While much of the conflicts across the Middle East tend toward low tech and low intensity, the fight in Syria is providing Marine commanders with a wealth of knowledge and experience for a future fight with near peer rivals like Russia and China.
The Syrian battlefield is littered with a host of tech and weapons that range from Cold War relics to drones, sophisticated anti-tank systems, Russian jets and anti-aircraft systems, even aggressive electronic warfare tech.
The environment is providing invaluable experience to Marines and U.S. military commanders who deploy to the region, but it’s also pushing Marines to retrain skills more salient during the Cold War, like camouflage and reducing electronic and observable signatures.
Marine Col. George Schreffler III, the former commander of Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force – Crisis Response – Central Command, told reporters during a media roundtable Wednesday that the Corps was learning valuable lessons about a number of high-end threats in the region. Schreffler and the Marines under his command deployed to the Central Command area of operations from April until December 2018.
“There currently are threats out there," Schreffler said. “And with our aircrews in particular operating in Central Command is a significant opportunity to assess and deal with these threats ... they’re gaining significant operational experience that’s going to make them more relevant.”
“Right now in Syria, we’re in the most aggressive EW [electronic warfare] environment on the planet, from our adversaries,” Thomas said at the U.S. Geospatial Intelligence Foundation’s GEOINT 2018 Symposium. “They’re testing us every day, knocking our communications down, disabling our AC-130s, et cetera.”
“You’re getting exposure to threats from adversaries to potential adversaries around the region that you can’t replicate back in the United States,” Schreffler explained. “And that’s making us more ready.”
With enemy surveillance and sophisticated tech on the battlefield, the Corps once again has to be mindful of its observable and electromagnetic signatures.
“We have to continue to train to minimize our signatures, both from an electromagnetic perspective, and from the physical, visual and audible observation perspective,” Schreffler explained.
“Camouflage and cover and concealment matter, and when any adversary is looking at you with their own small unmanned aerial systems, or their aircraft ... your Marines have to be good at skills Marines always have to be good at,” he said.
Deployments to the CENTCOM region are also affording Marines to experiment with and contribute to a future Marine fighting concept called expeditionary advanced base operations, or EABO, which is still awaiting the approval of the Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. Robert Neller.
The EABO fighting concept may see Marines fighting from small island bases or barges strewn across the expanse of the Pacific Ocean. Fighting in this environment will require the Corps to operate in small distributed groups, spread thinly across vast distances. Learning how to survive and fight in the this environment will pivotal should the Corps find itself at war with China.