Marines with Combat Logistics Battalion 13 attach an M777A2 Howitzer to an MV-22B Osprey during an exercise at Camp Pendleton, Calif., in August. All logistics Marines will soon take a new seminar to prepare them for small-unit missions around the world. (Sgt. Sarah Fiocco / Marine Corps)
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Coming soon: a seminar for all Marine logisticians to prepare them for their role in small-unit operations and joint missions around the globe. That’s just one of the changes in store for the logistics community as the Corps embraces its new strategy called Expeditionary Force 21.
The Marine Air Ground Task Force Expeditionary Logistics Seminar is set to launch near the end of the year. It will help logisticians understand their piece of EF-21, a postwar amphibious concept emphasizing smaller scale operations that the Marines unveiled earlier this year. And soon, Marines plan to add in new exercises, procedures and joint training with the Navy designed to further equip logisticians for the strategy.
With a focus on sea-basing and operations at increased distances off-shore, EF-21 presents clear challenges for logisticians, said Lt. Gen. William “Mark” Faulkner, head of Marine Corps Installations and Logistics.
“EF-21 ... focuses on smaller, more distributed groupings of Marines ashore, which is by its very nature more challenging,” Faulkner told Marine Corps Times after the new doctrine was released. “Not only now do we have to go over larger distances, but we have more distributed forces to support ashore.”
Marines on both the enlisted and officer sides in the logistics community will attend the new seminars. They’ll take place at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, California, hosted by Marine Corps Logistics Operations Group, Faulkner said.
Initially, the focus will be on members of combat logistics battalions attached to Marine expeditionary units — those most likely to participate in amphibious operations and training with the Navy, he said. The seminars will ready the Marines for a broad range of deployments and missions possible in a post-Afghanistan strategy that emphasizes crisis response and amphibious missions. They’ll also include information specific to the geographic combatant command to which the unit is headed, from the Middle East to the Pacific, Faulkner said.
The seminars at Twentynine Palms will last about two weeks, said Col. Matthew Cook, commanding officer of MCLOG. Each class will have between 35 and 50 participants. At home stations, logisticians will also get more opportunities to incorporate EF-21 concepts into training and pre-deployment workups.
While the training is slated for broad implementation in the last quarter of this year, Cook said several MEUs have already received the training prior to scheduled deployments. The 11th MEU, out of Camp Pendleton, California, and the the 24th MEU, out of Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, became the first West and East Coast units to participate in the seminar in the early spring. The 11th MEU deployed in late July, while the 24th MEU will leave port in the fall.
The new seminar covers expeditionary and operational-level logistics, with emphasis on “logistics enablers” from other services, federal agencies, and even commercial organizations that are able to support Marine units and operations, Cook said.
The seminar is designed to be the culmination of training that begins as far as nine months from the start of a deployment, Faulkner said. That predeployment workup will also be adapted to integrate EF-21 concepts, with a special focus on working with the Navy, he said. That joint focus is significant because of the Navy’s history of maritime operations and work in expansive regions like the Pacific, where basic logistical challenges, like keeping troops supplied and keeping equipment well-stocked and in good repair can be magnified.
“So if you were to go around now to the [Marine expeditionary forces] — 1st, 2nd and 3rd MEF — and to the [Marine forces], you will see a more aggressive and more challenging exercise schedule,” Faulkner said. “It’s more focused on naval integration and working with our partners in the Navy.”
Marines and sailors recently completed Rim of the Pacific, a monthlong multinational exercise held in and around Hawaii. The event included a joint ship-to-shore assault and other amphibious capability demonstrations.
Cook said other examples of integration between the Navy and the Marine Corps include a partnership with the Naval Supply School that will allow its instructors to tutor 24th MEU logisticians on sailors’ logistics tools and capabilities. MCLOG will also be able to send a small group of Marines to the Naval Supply School, he said.
Elsewhere, Faulkner said Marine and Navy officials are brainstorming to devise more efficient ways to work together in the same regions. One example of working smarter, not harder: putting basic gear for both services on combat logistics force ships, the Navy’s at-sea supply line.
“We’re saying, ‘Look, these same ships, they pull alongside the USS fill-in-the-blank — there’s no reason why they can’t stock common parts that Marines need, that we need for our equipment,’ ” Faulkner said. “Let’s just take advantage of that opportunity as opposed to relying on another supply system.”
In the near future, Marine and Navy logisticians may also train together on some of the new sea-basing craft that service leaders have hailed as the future of amphibious warfare. Those include the mobile landing platform and afloat forward staging base, variants of a new amphibious assault ship designed to serve as floating bases to hold smaller vessels and aircraft, and transfer points for shore-bound troops and landing craft.
“I think you’re going to see [MLP variants] more and more in future exercises,” Faulkner said.
Capt. Eric Flanagan, a Marine spokesman at the Pentagon, said in May that there were no scheduled exercises yet that incorporated the MLP, but officials were in the early stages of planning exercises for next year that involved training with a Maritime prepositioning force, which is composed of sea-basing vessels.
For logisticians, the global focus of EF-21 means unit leaders will have to carefully consider the location to which they’re deploying in order to determine logistics needs and opportunities, Cook said.
“The intent is to involve the Marine component commands for all of the geographic combatant commands during the [courses] being developed by MCLOG for the logistics community,” he said.
Marine officials will also be reviewing MEU protocols, equipment and planning to make policies and preparation more standardized — and thus, make each MEU more ready for any mission around the globe.
“We need to think differently about our equipment sets,” Faulkner said. “We need to be lighter, obviously; we need to be more agile. We need to have higher levels of modularity.”
Embarkation is getting the first look, he said, as officials design a consistent and streamlined loading process for amphibious ships.
“With those greater distances at sea, we’re going to need to get to sustainment afloat quicker, we’re going to need to be able to get to our equipment that’s embarked quicker ... perhaps to put it on some other type of platform to move it ashore quicker,” Faulkner said. “But if we don’t have a level of predictability, a greater level of standardization, not only can we not train to it, we can’t embark it the right way and move it ashore quickly.”
The new small-unit focus arrives as the service contends with a tighter budget, so any new equipment for logisticians will have to be hardy and versatile, Faulkner said.
Officials with Marine Corps Logistics Command are working with the Officer of Naval Research to examine possible uses of robotics to bring supplies and equipment ashore, he said. But exotic technologies like the “robotic mule” Legged Squad Support System prototype now in development by the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab, may not get the first look.
An autonomous aerial cargo delivery system similar to the K-MAX drone may have broader applications for Marine logistics and supply needs, Faulkner said. The K-MAX, built by Lockheed Martin, recently returned from a three-year stint at Camp Leatherneck in Afghanistan. It’s not clear whether the Marine Corps will take steps to make it a program of record.
Faulkner said an ideal cargo drone would span even longer distances and carry heavier loads than what has been developed so far.
“What is attractive about [systems like the K-MAX] is that it potentially reduces the burden on manned aircraft, whether it’s those helicopters or those MV-22s, it just gives us more flexibility, and that’s really what we’re after,” he said.
Less flashy technologies designed to help troops operate longer with fewer supplies may also become mainstays as small-unit deployments become the norm. Faulkner said the solar batteries and personal water-purifying systems developed by the Marine Corps Expeditionary Energy Office could be particularly useful.
“We’re after more flexibility ashore,” Faulkner said. “Also, anything we can do to reduce the risk of Marines.”