Why America’s Aircraft Carriers and Marines Must Work Together


Why America’s Aircraft Carriers and Marines Must Work Together

Their combined firepower and amphibious assault capabilities are a lethal combination.

Joint military exercises and planning between a Carrier Strike Group and Marine Corps Expeditionary Unit provide America with a unique and lethal threat consisting of air-attack possibilities, long-range ship fires and ship-to-shore amphibious attacks. 

War exercises of this kind are happening at the moment, as the Navy’s Ronald Reagan Aircraft Carrier Strike Group and the USS America Expeditionary Strike Group have combined forces in the Pacific to coordinate operational exercises, interoperability and integrated attack missions. 

The maritime combat preparation includes Naval surface fire support operations, tactical air control, deck landing qualifications and long-range recovery of personnel and aircraft missions, according to a Navy report

The Navy has already demonstrated dual-carrier attack operations in the Pacific and is now bringing new Navy-Marine Corps coordinated mission preparation. Adding an Expeditionary Strike Group, led by the big-deck USS America Amphibious Assault Ship, introduces an entirely new sphere of combat possibilities. 

What kinds of air-ground-surface operations might this combination enable? What might it look like? It seems likely that, should there be a need for a massive coordinated attack, carrier-launched aircraft and long-range fires might first strike with long-range cruise missiles such as Tomahawks, followed by large scale air assaults from the USS Ronald Reagan. The USS Ronald Reagan could launch F-18s and the USS America could launch F-35Bs, bringing a massive and lethal coordinated air attack on enemy air defenses, fixed command and control sites and troop concentrations. 

Initial air and cruise-missile attacks would be intended to open up a potential corridor for amphibious attack from a Marine Expeditionary Unit. Overall, the USS America Expeditionary Strike Group consists of the big-deck amphibious assault ship, the dock landing ship USS New Orleans and a landing support dock ship called the USS Germantown. This compilation of assets can enable a ship-to-shore attack, landing forces including Amphibious Assault Vehicles and ship-to-shore landing craft. The Marine Expeditionary Unit could also provide air transport, surveillance and strike support from Osprey and F-35B aircraft. 

Marine Corps Expeditionary Strike Groups include more than 3,000 Marines, supported by fires, command and control and aircraft from the mothership, the USS America. 

This combination especially offers new tactical options in areas such as the island chains in the South China Sea where small strips of land could be locations for amphibious landings. A Carrier Strike Group supported Marine Expeditionary Unit can also function as a significant deterrent against any Chinese advance on Taiwan. With a range of 900 nautical miles, Navy cruiser-fired Tomahawk missiles could strike Chinese troop and equipment fortifications on islands or even areas of mainland China if necessary. Also Ospreys bring a troop transport option along with Mounted Vertical Maneuver operations designed to drop Marines off behind enemy lines to gather intelligence, conduct hit and run attacks or perform clandestine strike missions on specific enemy targets such as supply lines or headquarters structures. 

Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.

Image: Reuters