The Impact of the Osprey on the Expeditionary Strike Group: “There is a Tsunami of Change Coming”

Shortly after the Bold Alligator 2012 exercise, Second Line of Defense sat down with Lt. Col. Boniface to discuss his experiences during Bold Alligator 2012.  As the Osprey squadron commander involved in the exercise, he was in charge of the key toolset, the Osprey, which re-defined the ESG-MEB operationally.

Two images defined how the Osprey had changed things since the last major amphibious exercise in 1996.  In 1996, airborne forces were involved to do the raiding function.  In 2012, a raiding force led by Ospreys from a SUPPLY ship performed the mission.

An MV-22 involved in the raid on Fort Pickett. Credit: USN

An assault raid was conducted from the sea base deep inland (180 miles) aboard the Ospreys with allied forces observing or participating.  The Osprey was the key element operating in this exercise, which was not there during the last big “amphibious” exercise.

As the key coalition officer (Lt. Commander Pastoor) in the planning process, a Dutch naval officer, underscored: “We had Dutch observers and they were very impressed with the game changing capabilities of the Osprey in terms of range and speed.  Normally, in such an exercise we would take the beach and operate 30 miles inland.  With this new capability we can operate throughout the entire battle space and move forces as if across a chessboard.”

Let us hover over this image.  Instead of assaulting the beach, the forces aboard the sea base are maneuvering within and over the battle space inserting, moving and withdrawing forces.  This is a far cry from just looking at photos of the landing ships and assault vehicles.

The second image was the Osprey landing on a SUPPLY ship and then conducting the raid.  The MV-22 landing on a T-AKE ship means that the ability of this new aviation asset to connect the supply ships with the combat ships can potentially allow a much more efficient use of those combat ships.  Supplies can be re-configured off of the combat ships to the supply ships and with the MV-22 have e saving delivery capabilities enhancing speed and agility of the battle group.

What this in turn means is that by building more of these new supply ships, the combat power of the fleet can be enhanced, and the USN-USMC team gets its ship numbers up.  This is not a substitute for adding new amphibious ships to the fleet, it is not.  But with the new approach and new con-ops the combat capabilities can become extended and more sustained.  It is about sustainable maneuver warfare from the sea.  And the new VM-22 T-AKE combination is a potential war winner.

http://www.sldinfo.com/re-thinking-the-role-of-supply-ships-in-maneuver-warfare-from-the-sea/

In earlier conversations with the Osprey commander, we discussed the use of the Osprey in the Libyan operations.  Here the Osprey went from a key base in Italy to the USS Kearsarge off of the Libyan coast and this rapid resupply meant that the small number of Harriers aboard of the Kearsarge could triple their sortie generation rates.

http://www.sldinfo.com/libyan-operations-an-update-from-new-river/

SLD: It has oft been repeated that Bold Alligator 2012 is the biggest exercise in more than 10 years.  You would have to go back to 1996 to find that exercise.  And one of the biggest differences between then and now is clearly the Osprey.

How important is the V-22 in defining the con-ops of the ESG-MEB operation in Bold Alligator 2012?

Lt. Col. Boniface: I think that first of all, the comparison of the MV-22, to the CH-46 is a dead argument and we need to move on.  The MV-22 is here to stay, it is bought and being paid for, and its sheer capabilities alone are causing us to rethink how we can and should perform expeditionary/amphibious  operations from the sea.

The MV-22 and its capabilities are changing how  we should be doing business.

Traditionally our MEU concept focuses on a radius of about 100 NM.  With the speed and range of the Osprey, why can’t we change this radius to, 500, 1,000, or even 1500 miles?  We should be able to support a concept like this and we need to think in these terms.

Enveloping the enemy or seeking an unfair advantage. Ospreys landing on the USS Iwo Jima during the BA-12 exercise. Credit: USN

I sort of think of it  like a game of chess.  I think of a traditional or legacy ARG-MEU as being able to move a pawn one space at a time towards the enemy. If you have ever played chess it sometimes take a while to engage your opponent.  We now have the ability to move a knight, bishop, or rook off of this same chess board and attack 180 degrees towards the rear of our enemy. We can go directly after the king.  Yes, it’s not really fair, but I like that fact.  The speed, range, and don’t forget the reliability of the MV-22 allows me to do this.

