US Marines refine small unit operations (with some help from

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  1. 8 February 2006 JDW

    USMC refines small unit plan

    Joshua Kucera JDW Staff Reporter

    Washington, DC

    The US Marine Corps (USMC) is refining its concept about how small units will fight in the future and is planning to spend about USD500 million over the next two years to better equip those units.

    The 'distributed operations' concept, which was first announced two years ago, initially called for marines to fight primarily in very small units far apart from each other but tightly networked.

    The idea now is that marines will continue to operate in their traditional units but they will have better equipment at the platoon and squad level, while squad leaders will have more training so they can make more decisions on their own.

    In particular, each squad will have a marine trained to call in close air support. That is a large change from the way the service currently does air support: now there are only three marines per battalion who can call in artillery and air strikes, and they are all officers. Initial studies have shown that enlisted marines can conduct these operations just as effectively, said Vince Goulding, the director of Sea Viking, the USMC's major continuing experimental exercise.

    In addition, distributed operations platoons are organised differently: they have two command groups instead of one, and the second is led by the platoon sergeant.

    This enables 24-hour operations, with each command group in charge for 12 hours. While the size of the platoon will remain at 44 men, the squads will each lose one marine to the second command group, reducing the size from 13 to 12 men.

    The service is also using the reorganisation to lobby for more funds for basic infantry equipment. The focus is on day/night rifle sights and on integrated communications gear, including a personal role radio or, integrated intra-squad radio for every squad leader.

    The service is currently honing its requirements for a new radio and should have a formal requirement by the middle of 2006, said Lieutenant Colonel Paul Martin of the UK Royal Marines, who is helping the USMC develop the communications suite for distributed operations units.

    Col Martin is one of several British marines working on distributed operations; Goulding said their experience with highly trained enlisted men is something that the US wants to emulate.

    The service estimates that equipping the distributed operations units will cost about USD19 million per battalion. It would like to convert 25 of the 35 combat battalions in the service to achieve the upgrades by Fiscal Year 2008. The remaining 10 would be equipped over the following two years, Goulding said.

    The service is working to get the money included in the next war supplemental funding appropriation from Congress. Top-level marines leaders are lobbying members of Congress to convince them of the necessity of the programme and the potential short-term utility in Iraq and Afghanistan, he added.

    The first platoon set up under this concept completed experimentation last year and is now in Afghanistan with the 1st Battalion, 3rd Marines. The second iteration of the experiment, with another infantry platoon, has started and will culminate in a ship-to-objective manoeuvre in an already existing USMC exercise in the Philippines in October.

    Further experiments will look at how to integrate distributed operations into non-infantry units and on logistics and sustainment
  2. 8O If only our infantry and Marines had this sort of funding! It's hard enough trying to exchange a worn out pair of 95 trousers in Para Regt. Once got told to sew patches on them! Different world in the US Army.