II Marine Expeditionary Force supports service and Combatant Commander’s initiative as required.
At the same time, II MEF is in transition and must focus on preparing for future operations, and shape new ways to do so while being able to operate now.
This is hardly an easy challenge, but one which II MEF must meet head on.
During an April 2021 visit to II MEF, I had a chance to meet with the head of G-35, Future Operations, Colonel Ryan Hoyle.
He noted in our discussion that for the command, a look ahead in an 18-to-24-month period is the focus of future operations.
But as we discussed, the focus on change was coming through exercises but also working ways to rework the Marines ability to integrate with the Navy and with allies to shape evolving capabilities for the future fight.
His background is diverse, and very impressive. I mention this because if you want someone to work through how to work a way ahead with the force in being, it is clearly an advantage to have someone with wide-ranging experience with the current force, but also with enough experience in working with non-Marine joint and allied forces focused as well on change.
Among other experiences, he has been aide to camp to the Deputy Chairman of the NATO Military Committee, Amphibious Staff Officer and exercise planner at NATO’s Special Operations Headquarters.
And he has a Masters of Science in Political Science from the Israeli National Defense College.
There is probably no force in the world which has work joint integration in a more challenging political and military environment than the IDF.
He brings this experience to the current challenging task of transitioning and preparing for the future fight while reshaping the force in being.
How do you do this?
And how is II MEF approaching this challenge?
In the discussion, there are a number of takeaways which provide answers to these difficult questions.
Where appropriate, I will quote Col. Hoyle, but I am not holding him responsible for all my takeaways from the discussion.
The Israelis provide an interesting case because post-Abraham accords, they are focusing on their ability to have a strategic reach to be able to deal with threats on their periphery. It is no surprise than that the IDF is operating a core USMC capability, the F-35, and are adding the latest capability, namely, the CH-53K. The IDF increasingly is focused on becoming more mobile and expeditionary which brings them closer to the USMC trajectory of change as well.
Col. Hoyle noted that they work within a 18 month and two and a half year planning cycle and work “to align resources to achieve the objectives that the CG or higher headquarters have given us. This is in terms of exercise preparation and providing forces of operations.” He reminded that as well as the Atlantic operations, II MEF provides forces deployed to Okinawa as well.
He has the naval integration portfolio in his shop as well which encompasses amphibious training and deck and well deck certification for those ships as well.
According to Col. Hoyle: “We coordinate the entire MEU program from the formation of the force to the integration with the Navy and their deployments with both NAVEUR and MARFOREUR in terms of their tasks in support of those commands.”
The refocus on Naval integration is a major challenge.
As I noted in an earlier piece, in effect, what is happening is co-evolution of the Navy and the USMC, which means that they are working for more integration, but there are centers of excellence each will have different from one another.
It is best conceived as a Venn diagram where one is shaping enhanced overlap but recognizes that each side of the Venn is different.
If one looks at the North Atlantic as a chessboard, how do the Navy, the Marine Corps (and the USAF) and allies work the pieces on the chessboard?
How do the Marines use their afloat resources differently with the fleet?
How does the fleet fight differently with those afloat assets integrated into the fight? How do mobile or expeditionary bases play into the effort?
What pieces are placed on the chessboard which the Marines can or might be able to provide?
How do the Marines work force integration with allies afloat or ashore to provide for more integrated warfighting solutions?
With the current amphibious fleet in the Atlantic region not likely to get new ships any time soon, how can the Marines work more effectively with allies afloat? Clearly, the current integration of Marines onboard HMS Queen Elizabeth is an example or operating Ospreys off of French amphibious ships.
A key challenge which is being worked but which is strategic in character is reshaping C2 to allow for force integration in a contested fight. Cleary, command guidance is required, and empowering tactical decision making at the edge.
As the Navy and the Marines work with allies newly highlighted areas of operation, such as the High North, the challenge will be to shape flexible or modular task forces which can demonstrate interactive interoperability to expand what Marines can contribute, rather than deploying them in isolated force fragments.
Col. Hoyle put the goal of the transformation effort in the following terms: “How do we provide operational flexibility to the fleet commander, to the combatant commander, to cause the decision calculus of the adversary to change?
“To do so, you need capabilities with which to project that force, whether it’s afloat capabilities or whether it’s basing rights somewhere and having the proper airframes in order to project that force.”
In short, the focus needs to be not simply on new ways to do naval integration.
The focus has to be on effective forces that an adversary sees as viable and capable of shaping a deterrent outcome.
As Col. Hoyle put it: “You have to have your high-end capabilities demonstrated to be effective in order to ensue deterrence, because if you are not demonstrating that you have the capabilities, then no—one is really deterred.”