The Navy and Marine Corps should explore ways to make Marine aircraft a more useful part of the naval battle force – using alternate mixes of aircraft types on amphibious ship flight decks, finding additional missions for those aircraft, and pursuing increased connectivity to the rest of the naval fleet, the deputy commandant for aviation told USNI News.
In recent memory, the aviation combat element (ACE) in the Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) has served to support the MEU’s ground combat element. The ACE brought Marines and their weapons ashore in combat situations and helped bring materiel ashore in humanitarian assistance missions.
But Lt. Gen. Jon Davis argues the MEU, and particularly the ACE – which already includes the game-changing MV-22 Osprey and will soon include the equally transformative F-35B Joint Strike Fighter – can and should do more.
“We have the finest aircraft carriers in the world, we have the finest submarines in the world, we have the finest amphibious ships – we might need those amphibious ships to be doing something a little bit different than we’ve asked of them in the past to be value-added to the subs and the cruisers and the carriers, to be more value-added episodically before we reconfigure to the traditional mission and force contribution you expect an amphibious ship to be able to do,” Davis said in a Nov. 16 sit-down interview in his office.
“At the end of the day, we need them to power project Marine ground forces, a MAGTF (Marine Air-Ground Task Force), ashore, and they need to be able to do that. But is there more that we can get out of those ships, and what do we have to do to those ships to get more out of them?”
First, Davis argued, the Marines need to rethink what should constitute the ACE onboard amphibious ships.
“You in your brain, and all of us in our brains, have, this is a MEU: six Harriers or six F-35s, 12 V-22s, three or four CH-53s, seven skids [light attack helicopters], some VMU [Marine Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadrons],” Davis said.
But what if that combination, which includes a little bit of everything, means that the ACE is not optimized for anything?
“There are many scenarios where we would want to have the L-class carrier loaded with F-35Bs – the full squadron, 16 airplanes or more, plus four to six V-22s with a tanker package,” Davis said.