The USMC's biggest exercise of the year is underway off the coast of Virginia. Bold Alligator '14 brings together a wide array of Marine and Naval capabilities, along with those of other services and international partners. But this year's exercise is unlike 2012's; instead of a traditional beach assault, players will be stepping into the unknown.
Bold Alligator 2014, which runs from October 29th to November 10th, will be largely unscripted and players will have to react to a multitude of 'blind scenarios' as they unfold. These scenarios will range from disaster relief to counter-terrorism operations. Even a long-range raid via MV-22 Ospreys is said to be in the works that will have Marines infiltrate from off the coast of Virginia all the way to Indiana.
New technologies and tactics are always a part of centerpiece exercises like Bold Alligator. According to the Navy Times, one of these will include a new command and control concept called a "forward-integrated command element," which includes the flag and executive cadre of the Expeditionary Strike Group rapidly deploying to the USS Iwo Jima to take command of the mission from there.
The Navy is adapting to the fact that its combat fleet is rife with unserviceable ships and is using alternative craft for a multitude of tasks, namely putting the Navy's Joint High Speed Vessel to use in new and innovative ways. These include using the futuristic aluminum hulled fast craft as a platform for delivering vehicles and fuel ashore, as well as utilizing it as a platform for launching special forces raids and deploying unmanned undersea vehicles (UUVs).
The cargo and ammunition ship USNS Medgar Evers, which usually plays less than a front-line role, will also be used experimentally as a secondary command and control and staging ship. Seeing as the Navy's fleet serviceability rate is dropping for its major surface combatants, taking an adaptable 'platform agnostic' approach to amphibious operations is not only innovative but it is becoming alarmingly necessary. This is especially true as 'sea basing' is becoming increasingly a cornerstone of future expeditionary operations.
Still, these naval support ships lack the heavy defenses of the traditional 'Gator Navy' fleet, so their use is questionable in anything but low-risk environments. Even under those circumstances they are vulnerable to surprise threats like shore launched anti-ship cruise missiles that are proliferating among non-state actors.
In all, nearly 20 nations and 8,500 Marines will take part in Bold Alligator '14. The core fighting force will consist of British, Canadian, Brazilian and Dutch forces along with the US Marines, headed by the 24th Marine Expeditionary unit based in Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. Large exercises like these are becoming more and more relevant as the world's geopolitical situation becomes less stable and as the Marines, along with the whole US military's, tactics book is changing.
Air-Sea Battle (the Pentagon's ever changing rethinking doctrine of how technologies and each of the services's abilities can be paired together to create bigger effects on the battlefield, especially in the vastness of the Pacific Theater) is increasingly coming to fruition. This new jointness and focus on expeditionary maritime warfare will see Apache attack choppers operating from Gator Navy flattops, and USAF B-52s attacking opposing flotillas thousands of miles from a traditional runway.
Things are changing for the US Military, with a focus on major peer-state conflict coming back into the fray, while also coming to terms that a multitude of smaller operations that could be required virtually anywhere at any moment. Exercise Bold Alligator is evidence of all of this.
Tyler Rogoway is a defense journalist and photographer who maintains the website Foxtrot Alpha for Jalopnik.com You can reach Tyler with story ideas or direct comments regarding this or any other defense topic via the email address Tyler@Jalopnik.com