But with the end of Marine Corps
rotations to Afghanistan, ever-evolving missions and threats
require yet another readjustment. So
MSTP trainers are adjusting, too, to
tackle the wider range of military operations, not just counterinsurgency.
The pendulum has swung back.
“We have fully refocused ourselves back ... on the MAGTF conducting conventional operations. It’s
been relatively recent,” said Keane, a
former commander of Camp
Lejeune, N.C.-based 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion. He
spoke with Seapower during a break
at Marine Corps Air-Ground Combat
Center in Twentynine Palms, Calif.,
where he and his MSTP team were
putting the Lejeune-based 2nd MEB
commander and his headquarters
staffs through Large Scale Exercise 15, or LSE 15.
The MSTP trained the last major command that
deployed to Afghanistan in 2015. (MSTP does not,
however, train the newer and deploying crisis-response
special-purpose MAGTFs.) In March and April, MSTP
teams ran I MEF at Camp Pendleton through an exercise that featured conventional warfare scenarios as
well as cyber attacks on its networks.
“That was the first MEFEX that really was conducted in just under a decade,” Keane said.
U.S. military forces are considered highly capable and
successful in a conventional fight, but trainers want to
see that MEF and MEB commands can handle challenges
in exercises that are more resembling a fair fight.
“Our goal right now is ‘peer competitor,’” Keane said,
with enemy or opposing forces near or as militarily capable as the Marines. “He’s not going to roll over and die
when we confront him, because he doesn’t need to. He’s
got weapons systems, he can stand toe to toe with us on
the ground. He’s got integrated fires that can compete
with us and can really slow us down in our continuous
quest for momentum on the battlefield. He’s got aviation
capabilities ... and [can] get aircraft up. It will test our air
defense procedures. It’ll test the ability of our ACE [air
combat element] to respond to threats.
“And we haven’t seen that in, well, take your pick —
when was the last time the United States has confronted an enemy like that in a conventional fight? World
War II? Korea?” he said. “So it is a peer competitor,
and that’s where we need to be focused.
“There is a place for counterinsurgency and for crisis
response and things like that,” he added, “but what we’ve
found is the hardest fight that we will have is convention-
al, high-end kinetic operations. And, generally speaking, if
you’re good at doing that, you’re good at the other stuff.”
The MSTP division, which falls under the Marine
Corps Training and Education Command (TECOM),
puts each of the senior-level MAGTFs through the drill
about every two years, either in a MEFEX or LSE. Its
job is to “provide professional training and education,
along with a rigorous staff exercise program, to maxi-
mize the proficiency and effectiveness of the staff and
leadership of the MAGTF at the Marine Expeditionary
Force/Marine Expeditionary Brigade level.”
“It really puts the MEB command element through a
good exercise,” MajGen James W. Lukeman, TECOM
commander, said during a break as he observed LSE 15
and met with the 2nd MEB command headquarters and
subordinate command staffs during the final exercise.
BGen Robert F. Castellvi, the 2nd MEB commander,
led his brigade staff as they exercised their ability to step
in, integrate and operate as a MEF-level command.
“It facilitates us being able to transition to an even
much larger-sized force,” Castellvi, who brought a staff
of 250, said during an LSE 15 press briefing in August.
“The scenario actually plays it out that way. We can
easily take this exercise and build on it.”
Technology assists MSTP in its mission. The
MAGTF Training Systems Support gets continually
updated and provides tactical warfare simulation and
can vary and mix scenarios with live, virtual and con-
structive forces against a fictional enemy. It broadens
mission sets with more virtual play, such as unmanned
aerial vehicle feeds incorporated during LSE 15.
“It’s a benefit to the training audience to have this virtual feed,” Lukeman noted. “So we’re not flying a UAS
Marines with B Battery, 1st Battalion, 10th Marine Regiment, provide support
fire Aug. 15 as part of Large Scale Exercise 15 in the vicinity of the Blacktop
Training Area aboard the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, Twentynine
Palms, Calif. The artillery fire supported a ground element during their assault
on two objectives during the live-fire exercise.