Saturday, November 15, 2014

Bold Alligator 2014

The Marine Corps is returning to the sea, they tell us [why did we leave?  But, I digress …].  OK, let’s take a look at the premier amphibious exercise of the year, the annual Bold Alligator (BA) exercise.  It’s been conducted since 2011 although two of those years the exercise was mostly simulation.

So, with the renewed focus of the Corps on amphibious operations and the Pivot to the Pacific (read China, even though no one will say it) the 2014 exercise would, undoubtedly, have focused on major amphibious assault operations, you would think.  That makes sense.  If we’re going to kick in the Chinese A2/AD zone, or invade Iran or N. Korea, or launch assaults on Russia we need to be prepared to conduct major amphibious operations, right?

As a point of interest, the US contingent of the exercise included 14 USN ships:  6 amphibs, 1 CG, 3 DDG, 1 JHSV, 1 T-AKE, 1 T-AO, and 1 T-ATF.  Not exactly a major amphibious assault force, is it?  -no carriers -no bombardment group -no mine clearing task force.  Conspicuous by their absence is the LCS.  Wasn’t the LCS going to be the kick-the-littoral-door-down force that would secure the littoral region, remove the mine threat, neutralize the submarine threat, and spread democracy?  As best I can determine, the LCS has yet to participate in any of the BA exercises.  That’s odd considering that this is exactly the mission the LCS was designed for.

Anyway, as best I can piece together from numerous sources, the 2014 BA is a series of small, crisis response exercises.  Here are some of the pieces of the exercise.

  • provide security for humanitarian assistance (HA) operations
  • exercise a riverine team providing security for the HA ops
  • raid on a terrorist camp
  • embassy protection
  • aerial assault
  • Company size, unopposed landing
  • JHSV loaded 16 Humvees

So, what are we practicing? A bunch of low end, small events. Heck it's based on a humanitarian assistance mission! It's not an exercise to practice getting divisions ashore and demolishing an enemy - it's a scripted series of crisis response, mobility exercises, from what I've read. We're wasting a premier event on peacetime and low end tasks. That's not what the Chinese are practicing!

Here’s an interesting statement from one of the articles.

"'Coming into this event, there was a substantial amount of repair, cleaning and preservation work done to get the ship ready,' said Bossert [Capt. David Bossert, commanding officer of Kearsarge, LHD-3]. 'There was an untold amount of work done by Sailors and Marines assigned to USS Kearsarge, and they have done a phenomenal job.'" (1)

The ship had to undergo extraordinary basic maintenance to be ready for this exercise???!  That says quite a bit about our level of readiness, doesn’t it?

One of the pieces of the exercise involved a Marine battalion providing rapid response embassy protection and security from protesters.  Consider this statement.

“Our biggest challenge was getting out of the combat mindset,” Rosales[Sgt. Richard Rosales, a squad leader with Company F, 2nd Battalion, 8th Marines] said. “The Marines are new to embassy guarding, so we met up with the [personnel] at the embassy to learn about daily operations, and how they would normally utilize the Marines [at the embassy].” (2)

Wow!  The Chinese are gearing up for high end combat and we're working hard to get out of the combat mindset. 

Another piece involved having a Marine recon unit land and provide intel for a Company landing team to come ashore in an unopposed landing for the purpose of supporting the embassy protection mission.

We have the opportunity to conduct a major exercise and we opt to spend it on a minor, Company size UNOPPOSED landing whose purpose is to support an embassy security operation.  Way to maximize training opportunities!

This ties back to recent comments about the difference between the Chinese military preparations and our own.  As I’ve said, and as I’ll repeat,

The Chinese are preparing for war.  We are not.

What happens if we have to conduct a major amphibious operation tomorrow?  Are we prepared?  Not from this exercise, we aren’t!

Here’s the thing – if we want to be able to conduct a major, multi-division offensive spearheaded and enabled by an amphibious assault then we have to practice it.  We have to assemble a major task force and practice the operation.  If, on the other hand, we’re concluding that we aren’t going to ever need an amphibious assault on such a scale then why do we have 30 some major amphibious ships and an entire Marine Corps?  If all we’re going to do is embassy evacuations and humanitarian assistance ops and the like, we can make do with significantly fewer amphibious ships (they can be commercial vessels if we aren’t going to conduct opposed landings) and a much smaller Corps.  In fact, if we aren’t going to do amphibious assaults one can’t help but wonder why we even need the Marines.  The Army has Ranger and Airborne units that can do the security and evacuation and small scale raids and probably do them better.

We need to either get serious about amphibious operations or admit that we’re out of the business and turn the resources over to the Army and Air Force.  Bold Alligator 2014 was an embarrassment.  The Chinese have to be laughing about our military priorities.


  1. Interesting observation...and one the Army Chief of Staff was likely observing as closely as the Chinese.
    The Marines are in a pickle. Secretary Gates questioned the requirement of major amphibious landings, but supported the amphibious assault mission. If you can't have air support or LCS magic to clear mines and shallow water ASW, then you better hope that your future includes unopposed amphibious landings...and here we are!
    Great catch on the lack of LCS and its purported magic of being the game changer in the littorals. Another exercise that we just hand-waved two of the three biggest issues: ASW and mines (third being SSM's).

    1. UUUGGGHHH, [yes, I know you didn't mean that as your username but it seemed right :) -maybe "HandWave would be a better name? :) ] that is a very good point about the Army CoS. Really good! The Army is looking very hard at taking some or all of the Marine job. I can't believe I missed that point. Thanks for picking up on it!

  2. Unrelated news but I know I have never heard a story like this one:

    What does this say about USN leadership and readiness!


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