WASHINGTON — In its first service-level training exercise on the West Coast last month, the recently-formed 3rd Marine Littoral Regiment (MLR) had a rehearsal of the key role it would play during a fight in the first island chain: sensing the enemy ahead of the joint force before a fight happens.
The exercise, involving 5,500 sailors and Marines, took place in California and Arizona throughout February and was led by 3rd Marine Division, which includes the 3rd MLR, the first of a new unit type established by Commandant Gen. David Berger’s Force Design 2030 initiative.
While speaking at the National Press Club earlier this month, Berger drew a straight line between the 3rd MLR’s ability to sense the enemy ahead and the “value” the Marine Corps brings to the broader joint force.
Read more of Breaking Defense’s coverage of Force Design 2030.
“What does the Marine Corps do for the military? If you had to boil it all down, we learned probably something that … surprised a lot of us,” he said. “Part of the value of the Marine Corps when they’re very far forward is their ability to sense what is in front of them and the rest of the force.”
Maintaining the unit’s ability to do that while also staying mobile is one of the key takeaways Berger said the service was taking away from the exercise in California and Arizona.
“They have to be movable. They have to have the ability to pick up, to see things in front of them and probably the hardest thing when you’re seeing things … a lot of times you can detect things … but making sense of it. What does that mean? It’s a different story,” he added.
Maj. Gen. Jay Bargeron, commanding general of 3rd Marine Division, told Breaking Defense that the exercise was split up into three phases: tactical small unit training, the MLR being “isolated, independent, sensing, targeting” while enabling fires, and a comprehensive force-on-force scenario where Marines had the chance to put their training into action.
Bargeron said the event, dubbed Marine Littoral Regiment – Training Exercise, was an “inflection point” for his command, where the Marines are transitioning from developing new capabilities to experimenting with how they can operate inside the larger force. He also said, from his perspective, nearly all parts of the exercise translate into what he might be tasked to do if a fight broke out in the Indo-Pacific.
“I thought this scenario was very relevant to the [operation] plan and crisis response tasks that I have in the first island chain right now,” he said. “There would be distributed geographical positions that I would be asked to deploy forces to to contribute to things like sea denial, or defending key maritime terrain, most likely both.”
The 3rd MLR won’t have to wait long to test its methods again. The unit is scheduled to train alongside the Armed Forces of the Philippines during Balikatan 2023 slated to occur in April. That country’s Marine Corps is standing up its own new unit type and is taking cues from the US, its chief told reporters while visiting Marine Barracks Washington in February.
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Author: Justin Katz
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