By Rear Adm. Roy I. Kitchener and Brig. Gen. Robert F. Castellvi
As service members from more than 30 U.S. commands and 14 countries begin the second and final week of Bold Alligator 2016 (BA16), we take a moment to reflect on the importance and relevance of an exercise that enables us to continue our investment in the current and future readiness of our amphibious force.
Sailors and Marines from Brazil, Canada, Chile, France, Germany, Italy, Mexico, The Netherlands, Norway, Peru, Sweden, Turkey, the U.K. and U.S. are embarked aboard USS Bataan (LHD 5), USS Iwo Jima (LHD 7) and USNS Comfort (T-AH-20); and at commands across Hampton Roads and Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, planning a major amphibious assault in a complex and contested environment.
The Bold Alligator series of exercises are led by U.S. Fleet Forces Command and U.S. Marine Corps Forces Command as part of a training continuum designed to increase our coalition’s ability to control the littoral battle space, gain access anywhere in the world, project power ashore, and set the conditions for follow-on forces.
Since our last live BA exercise in 2014, the series has taken the form of an episodic trilogy.
Last year we planned the mission. This year we’re aboard the ships and conducting the mission rehearsal using all the people, places, and particulars planned last year in order to execute the mission while maintaining the flexibility to experiment. Then, in the finale next year, we’ll conduct a live amphibious assault using all of the forces we’ve trained during the first two parts of the story.
BA16 is a ‘synthetic’ exercise only in the sense that we’re not actually underway but are simulating that we are. It’s the middle part of the trilogy. But it would be completely wrong to think of it as just a ‘simulated’ exercise. It’s a complete, extensive mission rehearsal which builds to next year’s climax and beyond.
But why is it important? Here’s what you need to know:
The BA amphibious exercises are the largest on the East Coast. They’re designed to strengthen the Navy, Marine Corps and coalition partners’ fundamental amphibious capabilities after more than a decade of constant combat and counterinsurgency (COIN) operations in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere.
These COIN operations, while necessary and vital to national security, came at the expense of more traditional, and required by law, core competencies of the naval force.
The Department of Defense (DoD) requires the Navy and Marine Corps team to conduct amphibious operations, including engagement, crisis response, and power projection operations, to assure access. As outlined in its Functions of the Department of Defense and Its Major Components, DoD requires that the Marine Corps, for example, have “primary responsibility for the development of amphibious doctrine, tactics, techniques, and equipment.”
It was in this milieu that Bold Alligator was conceived, guided by policy documents such as Expeditionary Force 21, the Campaign Plan for Amphibious Operations Training and the Marine Corps Service Campaign Plan 2014-2022.
Last year’s exercise, as part one of the current trilogy, focused on forcible entry operations, helping to inform the joint forcible entry operations we’re executing now and live in 2017.
But the story doesn’t end there.
While BA is an annual, graduate-level keystone exercise encompassing thousands of coalition sailors and Marines, it’s continuously informed by very important amphibious exercises such as Cold Response, Judicious Response and MEFEX. Each of these exercises, along with BA, form the continuum of training necessary to make the world’s most capable amphibious force even more capable and ready.
BA16 is designed to train Expeditionary Strike Group (ESG) 2 and 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade (MEB). Both staffs are planning and executing a MEB-sized amphibious assault from a sea base in a medium land and maritime threat environment and anti-access/area denial environment to improve naval, amphibious core competencies.
BA16, as a rehearsal, will prepare our coalition for the live BA17, which will include more than 14,000 warfighters, and will build upon today’s lessons learned.
All of this puts our coalition sailors and Marines in the heart of the storyline, executing a very challenging mission to prepare them for the complexities of today’s threats.
Today’s fight is a mix of threats in a non-linear battlespace. To train for this, we incorporate advanced virtual and constructive simulations to go beyond the live force limitations, especially when dealing with anti-access/area denial weaponry.
The key to developing flexibility is training in realistic scenarios, and treating exercises such as Bold Alligator as mission rehearsals.
Today’s training trilogy encompasses complexities such as command and control between the commander of a carrier strike group and the commander of an amphibious task force. We’re aggregating forces and compositing forward-deployed forces within the decision making framework of a combined force battle rhythm.
We’re also being tested with a realistic opposing force that thinks like we do and operates against us using the full spectrum of advanced warfare.
Open any news link covering current military operations. We’re fighting today’s fight.
We’re fighting across an integrated domain of sea-air-land-cyber-space to shape the environment and lead the fight to gain access for the Joint Force Commander.
A credible forcible-entry capability compels potential adversaries to invest in a broad range of systems and spread their defenses over larger areas of concern.
In this way, a ‘synthetic’ BA16 helps shape our actual future battle space. It therefore transforms our mission rehearsal into the category of a live operation in its own right while preparing our amphibious forces for whatever may lie ahead.
Editor’s note: Rear Adm. Roy Kitchener is the commander of Expeditionary Strike Group 2 based in Virginia Beach, Va.
Brig. Gen. Robert Castellvi is the deputy commanding general, II Marine Expeditionary Force, and commander, 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade based in Camp Lejeune, N.C.