Last week we asked for your questions on expeditionary warfare – thinking about how we conduct Ops from the sea, usually on short notice, consisting of forward deployed, or rapidly deployable, self-sustaining naval forces. You sent us a bunch and this week Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Hanifen (N95) answered your questions about capabilities, programs and the Navy-Marine Corps team in response to 5@5.
1. Do we still always have a “Gator” force in the Med at all times?
Actually, no, we do not have a “Gator” force in the Med at all times but, historically, the Navy and Marine Corps have attempted to maintain an Amphibious Ready Group, which consists of an amphibious squadron of typically three amphibious ships with a Marine Expeditionary Unit embarked, in the Mediterranean. However, regional contingencies will often dictate where the ARG/MEU is located. For example, if a crisis should occur in east Africa or in the Middle East, the Joint Staff has the latitude to direct the ARG/MEU out of the European Theater. Over the past ten years, the ARG/MEU has repeatedly been sent to the Central Command area of operations to support Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. In the case that more than one crisis should arise, the ARG/MEU has the ability to conduct disaggregated operations meaning one of the ships can split off and operate on its own. The ARG/MEU construct continues to be one of the most flexible crisis response forces in the world today and allows the President of the United States to respond to the full range of crises that might threaten the United States and her allies.
The number one concern facing expeditionary warfare has been, and will continue to be, maintaining our combat readiness and ability to meet contingencies while building the naval force of the future. Despite the resource challenges facing the Navy, our real strength endures, which is the unshakeable bond that exists among our Sailors and Marines. Since the founding of the U.S. Navy and the Marine Corps, Sailors and Marines have fought together on ship and on land. They fought side by side from the yardarms of the great tall ships against the British during the Revolution and the War of 1812 and in the Pacific during the great battles of Midway, Wake Island, Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Okinawa, and Iwo Jima. Sailors and Marines comprise the most powerful and capable amphibious force in the world today and they stand ready, forward deployed, ready to answer the nation’s call. The Navy and Marine Corps team have a long history of cooperation and success; and I expect that our Navy and Marine Corps will continue to train and fight as one team now and in the future. And yes, absolutely, our Sailors and Marines have a common naval heritage that bonds them together and allows them to stand watch ready to meet any challenge or threat that our nation may face. Do Marines and Sailors get along? You betchya!
Navy Sea, Air and Land (SEALs) and Special Warfare Combatant-craft Crewmen (SWCCs) are the most elite warriors in the United States Navy. SEALs and SWCCs undergo several phases of training designed to ensure that operators are physically and tactically equipped to conduct combat operations. Although they both have separate training pipelines, the training is very rigorous, pushing individuals to the limit both mentally and physically in order to ensure they can operate under extreme conditions.
For SEALs and SWCCs, it takes over 30 and 34 months to train each respectively to the point at which they will be ready for their first deployment. SEALs are trained to handle any task they are called upon to perform, including diving, combat swimming, navigation, demolitions, weapons and parachuting. SWCCs are the small-boat and heavy weapons experts of the Navy, trained in seamanship skills, small-boat tactics and the full-spectrum of special operations maritime missions. Once they both get through their initial training pipeline, their training continues as they continue to hone their basic skills and learn new skills and techniques that will allow them to take their place among the elite warriors in the U.S. Navy. As the SEALs like to say, “The only easy day was yesterday.”
4. How do forward operating forces get fuel? Are there fuel ships like the fuel planes in the air force?
Yes, the U.S. Navy does have fuel ships and we have them stationed all over the world. In fact, the United States Navy actually pioneered the ability of ships to refuel at sea and no other country is able to conduct refueling operations at sea on the massive scale that the United States Navy does today. The ships are known as Auxiliary Ships or Oilers (T-AO) and they keep the Navy moving 24 hours a day, ready to respond to any crisis worldwide. A U.S. Navy ship is able to refuel with an oiler while remaining ‘underway’ through a process known as Refueling at Sea; or as it is known by our Sailors an “UNREP” (underway replenishment). The oiler and surface ship rendez-vous at a designated point and come alongside each other closing to within 150-170 feet of each other. A few Sailors will actually use a carbine rifle to fire lines across from the surface ship to the oiler. The Sailors on the oiler will receive the lines and then use the lines to pull over wire ropes that will support the refueling hose lines. Once the hoses are all hooked up, the oiler starts to pump over the fuel. While the surface ship is receiving fuel, helicopters will also be ferrying dry cargo to include dry foods, fresh vegetables and other supplies from the oiler to the surface ship. A typical UNREP can take up to 3-4 hours and is one of the most complicated and most dangerous evolutions a ship’s crew will undergo while at sea. The oilers are one of the most strategic assets within the U.S. Navy fleet and are the sole reason the U.S. Navy is deployed around the world and able to operate continuously no matter how difficult the challenge.
5. How is MCAST (specifically the Civil Affairs side of the house) incorporated into Expeditionary Warfare?
Naval Civil Affairs teams fall under the Maritime Civil Affairs and Security Training Command. Naval Civil Affairs (CA) Teams conduct Littoral Civil Military Operations to ensure unity of effort among Special Operations and General Purpose Forces; elements of other government agencies; partner nation security forces, and indigenous forces. Additionally, MCAST CA teams conduct infrastructure reconstruction and humanitarian assistance to enable local governments and legitimate officials to provide the basic services required for a stable environment. Naval Civil Affairs teams can serve as a critical resource during peace-keeping and counter-insurgency operations by enabling military forces to interact with local and government officials in a way that serves to enhance civil/military relations. Across the range of military operations, CA teams are able to respond to local needs that reflect the values of the U.S. Navy as a Global Force for Good.