Welcome to Dragon Rising, Bear Resurgent , a blog I am using to record my Post Cold War wargaming projects. These are focused on expeditionary operations by Chinese, Russian, American and NATO forces in the post Cold War era, all modelled and gamed in 20mm. The blog includes links to various resources useful to the 21st Centuary Cold War Gamer.

Monday, 1 October 2018


The purpose of this post was really to understand how the MAGTF concept worked at the high level and the overall forces that would be drawn from to bring that capability together before examining in detail the structure and composition of a Marine Expeditionary Unit in a later post.  The post looks at:
  • The MAGTF concept including the air and ground units that supply combat elements
  • Sealift and Naval support 
  • Aspects of the operational challenge in the Pacific
  • High level view of model scale and availability for Gaming

MAGTF Concept. The United States Marine Corps organises for Combat into Marine Air Ground Task Forces (MAGTF). whilst the MAGTF is built around USMC components and can stretch from a Platoon to a Joint USMC/Army Force or a Coalition force essentially it is described at three different organisational levels:
  • Marine Expeditionary Unit where a Marine Rifle Battalion is the lead component of a task organised combined arms Battalion Landing Team that forms the core
  • Marine Expeditionary Brigade where a Marine Rifle Regiment is the lead component of a task organised  combined arms Brigade Landing Team that forms the core 
  • Marine Expeditionary Force where a Marine Division is the lead component of a task organised joint combined arms or coalition ground force that forms the core.
Task organised Combined Arms forces include attached elements to the core units from other arms such as Armour, Armoured Recce, Combat Engineer, Artillery, and Assault amphibian.  Joint forces include other Services such as an Army Stryker Brigade, Coalition Forces include elements of allied nations forces.

MAGTFs are task organised from components held within the Marine division and Marine Air Wings, whilst these can vary, generally they comprise:
  • Marine Division
  • Marine Air Wing

Regardless of the unit or formation it is based on the MAGTF is an integrated expeditionary combined arms force and is formed of four task organised force components.
The MAGTFs Components fulfil the following functions:

Command Element. Is the MAGTFs HQ it organises a holistic battle involving the integration of all three components to achieve the mission aim. It will plan and execute missions based  on the USMCs doctrine which is essentially manouverist and will therefore tend to focus on the destruction of the enemy rather than taking and holding ground.

Ground Combat Element.  Is a task organised force that provides the capability to undertake Ground combined arms manoeuvre. It works as an integrated component of the MAGTF not a separate entity. It covers amphibious, offensive, defensive and stabilisation operations. Its key capabilities are:
  • Ground and Amphibious Reconnaissance, 
  • Combined Arms Ground Manoeuvre and security
  • Massed Firepower
  • Close Combat
  • Seizing and Holding Key Terrain

Aviation Combat Element. Provides all 6 functions of USMC Aviation and varies in size from an aircraft detachment to multiple Marine Air Wings.  It works as an integrated component of the MAGTF. The 6 Functions provided are:
  • Offensive Air Support
  • Anti Air Warfare
  • Assault Support
  • Air Reconnaissance
  • Electronic Warfare
  • Control of Aircraft and Missiles

Logistic Combat Element.  Provides the Combat Service Support Function it can vary in size from a platoon to multiple logistic groups and covers;
  • Supply 
  • Maintenance, 
  • Transportation, 
  • General engineering, 
  • Health services 

The MAGTF strikes me as one of the most tightly coupled joint forces in existence, with dedicated land and Air components in a single unified command, that the level of task organisation and the potential to model a variety of Naval assets is what really grabs my imagination.  

