Thursday, June 21, 2018

Disaggregated MEU

There’s an article on the USNI News website trumpeting the flexibility and capability of the Navy/Marine Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) and Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU).  The article notes that the three ships of the ARG were widely distributed, as shown below.

  • Iwo Jima (LHD-7) – Persian Gulf

  • USS Oak Hill (LSD-51) – Baltic Sea

  • USS New York (LPD-21) – Mediterranean Sea

Take a look at the map below and find those three locations.  That’s thousands of miles separation.  The Baltic Sea is some 3000 miles sailing distance from the center of the Mediterranean and the Persian Gulf is another 2500-3000 miles assuming the Suez Canal were available – not a sure thing in the event of a conflict.  So, depending on where the ARG/MEU needed to congregate, it would require one to two weeks or more of sailing to reform the MEU.  Consider that a disaggregated ARG ship that is, say, 3000 nm away from its needed location would require over 6 days sailing at 20 kts to reach the desired location.

  


The point of a MEU is to present a credible, ready, on-site, amphibious force in high threat areas.  It is not to split off into operationally non-functional units and go on world tours.

One of the official MEU characteristics is

“Rapid response: within 6 hours of notification”. (1) 

While simply waking up within six hours is, technically, responding, I’m quite sure that’s not what is meant.  I’m sure the six hour response is supposed to be to begin taking action.  Again, while beginning to set sail so that they can aggregate several days later is a response, it’s a pretty ineffectual response.  Thus, disaggregation negates one of the central characteristics of the MEU.

What else does Marine policy state?

“An ARG/MEU is best employed as designed—as a single entity.” (1)

An ARG/MEU spread over several thousand miles and with a continent’s separation is not a single entity nor can it aggregate in any useful time frame.

Further, the MEU is considered the smallest Marine unit capable of independent operations but only as a complete unit.  Disaggregation eliminates the MEU as a combat capable unit.

The big problem with this policy of disaggregation is that in a time of crisis the temptation will be to commit the disaggregated MEU piecemeal instead of waiting several days for the group to assemble its full combat power.  A third of a MEU is of little use and would likely become a liability.

As the Marine MEU summary dryly notes,

“Although ARG/MEUs are highly capable and flexible organizations, there are some limitations on key enablers that constrain tactics and employment options if required to operate in a split or disaggregated manner.” (1) [emphasis added]

What this is really saying is that a disaggregated MEU can’t perform any task more stressing than taking on a rogue Boy Scout troop.

So what was accomplished, in this case, by breaking up the ARG/MEU to the point of ineffectiveness?  Well, one third of the MEU got to practice amphibious operations with the Romanians.(2)  Seriously, does anyone believe we’ll ever conduct an amphibious assault with Romania?  And, even if we did, what are the odds that the handful of personnel that participated in the exercise with Romania would be around to conduct the assault?  The Romanians used rubber boats, for crying out loud!  That’s not how we do assaults so why are we practicing for that?  What a waste of time and resources! 

The Marines seem to recognize the dangers and limitations inherent in disaggregated operations and yet persist in doing so.  Why?  The benefits are miniscule, at best.

We run the risk of committing MEU fractions piecemeal – a recipe for disaster.

Finally, I have to ask, if we’re going to disaggregate the ARG/MEUs, then why have them?  If it takes a week or two to consolidate before they can take action, can’t we just leave them home and ship them out when needed?  The time frame would be the same. 

Further, if it takes a week or two to bring an ARG/MEU to bear, why don’t we just use Army/Air Force units which can deploy anywhere in the world in less time.

Honestly, disaggregated MEUs are a great argument for disbanding the Marine Corps.  Marine leadership appears not to recognize this.

Marine Corps leadership needs to get their heads out of their butts, drop this disaggregation nonsense, and start preparing and training for their real job which, in my opinion, should be port seizure.



