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Royal Marines scrutinise new tactics in the Mojave Desert

21 December 2020
Small teams of Royal Marines were unleashed on the Mojave Desert in California on exercises with the US Marine Corps that helped shape commando tactics of the future.

Marines from 40 Commando’s Charlie Company were formed into teams of 12 commandos and were tasked to work ‘deep in the battle space’ to wreak havoc on opposing USMC forces in a challenging training scenario.

This was part of the unscripted warfighting exercise for which Charlie Company were acting as unconventional enemy forces, tasked and equipped to disrupt their adversary at every turn.

The commando teams operated around Hidalgo City, a huge town otherwise known as Range 220 that was purpose-built for desert urban training exercises and is one of the largest such facilities in the world.

There, they blended into their environment and created chaos, destroying advancing enemy armoured vehicles, mortar lines, command posts and aircraft using a range of weaponry and developing Future Commando Force tactics to great effect.

Alongside a US Army Special Forces team, the commandos held Hidalgo City – near Twentynine Palms in California – until their mock enemy had exhausted all options and combat power.

Warrant Officer (Class Two) Nige Quarman, C Coy's Company Sergeant Major, said: “Working independently at reach provided a host of challenges, not only for the deployed teams but for the headquarters element.  

“The operations room for a Company Group has become a beast - now more reflecting a unit formation.  With disaggregated teams on the ground, the amount of information that is processed from various sources should not be underestimated.” 

The commando teams – named Teal 31, 32, 33, 34 and 35 – were mobilised after a period of battle preparation, which saw everything not matching the desert palette painted tans and browns, from fuel cans to camouflage nets.

The exercise was a very successful run out for a company group developing small team concepts and skill sets

WO2 Nige Quarman

WO2 Quarman, said: “Intelligence gathered from unmanned air systems pilots suggested that they can pick out dark shadows with ease – the black silhouette of a weapon for example.  The time spent on camouflage was to pay dividends later.”

Teal 31 and 32 were dispatched first into Hidalgo, with the former spotting a patrol of light armoured vehicles from their observation posts and destroying two of them with their anti-tank weapon, the Javelin missile launcher. 

The team soon turned their attentions to a mortar line and command post, destroying both, with observers – who collect data on the exercise – giving a 75% kill ratio.

A staggered deployment saw three further mobility teams move to establish observation posts and explosive ambush sites.  

The desert battle ramped up as the might of the USMC punched forward into Hidalgo, enveloping the observation posts on the surrounding higher ground. 

This saw Lieutenant Harry Manson and Sergeant Ellis Alamio’s teams burrow deeper, remaining undetected and continuing to inflict damage by calling in fire support to hit the enemy’s flanks.

Teal 33 caused havoc of their own, ‘shooting down’ two AH-1V Cobra gunships with the Javelin, before ambushing enemy armour in which three light armoured vehicles, two Humvees and four trucks were ‘destroyed’ along with dozens of mock casualties.

After further ambushes and a night surrounded by enemy forces, all teams set up for the defence of Hidalgo.

“The exercise was a very successful run out for a company group developing small team concepts and skill sets,” added WO2 Quarman.

“Overall a great deal was learnt as best practice for Future Commando Force teams.”

This main exercise followed intensive training 7,000ft up in the mountains at the Mountain Training Warfare Centre at Pickel Meadow, northwest of Bridgeport, California.

There, the marines headed on long range reconnaissance patrols to assess the practicalities of communications and logistics for small teams spread out across a wide area, building on exercises in Wales earlier in the year. 

As is standard practice, the marines used mules to travel deep into the mountains with their Javelin and machine gun kits, as well as supplies for survival.

Once into the training areas, the teams embedded a Fire Support Element from 29 Commando Royal Artillery to establish observation posts around enemy targets.

During this phase the commandos developed their reconnaissance skills and co-ordination of fire support, before switching their attentions to Twentynine Palms and the exercises with the USMC.

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