3rd MAW trains for modern island hopping campaign

Aircraft and personnel from the US Marine Corps’ (USMC’s) 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (MAW) have participated in an island hopping campaign as part of advanced naval base training, which was conducted during Exercise Summer Fury 21.

During this training event, the 3rd MAW used both land- and sea-based assets positioned across the West Coast of the continental US. The wing used the opportunity to test the components of expeditionary advanced base operations in preparation for potential future maritime conflicts in the Indo-Pacific region.

USMC HMLA-267 AH-1Z UH-1Y over USN sub in Pacific during Ex Summer Fury 20-07-21 [USMC/Lance Cpl Isaac Velasco]
A USMC Bell AH-1Z Viper and UH-1Y Venom from HMLA-267 'Stingers' - a part of the 3rd MAW's Marine Aircraft Group 16 - fly over an undisclosed US Navy submarine during the advanced naval basing evolution phase of Exercise Summer Fury at San Clemente, California, on July 20, 2021. USMC/Lance Cpl Isaac Velasco

Having originated during the Pacific campaign in World War Two, the island hopping tactic was adopted by US and allied forces as a way to ‘leapfrog’ and avoid enemy targets, while gaining control of key strategic maritime islands in the region. This enabled allied forces to reach enemy objectives more efficiently with fewer casualties and provided an enhanced element of surprise against adversaries in the Indo-Pacific theatre. With tensions once again rising in the region, it has been important for the USMC to establish modern tactics for such a campaign.

In this event, the 3rd MAW adopted a similar operational blueprint to synchronise the seizure of strategic airfields located on San Clemente Island. The USMC states that this “set conditions on the objective to bypass heavily fortified islands in order to seize lightly defended locations that could support follow-on operations during Summer Fury.”

The 3rd MAW’s efforts during this training exercise were reinforced by Marines and rotorcraft (Bell AH-1Z Vipers and UH-1Y Venoms) assigned to the Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 267 (HMLA-267) ‘Stingers’ and Marine Wing Support Squadron 372 (MWSS-372) ‘Diamondbacks’. The two units established forward arming and refuelling points (FARPs) on both San Clemente Island and at a helicopter outlying landing field.

USMC HMLA-267 AH-1Z over USN sub in Pacific during Ex Summer Fury 20-07-21 [USMC/Lance Cpl Isaac Velasco]
An AH-1Z Viper attack helicopter from HMLA-267 'Stingers' operates off the coast of San Clemente, California, during Exercise Summer Fury on July 20, 2021. Note the US Navy-operated submarine and destroyer in the background. USMC/Lance Cpl Isaac Velasco

In addition, Bell Boeing MV-22B Ospreys and personnel from Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 163 (VMM-163) ‘Evil Eyes’ provided continuous logistical support throughout the exercise, allowing the 3rd MAW to continue the operation. The FARPs established on the island allowed the wing to increase the range and operational tempo of its aviation assets within the simulated island chain, enhancing its ability to gain command and control of maritime islands.

The USMC added: “As warfighting remains both ‘timeless and ever changing’, [the] 3rd MAW continues to make considerable progress toward the goals of Force Design 2030 through adversarial-minded war gaming and combat-driven exercises.” Summer Fury 21 also provided 3rd MAW units with an opportunity to conduct advanced naval base training, long-range strike operations and forward air controlling exercises to enhance readiness and lethality in the event of a modern wartime maritime campaign.