Marines to the Gulf of Guinea?

The the gist of a proposal in a Marine Corps briefing according to Stars and Stripes yesterday.  According to the article, the Marines would look to base the notional force afloat, possibly on an Landing Platform Dock (LPD) type ship.  This afloat force, which would likely include MV-22B Osprey aircraft, would reportedly come under the command of the Marine’s recently created Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force – Crisis Response (SPMAGTF-CR), currently based at Moron Air Base in Spain.

MV-22B Ospreys from  Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 365 at Moron Air Base, Spain, after having arrived to join Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force - Crisis Response

MV-22B Ospreys from Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 365 at Moron Air Base, Spain, after having arrived to join Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force – Crisis Response.

The article does not mention that the Marines have already had to be on the look out for new basing options for SPMAGTF-CR given that the Spanish only agreed to allow the US to station the unit at Moron for one year, with the understanding that a permanent location would be secured thereafter.  It is possible that one option would be to simply base SPMAGTF-CR afloat permanently.  The unit is rotational so this would not be hard to imagine.  It still does not provide an obvious solution to the issue noted in the article of finding even one spare LPD for such a deployment.

Photograph of the USS Ponce (AFSB[I] 15) in the US Fifth Fleet Area of Operations in August 2012.

Photograph of the USS Ponce (AFSB[I] 15) in the US Fifth Fleet Area of Operations in August 2012.

Currently, the US Navy only has one ship configured for this sort of arrangement, the USS Ponce, which was converted into an interim afloat forward staging base instead of being decommissioned as planned last year.  Ponce remains in the US Fifth Fleet area of operations, at least according to information available.  In April it was announced that the US Navy planned to deploy for the first time a solid-state laser aboard a ship in fiscal year 2014.  The ship selected was the USS Ponce, believed to primarily be engaged in counter piracy and special operations.

The proposed Marine force for the Gulf of Guinea would be primarily directed at counter piracy as well.  Though piracy in the Gulf of Aden off Somalia has recently garnered the most attention, international efforts, through multinational efforts and unilateral deployments, as well as steps taken by private industry, have led to a significant drop in incidents there.  Piracy in the Gulf of Guinea, however, remains a significant threat and maritime security in the region has been a concern for some time.  In 2004, US European Command (EUCOM) proposed a Gulf of Guinea Guard initiative to improve maritime security force capabilities in the region.  Though this did not come to fruition as planned, the US did eventually inaugurate a maritime training exercise in the region, called Obangame Express, in 2011.

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