The second rotation of the Marines' crisis response force in the Middle East will include a new squadron of fighter aircraft.
Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force-Crisis Response-Central Command is swapping out its AV-8B Harriers for a squadron of F/A-18 Hornets from Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 232 out of Miramar, California officials with the rotation confirmed.
Activated this fall, the task force has proved a crucial support element for Operation Inherent Resolve, the U.S.-led effort to counter the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria. Task force commanding officer Col. Jason Bohm, the commanding officer of the task force, told Marine Corps Times the unit had used its Harriers to conduct multiple strike missions on IS targets.
When the Marine Corps created the new crisis response force for U.S. Central Command, the original planning called for Hornet squadron to deploy with it due to its capabilities along with mission requirements, said 1st Lt. Matthew Gregory, a spokesman for the rotation. But at the time, no Hornet squadrons could fill the billet, so a and the Harrier squadron was brought on to fill the gap.
"Given how much these aircraft are used worldwide, maintenance cycles, and the taxes on crews, sudden additional requirements to the F-18 community require some ripples and now that seems to be leveling out," Gregory said. "While it's still uncertain what the third rotation will look like, a Hornet Squadron is what should be filling the SPMAGTF strike aircraft role."
The Hornet offers many of the same capabilities as the Harrier and has a similar range of missions. The squadron was available to fulfill the mission, and the aircraft tends to work well in dusty climates, said 2nd Lt. Matthew Gregory, a spokesman for the rotation.
Officials also identified the other units that will form comprise SPMAGTF-Crisis Response-Central Command's CR-CC's second rotation. The command element will be 7th Marines, out of Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, California, Gregory said.
The deployment will also include 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines as the ground combat element for the task force and Combat Logistics Battalion 7 as the logistics combat element. Both of those units are also based at Twentynine Palms.
Rounding out the task force will be KC-130 Hercules aircraft from Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 352, out of Miramar, and MV-22B Ospreys from the Miramar-based Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 165, Gregory said.
In total, the elements will add up to about 2,500 personnel, Gregory said. This figure represents a slight increase over the roughly 2,300 troops that the task force deployed with last fall, but is about equivalent to the unit's current size, officials said.
First 1st Lt. Matthew Finnerty, a spokesman for the task force, said the growth was due in part to an increase in specialized tasks related to command and control and support of dispersed operations throughout the Middle East. The unit has added Marine individual augments in support of these tasks since it arrived in the region.
Also contributing to the growth in unit size was the command relationship the task force developed with Marine Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron 4, an EA-6B Prowler squadron that had previously been deployed to the region and linked up with the the task force to conduct a variety of surveillance missions in support of operation Inherent Resolve.
The task force's second rotation is expected to begin this spring.