The Key Role of MAWTS-1 in USMC Transormation

By George Trautman

In their new book, MAWTS-1 An Incubator for Military Transformation, Robbin Laird and Ed Timberlake have captured the essence of Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics Squadron One (MAWTS-1) in a very creative way.

They begin with a wide-ranging series of poignant interviews with the squadron’s recent Commanding Officers and highly skilled instructor pilots going back to introduction of the F-35 to MCAS Yuma in 2011.

These interviews are illuminating because they expose the role MAWTS-1 plays in keeping Marine aviation moving forward. New concepts of operation and new weapon systems demand refined tactics and innovative methods of training.

As the Marine Corps exploits the incredible capabilities of the V-22 Osprey, F-35 Lightning II, CH-53 King Stallion, the TPS-80 Ground/Air Task Oriented Radar (G/ATOR) and the Common Aviation Command and Control System (CAC2S), the MAWTS-1 staff, and the Weapons and Tactics Instructors (WTI’s) they produce, are at the cutting edge of keeping the Fleet Marine Force ready and relevant.

Over the past four years, the task of introducing new aviation weapons systems has become exponentially more challenging as a direct result of the 38th Commandant’s sweeping changes as delineated in Force Design 2030 (FD 2030).

This initiative, which began in 2019, cut a significant portion of the Corps’ active-duty aviation force structure and slowed production procurement ramps significantly without any commensurate reduction in operational commitments.

Fewer squadrons, less aircraft, and the forced introduction of new operational concepts not ideally suited to the previously preferred Marine Air Ground Task Force (MAGTF) model placed a significant burden on Marine Corps aviation – but the Marines of MAWTS-1 proved they were up to the challenge by refining the tactics, techniques, and procedures needed to accommodate the guidance they had been given.

How did MAWTS-1 evolve to become such an indispensable pillar within the Marine Corps?

Its significance lies in its role as the premier training unit for Weapons and Tactics instruction, where it refines and disseminates cutting-edge concepts of employment – often with new weapons that have potential capabilities never previously imagined.

By continually adapting to emerging threats and technological advancements, MAWTS-1 ensures that Marine aviators are equipped with the skills and knowledge necessary to excel in the ever-evolving landscape of modern warfare.

The squadron’s contributions extend beyond training, influencing the development of new doctrines and fostering a culture of innovation within the Marine Corps aviation community. In essence, MAWTS-1 serves as a linchpin in maintaining the Marine Corps’ tactical edge, preparing its aviators for the challenges of today and the uncertainties of tomorrow.

After the authors track the recent evolution of the squadron, they double back with a series of interviews with the pioneers and Commanding Officers who developed and fostered the MAWTS-1 concept, fought off the naysayer’s resistance to change, and led Marine aviation into what it has become today – an essential element of the MAGTF dedicated to bringing about a revolution in next generation aviation capabilities.

These retrospectives may be the most valuable part of the book because they showcase the impact a small cadre of individuals, disappointed in their assessment of post-Vietnam Marine aviation, can have. Their visionary ideas set a new course that grew from something innocuously called “Project 19” into the premier aviation training squadron in the world – MAWTS-1.

In the final chapter of the book, the authors include a speech given by the first Commanding Officer of MAWTS-1, Lieutenant Colonel Howard DeCastro, to the squadron at a Marine Corps Ball in 2019 in which he says:

After General Amos retired as Commandant, he and I had a chance to talk. He told me that MAWTS literally saved Marine Corps aviation. I suspect that was an exaggeration, but, without question, MAWTS has dramatically improved Marine aviation and our working relationship with the Ground Forces.

My personal experience dating back to my time as a WTI student in one of the first MAWTS-1 classes ever conducted, then as a member of the instructor staff, followed by tours in command at the squadron, group, and wing level, and ultimately as the USMC Deputy Commandant for Aviation is that Colonel DeCastro and the authors have it right – MAWTS-1 is indeed An Incubator for Military Transformation, and this book tells the squadron’s story in a fascinating and compelling way.

LtGen, USMC (Ret)

Former USMC Deputy Commandant for Aviation