After a decade dominated by ground wars against insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan, the drill dubbed Bold Alligator is “the largest amphibious exercise conducted by the fleet in the last 10 years,” said Admiral John Harvey, head of US Fleet Forces Command.
The American military, mindful that Marines have spent most of their time in the deserts of Iraq and the mountains of Afghanistan since 2001, said the goal was “to revitalize, refine, and strengthen fundamental amphibious capabilities and reinforce the Navy and Marine Corps role as ‘fighters from the sea.'”
The lack of practice at a craft that is immensely complex (amphibious assault) and requires extensive planning and rehearsal has been a concern of the Marine Corps for most of the past decade. Many junior Officers and SNCOs have never been afloat, let alone had anything to do with amphibious operations. Landing plans, serial assignment tables, scheduled, on-call, and unscheduled waves are terms unfamiliar to most. Fire support planning in amphibious operations, challenging in the best of circumstances, must now be done in an environment of austere Naval surface fires.
The BOLD ALLIGATOR exercises, and the war games that reinforce them (EXPEDITIONARY WARRIOR, etc.) will introduce those younger Marines to the art of projecting power ashore from the sea. Shortfalls in capabilities and capacity will be identified, new methods developed to leverage modern platforms, and assumptions either validated or proven incorrect. The bugaboo of every amphibious operation, the command relationship between CATF/CLF, will be examined anew.
The addition of our French allies in this exercise is crucial, as the interoperability of international forces in a coalition operation is always a challenge. Lessons on doctrine, equipment requirements and capabilities, as well as the personal command relationships between seniors, make for more lethal and efficient combat forces.
The landings in North Carolina and Virginia are not being conducted in a vacuum, either:
The threat of mines, anti-ship missiles and small boats in coastal waters conjure up Iran’s naval forces, but the commanders overseeing the drill, Admiral Harvey and Marine Lieutenant General Dennis Hejlik, say the scenario is not based on any particular country.
When asked by reporters last week, Harvey acknowledged that the exercise scenario was “certainly informed by recent history” and that it was “applicable” to the Strait of Hormuz, as well as other areas.
Harvey also said the exercise incorporated lessons from the 2006 Lebanon conflict, when Iran-backed Hezbollah forces hit an Israeli navy corvette with an anti-ship missile.
This event was important enough to have CNO Admiral Greenert in attendance, and highlights a significant shift in the Navy’s views regarding its role in the amphibious power projection mission. While always publicly supporting the Navy-Marine Corps team, the unofficial position of the Navy toward this mission seemed decidedly luke-warm and was at odds with the Marine Corps over requirements and resources. This is good news for Naval forces whose focus will be the western Pacific. One can bet a paycheck that the USN and USMC will be scribbling furiously, taking copious notes. Lessons will be learned, training will be invaluable.
And best of all, an entirely new generation of Marines will be introduced to the smell of paint, exhaust fumes, crude oil, salt water spray, and vomit that are indelibly etched on every Marine who has climbed down the cargo net, ridden the tuna boats off the well deck through the surf, or splashed ashore from the LCUs. The more things change, the more they remain the same.
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