We talk about staying ahead of the bow wave.

Well there is a tsunami of change coming when we talk about the ability to fight an enemy and to support Marines ashore.

We can increase our area of operations (AOR) exponentially because we can spread out our ships; now we have an aviation connector that can move Marines a tremendous amount of distance and in a very short amount of time.  We can also use this capability to leverage our other aviation assets like our AV8-Bs, CH-53’s, AH-1Ws and UH-1Ys to support the MAGTF and ultimately damage the enemy’s will to fight.  Let’s not just move 50-100 miles ashore, but let’s move 200-500 miles ashore, and do it at an increased speed, range and lethality.

There are still a lot of naysayers who will cast doubt on this.  How are you supporting those Marines ashore?  How will the fire support piece work?  Harriers and the F-35 concept along with a CSG can easily answer the fire support question for limited time until organic assets like artillery catches up.  I think we need to challenge the autonomy of the CSG in regards to how it fits into a modern ESG concept.

Innovative thinking with our Ospreys will enable proper support of the MAGTF ashore – the capability does exist.

Logistics are always going to be a factor especially as we expand the AOR, and bring into service more technologically capable aviation platforms.

With that being said, the T-AKE has some real capabilities.   This ship needs to be looked as more than a MAGTF logistic ship.  It can function as an enhanced Marine Aviation I-Level (NavyAIMD) intermediate maintenance department afloat for an ESG with MAG level and Regimental level supportability.

From an aviation standpoint the ability to repair, reissue, and supply major components and end items will be essential to the success or failure of the ESG.  In regards to the MV-22, I would like to see this capability expand to where I can repair/overhaul an engine, possibly look at a prop-rotor gear box, or conversion actuator repair capability, and have the necessary technicians on board to support sustained operations in a littoral region- without having to reach back to CONUS for almost everything.

I am sure our logistics and infantry planners are thinking the same concepts.  That’s where we need to be going with this.

From 1996 to the Bold Alligator are light years apart.  And the big questions are how do we command and control it?  And how do we integrate surface navy?  And how do we integrate big aviation and big navy into that concept?

SLD: At the heart of the change is a shift in mindset.  And in earlier pieces, we have discussed the cultural change rooted in understanding a plane called Osprey, which can land like a helicopter.  But it is not a helicopter and we do not want the operational constructs inherited from the past to limit the innovation possible now and in the future.

The Evolution of the ESG Credit: SLD

Lt. Col. Boniface: With legacy aviation assets we have had to think inside the ARG-MEU 100NM operational box.  We have to get out of this mindset.

And we are starting to do so by operating a more disaggregate ARG-MEU and relying on the MV-22 as an aviation connector.   Now we can move from a few hundred miles away in our operational sphere to more than a 1,000-1500 in our area of influence (AOI).  We need to adjust our operational mindset to align with this new capability, especially with the coming of the F-35B.

We also need to look at the Passengers, Mail, and Cargo (PMC) requirement amongst ARG shipping.  Because of the increased capability of the MV-22 a lot of this requirement is being levied on the MV-22.  This is both good and bad.  While I can support not only the MAGTF (MEU/ESG), I can support the Navy as well.  I can move Marines and sailors back in forth in bad weather, I can carry a lot of cargo, I can do it over long distances and very quickly.  However as we expand this ESG concept we need to look at the aviation connector for the Navy.  The SH-60 will struggle to keep up with these distances.  While yes, I can do a lot of this for the ARG, I only have so many sorties allotted for this kind of mission.  At some point I will not be able to support this mission when it will really count- I think the Navy needs to look at what we are doing here with the MV-22 and hopefully replicate our success.

This also applies to the SAR/Medevac aspect.  As we increase these distances, we need to be able to get our Sailors and Marines to the correct level of medical care within the “golden hour” should any injury occur.  The MV-22 can do that; the SH-60 cannot from long distances.  From a SAR standpoint: as an ACE commander I get very nervous knowing my AV8-B pilots could have to ditch overwater and we (ACE MV-22s) are the only guys who can go get them over these long distances.

