The ARG At The Vortex of Change

How Amphibious Forces Create Strategic Options

By Vince Martinez

03/06/2011 – The world is changing.  For many who have studied the subject over the last decade, the Arc of Instability is coming to fruition.  Old powers are beginning to falter under the pressures of collapsing economies, the lack of resources, civil unrest and natural disaster. As we collectively watch the latest Libyan conflict as it moves from weeks into months, the international community–and the United States in particular — will most certainly begin to buckle under international pressure with calls to assist in the containment and resolution of the latest Middle-Eastern strife. Questions will arise on how to best influence and contain the scenario given the international role of outside players, and the military will once again find itself intertwined with a series of solutions to do exactly that.

The amphibs are among the busiest of USN ships in support of US global operations The flexibility of the ships are an important reason why they are so important to day-to-day operations. The military often plays a significant role in implementation of political will in circumstances just like these. The choices the decision makers have to make relative to the forces used, however, can also have significant impacts in other international and political arenas.


Credit : The USS Peleliu, www.public.navy.mil

 

Reeling from the protracted land war in the Middle East that has ushered in a reluctance for using occupational forces, what has often been glossed over by decision makers recently is the power and influence that an Amphibious Readiness Group (ARG) brings to bear in response to these delicate operational conditions. Whether the ARG is conducting Non-Combatant Evacuation Operations (NEO), dropping supplies to those in need, protecting land and sea-based lines of communication, establishing presence, providing security, or facilitating containment through martial action, it is clear that the ability of the ARG to take action in both land or sea is what makes the ARG a resource that is impossible to replace with other doctrinal solutions.


Reeling from the protracted land war in the Middle East that has ushered in a reluctance for using occupational forces, what has often been glossed over by decision makers recently is the power and influence that an Amphibious Readiness Group (ARG) brings to bear in response to these delicate operational conditions. Whether the ARG is conducting Non-Combatant Evacuation Operations (NEO), dropping supplies to those in need, protecting land and sea-based lines of communication, establishing presence, providing security, or facilitating containment through martial action, it is clear that the ability of the ARG to take action in both land or sea is what makes the ARG a resource that is impossible to replace with other doctrinal solutions.


Video Credit: Operation El Dorado Canyon, Lybia. 1986, www.youtube.com

Lessons Learned From Operation El Dorado Canyon
During Operation El Dorado Canyon in Libya in the late 1980s, the United States conducted a strike against the Libyan government in response to the state-sponsored bombing of a disco in Berlin that resulted in the injury of over 200 people, and cost the lives of two individuals. Much of the accolades that followed the successful raids on Libya revolved around the long-range, EF-111 and FB-111 bombers, along with the KC-135 and KC-10 aircraft that conducted long-range refueling operations while originating operations out of the United Kingdom.

Less talked about was the role of the Naval Forces off the coast of Libya that also participated in the raids.  Well over 30 Naval strike aircraft participated in the raids as well, and the Naval Force was also on stand-by to conduct search and rescue operations as needed with helo-borne forces.  The Naval Fleet provided command and Control as well, and the security of the airspace was guaranteed through the use of carrier-based F-14 Tomcats that were in position to react should something arise.

What is more important is what did not take place. Had there been an unforeseen emergent air threat that resulted in significant delays, the bomber force that had transited the Atlantic would have been unable adjust to the extended operations, and would likely have had to turn back toward England without dropping their ordnance. In an equivalent scenario in today’s day and age, that would most certainly be viewed as a strategic failure and then subsequently be plastered all over the mass media as exactly that.

What is more important is what did not take place. Had there been an unforeseen emergent air threat that resulted in significant delays, the bomber force that had transited the Atlantic would have been unable adjust to the extended operations, and would likely have had to turn back toward England without dropping their ordnance.

What the Naval Services provided operational commanders during Operation El Dorado Canyon is exactly the same thing the ARG provides today– the ability to react to change and absorb operational friction across a spectrum of operational conditions.  That is something that typically doesn’t make the history books. Instead of a single-focus, long-range strike capability, the USN-USMC team provides operational commanders with a series of strategic, operational and tactical options that a one-dimensional bomber force cannot provide.


“From Friend To Foe In A Matter Of Minutes”
Fast forward to today.  With the introduction of transformational platforms like the MV-22, the UH-1Y, the AH-1Z, and the KC-130J–along with emerging platforms like the JSF and the CH-53K–the ability for the ARG to influence a spectrum of operations has grown exponentially. With forces now operating comfortably under the “3-Block War” construct that the U.S. Marine Corps had forecasted well over a decade ago, the ability to go from friend to foe in a matter of seconds is an accepted lifestyle [1].  Forces today have evolved to do exactly that under the challenging operational conditions across the Middle East over the last 10 years.

The ARG brings the ability to provide sustained operational presence across the spectrum of operations while also maintaining safe haven off shore — with no loss of operational impact.  The technological innovation of the Marine Air Ground Task Force (MAGTF) enables the ability to control and influence an environment through peacetime, civil unrest and combat.  It is the operational flexibility of the MAGTF and the ARG that brings a wide range of military options to the table.

In the dynamic operational conditions of today, a “force in readiness” means more than just being capable of slinging lead down-range — and the ARG is the best-postured strategic capability to be able to adjust quickly to dynamic environments. Aside from the challenging humanitarian aspects of the civil strife in Libya, this conflict also gives us yet another reason to pause and reflect our overall operational posture.

In the dynamic operational conditions of today, a “force in readiness” means more than just being capable of slinging lead down-range — and the ARG is the best-postured strategic capability to be able to adjust quickly to dynamic environments.

The Arc of Instability demands the use of innovative and tailored methods for engagement and influence, and must be implemented successfully without the impacts of pre-conceived notions that come with a bomber-force or a land army.The ARG is built for this exact environment, and has established operational relevancy over many years behind the scenes.  It is time for the decision makers to acknowledge that fact, and a definitive push should be made to ensure that the operational capabilities of the ARG and the Naval Force as a whole to ensure our strategic relevance for many years to come.


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Footnote:

[1] The Three Block War concept has been described that way by Former Commandant of the Marines Corps (1995-1999), General Charles C. Krulak, to illustrate the post Cold War battelfield: he argued that in the distance of three city blocks one could be faced with full military combat, peacekeeping or humanitarian missions, hence testing the ability of a good leader to adapt to a dynamic situation (see for instance: http://www.au.af.mil/au/awc/awcgate/usmc/strategic_corporal.htm).


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