US Marine Corps Capt. Christian Link, a forward air controller/air officer, and Sgt. Zachary Verrier, a transmissions systems operator assigned to 5th Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company, III Marine Expeditionary Force Information Group, use an Android Tactical Assault Kit to coordinate targeting processes during exercise Katana Strike on Kumejima, Okinawa, Japan, Oct. 26, 2022. US Marine Corps photo by Staff Sgt. Manuel Serrano.
US commanders evaluating the latest test of their Noble Fusion experiment came away pleased with how the Marine Corps, Navy, and Air Force shot, moved, and communicated during war games on Okinawa.
Noble Fusion is an ongoing 18-month merger of staffs from 7th Fleet’s Task Force 76 and the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Brigade into TF 76/3. Top Navy and Marine leaders want to see if it can better draft war plans, analyze operational options, gather information, and then oversee how a battle plan is executed.
And it’s all playing out against a backdrop of Pacific Rim tensions hiked by Russia’s armed expansionism and a rising Chinese military that threatens the balance of power from the Indian Ocean past the Sea of Japan.
TF 76/3’s latest test came during Exercise Katana Strike on Okinawa, maneuvers that tested how the services jointly integrated fires — the direct and indirect use of artillery and missiles to hit the enemy. The commander of TF 76/3 declared it a success.
"It was incredible not to just see the integration capabilities of all the units that participated, but see that integration come to fruition through simulated fire events as a joint force," said Rear Adm. Derek Trinque. "This exercise demonstrates the absolute need for all branches of the Department of Defense to continue to conduct regular and routine joint operations, so we can truly integrate to have the best away team possible."
An ADARO unmanned system interacts with the Independence-variant littoral combat ship Oakland on April 22, 2021, off San Diego, California. US Navy photo by Lt. Nicholas Ransom.
To win the war in the littorals, the Navy’s Destroyer Squadron 7 brought out a warship built for it, the Independence-class littoral combat ship Oakland.
With its distinctive trimaran hull, high speed, and low draft, the nimble Oakland thrives in shallow waters, where it can shoot and scoot.
For Katana Strike, a P-8 Poseidon maritime reconnaissance jet from the “Foxes” of Patrol Squadron 5 found the target and communicated its coordinates to Marines at the Integrated Littoral Warfare Center inside Camp Courtney, and they in turn conveyed a strike profile to Oakland.
The LCS unleashed a simulated blast with a long-range, highly precise Naval Strike Missile.
"We were able to maintain a safe distance from the target and successfully receive targeting data from another unit to conduct a strike with our own missiles," said Lt. Cmdr. Solomon Lu, Oakland's operation officer, in his statement. "While a little unsettling to me at first to not even have the desired target on our own sensors, it was incredible to see how all the units and systems were able to inter-operate to conduct the strike."
The Independence-variant littoral combat ship Gabrielle Giffords launches a Naval Strike Missile on Sept. 30, 2019, during exercise Pacific Griffin in the Philippine Sea. The Naval Strike Missile is a long-range, precision strike weapon that is designed to find and destroy enemy ships. US Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Shannon Renfroe.
“For units to receive targeting information at a greater distance from the enemy enables us to engage targets from over the horizon, mitigating risk to our forces while increasing their lethality,” added Marine Lt. Col. Charles Jordan, TF 76/3’s air officer and the lead planner for Katana Strike.
While the LCS crew was reaching over the horizon to kill the enemy, sorties from I Marine Aircraft Wing, the US Air Force’s 18th Wing, and the Japan Air Self-Defense Force ran their own combat exercise.
To make sure everyone kept talking to each other, they called on ANGLICO, the Marines’ 5th Air-Naval Gunfire Liaison Company.
US Air Force Airman 1st Class Antonio Caraballo, a maintenance unit crew chief with the "Fighting Cocks" of the 67th Fighter Squadron, performs startup procedures during the Katana Strike exercise at Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, Japan, Oct. 26, 2022. US Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Reine Whitaker.
ANGLICO is undergoing sweeping changes. Instead of just putting bombs, missiles, and shells on target, the Marines lead the fight against what military planners call “The Little Green Men” phenomenon.
They're irregular fighters, often disguised, like the Russian soldiers who popped up in Crimea in early 2014, blockading airports, military bases, and government centers as part of a wider invasion force.
ANGLICO is expected to combat these fighters not only with coordinating fires but also with information and electronic warfare.
ANGLICO is supposed to help US forces and allies take down cyberattack units, troll farms, and propaganda mills.
"Little Green Men," armed irregular forces in military fatigues, use a truck to block the road to the Ukrainian military airport of Belbek, near Sevastopol, on March 2, 2014. Ukraine's border guard service reported about 300 armed men were attempting to seize its main headquarters in the Crimean port city of Sevastopol under orders from Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu. Photo by Vasily Batanov/AFP via Getty Images.
In the wide swaths of the Indo-Pacific region, ANGLICO also is tasked with coordinating command, control, communications, computers, cyberwarfare, intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, and targeting, often using high frequency and satellite communications to reach small, isolated teams on austere islands.
And they know that Russian or Chinese forces will try to jam or degrade those capabilities, which means a nimble ANGLICO will have to be smarter than its enemies, figuring out quickly who’s a foe, and how to kill him.
“Recently, 5th ANGLICO restructured to all-domain effects teams and as a result, we are now more capable creating effects in all domains and using our communications to bring in greater firepower at division levels and higher," said US Marine Corps Maj. Robin Yi, 5th ANGLICO’s air officer, in a prepared statement emailed to Coffee or Die Magazine. "Exercise Katana Strike brings in different components of joint and allied forces through various communication forms, in an effort to consolidate data within a single information node for decision making in order to validate kill chains and kill webs."
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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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