Recently, Second Line of Defence (SLD) had a chance to speak with Brigadier General James S. O’Meara currently serves as commander, U.S. Marine Forces Europe, and deputy commander, U.S. Marine Forces Africa about the newly formed Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force (SP MAGTF).
To give a sense of what the SP MAGTF is and its current state of play, a recent piece by Staff Sgt. Lukas Atwell provides context.
June 4, 2013, MORON DE LA FRONTERA, Spain:
Approximately 500 Marines and sailors arrived aboard Moron Air Base, May 5- 13, to serve as Special-Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force Crisis Response, a new expeditionary unit positioned forward to respond to limited crisis within the Mediterranean and African area-of-responsibility.
SP-MAGTF Crisis Response is a rotational force of Marines and sailors sourced from a variety of units from II Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Lejeune, N.C., temporarily positioned on Moron Air Base, Spain, capable of decisive action across a range of military operations.
“The reason we are here is to provide a scalable force to respond to unexpected crisis,” said Major Zane Crawford, the SP-MAGTF Crisis Response operations officer.
“We can rapidly deploy to support missions, such as embassy reinforcement, tactical recovery of aircraft, and personnel and non-combatant evacuation operations.”
A Marine Air-Ground Task Force is a balanced, expeditionary force with built-in command, ground, aviation and logistics elements and, while this is nothing new for the Marine Corps, a SP-MAGTF is organized, trained and equipped to accomplish a specific mission, according to Crawford.
The SP-MAGTF gives U.S. Africa Command and U.S. Marine Corps Forces Africa a broad range of military capabilities to respond to crises in its area-of-responsibility including conducting non-combatant evacuation, humanitarian assistance, disaster relief, and support to U.S. embassies, and other operations, missions and activities as directed by national and command leadership.
SLD: Could you provide a sense of the kind of template you are creating with the SP-MAGTF?
B.G. O’Meara: What is a Special Purpose MAGTF?
First of all it is the basic Marine Corps air ground team or MAGTF approach but applied to a Special Purpose Mission.
Special means it’s uniquely tailored to a particular mission or a few mission sets.
In this case, the focus is upon security embassy reinforcements or a noncombatant evacuation.
Also, it is a rotational force, which provides a crisis response force able, to deal with EUCOM [Europe Command] and AFRICOM [Africa Command] needs.
General Dempsey provided strategic guidance, which was looking for a force, which operates with a small footprint, and is low-cost, and rotational. This is the answer to that guidance.
The SP-MAGTF meets the need to respond rapidly to a developing situation either proactively or reactively with a small force with a small footprint and has its own organic air, which means that it has operational reach as well.
The force is trained and operational and currently operating from a USAF base at Moran in Spain.
SLD: The SP-MAGTF can reach into Africa or operate throughout the Mediterranean. Obviously, the Osprey is the enabler of such a force along with your organic lift and tanking.
If you had only helos, this kind of force capability would not be possible, I would assume?
B.G. O’Meara: That clearly is correct. We can operate over a significant combat radius and of course, refueled with our C-130Js can reach throughout the region and all while carrying equipment, and/or two-dozen Marines inside.
It gives AFRICOM commander a unique tailored operational tactical level force with significant operational reach.
The V-22 allows for a paradigm shift and enables a force like SP-MAGTF. The V-22 gives you that C-130-like distance and speed with the versatility to land in confined, limited area, with no runway or an expeditionary LZ like a helicopter.
And when you add organic lift and tanking with our C-130Js, the reach is even greater and allows us to operate throughout Africa and the Mediterranean as needed.
And the self-deploying capabilities of the V-22 means that we can plus up the Osprey component as well as needed or other sites throughout the operating area.
SLD: A key aspect of operating in Africa is of course shaping regional situational awareness and partnering skills. Could you talk to that important aspect of the force?
