MARINE EXPEDITIONARY FORCE (MEF)
The MEF is our Corps’ principal warfighting organization during larger crises or contingencies. Normally commanded by a lieutenant general, the MEF can range in size from 20,000 to 90,000 Marines and Sailors; tailorable from one division and aircraft wing to multiple divisions and aircraft wings, together with one or more logistics groups. MEFs are capable of amphibious operations and sustained operations ashore in any geographic environment. With appropriate augmentation, the MEF CE is capable of performing as a Joint Task Force (JTF) headquarters. MEFs often deploy in echelon and designate the lead element as the MEF (Forward).
MEFs are the primary “standing MAGTFs” in peacetime and wartime. Our Corps is organized with three standing MEFs, each with a Marine division, aircraft wing, and logistics group. The I Marine Expeditionary Force (I MEF) is located at bases in California and Arizona. The II Marine Expeditionary Force (II MEF) is located at bases in North Carolina and South Carolina. Lastly, the III Marine Expeditionary Force (III MEF) is located at bases in Okinawa, main land Japan, and Hawaii. Additionally, we are also employing rotational forces in Norway and Australia.
MARINE EXPEDITIONARY BRIGADE (MEB)
The MEB, normally commanded by a brigadier general, is a scalable MAGTF with a force of up to 20,000 Marines and Sailors. The scalable MEB is capable of full spectrum operations, and self-sustainment for 30 days. The standing MEB CEs are the 1st MEB, which is embedded in the I MEF staff, while 2d and 3d MEBs are stand-alone organizations. The standing MEB CEs do not have permanently assigned forces, instead they maintain habitual relationships with associated major subordinate elements through planning and exercises.
When mobilized, a MEB is comprised of a CE, GCE, ACE, and LCE. These elements are comprised of a reinforced infantry regiment, a composite Marine Aircraft Group, and a task-organized Combat Logistics Regiment.
Notional laydown of a Marine Expeditionary Brigade (MEB)
MEBs provide CCDRs with a scalable warfighting capability across the ROMO and can conduct amphibious assaults and operations ashore in any geographic environment. As an expeditionary force, a MEB is capable of rapid deployment and employment via amphibious shipping, strategic air and sealift, geographic or MPF assets, or any combination of these. A MEB can operate independently, serve as the forward echelon of a MEF, or act as a JTF headquarters with augmentation. The Deputy Commandant (DC) for Concept Development & Integration (DC, CD&I) is conducting a detailed assessment of future MEB structure requirements. The assessment’s results will provide a guide for the future size, composition, and capabilities of this type of MAGTF.
MARINE EXPEDITIONARY UNIT (MEU)
A MEU is organized as a MAGTF with approximately 2,600 Marines and Sailors and consists of a command element (CE), a reinforced infantry battalion, a reinforced composite aviation squadron, and a task organizedLCE (combat logistics battalion). The forward-deployed MEU is uniquely organized, trained, and equipped to provide the GCC with an expeditionary force in readiness, capable of executing the rapid response planning process (R2P2) and mission commencement on a six-hour timeline. Typically, MEUs are deployed with up to 15 days of organic supplies, operating in support of one or more GCCs across the range of military operations, either independently, as part of a larger amphibious force, or as the lead element of a follow-on MAGTF, joint, or combined force. Its expeditionary warfare capabilities make it extremely useful for limited contingency operations involving amphibious assaults or amphibious raids; for AF support to crisis response and other operations such as NEO, FHA, embassy reinforcement, and visit, board, search, and seizure (VBSS); and for acting as part of an amphibious advance force.
Notional laydown of a Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU)
A colonel commands the MEU and its composition is informed by Marine Corps order 3120.9C, Policy for MEUs. Prior to deployment, a MEU undergoes an intensive six-month training program, focusing on its Mission-Essential Task List (METL) and interoperability with Joint and Special Operations Forces. The training culminates with a thorough evaluation and certification, receiving “Operationally Ready to Deploy” certification by the service component commander. The organic capabilities of the MEU are as follows:
- amphibious operations
- small boat raid (specific to the 31st MEU)
- maritime interception operations and visit, board, search and seizure (MIO,VBSS)
- advance force operations
- expeditionary support to other operations/crisis response and limited-contingency operations
- non-combatant evacuation operations
- humanitarian assistance
- stability operations
- tactical recovery of aircraft and personnel
- joint and combined operations
- aviation operations from expeditionary sites
- theater security cooperation (TSC) activities
- airfield and port seizures
- TSC operations to build the capacity of partner nations and increase interoperability
- operations in the information environment
The MEF commander exercises command of the MEU prior to deployment. The Geographic Combatant Command (GCC) delineates MEU command relationships once embarked. The MEU’s assignments are normally operational control (OPCON) to the naval service component. However, during crisis response and contingency operations GCCs may shift OPCON of the MEU as articulated in Joint Publication (JP) 3-02,
“While the full range of command relationship options as outlined in JP 1, Doctrine for the Armed
Forces of the United States, are available, in amphibious operations, service component commanders normally retain OPCON of their respective forces. If the Joint Force Commander organizes along functional lines, functional component commanders will normally exercise OPCON over their parent Services’ forces and tactical control (TACON) over other Services’ forces attached or made available for tasking.”
