Members of the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit dispense medication to Timor-Leste villagers in October. MEU commanders visited the Pentagon in early June to discuss logistical challenges they faced during their eight-month deployment. (Lance Cpl. Timothy Childers / Marine Corps)
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Just weeks after completing their eight-month deployment to the Indian Ocean and western Pacific on May 13, leaders of the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit visited the Pentagon — not just to debrief commanders on operational issues, as they have in the past, but also to discuss logistics.
This focus on the supply challenges the MEU faced during shipboard and amphibious operations, and the discoveries it made, is simply one more indication of the Corps’ aggressive pivot to the Pacific and its resolve to tackle the difficulties that such a move entails, said Lt. Gen. William Faulkner, deputy commandant for installations and logistics.
With the Pacific theater in mind, commanders have for years talked about the “tyranny of distance” associated with ship-to-shore supply and potentially sustaining operations on scattered islands, rather than a single landlocked country. And, with the inking of a Naval Logistics Integration plan charting a collaborative strategy from 2011-15, interoperability has become less of a buzzword and more of a necessity.
In the instance of the MEU commanders, “they come back, identify shortcomings and issues of concern,” Faulkner said. “Then we will work hard at this level to address them.”
“They could identify capability gaps. You know what, if we were forward-deployed and we had these kind of problems with supply support, well, when those things are on our screen, we can work together with other agencies, other services, to get them resolved and put capabilities in place for the future.”
Although Marines have become experts in desert warfare over the past dozen years, Faulkner said they are looking to glean as much knowledge as possible about working in the Asian-Pacific theater of operations, from MEU leaders, Pacific-based commanders and even other services and agencies.
Working with others
Faulkner attended the MEU logistics briefing with Vice Adm. Philip Cullom, the Navy’s deputy chief of naval operations for fleet readiness and logistics.
“I have a terrific working relationship with Vice Admiral Cullom and together we’re working on that very challenge,” Faulkner said. “What are some of our opportunities supporting forward-deployed forces in the future? Things such as amphibious shipping, the mobile landing platform, Joint High Speed Vessels — developing concepts of operations for their employment in the Pacific that are mutually supporting to both the Navy and the Marine Corps team. So we’re pretty excited about that.”
In addition to building Navy relationships, Faulkner said the Marine Corps is building on existing relationships with the Defense Logistics Agency and U.S. Transportation Command to exploit their knowledge and various capabilities.
The Corps also wants to develop technology and adjust its complement of gear for the new mission. Faulkner said one capability likely to be included in the mix is the K-MAX unmanned helicopter, which could airlift supplies to far-flung locations even in the worst weather without risking a pilot’s life.
“We know that there’s a capability that exists now; we’re using it in [Afghanistan],” Faulkner said. “With an eye toward rebalancing to the Pacific, we see a greater requirement. It definitely needs to support our amphibious nature, our amphibious roots, it needs to have longer legs.”
While interagency collaboration is important for a successful move to the Pacific, tight communication between air, ground and logistics elements of the Marine air-ground task force also is essential, Faulkner said.
Elsewhere in the fleet, as part of ongoing enhanced MAGTF operations, officials are testing mobile-based ship-to-shore communication and firing systems aimed at minimizing the footprint on the ground and expanding sea-based capabilities, from farther off-shore than previously attempted.
An annual Marine Corps Logistics war-game exercise to be held in June will focus on MAGTF information sharing and data integration within the context of amphibious humanitarian and disaster-relief objectives.
During the past decade in Iraq and Afghanistan, “We haven’t practiced as much as we normally would, be it amphibious exercises, be it maritime prepositioning operations,” Faulkner said. “It’s going to require even greater linkage between the elements of the MAGTF. As we reorient to the Pacific, that’s going to be very important.”