Bold Alligator 2012
Jan 15, 2012

The largest naval amphibious training exercise of the past decade took place (January 30 to February 12) in and around Virginia and North Carolina. Exercise Bold Alligator 2012 (BA12) was led by the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps and involved 19,000 military personnel – units and observers from 11 countries (Australia, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Spain and the United States). Bold Alligator aimed to incorporate lessons learned over a decade of challenging combat missions, humanitarian assistance, disaster relief and evacuation operations.

Soldiers from C Company, 3rd Royal, 22nd Regiment participated in BA12. The unit specializes in amphibious warfare – where training regularly uses assault boats and the taking of land-based objectives. BA12, however, called for much bigger amphibious “muscle,” most notably the Marines’ 26,400-kilogram Amphibious Assault Vehicle. American and foreign soldiers were loaded on the armoured troop carriers – called “amtracks” by the Marines – and driven off the partly flooded compartment – known as the “wet well” – of two 41,000-ton U.S. Navy Wasp-class amphibious assault ships: USS Wasp and USS Kearsarge.

“It’s definitely a great exercise,” says C Company platoon commander, Lieutenant Mathieu Groulx, who explains that the value of the exercise is in getting to know the capabilities of each of your allies. “If you work more closely together then it would be easier when we get to a real mission; we would work more effectively together.”

Hot extract drill.

BA12 involved a mock “invasion” of Onslow Beach, a 12-kilometre stretch of North Carolina that is part of the Marines Corps’ Base Camp Lejeune.

U.S. Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet fighter-attack aircraft and Marine Corps AV-8 Harrier vertical take-off jets provided simulated air cover. “The ability to give missions in a battle space to coalition folks is huge and critical,” comments Lieutenant-Colonel Scott Cooper, the senior U.S. watch officer for Marine Aircraft Group 29, a participating air combat element. “One of the main efforts in this landing was the French who had to take a beach toward Wilmington [North Carolina], and they were the first ones to go.”

Tragic news
Two Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) ships, HMCS Moncton and Summerside, were conducting directed workups in preparation for BA12 and had made a stop in Little Creek, Virginia, where a major operating base for the U.S. Navy’s Atlantic Fleet Amphibious Forces is located. Along with a dive team from Fleet Diving Unit (Atlantic), the ships were preparing to provide Mine Counter-Measures during the exercise.

Tragically, a U.S. Navy diver who was part of an Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) team operating with HMCS Summerside died while performing his duties.  The Canadian warship was about 40 kilometres from shore when the incident happened. Military sources later told the Ottawa Citizen that EOD Officer Taylor Gallant was underwater conducting a routine exercise but at some point did not respond to regular cues. A second diver was sent down, found him unresponsive, and helped bring the 22-year-old to the ­surface. An investigation is underway.

CAMP LEJEUNE, NC (February 2012) Sailors from Riverine Squadron 1 conduct a hot extract drill during Exercise Bold Alligator 2012, which represents the Navy and Marine Corps’ revitalization of the full range of amphibious operations. The exercise focuses on “today’s fight with today’s forces” while showcasing the advantages of seabasing. (U.S. Navy photo: MCS 1st Class Lynn Friant)

Air Cushion Vehicles
In late January, U.S. Assault Craft Unit Four (ACU4) sailors trained with the crew of France’s projection and command ship FS Mistral to certify the ship for operations with the U.S. Navy’s landing craft-air cushion (LCAC). “We have worked with the French navy not only here, but also in Toulon, France, to ensure our landing craft and the Mistral’s well deck are compatible,” said Captain Mike Ott, ACU4 commanding officer. “This exercise today is the culmination of the planning and work we did overseas.”

The 26.4-metre-long LCAC can depart an amphibious ship loaded with 60 tons (54,500 kg) of equipment and personnel, cruise toward a coastline at up to 40 knots, come out of the water and onto a beach, offload its cargo, and head back to the “mothership.” The U.S. Navy estimates that its 74 large air cushion vehicles can handle 70% of the world’s coastlines.

“The biggest benefit of this operation is working together to bring military power from the sea to the land, whether by air or with amphibious crafts,” said Captain Xavier Moreau, commanding officer of the Mistral. “It is impossible for one navy to do everything and be everywhere by itself. While working in coalitions, each navy brings different equipment which increases assets such as carriers, amphibious ships, frigates and aircraft.”

Blair Watson is a contributing editor with FrontLine magazines.
© FrontLine Defence 2012