Desert Talon

Marines planning to invade Yuma again in exercise

Strategy Page points out (Jan 9th post) that the Marines are sending their aviators to Yuma, AZ, to participate in an exercise designed to help them operate in Iraq.

Operation Desert Talon will claw its way into Yuma beginning Sunday.

That’s when 2,300 Marines from Marine Corps aviation units from across the United States and about 50 military aircraft will begin a highly specialized training exercise dedicated solely to teaching Marine aviators how to survive in Iraq’s Sunni triangle.

The training session — which lasts until Jan. 24 — will see military helicopters repeatedly landing at two parks in Yuma over a four-day period beginning Jan. 21.

The landings will simulate the rescue of ambushed convoys and the evacuation of casualties.

The Marine Corps is set to take over U.S. Army duties in the Sunni Triangle area of Iraq this spring, said officials from Marine Corps Air Station Yuma during a city council briefing Tuesday.

Strategy Page writes

The Sunni triangle, particularly around Fallujah, has been a hotbed of antiaircraft activity. On January 8, all four crew members and four passengers aboard a UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter were killed when it made an emergency landing near Fallujah. A local witness saw the second of two helicopters, both with the distinctive red crosses of medical evacuation craft, hit by something fired from the ground.

Helicopters are extremely vulnerable to ground fire, not only anti-aircraft missiles but also RPGs and simple gunfire. The Marines have been rethinking their helicopter tactics since last spring’s invasion of Iraq saw a lot of helicopters shot up pretty badly.

Strategy Page also notes (Jan 9 post)

So far, 15 percent of all U.S. military deaths were the victims of shot down helicopters. Because the pilots of helicopters are officers, some 25 percent of all officer deaths in Iraq have occurred in helicopters (versus only eight percent of enlisted troops.) Two of the pilots killed in downed helicopters have been female and half the women soldiers killed in Iraq were passengers or crew in downed helicopters.

Although helicopters are a relatively easy target for insurgents, they are also one of our biggest advantages over them. The speed, mobility, and unique vantage point that rotor-wing aircraft provide, and the awesome firepower that can be brought to bear quickly, ensure that choppers will remain a fixture in Iraq operations despite the risk.

On a related note, I’m expecting the Marines to be more successful in the ‘Sunni Triangle’ than the Army has been. First of all, they’re going to be rested and have the combat experience gained during the invasion to build on. Secondly, the Army units have done quite well and, despite a success from time to time, the insurgents in the area are mostly on the defensive. But, most of all, I think that the organization and mentality of the United States Marine Corps is superior to that of the Army, especially for this sort of operation and environment.

The Marines are designed around an expeditionary mind-set. They are somewhat lighter and the “Every Marine a Rifleman” attitude and training are going to pay off big-time over the summer. Although still a government operation, the USMC logistics and support bureaucracy is nothing compared to the morass of the US Army’s system.

When talk of expanding the military to alleviate the over-stretched service today heats up, I’d suggest first looking at the Marines and the US Army Rangers. They are sort of a “step up” warrior, and what we need to prosecute this war most effectively.