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(2)USNI News website, “USS Oak Hill BALTOPS Participation Highlights Pentagon Push for Unexpected Deployments”, Megan Eckstein, 18-Jun-2018,


22 comments:

  1. That is the Unified Commands doing that, not the Marine Corps. The Commands can do anything they want with the forces they are given and the Commandant can only advise or resign.

    So European and Indo-Pacific Commands decided to disperse they few resources in a totally ineffective way, other that to show the Flag. The head of European Command is an Army General and the Head of Indo-Pacific is an Admiral. The USMC Forces Commanders in both Commands has a similar choice. BTW where is the Commander Naval Forces in both commands? Have they protested or resigned?

    Take it up with them. It is not USMC Doctrine that is at fault here.

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    1. I'm sorry but it was not the Combatant Commanders who came up with the disaggregated ARG/MEU concept, it was the Marines. The CC's may be taking advantage of it but the Marines initiated it. They've been pushing all sorts of idiotic "distributed" operations and ever smaller, dispersed units (Company landing teams, for exampe).

      The Navy/Marines are even building the next replacement LPD specifically to perform disaggregated operations. The CC's didn't dictate that design, the Navy/Marines did.

      With that out of the way, I invite you to address the main question in the post which is why we even need a Marine Corps if the MEU is going to be dispersed beyond usefulness?

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    2. Well I will eat a little crow now. I didn't see anything in your post saying the Marines were proposing this silly concept. But I checked on the web and you are right they are talking about this as a policy.

      Now to your point. A reinforced Company could seize and hold a single large building or compound with a wall. For about a day.

      Splitting the Composite Aviation Squadron would not give the 3 Reinforced Companies enough lift to do anything more than re-supply in a friendly airspace. On top of that the Aviation support element is not big enough or has enough spares to support 3 sites.

      As for artillery, the Battery would be split in 3 again 2 guns for each company. I do not think there is enough fire control systems to go around.

      So long story short you could have one heavy company that would get the majority of the MEU assets and could be pretty effective for its size. The other two would be basically light infantry units that can march anywhere and hold about a building for day.

      Good luck Unified Commander in employing that.

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    3. "I checked ..."

      Good for you! You doubted me and you verified what I was saying. Eventually, I hope you'll come to recognize me as a reliable source of information that doesn't need to be verified but, until then, by all means check my statements.

      You also seem to acknowledge that a partial MEU has limited combat capability. That's good and, again, that's from logic and the Marine's own statements and doctrine.

      Now a few specifics ...

      "Splitting the Composite Aviation Squadron would not give the 3 Reinforced Companies enough lift ..."

      You may be misunderstanding how the disaggregation works. The aviation component, to use your example, does not and cannot be split among the three ships. The LPD and LSD have only marginal aviation capabilities. Only the LHA/LHD has significant aviation capabilities. Thus, when the ARG/MEU disaggregates, the Marines on the LHA/LHD get most of the aviation capability and the others get almost none. It's the same for any aspect. The artillery may or may not be evenly distributed. The tanks can't be (assuming the MEU even has any!) split because not every ship has the ability to get the tanks ashore - the America (LHA-6), for example, has no well deck and can't land any heavy equipment that can't be transported via helo. And so on.

      The point is that the MEU is not evenly distributed among the three ARG ships. So, depending on luck of the draw, two of the three MEU components have no significant aviation capability - a distinct disadvantage in a fight and one of the many reasons why a disaggregated MEU component has no significant combat power.

      "Good luck Unified Commander in employing that."

      So, I repeat the main question. Is it worth maintaining a fleet of 30+ amphibious ships that each cost billions of dollars so that we can defend a building for a few hours?

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    4. Now you are making a much larger leap. A stupid peacetime deployment scheme, is not necessarily grounds for getting rid of a, in my view, a strategic capability represented by the 30 Amphibs.

