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Dawn Blitz 2017 Sets Standard for Amphibious Capabilities

By Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Jason Graham, Expeditionary Strike Group 3

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MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif., Oct. 31, 2017 — Dawn Blitz, an exercise designed to train and integrate Navy and Marine Corps units in planning for and establishing expeditionary advanced bases, executing an amphibious assault, engaging in live-fire events and integrating fifth-generation aviation capabilities in a land and maritime threat environment to test new integration and concepts of operation concluded here yesterday.

Marines disembark from an air-cushioned landing craft to begin the Red Beach tactical maneuvering.
Marines disembark from an air-cushioned landing craft to begin the Red Beach tactical maneuvering portion of the bilateral exercise Dawn Blitz, Oct. 27, 2017. Navy photo by Seaman Apprentice Jailene Casso
Marines disembark from an air-cushioned landing craft to begin the Red Beach tactical maneuvering. Dawn Blitz 2017
Marines disembark from an air-cushioned landing craft to begin the Red Beach tactical maneuvering portion of the bilateral exercise Dawn Blitz, Oct. 27, 2017. Navy photo by Seaman Apprentice Jailene Casso

This year's exercise culminated a year's worth of effort by the 1st Marine Expeditionary Brigade and Expeditionary Strike Group 3 staffs. In addition to the 1st MEB and ESG 3, participants included U.S. 3rd Fleet, the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit, Destroyer Squadron 21, the amphibious assault ship USS Essex, the amphibious transport dock USS Anchorage, the dock landing ship USS Rushmore, the guided missile destroyer USS Wayne E. Meyer and Coastal Riverine Group 1. With supporting elements, seven ships and 33 aircraft made the exercise possible, officials said.

A key focus was integration between the Navy and Marine Corps to establish a powerful maritime force capable of meeting modern threats, exercise officials said, adding that the team examined the composite warfare construct and other command-and-control arrangements to promote unity of effort in littoral warfare.

Power Projection on Tomorrow's Battlefield

"The amphibious force integration we've seen here at Dawn Blitz and the experimentation and innovation that's been conducted, further informs how we might establish sea control and power projection on tomorrow's battlefield," said Marine Corps Col. Chandler Nelms, the Dawn Blitz amphibious force's deputy commander, land warfare commander and also commanding officer of 13th MEU.

In this year's scenario, Dawn Blitz began when the United Nations issued a Security Council resolution prompting the United States to deploy at the request of a partner nation alongside other coalition members to restore the internationally recognized borders of a fictional country. The scenario's sequence of events was designed to provide realistic, relevant training to integrate forces in new ways, critical to maritime power projection, officials said.

As the exercise progressed, units demonstrated the ability to establish expeditionary advanced bases here and on San Clemente Island through tactical insertion of ground forces. The scalable EABs provided warfare commanders alternative options that enabled maneuver capabilities in the littoral environment, officials explained.

Marines and sailors established two EAB forward arming and refueling points, or FARPs. In one scenario, the FARP serviced both Navy and Marine Corps aircraft. In the other, the FARP provided the commanders with a secure location to service aircraft supporting operations in the deep fight.

Navy Expeditionary Combat Command Pacific forces from the Coastal Riverine Force, Seabees and explosive ordnance disposal participated on San Clemente Island to augment EAB operations as an adaptive-force package. The NECC forces conducted events in support of live airfield damage repair, expeditionary mine countermeasures and the amphibious assault landing.

High Mobility Artillery Rocket System

For the first time, the blue-green team validated that they could launch a High Mobility Artillery Rocket System from a Navy ship and hit a target 70 kilometers -- about 43 and a half miles -- away. Exercise officials said the proof of concept with the HIMARS as a sea-based fires alternative afloat provides warfare commanders greater flexibility when conducting precision strikes.

To further capitalize on the HIMARS capabilities, Marines and sailors transported the weapons system to an EAB in a hypothetical island chain. There, the HIMARS could be used in a sea-denial role in support of naval shipping transiting a narrow strait.

The simulated strait transit allowed the strike group to practice using integrated force-protection measures and maneuvering together though restricted waters where ships can be vulnerable.

Throughout Dawn Blitz, the F-35B Lightning II joint strike fighter supported operations across four of the six functions of Marine aviation: electronic warfare, aerial reconnaissance, anti-air warfare, and offensive air support. The F-35B was the force's deep strike capability, and, for the first time, it successfully integrated with the sea-based HIMARS during the combined-arms strike.

Navy Medicine also achieved milestones by establishing Role 2 surgical capabilities across the amphibious force. Historically, only the largest ship in an amphibious ready group has an embarked fleet surgical team, making it the only ship with surgical capability.

Rising Demand

"The demand signal for mobile Role 2 care has risen over the past decade, both from the missions that are requested of the deploying [amphibious ready group], and also by the nature of ARG deployments, which are increasingly disaggregated in which the ships operate far from each other and therefore can't rely on the [landing helicopter dock] for surgical support," Navy Cmdr. Robert Staten, officer in charge of Fleet Surgical Team 9, explained.

The addition of Role 2 coverage on each of the two smaller ships provided an innovative capability along with the opportunity to experiment bringing that echelon of care ashore following an amphibious assault, he added.

The culminating training event of Dawn Blitz occurred Oct. 27, when U.S. Navy's Assault Craft Unit 5, Beach Master Unit 1, U.S. Marine Corps' 1st Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, and Japan Ground Self-Defense Force infantry soldiers led an assault on Camp Pendleton's Red Beach. Eighteen amphibious assault vehicles and six air-cushioned landing craft landed on the beach for additional training ashore, and to establish the final EAB.

"Our sailors and embarked Marines displayed exceptional professionalism and warfighting readiness in the execution of the amphibious assault," said Navy Capt. Patrick Foege, commander of Amphibious Squadron 1. "The ARG/MEU performed as a cohesive, single entity, demonstrating the inherent mobility and operational flexibility that this integrated naval force brings to the combatant commanders."


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