Bold Alligator 2012: The USN-USMC Team Shapes the Future (Updated)

01/13/2012 by Robbin Laird

The USN-USMC team is building forces for the future : as the largest amphibious exercise since the 1990s will take place starting this month in Norfolk, Va, it will include not only US forces but French, Dutch and British forces as well. The USN-USMC team is shaping templates for littoral engagements.  The Gator Navy is moving from being a Greyhound Bus to becoming a strike force.

Although an amphibious exercise, the capabilities being exercised are really those of leveraging the sea base to insert and withdraw forces.  The key effort is to take a combined force (both combat as well as a humanitarian) and support that force ashore from the sea.  Such a force is really a test of what we have called the agile response group, even more than the amphibious response group.

The USN-USMC team is taking what capabilities they currently have now and shaping greater capabilities from those assets by working on the con-ops of a 21st century approach.

Bold Alligator 2012 will highlight several innovations in combat operations in shaping the US and Allied militaries in the post-Afghan environment. Credit Image: USN and USMC


What we saw in Libya is being continued in Bold Alligator 2012.  The new and the old are being combined in shaping a very flexible force able to operate across the spectrum of warfare.  And a force able to be augmented by scalable forces which can provide for re-enforced capabilities as the case requires.

What we saw in Libya is being continued in Bold Alligator 2012.  The new and the old are being combined in shaping a very flexible force able to operate across the spectrum of warfare.  And a force able to be augmented by scalable forces which can provide for re-enforced capabilities as the case requires.

The agile response group is built around an economy of force whereby what is needed to meet the mission is applied, and make it possible NOT to deploy a very large force package (such as a Carrier Battle Group) when not required.  But at the same time, like a Lego block set, the forces can be augmented to ensure strategic superiority. [1]

Bold Alligator 2012 is as well an exercise space whereby significant innovation will be generated and experimented with.  BA-12 is not just an amphibious exercise to demonstrate what the allies and the USN-USMC CAN do, but is a platform for innovation in shaping what these forces WILL be able to do in the future.




- First, the team at the USMC warfighting lab have shaped an experimental capability aboard the amphibious ships to try out new ways to connect the sea base directly to the ground forces.  They are focusing upon their ability to work coms links and capability between the amphib ships and a deployed force approximately 165 miles inland.  They are looking at how to connect between the company and the ship. There are two insertions planned: the combat force and a soft insertion and they are looking to support directly from the ship via the coms systems being deployed. They have invested in upgrading shipboard communications through the Distributed Tactical Communications System.  This is an Iridium based capability.  They are using the TrellisWare Radio to do what they call there functional equivalent to JTRS for the deployed force.  They also have invested in the ability for mobile vehicles to connect directly to the airborne assets (MAGTF Enabler Light).

- Second, the team is looking at the best way to utilize ALL the deployed assets in a sea-based insertion force.  For example, the exercise will feature the use of the Lewis and Clark Class T-AKE dry cargo/ammunition ships.  The ships will operate as integral elements of the ARG, and represent a new capability since the last big ARG exercise in the mid-1990s. The T-AKE ships have significant enhancements over the older supply ships.

T-AKE ships are the US Navy’s first full-size all-electric ships, with diesel-electric generation that can be used for propulsion or for internal systems. The use of electric drive creates more internal redundancy in the event of damage. It also eliminates the need for drive shaft and reduction gears, which brings benefits to the ship’s internal space and makes for a quieter ship that’s harder to find using sonar. The ship class’ 4 Fairbanks Morse/MAN B&W 9L and 8L 48/60 diesel generators can generate up to 35.7 MW of power for use around the ship, compared to just 7.5 MW of power generated by the DDG-51 AEGIS destroyers to run internal machinery and combat systems. [2]

What will be featured in the exercise is the use of the VM-22 as a logistical enabler leveraging the flight decks on the T-AKE ships.  The Libyan operation of the ARG underscored a central role of the VM-22 as the Fed Ex Service re-supplying the ARG to, among other things, keep the Harriers at a much higher sortie generation rate than would have been possible by more traditional re-supply.

The VM-22 T-AKE combination opens up significant new ways to incorporate the T-AKE ships into the ARG and to expand the operations for which the ARG would be capable of performing.  It gives the MEU commander as well as the Strike Commander a wider range of operational capabilities as the ARG maneuvers to execute its missions.

- Third, the F-35 combat systems will be part of the exercise as well.  The BACH1-11 aircraft carrying the F-35 radar, distributed aperture system as well as other systems will provide contributions to the exercise in anticipation to the arrival of the F-35B as a core element of the newly enabled ARG.  During the exercise, the BACH1-11 will perform as a big wing ISR platform in support of the forces.

- Fourth, allies will be integrally engaged as well.  The blending of allied and American sea-based capability so evident in the Libyan operations will be carried forward during this exercise.  The French will send the Mistral from Toulon for a significant engagement during the exercise, and we are planning to have an SLD member aboard the Mistral and able to report on the engagement of the force.  The French will be inserting the initial coalition force of nearly 400 ground forces from an elite combat force, supported by air mobile helicopters.  They also plan to operate medevac operations in the sea-based ground insertion exercise.Notably, there will be 10 coalition partners involved in the exercise.  The British and the Dutch are key F-35 partners and will be able to see first hand what the F-35 combat systems are already able to contribute to a sea based insertion force.  As these combat systems become integrated first on the F-35B, they can plan for the impact they will have on British and Dutch concepts of operations for the decade ahead. The French will be able to observe as well and determine how to best leverage what those systems can provide for them in an allied engagement. Indeed, a Dutch Naval officer is the operations planner for the exercise which reflects the important shift in U.S. thinking about the way ahead in global operations.

- Fifth, the Enterprise strike group will operate in support of the ARG.  This is an effort that matters now in providing for force augmentation to a sea-based insertion force built around the ARG, and will matter even more in the future as capabilities evolve.

The ARG will be able to feature as many as 19 F-35Bs off of an amphibious ship, which will provide unprecedented combat power projected from the Gator Navy.  The new class of aircraft carriers – the Gerald Ford – will provide a significant force enhancement over what the ARG will bring.  The Gerald Ford compared to legacy aircraft carriers is the smart carrier – significantly C4ISR enabled and with significant electric power able to power new weapons for both strike and defense.

The dynamics of the newly enabled ARG with a significant re-configuration of the large deck carrier in the post-F-18 world will form a new combat force available to the national command authority in dealing with global threats.

In short, Bold Alligator 2012 starts the process of shaping the post-Afghan US military; and it is the beginning of an exciting decade of innovation.  We simply hope that the “elite” inside the Beltway has the courage to watch, listen and learn.  The American people and our allies deserve no less.

Two planners laid out in recent interviews how the process has been crafted.  In the first interview Captain Sam Howard, Special Assistant to the Chief of Staff, US Fleet Forces Command, explains how the team is working to get greater capabilities from current forces.  In the second, Colonel Phillip Ridderhof, senior USMC advisor to US Fleet Forces Command in Norfolk VA explains how the planning started three years ago and was generated by bottoms up rethinking and embraced and guided by senior USN and USMC leadership.  The command is really a joint command and when one visits this point is driven home by the wide representation of the USMC in Admiral Scott’s command.




Complementary sources

[1] For our special report on the newly enabled ARG please see:


[3] For our book on the new USMC approach which we have called the Three Dimensional Warriors please see:

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

—General George Patton Jr.

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