an MV-22B Osprey evacuated a U.S. special operator
from inside Libya.
Before Wasp pulled into Souda Bay, Crete, for some
scheduled maintenance vital to its future transfer to
the Pacific and embarkation of F-35Bs, San Antonio left
the Arabian Sea and took aboard Wasp’s AH-1Ws to
continue the strikes.
Organic to the 22nd MEU was a detachment of
RQ-21A Blackjack unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), on
their first deployment with an MEU, providing intel-
ligence, surveillance and reconnaissance over land
for the ARG/MEU. Simmons termed the Blackjack “an
“It was really good to have a UAV that I was able to
task rather than ask for use,” Simmons said. “It was
not a burden on the LHD, it [had] sufficient bandwidth.
It was a burden on the LPD — the burden was quite
strong — [and] had a greater impact on the LPD, but
not so much that it wasn’t able to operate.”
Later in the deployment, one of the ARG’s ships
came under fire. Coastal defense cruise missiles were
fired at the former Navy high-speed vessel Swift, the
afloat forward staging base USS Ponce and twice at San
Antonio in the Bab-al-Mandeb (BAM) Strait. Swift was
badly damaged, but the other ships were not hit and
successfully defended by DDGs.
“The missile attacks in the BAM really drove the
decision to put the Wasp down in there with its signifi-
cant combat power,” Simmons said. “The Libya mission
wasn’t complete and, so, San Antonio came up [and] we
executed a cross-deck of aviation attachments. It took
four days at sea while we remained in contact, we con-
tinued to fly every day, conduct strikes. Then we were
able to move the Wasp down to the Red Sea.”
The ARG/MEU now fell under operational control of
CENTCOM, Simmons said.
“The distributed operations concept, though, continued to play out. The AFRICOM commander decided
that he wanted to retain command and control as it
was and we were given OPCON and TACON of all the
forces operating off the coast of Libya [even] though
we were in the Red Sea. I retained launch authority for
everything, probably the first time for a tactical command, a COCOM’s fight occurring from a space not in
that COCOM but in other COCOMs,” he said.
“I think if there were time to relitigate the command relationship it would’ve happened then. Gen.
[Thomas] Waldhauser [commander, AFRICOM]
could’ve said ‘this isn’t working, we need to make an
adjustment,’ or ‘I don’t think you guys have the band-
width either emotionally, physically or in actuality and
electronically to do it.’ But he was convinced that that
was the right answer and, so, we rewrote again what
OPCON and TACON mean across COCOM boundaries
because, now, we were running the fight in a place
that we weren’t,” Simmons said, adding that today’s
command and control technology made retaining com-
mand across COCOMs possible.
“It’s really not any different than if you’re sitting in
the Gulf of Sidra or in the Red Sea or if you’re all in three
ships off the coast of North Carolina; it feels exactly the
same. The electronics are there. The UAV feeds are there.
All the stuff is there to continue the same situational
awareness that we would’ve had regardless,” he said.
Simmons also said that with operational control
he was authorized to shift weapons stocks — such as
Hellfire missiles — from the Red Sea to the Gulf of
Sidra “without having to ask anyone. … That just really
proved that, for this problem set against this enemy,
it’s a good way to operate.”
Ogden noted that “if we’re fighting a higher-end
enemy or a peer competitor, this model does not work.
But the ARG/MEU as it is designed for the threats was
proven very capable and effective.”
Simmons said of the distributed operations model
“we found [it] worked, but it does not work in all con-
texts. If we could have an ARG/MEU in the Med and
an ARG/MEU in the Red Sea, that is probably the right
answer. But in a world without 54 amphibs we’re not
going to get there. In the world that we live in, against
this enemy, with the authorities to attack them, this is
a pretty effective way to do business.
“We don’t have the authorities to attack a transna-
tional threat and we are probably best staying aggregated
in weight because we can maneuver pretty quickly from
the Red Sea to the Med and back and forth. We probably
ought to stay massed and maneuver as needed,” he said.
An AH- 1 Super Cobra helicopter from the 22nd Marine Expeditionary
Unit (MEU) takes off from the amphibious transport dock ship USS San
Antonio Oct. 23. The 22nd MEU, embarked on San Antonio, conducted
air strikes as part of Operation Odyssey Lightning.