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Commandos are the lethal tip of the spear on desert war games

11 November 2019
Royal Marines have been developing the Future Commando Force concept as the lethal tip of the spear on war games in the California desert alongside the United States Marine Corps.

The marines are evolving for the battlefield of the future, focusing on the way they take on their adversaries and developing equipment that will give them the cutting edge in combat. 

As part of that, the Green Berets are putting their commando skillset at the forefront of what they do, rather than centring on conventional warfighting. 

Now it’s about being a commando first and foremost in small elite teams and that is exactly what the 40 Commando Battle Group in the heat of Mojave Desert have been testing. 

In the vast training areas of the Marine Air Ground Combat Training Centre at Twentynine Palms, near the border with Mexico in California, the commandos partnered the 7th Marine Regiment.

They disrupted the enemy, for this war games the 2nd Marine Division, before the larger conventional USMC forces attacked the contested area. 

“The new multirole teams shape the environment, taking out forward enemy positions and assets, enabling the larger conventional USMC forces access into a contested area,” said Lieutenant Simon Williams of 40 Commando. 

“The USMC facilities offer an excellent opportunity for every commando to train to their full potential. The huge range complex is large enough for Vikings and Jackals to tear around at full speed.

“Operating in the desert itself has its own difficulties. Usually synonymous with being dry and hot, the temperature in October can fluctuate between 30C at daytime, to below freezing at night. Twentynine Palms tests every commando.”

A fake city within the complex offers tight realistic streets for urban operations, with a feel of a real war-torn Mosul or Aleppo. The USMC even employ 150 actors to play civilians in the urban areas, giving the exercising troops the opportunity to deliver humanitarian assistance – or even the headache of civil unrest and rioting should the situation not unfold in their favour. 


The new multirole teams shape the environment, taking out forward enemy positions and assets, enabling the larger conventional USMC forces access into a contested area.

Lieutenant Simon Williams

This regular training, named Exercise Green Dagger, gives the marines the opportunity to refine their desert warfare skills – continuing their specialism as warriors in the most extreme of climes – but also to affirm bonds with the USMC. 

The Royal Marines were invited by the Commandant General of the USMC, General David H. Berger, to the exercise, bringing the advantage of knowing how each other work in battle. 

He said: “We must train the way we intend to fight. Training must reflect how we would fight a thinking adversary who can compete in all domains.”

On Green Dagger, 40 Commando’s Alpha and Bravo Companies are joined by marines from across 3 Commando Brigade to form a Battle Group that also includes ranks from 24 Commando, 29 Commando, Armoured Support Group, 30 Commando (Air Defence Troop) and 42 Commando. 

The tough terrain is the perfect environment to push kit and the commandos. The elevation allows Recce Troop to yomp to high features to observation posts, while 29 Commando are able to call in air support and provide artillery for advancing forces. 

“This deployment demonstrates the Royal Marines’ ability to rapidly integrate and operate in support of a variety of global partners,” added Lt Williams. 

“The regular two-pronged training with the USMC continues after 40 Commando deployed C Coy to Indiana to conduct Dense Urban Ops training.”

During the training, the commandos have also been working with technology and how it can provide an advantage.

“Most notably has been the excellent use of drones for surveillance and reconnaissance, adding a real winning perspective of the battlefield,” Lt Williams said. 

“A small ‘off-the-shelf’ drone is used in the section providing overwatch of enemy positions, particularly useful in urban scenarios. 

“A larger model is used by a team situated away from the battle, giving sight many kilometres away, enhancing the targeting of artillery and mortars.” 

Each commander is also enabled by a chest-mounted tablet which provides a constant overview of battle as it unfolds.  

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