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‘Darkhorse’ Marines assault California during MAGTF Integrated Experiment 2016

By Sgt. Cuong Le, Defense Media Activity

A group of Marines with Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment attacking the oppositional force headquarters during the Marine Air Ground Task Force Integrated Experiment 2016 at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif. as part of the final course of action for the exercise.  July 31, 2016. The Marines used everything they learn throughout the course of the exercise to secure the enemy headquarters.
Darkhorse Marines assault California during Marine Air Ground Task Force Integrated
A group of Marines with Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment attacking the oppositional force headquarters during the Marine Air Ground Task Force Integrated Experiment 2016 at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif. as part of the final course of action for the exercise. July 31, 2016. The Marines used everything they learn throughout the course of the exercise to secure the enemy headquarters.
A group of Marines with Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment mounting up on the Polaris MRZR after a patrol throughout the town during the Marine Air Ground Task Force Integrated Experiment 2016 at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif.  July 31, 2016. The Marines had to go from building to building to ensure that the oppositional force was eliminated before moving on.
Darkhorse Marines assault California during Marine Air Ground Task Force Integrated
A group of Marines with Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment mounting up on the Polaris MRZR after a patrol throughout the town during the Marine Air Ground Task Force Integrated Experiment 2016 at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif. July 31, 2016. The Marines had to go from building to building to ensure that the oppositional force was eliminated before moving on.
A group of Marines with Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment attacking the oppositional force headquarters through a field of smoke during the Marine Air Ground Task Force Integrated Experiment 2016 at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif. as part of the final course of action for the exercise.  July 31, 2016. The Marines used everything they learn throughout the course of the exercise to secure the enemy headquarters.
Darkhorse Marines assault California during Marine Air Ground Task Force Integrated
A group of Marines with Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment attacking the oppositional force headquarters through a field of smoke during the Marine Air Ground Task Force Integrated Experiment 2016 at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif. as part of the final course of action for the exercise. July 31, 2016. The Marines used everything they learn throughout the course of the exercise to secure the enemy headquarters.
Lance Cpl. Tyler Zaugg, rifleman, Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment sits on post outside of a makeshift police station during the Marine Air Ground Task Force Integrated Experiment 2016 at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif.  July 29, 2016. The exercise forced Marines to go up against a futuristic oppositional force with access to modern day technology, jamming capabilities, and support from the community.
Darkhorse Marines assault California during Marine Air Ground Task Force Integrated
Lance Cpl. Tyler Zaugg, rifleman, Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment sits on post outside of a makeshift police station during the Marine Air Ground Task Force Integrated Experiment 2016 at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif. July 29, 2016. The exercise forced Marines to go up against a futuristic oppositional force with access to modern day technology, jamming capabilities, and support from the community.
A group of Marines with Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment mounting up on the Polaris MRZR after a patrol throughout the town during the Marine Air Ground Task Force Integrated Experiment 2016 at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif.  July 31, 2016. The Marines had to go from building to building to ensure that the oppositional force was eliminated before moving on.
Darkhorse Marines assault California during Marine Air Ground Task Force Integrated
A group of Marines with Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment mounting up on the Polaris MRZR after a patrol throughout the town during the Marine Air Ground Task Force Integrated Experiment 2016 at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif. July 31, 2016. The Marines had to go from building to building to ensure that the oppositional force was eliminated before moving on.
A group of Marines with Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment using the Weaponized Multi-utility Tactical Transport to repel an oppositional force attack during the Marine Air Ground Task Force Integrated Experiment 2016 at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif.  July 31, 2016. The oppositional force represented a futuristic force that had the capabilities to jam communications, form strategic tactical maneuvers and turn the population against the Marines.
Darkhorse Marines assault California during Marine Air Ground Task Force Integrated
A group of Marines with Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment using the Weaponized Multi-utility Tactical Transport to repel an oppositional force attack during the Marine Air Ground Task Force Integrated Experiment 2016 at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif. July 31, 2016. The oppositional force represented a futuristic force that had the capabilities to jam communications, form strategic tactical maneuvers and turn the population against the Marines.
A group of Marines with Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment offloading the Polaris MRZR after a mounted patrol throughout the town during the Marine Air Ground Task Force Integrated Experiment 2016 at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif.  July 29, 2016. During the exercise Marines had to maintain combat efficiency while sustaining their own food, water, electricity, and security without help from outside forces.
Darkhorse Marines assault California during Marine Air Ground Task Force Integrated
A group of Marines with Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment offloading the Polaris MRZR after a mounted patrol throughout the town during the Marine Air Ground Task Force Integrated Experiment 2016 at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif. July 29, 2016. During the exercise Marines had to maintain combat efficiency while sustaining their own food, water, electricity, and security without help from outside forces.

