INTELLIGENCE CAPACITY AND COMMAND AGILITY
GIVE AN AMPHIBIOUS FORCE ASYMMETRIC ADVANTAGE
BY RICHARD R. BURGESS, MANAGING EDITOR
When the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit
(MEU) embarked last year onboard ships
of the USS Wasp Amphibious Ready Group
(ARG), it deployed with a command element of 330 Marines, a far larger group
than the 80 Marines that normally deploy
with an MEU.
“That is mostly an increase in intelligence-collection
capacity,” Col. Todd P. Simmons, commander of the
22nd MEU, said during the deployment. “We had a force
reconnaissance company so we were significantly bigger
than previous command elements had been and it turns
out that was absolutely the right tonic for the things
that we ended up doing.”
The Wasp ARG/MEU deployed from June 25 to Dec.
24, operating in the Mediterranean Sea, Arabian Sea,
Red Sea and Persian Gulf under three regional com-
batant commanders (COCOMs): U.S. Africa Command
(AFRICOM), U.S. European Command (EUCOM) and U.S.
Central Command (CENTCOM). It was a deployment
of many firsts, not to mention the coincidence that
all three of the ships in the group — the amphibious
assault ship USS Wasp (LHD 1), amphibious transport
dock ship USS San Antonio (LPD 17) and dock land-
ing ship USS Whidbey Island — were lead ships of their
classes. It was the first deployment in 10 years for Wasp,
which had been used for sea trials for the Marine Corps’
F-35B Lightning II joint strike fighter and other tasks.
As with ARG/MEUs in recent years, the Wasp ARG/
MEU mostly operated in a distributed way — disag-gregated, with the ships separated within the same
combatant commander’s area of responsibility (AOR)
or separated in different AORs. The modern command
and control capabilities of the ships enabled them to
operate seamlessly across AORs, and enabled a war in
one AOR to be commanded from another.
Of the 183 days underway, the ARG “only operated
aggregated altogether for 23 days,” said Capt. F. Byron
Ogden, commodore of Amphibious Squadron Six and
of the ARG. “The preponderance of our time was spent
in what we refer to as a distributed configuration; that
was 129 days of that deployment. Another significant
note is that during Operation Odyssey Lightning, we
did operate continuously for 128 days at sea without
pulling into port.”
The ARG/MEU was only in the Mediterranean a
couple of weeks when it was assigned by U.S. Africa
Command to launch Operation Odyssey Lightning,
an air campaign that began on Aug. 1 to support the
Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA) against
a force of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) that
was concentrated in Sirte, Libya.
“While we’re deployed in that configuration, we
executed Operation Odyssey Lightning, which led to
the destruction of [ISIS] in Sirte and elimination of
the sanctuary they were calling their third caliphate,”
Simmons said. “We [were] also the global response
force, the AFRICOM new-normal force, the CENTCOM
theater reserve and we conducted multiple TSC [theater
security cooperation] exercises.
“Unique to our deployment is we did all those
things simultaneously. We were in three COCOMs
at once routinely with the entire chain of command
stopping at the commodore’s and my desk and having
OPCON [operational control] to take on all the forces
across those COCOMs. That was a distributed concept.
We were the first MEU/ARG to do that,” he said.
For a time during the deployment, Whidbey Island
operated in the Black Sea in a multinational theater
security cooperation exercise hosted by Ukraine while