STUTTGART, Germany — The buzz of heavy propellers churned up dust and snow on Thursday when visiting Marine Corps aircraft expected to play a role in future missions for U.S. Africa and U.S. Europe commands touched down near their headquarters.
The three MV-22B Ospreys assigned to the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit out of Camp Lejeune, were in Stuttgart for a four-day visit focused on showcasing the unique aircraft’s capabilities to senior leaders at the two commands.
Demonstrating the aircraft capabilities, the Ospreys arrived in Stuttgart after flying 1,400 miles from the coast of Spain, complete with an aerial refueling by a C-130.
“We’re getting two combatant commanders, two four-stars and their staffs, acquainted with a new aircraft and new capabilities that today’s MEU brings to the field,” said Marine Lt. Col. Rick Coates, future operations officer for Marine Forces Europe and acting liaison to the 26th MEU.
“Africa is an enormous continent. And what we’re demonstrating is ‘Hey ... you have assets now that can reach out on their own, independently, and go 1,400 miles away and influence your theater.’”
During the past couple of years, the Marine Corps has been elevating its profile within Europe, even as the overall U.S. military presence on the continent has been shrinking. In 2010, Marine Forces Europe launched its Black Sea Rotational Force, which focuses on training foreign militaries in eastern Europe. Each year, the task force, comprised mostly of reservists, spends roughly five months overseas, conducting missions with numerous allied nations.
The Black Sea effort was followed up in 2011 with a similar Africa-focused Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force, based out of Sigonella, Italy. Most of that unit’s time is spent on the African continent, training foreignarmies in everything from logistics management to counter-terrorism tactics.
Meanwhile, a second Africa-focused Marine MAGTF with a special focus on crisis-response also is being developed. For such a unit, the Osprey would likely be the aircraft of choice.
“So, when you say Marines in a MAGTF, you’re talking Osprey, you’re talking riflemen, you’re talking artillery, tanks,” Coates said. “You’re talking the whole package. And that’s what people really need to take away is what we bring to the table.”
The Marine Corps’ increased attention on Africa comes as Africa Command confronts a growing threat posed by Islamic militant groups operating across much of northern Africa, from Somalia to Libya and Mali.
For the Marine Corps, the MV-22B Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft is a key component in its expeditionary mission. While critics have long questioned the safety of the aircraft, the Marines have stood by the Osprey, which the Corps regards as its premier assault support aircraft.
With the ability to take off and land like a helicopter and fly like a fixed wing plane, the Osprey’s versatility has come in handy for both land and sea-based missions, stretching from Iraq and Afghanistan to Haiti and Libya, where the Osprey was used to rescue a downed Air Force pilot during military operations in 2011.
“We can fly so far out, compared to the other aircraft on the boat,” said Marine Cpl. Justin Whiteman, an Osprey crew chief with the MEU. “We can fly 500 miles out and back without a problem. And adding C-130 support for aerial refuel, the boat can be way far out and that gives us the ability to fly... to keep the mission a go.”