Twentynine Palms -- From the moment Marines with Marine Air Group 31 arrived at the Combat Center on Oct. 10, 2017, they took command as the Aviation Combat Element for Integrated Training Exercise 1-18. Throughout the 29-day training evolution, the ACE will come together with the remaining three elements of the MAGTF to participate in an intense training cycle, which involves a series of progressive, live-fire exercises that assess the ability and adaptability of a force comprised of active-duty or Reserve Fleet Marine Force personnel.
Typically, the ACE provides support from both fixed and rotary wing squadrons with a variety of aircraft. But during this iteration of the exercise, aviation support came from F/A-18 Hornets with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 115 and the Army’s 70th Brigade Engineer Battalion’s RQ-7B Shadows. The ACE’s role within the Marine Air Ground Task Force is to conduct offensive and defensive air operations. The aviation element provides the MAGTF with the ability to accomplish the mission by delivering fire, enhancing mobility and maneuver and providing surveillance.
“The purpose of the ITX is for Marines to do what we do best, which is work together with the combined arms MAGTF,” said Maj. Daniel Johnson, operations officer, Marine Air Group 31 ACE.
In order to support the ground forces during the training evolution, the ACE conducts close and deep air support to assist in neutralizing the notional target. While they are similar in mission, close air support and deep air support operations meet the objective in different ways. Close air support requires a tight integration with the ground force and open lines of communication between the ground controller and the aircraft. This assists in gathering intelligence and keeping troops out of harm’s way in the event that they are in close proximity to the target.
Deep air support does not require close coordination with the ground element unless a desired target needs to be attacked far into the battlefield.
“In order for us to accomplish this training during ITX 1-18, Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 115 coordinated for aggressors,” Johnson said. “The planning consisted of which targets to simulate an attack on. Tactical Training Exercise Control Group provided information to the MAGTF and the ACE HQ on what the layout of the attack looked like which aids us in being mission successful.”
Another component of the aviation element is surveillance. 70th BEB, which is based out of Fort Wainwright, Alaska, arrived at the Combat Center with an RQ7B Shadow, equipped with a camera programmed with electro-optical and infrared surveillance capabilities. Upon their arrival, the ACE was able to provide training on the equipment to the soldiers, which expanded their capabilities. Throughout the exercise, 70th BEB was able to support ITX with the RQ7B Shadow’s laser capabilities to help locate and destroy the priority target, as well as guide troops to the location.
During a large-scale ITX, the ACE will often be comprised of both fixed wing and rotary wing units. This training exercise, however, was supported only by a fixed wing squadron, Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 115, which is based out of Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort , S.C., In order to meet the training requirements and the needs of the troops California Air National Guard supported the ACE with UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters to provide airlift to 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, based out of Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif., to complete an airborne assault an objective.
“The fighters are doing a great job manipulating their schedule to meet the required time slots assigned,” said Lt. Col. Roy J. Nicka, site commander, MAG-31, ACE. “Even though we only have a fighter squadron, they have been able to stay on schedule and conduct operations which would typically be covered by a rotary wing.”
ITX 1-18 is held aboard the installation to allow Marines stationed nationally or abroad the opportunity to integrate with other units and operate as a full MAGTF. The Combat Center allows units to perform combined-arms training exercises in order to uphold the nation’s elite fighting force.