First, two Navy attack helicopters appeared high above the green canyons of Camp San Mateo at Camp Pendleton.
They circled the perimeter of a landing zone to ensure there were no opponents; As soon as the area was cleared, the pilots radioed back to two Ospreys carrying a company of Marines that it was safe for them to come in and land.
Minutes later, the Ospreys of the 3rd Naval Aviation Squadron appeared in formation over the hills, and as they prepared to land, their propellers turned, kicking up huge clouds of dust. Marines poured out and secured the perimeter of the airfield before advancing.
The scene, which played out on Monday December 5th, was the first of several simulated airstrikes that captured an airstrip on a contested island. The scenario is one of many that will be part of the 1st Marine Division’s annual three-week Steel Knight training exercise, held across 60,000 square miles in Southern California and Arizona. The training area replicates actual distances in the western Pacific where the US can access bases.
Ten bases, including the Army’s Fort Hunter Liggett in Jolon, San Clemente Island, Camp Pendleton, Naval Bases in San Diego, 29 Palms and Marine Corps Airstation Yuma, are fictional islands in the western Pacific region. The exercise also includes four ships and the Sea Hunter, an unmanned surface vessel launched by the Navy in 2016.
“We’re training them for a purpose, to be ready to move forward,” said Maj. Gen. Benjamin Watson, our nation’s commanding general, but when deterrence fails, then basically we’re the people who have to be ready to fight an opponent on equal footing and win.”
The exercise will involve 10,000 Soldiers drawn from units from the US Navy’s 1st Division, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, 1st Marine Logistics Group, I Marine Expeditionary Force and Expeditionary Strike Group 3. The exercise is a kind of final exam for an upcoming Australian deployment and tests Marines, Corpsmen, Sailors and Airmen on their competences in their fields and at the same time certifies them for the upcoming deployment.
The exercise lasts until December 15th.
Although Steel Knight debuted more than 30 years ago, it has evolved to meet the needs of the Marines as the nature of conflict evolves. After 20 years of fighting in the deserts of Iraq and Afghanistan, US military leaders are now preparing for conflict in the Indo-Pacific region. Rather than focusing on the Navy bringing Marines ashore, Marines focus on protecting key straits and water areas of the Pacific Ocean. An example in this exercise is creating a fictional island scenario between Camp Pendleton and San Clemente Island as a “key strait”.
Steel Knight has focused in recent years on the Marine Commandant’s 2030 Planning Guide, which envisions future conflicts involving the use of long-range firepower; the use of smaller infantry units that can react quickly, with their own arsenal of surveillance drones and anti-aircraft missiles; and full integration with the Navy.
Many Marines are unfamiliar with being on Navy ships, and this exercise is helping to smooth communications, operations and integration between sister service branches, officials said.
“This exercise has grown exponentially from where it focused on a tank battalion conducting a desert transit to now where we have brought the Navy/Marine Corps team together,” said Navy Capt. Jennifer Ellinger. “This is the best exercise I’ve ever participated in.”
The exercise was also observed by two pilots, Captain Kyle Davinsizer, who flies Ospreys, and Captain Tommy Gavin, a Huey pilot. Both wanted to take off this week and were looking forward to their training.
“They’re pushing us to San Clemente Island,” said Gavin, who has been in the Marines for seven years and has 7,500 flight hours. “Great training out there with the firing ranges (the Navy’s edge). The Navy also provides towed targets for the Navy attack helicopters to practice on. It’s really good training that’s integrated into the Navy there.”
“Something like this is pretty exciting for us,” said Davinsizer, who has been a Marine for more than eight years and has accumulated 1,000 flight hours.
And when they have a moment to look down along the Southern California coast, they said they always enjoy the view.
“If you fly along the beach here in Southern California, you’ll never hear anyone complain,” Davinsizer said. “I saw whales and sharks. It’s great the first time you see her.”
https://www.ocregister.com/2022/12/06/1st-marine-division-holds-final-mission-rehearsal-across-southern-california-before-deployment/ 1st Marine Division holds final mission rehearsal in Southern California before deployment – Orange County Register