CAMP PENDLETON, CA – “Marines are first and foremost a naval force,” said Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James F. Amos, speaking at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C., Nov. 8. “The Marine Corps fills a unique lane in the joint fight, one that leverages the sea as a primary conduit for global power projection.”
After 11 years of landlocked warfare, the Marine Corps and its SOCOM component are gearing up for a return to the sea. Marines with the 1st Marine Special Operations Battalion, U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Special Operations Command demonstrated this recently by conducting Visit, Board, Search and Seizure training off the shore of Camp Pendleton, Calif. Dec. 4 to 11.
“[VBSS] provides us a way to insert and extract our forces during amphibious operations,” said a 1st MSOB Marine involved with the training. “With today’s changing battlefield, it’s an increasingly important capability.”
During their VBSS exercise, 1st MSOB’s Marines harnessed the technical skill of the Army’s elite 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne). SOAR pilots hovered over a mock cargo ship as Marines fast-roped onto the deck, and flew just feet over the open ocean as Marines leapt into the water and climbed ladders back into the aircraft.
“It was extremely beneficial to train with the one-hundred sixtieth,” said the 1st MSOB Marine. “Each of our communities are very small, so it’s good to establish those relationships. The guys we work with here are the same guys we see in theater,” he said.
During the seven day evolution, the Marines trained in fast roping, shooting drills and hoist and ladder operations. The training culminated with day and night runs of two exercises – one a ship takedown, the other insertion and extraction drills over the open ocean.
“MARSOC Marines are capable of operating in any environment,” said the 1st MSOB Marine. “But in order to do that effectively, you have to train,” he said.
Although some aspects of VBSS are conducted solely by special operations and reconnaissance forces, such as the helocasting drills practiced by 1st MSOB, the basic elements are used by conventional Naval and Coast Guard forces.
In 2009, a coalition of allied navies formed Combined Task Force 151 to combat piracy in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean. The task force regularly uses VBSS to search vessels, conduct inspections and disrupt drug and arms trafficking.
According to the International Maritime Bureau, incidents of piracy have decreased as of 2012, arguably as a result of a heightened coalition presence and more preventive measures by merchant shipping.
“But the threat [of piracy] isn’t going away anytime soon,” said the 1st MSOB Marine. “That’s why it’s critical to sustain our amphibious capabilities.”
In his speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Amos also cautioned against neglecting amphibious preparedness.
“The world is not necessarily a nice place, and there is no indication that the next two decades are going to be a whole lot nicer,” he said. “The Marine Corps is purpose-built for exactly the kind of world we’re living in today.”