The Navy and Marine Corps will launch exercise Bold Alligator 2014 on Saturday, focusing not only on conventional amphibious operations, but cutting-edge concepts including the use of a drone submarine and the deployment of Special Operations troops from one of the Pentagon’s newest kinds of ships.
The USNS Choctaw County is a joint high-speed vessel, and will be operated off the coast of North Carolina and Virginia by civilian mariners with the Navy’s Military Sealift Command. The 338-foot ship is one of the Pentagon’s new catamarans, designed for the rapid movement of troops and equipment at speeds of up to 50 mph. It has room to land helicopters and a ramp so troops can quickly unload equipment.
One team from 1st Marine Special Operations Battalion, of Camp Pendleton, Calif., will be involved in the exercise, and will use it for several kinds of maritime missions, including one using the joint high-speed vessel, said Capt. Barris Morris, a spokesman for Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command (MARSOC). The MARSOC team will focus on operating with conventional forces while directed by Special Operations commanders, he said.
Conventional Marines and Dutch troops also will use the Choctaw County as part of the exercise, said Lt. Gen. Robert Neller, the commander of U.S. Marine Corps Forces Command in Norfolk, Va. Other high-speed vessels have been used in other exercises this year, and while they are not built for Marines and sailors to live on them full-time, the military is examining ways to incorporate them into its work.
“We’re going to go out there and try this alternate platform, and that’s where I think we’re going to go,” Neller said. “There’s a lot of things we can do off a high-speed vessel.”
U.S. military officials would not say what kind of drone submarine will be involved. The Navy has experimented with several kinds of drone submarines in recent years, including some that assist in Special Operations.
Special Operations troops are examining how to use other new ships, too. In July, for example, Navy SEALs and members of Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command worked from the Navy’s new littoral combat ship, the USS Independence, in the 2014 Rim of the Pacific exercise off the coast of Hawaii. Navy and Marine Corps officials said they are also looking for ways to use the new Mobile Landing Platform ship class, which features an unusual design with a ramp that will allow larger ships to transfer vehicles to the MLP directly.
Bold Alligator is much broader than just Special Operations and drones, however. The exercise will include about 8,000 U.S. and international troops, led by the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit of Camp Lejeune, N.C. Nineteen other countries will participate, and 19 ships will be involved, U.S. military officials said.
The exercise was first held in 2011 as a simulation, as the Marine Corps and Navy sought to reestablish amphibious operations after more than a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan. It was expanded in 2012 to include thousands of U.S. and international troops off the coast of Virginia and North Carolina, with many of them participating in a landing on a beach at Camp Lejeune.
This year, Bold Alligator will pivot to focus on crisis-response operations. Neller said there won’t be a single large amphibious landing, and the troops involved do not yet know what they will be told to do. That echoes real-world scenarios: The Marine Corps has established several crisis-response units abroad since last spring, one of which was among the first involved in the military’s ongoing participation in the international effort to stop the spread of the Ebola virus in West Africa.