MWSG and Operational Employment

by Col H. M. Whitfield

One of the major attributes of Marine Corps aviation is its capability to deploy and operate, ” . . . in every clime and place.” The personnel and equipment in the Marine Wing Support Group (MWSG) make a large contribution to this capability. This article describes the MWSG organization, gives examples of how it may be employed, and provides a projection of future support requirements. The article is written from the perspective of MWSG-37, 3d Marine Aircraft Wing located at MCAS El Toro, Calif. However, all three Active and the one Reserve MWSGs are organized similariy.

Maneuver warfare as a tactical and strategic military concept has recently been rediscovered. Maneuver warfare consists essentially of the ability to operate, move, and control a military force at a faster tempo than one’s adversary, thereby, confounding the enemy’s ability to respond to your actions. Properly organized and equipped to assist the ground commander, aviation can be a decisive advantage in maneuver warfare. Marine aviation because of its support elements, possesses unique and outstanding rapid deployment characteristics.

The MWSG we have today is a continually evolving subordinate Marine aircraft wing (MAW) organization designed to support the wing aircraft and their operational employment requirements (see figure 1). The MWSG organization reflects the proven combat service support logistic principles set forth in FMFM 4-1, Combat Service Support for Marine Air-Ground Task Forces. The MWSG’s general mission is to provide those combat service support functions that are closely alined with airfield operations. Normally, the MWSG, like the force service support group (FSSG), functions as an integral group in a garrison environment or whenever the entire wing is employed as a unit. Otherwise, the MWSG supports smaller units with elements of the group task organized to support the deploying unit. Such task organizations may exist for an indefinite period of time, according to their duties and specific missions.

The primary mission of the MWSG is to provide general motor transport support, refueling support for aircraft and ground equipment, utilities support, material-handling equipment support, aircraft launch and recovery support, and general engineer support for the MAW. The MWSG has over 1,500 highly trained Marines in its headquarters, motor transport, and engineer squadrons. In 3d MAW, MWSG-37 also keeps Detachment A at Camp Pendleton, Calif., to support MAG-39 and Detachment B at the expeditionary airfield (EAF) at the Marine Air Ground Combat Center (MCAGCC) at Twentynine Palms, Calif.

The three squadrons in the MWSG have extensive specialized equipment necessary to support a MAW. Headquarters Squadron 37 has 20 tactical airfield fuel dispensing systems (TAFDS), 18 helicopter expedient refueling systems (HERS), expeditionary airfield (EAF) matting, airfield lighting and recovery equipment, and a consolidated administration center for the whole group. Each TAFDS has a storage capacity of 120,000 gallons, each HERS 9,000 gallons, of jet fuel. Wing Transportation Squadron 37 provides motor transport and vehicular aircraft refueling support to the wing. The squadron has over 560 vehicles such as jeeps, 2 ½- and 5-ton trucks, and 12-and 20-ton high and low bed trucks. Wing Engineer Squadron 37 provides construction, utilities, material-handling equipment, mobile electric power, and earth-moving equipment support. The squadrons all provide organizational or second echelon maintenance of their equipment.

To support a MAW with suitable airfields or landing sites, each wing has over 3 million square feet of aluminum AM-2 matting, 12 Fresnel Lens landing lights, and 9 M-21 arresting gear systems. This equipment is sufficient to install four expeditionary airfields and three vertical or short takeoff and landing (VSTOL) sites of various sizes. A 96×96-foot vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) pad could be constructed to support a helicopter or AV-8 section. Next in size, is a VSTOL facility consisting of a 150×900-foot runway. A VSTOL air base features an 1,800 foot runway and can support a squadron of VSTOL aircraft. Further buildup of the VSTOL air base results in an expeditionary airfield (EAF) with 5,200 feet of runway. The EAF is capable of supporting six squadrons of light to medium fighter/attack aircraft or helicopters. The EAF will normally employ M-21 arresting gear, a TAFDS, and other typical airfield support requirements. The final phase of the “building block” concept is a strategic expeditionary landing field (SELF) 8,000 feet long such as the one installed at Twentynine Palms. Obviously, in a combat environment, effective use would be made of existing airfields or any other suitable surface, such as a paved road, to operate VSTOL aircraft and helicopters. But, as was demonstrated at Chu Lai in Vietnam, when an airfield is required where none exists, the Marine Corps has the trained personnel and equipment to build and operate one and it can do it rapidly. Although the MWSG has considerable engineer and aircraft recovery assets, extensive earth preparation and mat laying would require assistance from the FSSG.

In order to prepare for possible contingencies, MWSG-37 trains extensively using the above equipment. Essential subjects training is conducted in a consolidated manner at the group level. The majority of the training is done in week-long block periods in the field at Camp Pendleton. This approach has proved to be highly effective and motivational. A few examples of recent support projects highlight the diversity of the training effort. During this past winter at the Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center Pickle Meadows, Calif., MWSG-37 extended the helicopter facility runway to 1,000 feet, installed a TAFDS, and erected two hangars. One of these hangars is of the traditional metal PASCO type; the other is a Sprung Instant Structure, 90×145 feet, large enough to accommodate CH-53Es. The Sprung Structure uses an aluminum rib frame to which a reinforced PVC fabric is attached and tensioned. These structures come in all sizes and have been used for a variety of purposes commercially throughout the world. In June 1983, the Sprung Structure will be moved to the EAF at Twentynine Palms to test its utility in a desert environment.

Many of MWSG-37’s commitments involve the EAF at Twentynine Palms. A permanent Detachment B is located there to operate the airfield. In addition, MWSG-37 provides equipment and personnel for 2d, 3d, and 4th MAW CAXs and JCS-directed exercises at MCAGCC. When the EAF was first built in 1976, no one planned on its indefinite use, and the subsoil was never adequately stabilized. Consequently, due to erosion and aircraft landing stresses, the airfield requires four extensive rehabilitation periods a year. A plan has been proposed to make the EAF a concrete runway, leaving the taxiways and parking ramp AM-2 matting. This would reduce the costs of the numerous repairs required and enhance the effectiveness of MCAGCC from an aviation training and rapid deployment standpoint.

In March 1983, MWSG-37 continued the present series of 3d MAW exercises called COMFORT LEVEL by constructing a 1,200-foot VSTOL airfield at Twentynine Palms. In a tactical environment, working 24 hours a day, the airfield matting, taxiways, and 3 AV-8 bermed “hides” were constructed in 5 days. Plans are also underway to build a simulated LHA pad for AV-8s at MCAS Yuma next month. In addition to the many operational commitments of the Support Group, the Biannual Weapons Tactics Instructor Courses conducted by Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics Squadron-1 at MCAS Yuma also receive TAFDS support. Last but not least, the Group participates in amphibious exercises as part of Marine air-ground task forces under I Marine Amphibious Force.

As capable as MWSGs presently are, there have been some organizational changes proposed by both 2d and 3d MAW to enhance their effectiveness. A study is presently underway within the Department of Aviation at Headquarters Marine Corps to evaluate the adequacy of MWSGs and MABs organizations. With the fielding of the F/A-18s, CH-53Es, and shortly the AV-8Bs, this study is very timely. The maneuver warfare potential of our ground combat element will be increased measurably with these aircraft and our MWSGs must be ready to support this capability to the optimum.