Marine Amphibious Exercise is Big News

The Marine Corps, America’s Amphibious Force of Choice, is making headlines for its part in an amphibious exercise.

Not so long ago, such operations were routine. Has the Gun Club gotten so far away from its core competency that a beach landing at Marine Corps base Camp Pendleton, Calif., commands column inches?

Some think so.

The Associated Press proclaimed, “Marines return to roots with Calif. beach-storming.

The San Diego Union Tribune led with “Getting their boots wet.

Over 4,500 Marines and sailors along with ships, aircraft and landing craft participated in the Dawn Blitz. One Marine Corps official described the exercise as more of an opportunity for sailors and Marines to become reacquainted. It seems this was the first amphibious landing for most of the Marines. Many had never been to sea. Reporters’ skills have atrophied as well – their stories focused on the 20-year-old ashore with the tactical operation almost ignored.

Even with the regular deployment of the Marine expeditionary units, the Marine Corps has become known for fighting traditional land battles and land locked insurgencies. (Not much action for amphibs and landing craft in Iraq or Afghanistan.)

“Legacy” beach assaults, in which the Marines establish a beach head from which they operate, remain in the Corps’ bag of tricks, though an up-the-middle attack like (pick a World War II Pacific island) is unlikely. There has long been concern over the practice. In 1943 Maj. Gen. Alexander Vandergrift strongly recommended against beach assaults. He had first-hand experience.

Unfortunately Dawn Blitz (the exercise, not the porn star) misleads the observer. Marines remain the one service that can maneuver effectively from the sea. They come from 25 miles or more over the horizon. Their beach head is on board their ship, and they move from the ship to their objective, something they have dubbed STOM. They move via air and waterborne craft. They still maneuver from the sea, just in a more strategically commanding manner than the boys in “The Pacific.”

The future of amphibious operations has been around for some time, but September 11 delayed progress. Today Marines test tactics. They test crucial communications gear. They are writing doctrine. A major ship-to-objective movement exercise takes place this summer in Hawaii. (We’ll call it STOM-la-palooza.)

More on that later.

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