice their careers to ensure that the Marines remained America's ready reaction force instead of just a smaller version of the Army? Poor leadership.
On the plus side, at least we recognize we have a problem and are doing something about it. Given enough time we’ll probably figure out how to do something we mastered over 65 years ago.
(1) Naval Institute Proceedings, “Still in Demand”, Lt. Gen. Dennis Hejlik, USMC (Ret), Nov 2012