Defining Marine Corps Special Operations Capabilities
Written by Jeff McKaughan
Q: What is the organizational structure of MARSOC today, and how does that compare to a year ago?
A: We are in the process of reorganizing our structure. This past April we re-designated the Marine Special Operations Advisor Group as a Marine Special Operations Regiment. Presently, we have one regiment with three special operations battalions and are in the process of growing to 12 special operations companies and 48 special operations teams.
In addition, we are growing our signal intelligence, human intelligence, communications, and intelligence analysts capabilities to support the above structure plus requisite maintainers.
The number-one priority for 2009 was getting our reorganization right. This means sufficient enablers to support a one-MSOR, three- MSOB, 12-MSOC, 48-MSOT structure.
Q: How are you doing on filling out the organization from a manning and staffing perspective? Are you meeting your personnel goals?
A: For our authorized structure we are at 82 percent of our current build plan for Marines, 90 percent of the build for the Navy and 69 percent of the build for civilians. We project we’ll achieve our manning goals during FY12 with continued support from Headquarters Marine Corps to sustain our manning levels of critical skill operators. One of the advantages of building and operating the force at the same time is that you can significantly accelerate getting it right by incorporating lessons learned. Of course the downside of an openloop manpower system is the need to reconstitute the force every five years.
Q: Several years into the command, how would you characterize the definition of MARSOC’s role and mission and the assimilation of the force into the strategic special operations planning, implementation and execution of overseas contingency operations?
A: With 40 deployments in FY09 and more than 40 missions and our first Special Operations Task Force deployment in FY10, the primary focus has been supporting OEF, building partnerships with partner nation forces and emphasizing relationships with those partners. Our focus has been and will continue to be Afghanistan, Pakistan, Brazil and the littorals of both Africa and Southeast Asia.
Our tasking by SOCOM to provide an SOF C2 capability in Afghanistan reflects MARSOC’s growth and maturation. SOCOM has confidence in our ability to do the mission, and the Marine Corps has a greater understanding of what they’re providing in terms of value to our nation. The increased deployment tempo means that MARSOC has to carefully plan out our training so we maximize our training days.
Q: Regarding your foreign internal defense mission, what are some of the challenges in working with a range of different militaries with varying degrees of skills and capabilities? Do you assist in identifying a country’s specific needs both in equipment and skill sets or is that already determined before you go in?
A: Our biggest challenge is mastering the language and cultural understanding necessary to be a true partner. We have chosen to put one member of every team into immersion language training. The goal is for every team to have one member who is 2/2 or better while the remainder of the team has survival skills or better.
Our second challenge is ensuring the U.S. country team understands and embraces what we are there to do. It is very important that we be an extension of what the country team is trying to accomplish. The third challenge is to ensure a persistent presence by the same team so that we can better facilitate long-term relationships and trust. Only then can we hope to help the host nation develop the capability, capacity and vision necessary to achieve our common goals.
Q: Is it fair to say that to date MARSOC forces have been relatively light on heavier types of equipment? What are your more immediate acquisition needs?
A: Yes, by design, MARSOC is a lighter and leaner force. We are in need of lighter yet durable equipment across the board. This includes weapons, communications, power sources, vehicles, body armor, etc.
Q: How important are unmanned systems—air, ground and naval— to your operations?
A: Very important. The Marine Corps has been using unmanned ground systems for at least 15 years, and MARSOC has included those capabilities from our inception. The EOD robots remote the operator from the hazards of an explosive device, provide a day/night reconnaissance capability, and also a neutralization capability so the operator remains separated from the hazard as much as possible. These systems work in the tethered [fiber-optic] or RF mode. Current initiatives are under way to deliver an EOD robot of approximately 50 pounds. The use of unmanned ground platforms with the appropriate capabilities attached are crucial to EOD mission success and force protection. The use of robots saves lives.