US Marines with Battalion Landing Team 2/5, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, practice a raid off the coast of Claveria, Philippines, on Oct. 3, 2022. The training was a part of KAMANDAG, an annual exercise by the US military and the armed forces of the Philioppines. US Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Danny Gonzalez.
It’s not always the sexiest part about fighting wars, but without staffs no modern military can win battles.
Staffers draft war plans, analyze operational options, gather information, and then relay and supervise how that’s all executed. Who makes sure logistics are delivered, intelligence deciphered, troops trained, and operators are shooting, moving, and communicating during operations?
Staffers. And facing a rising China and an increasingly bellicose Russia from the Pacific to the Indian oceans, the chief of Naval Operations and the Marine Corps commandant ordered their services to start getting serious with how staffers could work flawlessly together during an amphibious operation.
So the Navy and USMC had a baby. It’s mostly growing up on Okinawa’s White Beach and Camp Courtney, and commanders have named it Task Force 76/3, a naval staff that unites the 7th Fleet’s TF 76 and the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Brigade. And its ongoing 18-month experiment — called Noble Fusion 22.2 — is playing out right now during KAMANDAG, the annual joint exercises involving the armed forces of the US and the Philippines.
“This isn't just lip service or a paper reorganization,” TF 76/3 commander Rear Adm. Derek Trinque recently told reporters. “We’re actually merging our staffs together. We have sailors and Marines working together, and some of them are moving around offices to different parts of Okinawa. But this is going to make our Navy or Marine Corps team more capable and more ready.”
US Marines with Battalion Landing Team 2/5, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, return to the amphibious transport dock New Orleans after practicing a raid off the coast of Claveria, Philippines, Oct. 3, 2022, during KAMANDAG, an exercise involving forces from the Philippines and US. US Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Danny Gonzalez.
The first thing an old salt will notice is that L-codes have replaced the G-codes and N-codes for Marine Corps and Navy departments, except for administrative offices.
There’s a G-1 for the Marines and N-1 for the sailors, but operations will now fall under L-3.
But Marine Brig. Gen. Fridrik Fridriksson, TF 76/3’s deputy commander, said it goes deeper than that. He pointed to what planners call the Integrated Littoral Warfare Center, a mobile headquarters that will offer command and control and communications help to a landing force.
“So we can position things correctly,” Fridriksson told reporters. “We can position things smartly. And, also, we can very quickly integrate from the ships to the shore and back again, monitor aircraft, all those types of things.”
It’s not the first time the Navy and Marine Corps have tried this. In European Command, the services established TF 61/2, a merger of staffs from the 6th Fleet and 2nd Marine Division. EUCOM tailored it to European waters, so the conjoined staff beefed up counter-reconnaissance capabilities and designed operations for small, nimble Marine and Navy units to exploit gaps in an enemy’s defenses.
US Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Trent Mason, a rifleman with Battalion Landing Team 2/5, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, guides a Joint Light Tactical Vehicle on the flight deck of the amphibious warship New Orleans at the Port of Subic Bay, Philippines, Sept. 28, 2022. US Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Yvonne Iwae.
They found that the services could even switch traditional roles, with Marines not only tracking and targeting warships in the Eastern Mediterranean but hunting submarines.
To Trinque and Fridriksson, the vast Indian and Pacific oceans offer even more chances to experiment.
The Marine pointed to the F-35 Lightning II stealth fighter used by both services and the Navy’s littoral combat ships as useful pieces on a big chessboard.
“The exercises are where we can put a lot of forethought into this and plan it out. The operations are the real world,” added Trinque. “And certainly, if a real world operation happens, we are not going to just come apart and go at things separately. We are together. We're going to stay together throughout this campaign. And in the end, we're going to have a more integrated naval force.”
Carl Prine is a former senior editor at Coffee or Die Magazine. He has worked at Navy Times, The San Diego Union-Tribune, and Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He served in the Marine Corps and the Pennsylvania Army National Guard. His awards include the Joseph Galloway Award for Distinguished Reporting on the military, a first prize from Investigative Reporters & Editors, and the Combat Infantryman Badge.
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