Sealift and Naval Support.   The Sea lift and Naval support assets provide a degree of context during the game and selected elements of the Naval engagement could be played out. Like air landing operations these need to be controlled if the main event is to happen.  Although there are a variety of deployment options with varying components of sea lift I am primarily interested in over the beach operations. At the battalion level the Sea Lift component of this is an Amphibious Ready Group comprising:
  • An Amphibious Assault Ship LHA/LHD
  • An Amphibious Transport Dock LPD
  • A Dock Landing Ship LSD
  • Its embarked MEU

This can be task organised with a Surface Action Group and or a Littoral Combat Group to form an Expeditionary Strike Group which in turn can work under an umbrella provided by a Carrier strike group.  When working in conjunction with a Carrier Strike Group you would expect that a greater component of the MAGTFs embarked air assets could focus on the ground mission whilst the CSG focuses on the Air Superiority and Force protection aspects.

If deploying a Marine Expeditionary Force, it seems likely that  the fleet elements would need to be supplemented with components provided by the Maritime Pre Positioning Force from the various MPSRONs. The numbers of LHA/D required to put a MEB over the beach being 50% of the current fleet of 8 LHDs and 2 soon to be 3 LHAs this fleet would seem to give a potential maximum deployment capacity of 2 MEBs. Given the number of permanently deployed MEUs and maintenance cycles this would be interesting to achieve and would take planing and time. If the division has more than two Brigade Landing Teams then it seems likely that the 3rd would have to call upon an MPSRON, the pre conditions for that would be a degree of security or a port I suppose. The alternatives are getting imaginative around Ships Taken Up From Trade in a manner similar to Op Corporate.

The US Navy is currently aiming to have a fleet of 36 Amphibious ships by 2021, with a number of 38 being identifies as that required to land 2 MEBs and allow for maintenance, whilst 50+ is the number talked about to land an MEF with 3 Brigade Landing Teams.

Operational Challenges Of course concentrating this level of force in order to undertake landing operations forms what many would call a large target. Given China's evolving Anti Access Area Denial (A2/AD) capabilities covering the South and East China Seas which include;
  • Island Bases
  • Land based Ballistic Anti Ship missile capabilities, 
  • Missile Attack boats
  • Expanding Diesel Attack Submarine fleet
  • Land Based Aircraft
These A2/AD capabilities pose increased challenges to landing operations in contested littoral environments around these areas, however like the Cold War ATGW threat the balance of capability and advantage will probably see saw around this one for a while.

The Map below illustrates the challenge quite nicely. Traditional Landing operations are conducted from upto 12 Miles offshore, concepts for high speed ship to objective maneuver talk to 100 miles neither of which really tackles the issues illustrated which suggest a need to:

  • Target and engage the land based assets effectively with either Kinetic effects or disruptive attacks such as EW.
  • Provide adequate defence of the landing platforms. 
  • Increase the stand off and dispersion.

Wargames Goal  So my goal is to create a  6mm 1/300 force focused on a MEU MAGTF but that could stretch to a MEB at a more representational level, 1 Vehicle represents a platoon, 1 Ship a group of ships. Currently I am looking to build out the;
  • Ground Combat Element, 
  • Air Combat Element 
  • Naval support Elements probably to the level of the ESG, although a Carrier strike group would be nice, it might be a step to far and pose a major storage challenge.
This force will be used for current and near future games set in the Pacific with the Chinese initially providing the principal opposition. Over time I fancy it could open up to include US Army and Coalition partners of which the most interesting are the Australians although I have yet to really examine any of the other coalition partner options in the region. 

Model Availability

I think of the scale as around 1/300 as to get full coverage of the force components I am looking at:
  • Ground forces 1/285 (Primarily GHQ)
  • Air Forces 1/350 (Primarily Trumpeter)
  • Naval Forces 1/350 (Primarily Trumpeter)
The aspiration on the Naval side would be something that looks like the image below from JJ model making's youtube channel but waterlined, I will need to work out how they play into the game other than as a sea base and potentially some novel ideas for submarines.

The next articles in this series will examine the composition of a Marine Division and a Marine Air Wing in a little more detail in order to understand the range of components that could be task organised for a USMC MEU, before looking at a representative MEU in detail.


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