I am not trying to throw anybody under a bus, but these are two areas which we struggled with during Operation ODYSSEY DAWN and UNIFIED PROTECTOR.

It isn’t a wave of change; it’s a tsunami of change coming.

SLD: The C2 challenges are significant as one transition to the ESG-MEB approach.  What is your take on these challenges?

Lt. Col. Boniface: How do we command and control this monster?  And I can tell you that I feel like some of these LHD class ships aren’t ready.  They don’t have the bandwidth and the throughput to be able to do the command and control, when you’ve got assets 1,500 miles away.  I think that’s something we need to look at.  Our command control needs to be bullet proof and I don’t think it is right now.

The concept is there and will and desire is there.  But when you come down to basic zeros and ones a lot of the equipment (hardware and software) we use in the MV-22 community have exceeded the bandwidth and throughput capability of a LHD.  Whether right or wrong the Aviation Combat Element of a MEU or ESG comes with a big intranet requirement and 100mb LHD networks will struggle to keep up especially as the F-35 comes into play.

SLD: There were several ships in play in this exercise which creating many moving parts in a difficult ballet to orchestrate.

Lt. Col. Boniface: There were. We had every east coast amphibs out there within 150 miles to 200 miles of each other.  You had all four large deck amphibs out there, which I don’t think we’ve ever done before.  We also had a smattering of support ships- the Lewis and Clark was out there, and the new LPD-17 was out there.  You also had a number of allied ships; the French ship Mistral was working with us.  Overall it was extremely impressive.

The Osprey is an unfair advantage much like Indiana Jones using a gun to deal with a threat from a sword.

But folks still do not grasp the impact of the range and speed of the Osprey on operations.

When I was off the coast of Jacksonville, North Carolina (Onslow Bay), what people need to understand is that I can reach Washington DC in 45 minutes and come back on a single bag of gas with a lot of cargo and a lot of people onboard.  And I can do this without touching a forward operating base, without having to touch a tanker.  And I am coming back well within my safety margins.

SLD: Could you talk a bit more about the Osprey landing on the T-AKE supply ship?

Lt. Col. Boniface: It was my squadron that landed on the ship.  Both pilots were two young captains.  They were two very competent captains, but two mid-grade captains. I didn’t want it want to be the CO, OpsO, or the most experienced guy we have in the squadron. I like the fact that I did it with some very competent mid-grade captains because when we do it for real, that’s who going to be doing it….. At night and in bad weather.

The proof of concept was successful, we landed onboard, we picked up our supplies, and we launched out of there on our mission.  There is a misnomer that the T-AKE can’t give gas.  It states in the ship’s resume only up to 28 PSI can be given and we’ve corrected that, or at least we’re trying to correct it.

Because of this we actually planned to not take gas from USNS Robert E. Peary (a Lewis and Clark class ship).  However, once aboard (the Lewis and Clark class ship) said no, we can provide fuel up to 55 PSI. That’s the PSI the MV-22 and most of the other ACE aircraft need.    Like I said, we are trying to fix it this misnomer.

We arrived on the USNS Robert E. Peary, where they took approximately 5,000 pounds of gas, and we still maintained a 10-percent torque margin, and we were able to lift between 12,500 to 13,000 pounds that day.  So you are looking at 7000 to 8000 lbs of cargo in the back.

It’s not a hard approach for our pilots, and we found it to be very routine.

The Lewis and Clark ship has so much capability and we haven’t even tapped the surface of it- especially the supply and repair capability.

Credit for Indiana Jones Photo: http://www.filmschoolrejects.com/features/the-ten-most-memorable-indiana-jones-moments.php

“There is a Tsunami of change coming.”: The Osprey in Bold Alligator 2012 from SldInfo.com on Vimeo.

Also, see the piece by Robbin Laird on AOL defense which looks at the images of change evident in the Bold Alligator 2012 exercise.

http://defense.aol.com/2012/03/21/bold-alligator-a-glimpse-of-marine-navy-future/

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

—General George Patton Jr.

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