      Regardless of whether there will be a forced landing, those assets provide a HUGE strategic capability in less than forced landing events. Being able to host that much capability (when not dispersed) in forward areas, to be able to move them during a period of increasing tension is a huge flexibility. Otherwise it is try to fly stuff in and load and use MSC ships or Commercial RO/RO. That could easily take over a month to get something from say Georgia (US) to Malaysia.

      So no do not get rid of the Amphibs, just use them smartly.

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    5. The amphibious fleet represents a strategic (or operational) capability only if there is a reasonable chance of it being use. I've documented that the likelihood of amphibious assault in any peer war is very low to non-existent. That being the case, the amphibious fleet doesn't represent any capability because it won't be used.

      However, the thrust of this post was not so much the need for an amphibious fleet as the idiocy of disaggregated ARG/MEU deployments. If we're doing to disaggregate them over thousands of miles, then we're right back to the situation you describe where it may require a several weeks to re-aggregate. If that's the case, we can use conventional forces and don't need to maintain a very expensive amphibious fleet and certainly don't need to deploy ARG/MEUs.

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  2. The point of training with countries like Romania is not to prepare for a joint US-Romanian amphibious assault, but to build relational capital. There are future generals, admirals, defense ministers, and maybe presidents and prime ministers serving as lower ranking officers today, and making sure that they have a strong impression of US competency, integrity, and credibility by drilling with us may pay diplomatic dividends down the line.

    Besides, even a dis-aggregated MEU is still a credible asset. An LHD in sea control configuration has 20 fighters and 6 ASW choppers, which shouldn't be discounted by most our likely adversaries.

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    1. If your reply is intended as a defense of the disaggregation practice, reread your comment and see how silly it sounds. You're advocating the negation of an entire ARG/MEU so that a handful of people (statistically, how many of those people are actually going to achieve the ranks you're discussing? - almost none) can have a meet and greet? Wouldn't it make much more sense to identify those very few who seem to show that possibility of advancement to that level and fly them over for a week of partying rather than invalidate an entire ARG/MEU?

      Worse, we're training our own people incorrectly. Just as in sports, the only thing worse than not training/practicing is to train/practice incorrectly because that's how you develop bad habits. If, for some pointless reason, we want Romanian people to see us train then let's fly them out to an actual, serious ARG/MEU training event and let them observe while the sip margaritas.

      The point is that there a thousand better ways to foster "diplomatic dividends" with Romania than by splitting up a ARG/MEU.

      A disaggregated MEU is NOT a credible asset. A third of a MEU is a combat disaster waiting to happen. You even contradict yourself with your own example of an LHD in sea control mode. In that mode, it cannot support or operate a MEU since the necessary transport helos are replaced by fixed wing aircraft!

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    2. I don't know the exact concept of this training with the Romanians but an amphibious assault against a third rated, soviet equiped opposition may be some sound training. Otherwise, helping an allied country to learn how to fight an amphibious assault from an very amphibious capable neighbour may be sound training too.

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  3. As i said before, after the end of the USSR us forces in Europe is just a presence thing, and quality exercises - thats it.

    The bright side, you can make a effect from a defect send all the LCS vessels to Europe and concentrate the hard hitters on more important locations.

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    1. "us forces in Europe is just a presence thing"

      Then we don't need a ARG/MEU there, do we?

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    2. In Europe certainly not, Russia is not going to invade any NATO country . Just keep some light forces for exercises and the occasional show the flag stuff.

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    3. "In Europe certainly not, Russia is not going to invade any NATO country . Just keep some light forces for exercises and the occasional show the flag stuff."

      It wasnt going to invade Georgia, until it did, it wasnt going to invade Ukraine either, and then it did.

      NATOs posture is horribly outdated, seemingly based on a Russia that will declare war, and then spend 90 days mobilising, rather than a Russia that will invade, achieve its objects in a week, then, at best, trade military gains for political concessions, if not trade a promise to make no further military gains for political concessions

      There is very little between Russia and Berlin that could actually stand and fight, there isnt much more that could quickly get in between the two either.


