ABOARD USS IWO JIMA --
The 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit’s (MEU) 2021 deployment cycle brings with it a capability not yet employed by an East Coast MEU. In addition to the more traditional assets allocated to the MEU as it composited ground, logistics, and aviation combat elements in September 2020, the crisis response force was also assigned a High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) detachment.
The 24th MEU is exploring a different approach towards employing HIMARS as a theater-level expeditionary asset—keeping the asset forward in the task force’s area of operations as opposed to embarked on naval vessels.
“MEUs operate globally, year around as the Nation’s Force-in-Readiness,” said U.S. Marine Corps Col. Eric D. Cloutier, commanding officer, 24th MEU. “As we lean into the future fight, expanding our reach and flexibility by utilizing platforms like HIMARS gives us the ability to facilitate maneuver and freedom-of-movement for friendly forces, and our Allies and partners, while denying our adversaries the ability to do the same.”
HIMARS is designed as an affordable and adaptable theater force protection asset. The system has been in service with the Department of Defense since 2005 and was fielded by the U.S. Marine Corps in 2008 in support of operations Enduring Freedom (OEF) and Iraqi Freedom (OIF).
As the Corps looks to the future and refocuses on its naval roots, commanders are exploring the numerous options for employing the vehicle-mounted precision rocket system in more dynamic operations in the maritime and littoral environment. Embarking HIMARS platoons aboard Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) ships and deploying them via surface connectors, such as landing craft utility (LCU) vessels, is a concept of employment that West Coast MEUs have rehearsed, and developed to a high level of proficiency.
Maintaining a forward deployed land-based element of HIMARS that is attached to the MEU allows it to capitalize on strategic lift capabilities provided by USMC and Joint platforms in support of ARG / MEU missions. A HIMARS platoon, with strategic lift, can quickly infiltrate contested environments, prosecute targets, and depart before adversaries are able to detect or engage them. This technique is known as HIMARS Rapid Infiltration (HIRAIN). The 24th MEU conducted HIRAIN in both live-fire and rehearsal events since early 2021 during pre-deployment training. Since deploying, the 24th MEU has engaged in multiple opportunities for sustainment through rehearsals with Joint units in theater, like the 352d Special Operations Wing, based in the United Kingdom.
The Iwo Jima ARG consists of the amphibious assault ship USS Iwo Jima (LHD 7), transport dock ship USS San Antonio (LPD 17), and dock landing ship USS Carter Hall (LSD 50). Embarked detachments for the Iwo Jima ARG include Amphibious Squadron Four, Fleet Surgical Team (FST) Six, Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 26, Tactical Air Control Squadron (TACRON) 21, Naval Beach Group (NBG) Two, Beach Master Unit (BMU) Two, Assault Craft Unit (ACU) Two and Four, and Sailors from Amphibious Construction Battalion (ACB) Two.
The 24th MEU consists of a ground combat element, Battalion Landing Team (BLT) 1/8, a logistics combat element, Combat Logistics Battalion (CLB) 24, and an aviation combat element, Medium Tilt-Rotor Squadron (VMM) 162 Reinforced. The unit is a self-sustained amphibious fighting force comprised of a command element, ground combat element, aviation combat element, and logistics combat element. Embarked with the Iwo Jima Amphibious Ready Group, this Marine air-ground task force is forward deployed in the U.S. Sixth Fleet area of operations in support of U.S. national security interests in Europe and Africa.
Iwo Jima ARG-MEU team is manned, trained and equipped to fulfill amphibious requirements in support of maritime security and stability. Amphibious ready groups and larger amphibious task forces provide military commanders a wide range of flexible capabilities including maritime security operations, expeditionary power projection, strike operations, forward naval presence, crisis response, sea control, deterrence, counter-terrorism, information operations, security cooperation and counter proliferation, and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.
U.S. Sixth Fleet, headquartered in Naples, Italy, conducts the full spectrum of joint and naval operations, often in concert with allied and interagency partners, in order to advance U.S. national interests and security and stability in Europe and Africa.
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