PHILIPPINE SEA -- The 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), currently embarked aboard ships of Amphibious Squadron (PHIBRON) 11, conducted joint patrols with assets from the Palau Bureau of Maritime Security, U.S. Coast Guard, and U.S. Navy, in the Philippine Sea, Feb. 22-28, 2021.
The patrols were conducted to increase interoperability between the U.S. Navy, Coast Guard, Marine Corps, and the Palau Marine Rangers in support of maritime security and to enhance crisis response capabilities in support of regional allies and partners. Throughout the duration of the patrols, the 31st MEU and PHIBRON 11 planned for multiple proof-of-concept exercises to test and develop new ways to use and integrate various maritime assets to mutually support one another.
In one such exercise, the 31st MEU demonstrated the ability to provide fuel from a non-traditional expeditionary support platform to both a Mark VI from Maritime Expeditionary Security Squadron TWO and a combatant craft medium boat from Naval Special Warfare Special Boat Team 12, allowing for an extended sustainment while at sea.
Following the refueling operation, the patrol boats embarked with dock landing ship USS Ashland (LSD 48) and engaged in joint patrolling operations with Coast Guard Cutter Oliver Henry (WPC-1140) and the PSS President H.I. Remeliik II patrol boat in the vicinity of Palau.
While patrolling, 31st MEU and USS Ashland worked together to develop new ways to refuel and resupply the Mark VI boats at sea without reembarking them, utilizing combat rubber raiding craft to provide sustainment to the patrol boats when separated from the larger ships for extended durations.
On Feb. 26, the blue-green team conducted a counter-mine exercise with Navy and Marine Corps explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) personnel from Mobile Unit 5 and Combat Logistics Battalion 31, testing their ability to respond to objects that could restrict ship maneuver while patrolling. Aircraft with Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron (VMM) 262 (Reinforced) transported the EOD team to the drop site near a simulated mine. EOD team members jumped from the air, swam to the objective, and followed the proper procedures for safely neutralizing the target in order to allow freedom of movement for the larger vessels. The EOD team also conducted a hydrographic survey using unmanned underwater vehicles, which can be used to scan for mines.
The following day, the 31st MEU conducted another proof-of-concept exercise to test the effectiveness of firing various weapon systems from smaller surface craft. During the exercise, the 31st MEU low altitude air defense (LAAD) team fired a FIM-92 Stinger missile from a Mark VI patrol boat, marking the first time this has ever been done. The LAAD team also integrated with aviation assets from VMM-262 REIN, demonstrating the mutual supportability of a combined attack at sea from smaller expeditionary platforms than what has typically been practiced by maritime forces.
As the Marine Corps focuses on making our footprint expeditionary, lighter, and more survivable while retaining the ability to support the joint force and our partners from inside an enemy’s threat ring, the 31st MEU is constantly looking for ways to increase our cooperation and integration with our partners and allies throughout the region, as well as with our U.S. Navy and Coast Guard counterparts.
“I am proud of the interoperability demonstrated with our sister services and with our partner nation of Palau,” said Col. Michael Nakonieczny, commanding officer of the 31st MEU; “Our collective actions demonstrated an ability to partner to compete and compete to deter alongside our joint and allied partners and our commitment to remain ready and engaged in the Indo-Pacific region. In addition to reassuring our commitment to a partner nation, this exercise allowed us to anticipate and test innovative solutions to the challenges we face daily in competition and that we will overcome, together, in conflict.”
The 31st MEU is operating aboard ships of Amphibious Squadron 11 in the 7th fleet area of operations to enhance interoperability with allies and partners and serve as a ready response force to defend peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region.