B.G. O’Meara: Indeed, this is an important part of the mission. With this template, we can send small training missions throughout the AOR with a small logistical footprint. The teams will visit for from 7-30 days to work with partner nations, as we are currently doing to prepare some African forces to work in Mali.
There are actually three SP-MAGTFs in the region. For example, there is the Black Sea Rotational Force. Again, it’s a MAGTF, with a battalion-sized company. And they’re up in the Romanian area.
The Marines are clearly expanding the kind of partnership skills necessary for a highly mobile SP-MAGTF to be effective in coalition operations. We understand the region more than I think people assume we do. We understand the eastern part of Europe and now we’re bringing the force south.
The flexibility of the force is important. It’s an AFRICOM requested force in the case of the latest SP-MAGTF, but I think we have the flexibility, if we have to, to support EUCOM if needed it for whatever event pops up. It’s, it’s well-positioned forward.
And it provides a template, which is scalable.
It is a MAGTF and as such we can add key elements to bolster capability and over time the F-35B will be added to the mix, which certainly enhances the performance of this force template.
SLD: And you clearly can experiment with ways the SP-MAGTF can marry upon with the innovations the USN and USMC team are doing with the ARG-MEU as well.
B.G. O’Meara: That is a good point, but we are early in that process. What are the unique capabilities that we could tie together with that armed MEU, and aggregate them together to provide us even greater flexibility, and greater reach?
Reach is a crucial aspect when operating in an AOR of the size we operate within.
Africa is a very large continent. You could take the Continental United States and put it inside the African continent. When I fly from Uganda to Stuttgart, it’s eight-and-a-half hours via commercial air. That’s the same as it is from here to Newark.
Also, the maritime regions of Africa are important in and of themselves and certainly for global trade and security.
SLD: You mentioned in our discussion prior to the interview that an important element as well is the pre-positioned stocks in Norway. Could you discuss this aspect as well?
B.G. O’Meara: During the Cold War, we developed a relationship with Norway to pre-position supplies in Norway. This is hardly a Cold War relic for it now helps support and sustain Crisis Response MAGTFs in the region. It is a key aspect of our expeditionary logistics capability and we can move supplies within the AOR rather than having to fly these supplies in directly from the United States. And with the growing importance of the Arctic opening, this provides a solid foundation as well going forward.
Note on the Black Sea Rotational Force:
According to a story by Cpl. Phillip Clark published March 14, 2013:
CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. – Marines and sailors with Black Sea Rotational Force 13 deployed from Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C., to Eastern Europe today for a six-month tour.
BSRF-13 will be conducting theater security cooperation activities with more than 20 countries throughout the Black Sea, Balkan and Caucasus regions. They also bring with them the capability to respond to situations outside the realm of their training exercises.
“We will be able to provide a capable force to respond to any crisis that may occur,” said Lt. Col. Steve Wolf, BSRF-13 commanding officer, referring to the unit’s ability to respond to contingencies.
Marines and sailors from 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division compose the majority of the personnel deploying with this year’s iteration of the annual Special-Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task. This is the first time the Special-Purpose MAGTF is formed around an active-duty unit.
The purpose of this operation is to strengthen our partnership with these countries, said Wolf, a Colorado Springs, Colo. native. We also will be ready if any crisis arises and we will show everyone what the Navy-Marine Corps Team is capable of.
While BSRF-13 is in theater they will conduct numerous military engagements missions with partner countries. The focus of these engagements range from urban combat operations to NCO professional development to non-lethal weapons engagements. The Marines will have the opportunity to experience the culture of the countries they visit, offering first-hand understanding of how people in European countries live.
The first stop for the 300-person force will be the Republic of Georgia where they’ll conduct exercise Agile Spirit, a bi-lateral military engagement with the Georgian Armed Forces.
Upon completion of Exercise Agile Spirit, the Marines and sailors of BSRF will re-deploy to Mihail Kogalniceanu, Romania and continue their assigned mission, which involves training exercises with 20 nations planned throughout the Black Sea, Balkan and Caucasus regions.