Marines Upgrading Today’s Aircraft to Prepare for Tomorrow’s Distributed, High-End Fight
(Source: US Naval Institute; posted March 28, 2017)
By Megan Eckstein
Four F-35Bs fly over the amphibious assault ship USS America (LHA-6) during the Lightning Carrier Proof of Concept Demonstration on Nov. 20, 2016. (USN photo)
The Marine Corps released its 2017 Marine Aviation Plan (286 PDF pages) today, outlining its upcoming aircraft acquisition and upgrade plans and providing a glimpse of how those new capabilities will come together in various operational scenarios.

A combination of command and control upgrades to better tie the different types of aircraft together, new weapons and improved logistics will help Marine aviation meet increasing challenges around the world, according to the plan. The service is beginning to develop new operational concepts that leverage these capabilities while acknowledging that Marine aviators may not always be able to operate from established land bases or return back to their ships every day.

Much like the Navy’s surface fleet and the Marine Corps’ ground communities, the Marine aviation community emphasizes distributed operations. The outlook calls for a Distributed Aviation Operations (DAO) concept to support land or naval campaigns looks to reduce risk to the force by spreading out and therefore complicating the enemy’s ability to detect and engage with Marine aviation units.

“In some regions, the proliferation of long-range, precision conventional threats, such as advanced SAMs [surface-to-air missiles] and cruise missiles and armed UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles), has contested the use of traditional bases and methods of operations,” the plan reads.

“DAO is a task-organized MAGTF [Marine Air-Ground Task Force] operation, employing ACE [aviation combat element] aircraft in a distributed force posture, independent of specialized fixed infrastructure.”

By ridding the force of its reliance on fixed infrastructure and creating forward operating bases of varying sizes and levels of sophistication, Marine aviation would gain increased operational reach, increased capacity by supplementing sea-based sorties, more options during major maneuvers, flexibility and surprised, and reduced risk to the force, the plan states.

A similar Distributed STOVL Operations concept specifically for the Short-Takeoff Vertical-Landing [STOVL] F-35B Joint Strike Fighters would supplement traditional sea and land basing options with “mobile forward arming and refueling points” for resupply mid-mission. A separate mobile distribution site would serve as the location for Marines on surface connectors or host nation forces to stage fuel and weapons that will be brought to the mobile forward arming and refueling points.

Importantly, all these sites are considered “mobile” and are intended to maintain elements of “deception and decoy” – in keeping with the idea that the aircraft are supposed to be distributed and difficult to find and target.

For high-end operations, the aviation plan outlines a “Lightning Carrier” hauling up to 20 F-35Bs into battle.

“In the 2017-2027 timeframe, the Marine Corps will possess the majority of naval 5th generation aircraft. By 2025, the Marine Corps will operate 185 F-35Bs—enough to equip all seven L-Class ships,” the plan reads. (end of excerpt)

Click here for the full story, on the USNI website.


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