Marines with Company K, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, from Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California, landed at Range 215, a Military Operations in Urbanized Terrain facility at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, California, July 28 to conduct the Marine Air-Ground Task Force Integrated Experiment 2016.

“Our experimentation focus for the upcoming year will center on 3rd Bn., 5th Marines, as the base unit of an experimental force," said Gen. Robert B. Neller, the 37th Commandant of the Marine Corps.  "This battalion will be reconfigured, re-equipped, and will receive additional training as it progresses through its training and deployment.” 

During the five-day experiment, the units were tested on their ability to enter an enemy controlled area and maintain combat readiness, while sustaining their own food, water, electricity and security without outside support. 

To aid in their mission, Co. K was equipped with 40 technologies provided by the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory to test surrogate technologies and develop tactics, techniques and procedures in an effort to make the force smarter, faster and more lethal. 

Upon landing in the combat town, the Marines were met by an opposition force, played by Company L, 3rd Bn., 5th Marines. Their task was to represent a futuristic enemy force that possessed the ability to blend into the local population, employ commercially available and military technologies and conduct advanced hybrid military tactics.

“The opposition force has been extremely challenging,” said Capt. Josef Patterson, company commander of  Co. K. “The more time we spend dealing with the enemy the less time we have to secure things like water and electricity.”

The scenario and realistic environment presented the Marines, small unit leaders and company leadership the opportunity to experience the challenges they will likely face in future operating environments. The experiment tested the Marines’ ability to operate in a distributed fashion and come up with creative solutions with limited resources. 

“We can survive out here no problem, but remaining combat effective is the challenge,” said Patterson. “We have been using the new [technology] we have with us to provide security and conduct recon of the local area and to watch the enemy movement.”

Although the new technology and machines provided the Marines with more ways to remain combat effective, the hot temperatures presented problems for them and their equipment.

“Some of our equipment can reach 200 degrees and over, but we have mitigated anything from breaking down by shutting off the equipment before it can overheat,” said Cpl. Preston Cain, an electrician with Co. K. “We also take steps to prevent equipment from over heating by setting them under shade and tarps.”

Some of the equipment used during the experiment included: the MK-2 Instant Eye, an unmanned aerial surveillance system; the Weaponized Multi-Utility Tactical Transport (W-MUTT), an all-terrain vehicle with the ability to mount heavy weapon systems not normally assigned to the company level; and the Dragon Runner 10, an unmanned ground robotics system. 

“Our goal is to get to a point where Marines are not the first people through the door but a robot in their stead,” said Capt. Eric McCrery, infantry officer, MCWL. 

The enemy force did not make it easy for the “Darkhorse” Marines. The experiment forced the Marines to expand their view of the enemy and to understand they are not fighting a small group but a significant organization rooted within the local populace. The opposition force applied pressure on the company with tactics similar to a near-peer asymmetric force, disrupting communications and swaying the local population’s perception. 

“I think as a Marine Corps we need to get away from conducting training, field exercises and evaluations where we always win, because that is not the reality. I think it is good for a company to come in here and take casualties and possibly even lose because you are only going to learn through failure,” said McCrery. 

Determined not to fail, the company ramped up its intelligence gathering, strengthened relationships with the local populace and executed offensive operations that overwhelmed the enemy. 

“We have incredibly talented, skilled, smart, fit, disciplined Marines and I think one of the best parts about this is, we give them some tools and see what they come up with,” said Neller. 

MIX16 is the first event in the Sea Dragon 2025 initiative, which is the Marine Corps’ deliberate campaign to blend innovative ideas and concepts through war gaming and experimentation to refine the force of the future.