The Heart of the Matter – Bold Alligator 2012

The Second Line of Defense Forum concept of operations is to run a series on a major National Security issue by asking a Core Question and the asking readers to contribute.

For the Bold Alligator 2012 exercise the core issue is simple to state but complex to answer. Unlike a play or novel with a beginning middle and end our forum focus will be more open ended.

The Bold Alligator 2012 exercise is a large significant Navy-Marine Corps team exercise with significant Allied engagement.

As Admiral J.C. Harvey, Jr., Commander, U.S. Fleet Forces Command puts it:

BA12, scheduled for early in 2012, will be the largest amphibious exercise conducted by the Navy and Marine Corps in the last ten years. While planning is ongoing, it currently includes:

  • An Amphibious Task Force (ESG-2) consisting of two Amphibious Ready Groups (ARGs—7-8 ships) and a Naval Beach Group (NBG)

  • A Marine Expeditionary Brigade-sized Landing Force (2d MEB) consisting of a complete Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), a Regimental Landing Team (RLT), a Marine Air Group (MAG) and a Combat Logistics Regiment (CLR)

  • A Carrier Strike Group (CSG-aircraft carrier, carrier air wing, 3-4 surface combatants)

  • Military Sealift Command (MSC) ships

  • Mine Counter-Measures (MCM) forces

  • Navy Expeditionary Combat Command (NECC) forces

  • Joint supporting forces

  • Coalition amphibious, landing, and MCM forces

As the list of participants indicates, an amphibious mission of this size is not simply the purview of the amphibious forces and the Marines—it is a joint, multi-national, and naval endeavor requiring the full attention of the Fleet and Marine components at both the operational and tactical levels of war. Projecting power from the sea is a NAVAL core competency. Integrated forces conduct of operations from the blue water, into the seaward side of the littoral, and ultimately to the depth of objectives ashore.

Lt. General Jejlik, USMC Forces command also teed up the importance of BA-12 to the future evolution of the US and allied approach to 21st century operations.

The new year promises to be especially eventful – particularly for those who wear naval uniforms.  This year, the United States will begin our bicentennial commemoration of the War of 1812 – a war replete with lessons from our forebears who fought from the sea (or lakes).  But the War of 1812 is not the only significant naval anniversary we’ll observe this year.

2012 marks the 150th anniversary of the Peninsula Campaign of the American Civil War, a complex operation launched and sustained from the sea.  Aimed at capturing the Confederate capital of Richmond, it represented first large-scale Union offensive in the Eastern Theater.  As a matter fact, George McClellan landed his force at Ft Monroe, just across the water from where my headquarters sits today.

This year is also the 70th anniversary of amphibious landings in the Pacific and North Africa – the opening of major World War II Allied offensive campaigns.  And 2012 will see the 30th anniversary of the Falklands War (a war we’ve studied extensively to prepare for Bold Alligator.)

Together, these campaigns represent steps toward the modern art of amphibious operations – an art we will practice once again in just a few short weeks.

But as ADM Harvey has observed before, an amphibious mission of this size is not simply the purview of the U.S. Navy amphibious fleet and the Marine Corps—it’s a joint, multi-national, naval endeavor.  If you could look inside a Bold Alligator planning session, you’d see about a dozen different uniforms in there, and it speaks volumes.

I’ve written here before that the purpose of BA12 is, in part, to reinvigorate our culture of conducting combined amphibious operations from the sea.  Of course, if you’ve served at a PHIBRON, aboard an L-class ship, or in a MEU lately, you may be thinking, “that culture never fully went away.”

You’d be right.  Because even though we deployed forces to places like Helmand, Najaf and Al Anbar, we’ve continued to forward-deploy MEUs aboard Amphibious Ready Groups pretty consistently for the past decade.  In fact, it seems easy for some to forget that it was two ARG/MEUs along with SOF that first kicked in the door in Afghanistan in November 2001.  Or that they fought together under a MEB Commander as a Combined Task Force.

But for many naval officers today – particularly the ensigns, lieutenants, Marine captains, and maybe even a few majors and lieutenant commanders – we’ve not done an amphibious exercise or operation of this scale while they’ve been on active duty.  And that’s significant.

The Second Line of Defense team will have significant engagement with the exercise, before, during and after.  The forum will report and reflect that engagement.  For us, the exercise is a strategic and tactical innovation event of the first order.  The Gator navy is evolving from a Greyhound bus to a strike force.  The BA-12 participants are shaping a joint and coalition template for shaping littoral engagement operations.

The beginning is simple –what do all involved hope to achieve from this significant Navy-Marine Corps team exercise with significant Allied engagement?

The middle of the exercise will be far more complex to cover.

Bold Alligator is a huge exercise with thousands of marines, sailors and airman. Ships, planes training, technology and tactical con-ops will deploy, assess and analyze. Capturing all the elements is a significant task and we are hoping Second Line of Defense Forum will be in the data stream of information and the narrative of what was happening real time.

The pay-off for the Second Line of Defense Forum is the open ended process after the exercise in which all readers are encouraged to think through what has been presented to make points about the future based on real world capabilities.  This is a fact based challenge for a robust debate about the future.

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