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Adapting To Global Threats With New Steel Knight
by U.S. Marine Corps 1st Division PA
December 26, 2021

The 1st Marine Division, and Expeditionary Strike Group 3, have been conducting Exercise Steel Knight 2022 to hone naval warfighting functions including expeditionary operations, integrated targeting, communications and logistics. This exercise is comprised of two main parts: a simulation conducted in a virtual environment and a mission rehearsal exercise comprised of ships from Amphibious Squadron 7 and elements of the Marine Air-Ground Task-Force designed to prepare units for deployment.

U.S. Marines with India Company, 3d Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division (1st MARDIV), and U.S. Navy Sailors load a Joint Light Tactical Vehicle onto a Navy landing craft during Exercise Steel Knight 22 (SK-22) at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California, December 3, 2021. SK-22 is a 1st MARDIV-led annual training exercise which enables the Navy-Marine Corps team to operate in a realistic, combined-arms environment to enhance naval warfighting tactics, techniques and procedures. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Gabriel Antwiler)
U.S. Marines with India Company, 3d Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division (1st MARDIV), and U.S. Navy Sailors load a Joint Light Tactical Vehicle onto a Navy landing craft during Exercise Steel Knight 22 (SK-22) at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California, December 3, 2021. SK-22 is a 1st MARDIV-led annual training exercise which enables the Navy-Marine Corps team to operate in a realistic, combined-arms environment to enhance naval warfighting tactics, techniques and procedures. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Gabriel Antwiler)

The Marine Corps’ largest division, also known as the Blue Diamond, initiated exercise Steel Knight in 1991 as its annual, culminating large-scale exercise, known for regiments and battalions conducting combined-arms breaches and urban operations. Thirty years later, Steel Knight is now a combined arms, naval warfighting exercise based on Force Design 2030 principles to prepare for global threats in austere environments.

“Part of our journey is to train and certify a sea-combat capable headquarters that will integrate naval and joint effects on the adversary in the contested littoral environment,” said the commanding general of the 1st Marine Division, Maj. Gen. Roger B. Turner.

Veterans of Steel Knight remember desert operations with tank companies, breaching vehicles, and mechanized infantry battalions with thousands of artillery rounds and 500-pound bombs. The future role of the Marine Corps now shifts the exercise’s focus from large, maneuver training areas to the littorals, where future Marine Corps operations will prove critical to maintain security and sovereignty around the world.

“Steel Knight challenges our Marines to advance the ball in regards to naval warfighting,” said Colonel Chris Steele, the commanding officer of the 5th Marine Regiment. “This exercise affords us an opportunity to integrate our planners and demonstrate how lethal we can be in close partnership with one another.”

Marines from the 5th Marine Regiment, along with multiple attached units, will participate in the Mission Rehearsal Exercise, or MRX, portion of Steel Knight. The MRX features expeditionary operations training across multiple Southern California locations, including Fort Hunter Liggett, Camp Pendleton, and San Clemente Island. Colonel Steele explained the focus of training must continue to shift toward securing ports and sea lanes, allowing naval power the freedom to maneuver.

With the shift of focus in mind, exercise planners imagined a design that maintained opportunities to develop and refine basic small-unit skills but also allowed deeper integration with Navy counterparts.

“Steel Knight goes beyond naval integration; it gets down to the nuts and bolts of how we accomplish objectives in the contested environment,” said Rear Adm. Wayne Baze, commander, Expeditionary Strike Group 3. “This exercise increases our ability to seamlessly change command and control architectures on the fly.”

U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Blake Wyrick, a rifleman with 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, 1st Marine Division (1st MARDIV), posts security on Red Beach during Exercise Steel Knight 22 (SK-22) on Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California, December 6, 2021. SK-22 is a 1st MARDIV-led annual training exercise which enables the Navy-Marine Corps team to operate in a realistic, combined-arms environment to enhance naval warfighting tactics, techniques and procedures. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Alexandra Munoz)
U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Blake Wyrick, a rifleman with 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, 1st Marine Division (1st MARDIV), posts security on Red Beach during Exercise Steel Knight 22 (SK-22) on Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California, December 6, 2021. SK-22 is a 1st MARDIV-led annual training exercise which enables the Navy-Marine Corps team to operate in a realistic, combined-arms environment to enhance naval warfighting tactics, techniques and procedures. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Alexandra Munoz)

Detailed integration with U.S. naval forces that transcends embarking ships and launching raids from ship-to-shore is a 1st Marine Division priority. 1st Marine Division and ESG 3 have moved beyond integration and into full-scale naval warfighting as they refine the details of communication networks, information flow, target acquisition and prosecution, and other tasks geared toward preparation for a future fight as a Navy-Marine Corps warfighting team.

“We need to increase our knowledge and maturity of the Navy-Marine command and control systems,” said Lieutenant Colonel David Palka, assistant fire support coordinator with the 1st Marine Division. “We are looking to mature our understanding of maritime targeting in order to bring all-domain effects solutions to contested environments.”

Accurately identifying and engaging targets is a key component of expeditionary operations, but to do so, shared communication systems must be established and maintained in Navy and Marine Corps command centers.

“The focus of our communications network is to enable kill chains and kill webs across the naval and joint force,” said Lieutenant Colonel David Burton, 1st Marine Division’s Communications Officer. “We expect future adversaries to actively contest command and control (C2) networks. To remain lethal, it is critical that we assure access to our C2 networks by incorporating signature management techniques like emissions control into our standard operating procedures.”

As part of Force Design 2030, the 1st Marine Division is adding new techniques and equipment to training exercises. Marines are conducting similar combined arms tactics, however, new systems and weapons such as targeting computers and long-range naval strike missiles enable the application of combined-arms principles in a littoral environment. Naval gun fire, advanced missiles and aviation support play critical roles in the current Marine Corps and Navy warfighting operations.

“Steel Knight continues to evolve to match modern national security threats, requiring us to increase our capabilities in the peer vs. peer multi-domain fight,” said Turner. “Our Marines and Sailors will embrace new challenges, remaining lethal and ready for service to our nation.

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