Bold Alligator 2012: Charting the Future

12/12/2011 In early 2012, the USN-USMC team will have the largest Amphibious exercise in many years.  This is the largest Amphibious exercise since before 9/11 had such a major impact on military operations.

The exercise is being conducted as several USN and USMC assets prepare for deployments.  This means that preparation for deployment efforts, which are normally executed, are being conjoined to support a combined exercise.  This reduces the cost significantly of the exercise itself.

The exercise will display some of the key capabilities of what we have called the newly enabled Amphibious Ready Group, namely the V-22 and the F-35 mission systems in the form of the BACH1-11 aircraft.  This aircraft has been used in the Northern Edge exercises, which have already shown the potential impact of the new mission systems on air capabilities.

This is also the first major Amphibious exercise since the restructuring the of the ARG under the strike group concept.  And the exercise will involve the large deck carrier in a support role to the ARG.

Second Line of Defense in mid-November interviewed the MEU commander for the exercise BG Owens.

Promoted in July 1999, LtCol Owens reported to MAG-39, and served as Executive Officer, HMLA-267 and Commanding Officer, HMLA-169. LtCol Owens completed Marine Corps War College in 2003 as a distinguished graduate, and then served as Director of SAW. He was promoted to Colonel in October 2004.

Col Owens assumed command of MAG-29 in July 2005. In January 2007, he deployed with MAG-29 in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom 06-08. Col Owens relinquished command of MAG-29 in July 2007 and reported to USJFCOM, where he served as a department head, then Chief of Staff for the Joint Concept Development and Experimentation Directorate.

Upon selection for Brigadier General in August of 2008, he was assigned as Chief of Staff, Naval Striking and Support Forces NATO.

Brigadier General Owens reported to his current assignment as Deputy Commanding General of II Marine Expeditionary Force in July 2010. His personal decorations include the Defense Superior Service Medal, Legion of Merit, Defense Meritorious Service Medal, Meritorious Service Medal, Strike/Flight Air Medal, Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal, and Navy Achievement Medal. He has accumulated over 4000 flight hours in a variety of type/model/series aircraft.

The Enterprise Carrier Strike group (CSG) sails through the Atlantic Ocean in formation. Credit: USN Forces Central Command Public Affairs 5/7/2006

SLD: Could you highlight the importance of the exercise from your point of view?

BG Owens: The exercise highlights the need to reestablish our proficiency in large-scale amphibious operations and to correct the lack of work between MEBs and  previous amphibious groups or the current Expeditionary Strike Group (ESGs )prior in the years 2001-2010.

Indeed, there is a new structure since the last big Amphib exercise, namely the ESGs and the exercise will allow the ESG to work with the MEB in shaping new approaches moving forward into the 21st century.

SLD: And the deployment approach of the newly enabled ARG is quite different than many folks have in mind about the ARG. Rather than going directly against a threat, you can land and deploy forces to encircle or envelop threats.

BG Owens: That’s exactly it. One of the things we’re trying to do is break the visual image of Tarawa or Iwo Jima as the illustration of an amphibious landing or even a forceful entry operation. I think if we had to pick a historical example, it would be more like Inchon.  Yes, it was a forcible entry. Yes, it was an assault. Yes, it was defended, but it was not a frontal assault, it was unexpected and the results were far disproportionate to the amount of force applied.

So that’s what we’re aiming at, and the new technology does give us some additional capability there.  Not to mention, we’re essentially in all LHD fleet now. We’ll soon be an all LPD-17 class fleet as far as our principal amphibious war ships and those provide some additional capabilities that allow us to extend our reach as well.

SLD: Could you discuss the structure of the exercise and the cost efficiencies built into your approach?

BG Owens: This is going to be a model for the future for being able to conduct exercises of this size.  The Enterprise strike group will be undergoing their JTFX, Joint Taskforce Exercise, essentially one of their certification exercises prior to their regularly scheduled deployment.

In addition, the Iwo Jima ARG and 24the MEU will be conducting their certification exercise all right about the same time, so the Enterprise Strike Group will roll right out of their JTFX and then support Bold Alligator for a period and then roll into their final certification exercise.

And all of these exercises are using the same scenario, which is a logical progression. So what that does it cuts down on redundant steaming days and so forth. It allows us to get 25 ships out here participating at a much lower cost than if we sortied them all specifically in support of Bold Alligator.

The scenario will unfold in terms of a crisis really has been ongoing and as things deteriorate, we’ve got the Enterprise Strike Group and then the 24th MEU Iwo Jima ARG are already on station for the initial force reaction and so forth and then the MEB are building up embark and sail and then we will join them.

So once we get there, we’ll be directed to conduct a forcible entry and during that phase of the operation, the Enterprise Strike Group will be in support of the amphibious force.

SLD: It is interesting to see as well the evolving relationship of the ARG and the large deck carrier highlighted in the exercise.

BG Owens: We will have a carrier strike group not only participating in Bold Alligator but in the role of supporting the amphibious operation, which is already getting them outside their paradigm of the last decade or so.  They will work in a support relationship with the ARG and it’s good for both of us.

SLD: What are the dates of the exercise?

BG Owens: The official dates are the 30th of January through the 13th of February.  D-Day will be six February.

SLD: You are exercising a core capability for the nation and how do you highlight the nature of this capability?

BG Owens: I think one of the key points is that the nation needs a forcible entry capability and we don’t like to talk about that because we don’t think that we’re actually planning to go to war, but the reality is: If you have to enter a country and someone next door is not going to provide a secure port and an airfield, this is the only alternative.

If we don’t have this capability, we would have to develop it, otherwise we’re simply limited in what we can do, the crises we can respond to. The forcible entry capability is also the same thing that deters people from trying to close down straits, chokepoints, and other places where we need access because they know we can come in and open things back up again.

And by having that capability, we remove a lot of the temptation to do bad things and there’s a lot of folks – you mentioned the Pacific — and a lot of folks in the Pacific are counting on us to continue to maintain that capability, and it’s of course obviously as the President has been emphasizing it, it is clearly in our best interest to do so.

"If everyone is thinking alike, someone isn’t thinking."

—General George Patton Jr.

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