Aggregated. The most common form where an amphibious ready group with embarked Marine expeditionary unit (ARG/MEU) is allocated to a single geographic combatant commander (GCC), which retains OPCON and TACON of the ARG/MEU. ‘Split’ is a subset of aggregated, where the ARG/MEU remains employed within a single GCC’s AOR, but the units are separated by time, distance, or task while operating beyond the reach of tilt-rotor aircraft or landing craft. The ARG/MEU remains in the same operational control (OPCON) tactical control (TACON) relationship under the GCC when split. Aggregated is the preferred employment construct.
Disaggregated. This construct is driven by emergent requirements wherein the ARG/MEU is divided into parts to support multiple GCCs. The ARG/MEU units/elements operate within the distinct OPCON/TACON chain of the respective GCCs. Disaggregation comes with a corresponding degradation of ARG/MEU operational readiness, training, and maintenance. This is the least preferred employment construct.
Distributed. The ARG/MEU is partitioned for emergent requirements for multiple GCCs; however, the original GCC to whom it was allocated retains OPCON while another GCC exercises TACON over units/ elements that are distributed for a specific mission or duration. The ARG/MEU is able to sustain its elements, facilitate planning, and conduct military engagement and joint/combined training across area of responsibility boundaries, and is supported throughout operations. ARG/MEU communication and computers systems are critical for supporting distributed operations. The GCC that has OPCON may request re-aggregation at any time, and the ARG/MEU commanders cannot make changes to capabilities allocated OPCON or TACON without approval. Distributed is the preferred employment construct to support multiple GCCs.
SPECIAL PURPOSE MAGTF (SPMAGTF)
When situations arise for which a MEU or other unit is either inappropriate or unavailable, a SPMAGTF is formed. A SPMAGTF may be of any size, but normally no larger than a MEU, with tailored capabilities required for accomplishing a particular mission. It may be task-organized from non-deployed Marine Corps forces or formed on a contingency basis from a portion of a deployed MAGTF. Regimental-level headquarters often assume the role as a SPMAGTF command element and may conduct training in anticipated mission skills prior to establishment. A SPMAGTF may deploy using amphibious warfare ships, commercial ships or aircraft, inter-theater airlift, or organic Marine aviation. Frequently, SPMAGTFs conduct sea and land-based security cooperation activities, while others have been formed to provide sea-based FHA or military support to civil authorities or to participate in freedom of navigation operations. It may embark, for example, on an amphibious warfare ship, such as an LPD or LSD.
A SPMAGTF is task organized to accomplish a specific mission, operation, or regionally focused exercise. They can be organized, trained, and equipped with Marine forces to conduct a wide variety of expeditionary operations ranging from peacetime missions, training exercises, and responses to contingencies and crises. SPMAGTFs can support theater campaign plans, security cooperation activities, and civil-military operations requirements.
The Nation’s MAGTFs thus provide a continuum of capabilities to support naval, CCDR, and national requirements. These MAGTFs, joined by special-purpose forces and unique Marine forces, enable the Corps to address the full range of conventional, unconventional, and irregular/hybrid threats as well as other tasking as the President might require.
U.S. Marines and Navy corpsmen with Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force-Crisis Response-Africa make their way to an MV-22B for a training flight from Naval Air Station Sigonella, Italy, on Oct. 17, 2017. SPMAGTF-CR-AF deployed to conduct limited crisis-response and theater-security operation in Europe and North Africa. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Staff Sgt. Rebekka S. Heite)
SIGONELLA, ITALY10.17.2017Photo by Staff Sgt. Rebekka Heite U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Europe and Africa