      Its 350 to 450 miles from Konigsberg to Berlin.
      If Russia was prepared to accept losses that could be done in a day, there's simply nothing in the way to stop them.

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    4. LCS would look good in Europe they would have to be towed there bout half way though and then spend the rest of the in port awaiting repairs

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    5. "It wasnt going to invade Georgia, until it did, it wasnt going to invade Ukraine either, and then it did."

      You make a good point. Russia doesn't seem too impressed by our "deterrence", do they?

      To be fair, though, Storm did explicitly say that Russia wouldn't invade a NATO nation and I have to agree that that would be a major step up in aggression and escalation compared to what they've done so far. However, as you point out, Russia has already far exceeded anyone's expectations about militaristic expansion and invasion, so who knows.

      NATO is still a major deterrent, assuming Russia believes that the US would come to the aid of a NATO nation - not a 100% sure bet these days.

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    6. "To be fair, though, Storm did explicitly say that Russia wouldn't invade a NATO nation"
      True, but that that used to be, Russia will never invade a NATO / EUAA nation or violate BMoSA

      Invading a NATO state would be a departure, as its previous adventures have been in reaction to a current EU adventure eastwards, rather than a historic one, but if it got away with one, its not as big a leap to the other.

      "NATO is still a major deterrent, assuming Russia believes that the US would come to the aid of a NATO nation - not a 100% sure bet these days."
      Ironically, even under Trump, the US is likely to be the most aggressive member.
      The UK now needs a vote to go to war, the leader of the opposition is for all intents an purposes a Russia agent who greatly regrets the fall of the USSR and the government is locked in a bitter and frozen negotiation about its future with the EU, there are likely to be few votes in sending men to die for the EU whilst the EU is blocking us from joint security initiatives.

      And it gets worse as you go.
      Poland and the Baltics might have more will, but fewer means.

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    7. You make an excellent point about the political relationship between the UK and EU. I don't follow UK politics very closely so that's an eye opener.

      You also make a good point about Russia's feeling that they can get away with more. The West's relative lack of response to Russia's seizure of Crimea and invasion of Ukraine has done nothing to dissuade Russian from continued expansion.

      All around excellent comment!

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  4. Trt, the quick Moscow-Konigsberg route goes thru Warsaw.
    The Poles might let the Russians in, question is would
    they let the Russians leave. In the WarPact days, who
    the Poles would attack in WWIII was a big question.

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  5. I don't see splitting up an MEU in a peace time training exercise as an issue. In this instance, this seems to have been done in order to concurrently train with coalition forces.

    In combat, there are some instances where you might want to split up an MEU, such as to reinforce multiple units. Or, conduct a mission that doesn't require a full MEU. It would also be practical to operate an MEU less an LSD or LPD in order to train for when a ship is lost or damaged due to combat. Or, an LHA/LHD with fewer aircraft and LCACs to simulate combat lossses.

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    1. The Whole point of a MEU in peacetime is to have a fully combat capable force deployed off a likely trouble spot. If things are so calm as to allow the MEU to disaggregate, then we don't need to deploy it. They can stay home and save the wear and tear on the ships and aircraft and not have to separate families.

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    2. An MEU is a reinforced battalion. What sort of unit would be usefully reinforced by a company of troops or 4 M1 tanks?

      ComNavOps point is right on. The MEU only makes sense if you keep it concentrated and ready to respond to an urgent situation. If the assets are spread all over the place, it's can't bring force to bear quickly.

      And I would go further and say the force is not mentally ready to immediately respond to a crisis if it's broken up and performing missions not central to it's primary reason for existence. And an MEU isn't forward deployed to train. It's forward deployed to instantly join a fight.

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    3. Jay Kay, excellent comment! I like the mentality aspect that you point out.

      Side note, the MEUs are deploying without tanks, now, so your point about useful reinforcement becomes even more apropos.

      You should be writing these posts!

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