Much like the Air Force Weapons School and the Navy’s Top Gun Fighter Weapons School, the United States Marine Corps has developed a training program designed to produce subject matter experts in the area of cross-domain war-fighting. The Weapons and Tactics Instructor course, also known as WTI, is held bi-annually at Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Yuma in the southwest corner of Arizona.
During WTI, students receive in-depth, detailed training, which is employed and practiced during exercises on the many nearby ranges in Arizona and California. The syllabus includes mission planning and briefing, TTPs, and ultimately, the live employment of weapons in multiple scenarios.
In addition, WTI provides instruction and training stressing integrated air-to-air and air-to-ground combat operations. Intended for experienced Marines, the WTI course is an advanced, graduate-level course for select fixed-wing, rotary-wing, and tilt-rotor pilots and enlisted aircrew from the Marine Corps aviation community.
The intent is to produce subject-matter experts—qualified and experienced instructors who can disseminate weapons and tactics training and information as it relates to aviation within each Marine Corps unit. The WTI course was developed from conventional and special weapons delivery training that was originally provided to Marine Corps attack squadrons by Special Weapons Training Units during the 1950s.
As the tasking of these units grew, they were redesignated Marine Air Weapons Training Units (MAWTUs), and by 1977, the WTI course had been developed and was offered by the two MAWTUs at Cherry Point, North Carolina and El Toro, California. Today’s course is the result of the consolidation of the WTI courses in 1977. It is held twice each year, exclusively at MCAS Yuma, and produces over 300 graduates annually.
It all starts with MAWTS-1
Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics Squadron One (MAWTS-1) was commissioned on 1 June, 1978, and has been based at MCAS Yuma since inception. MAWTS-1 is responsible for running WTI, creating and updating the training syllabi, and organizing and managing the training exercises. Outside of WTI, MAWTS-1 instructors travel approximately 90 days per year during multiple fleet support windows.
During those windows, the instructors conduct supplementary training and course qualifications and certifications (some of which are prerequisite to attend WTI) with fleet units at their home locations. MAWTS-1 instructors also attend conferences and exercises to observe and to exchange thoughts, ideas and tactics with allied nations and with the U.S. Army, the U.S. Air Force and the U.S. Navy.
Finally, the Marines of MAWTS-1 are the sponsors for training and readiness manuals and for training syllabi throughout the fleet. They author the tactical publications for each Marine Corps aviation community. This is all accomplished with 90-100 instructors and approximately 100 support staff.
The Ground Combat Department was established in 1988 as participation in WTI by ground forces increased. Current WTI courses include a Marine Corps battalion, which allows for true integration of infantry, artillery, and armor officers and enlisted into the WTI evolutions. The battalion benefits from actual participation in the large-force, integrated exercises.
Colonel Bradford J. Gering, commander of MAWTS-1 up until last summer, outlined the seven-week WTI course structure:
We start with three and a half weeks of academics in the classroom. It begins with big-picture or generic academics – the functions of Marine aviation and how that is integrated into the MAGTF. This includes Tactical Risk Management – a course that teaches an officer to be balanced between a tactician, a subject matter expert and risk manager. The goal is to ensure the student is educated to assess operational risk and mitigate it as part of a training plan. From there, the course enters the common academic phase where training is shared or grouped within a larger community such as the helicopters or tactical air. The third part of academics is called specifics. Each community spends a week focusing on their specific aircraft – everything from systems to weapons to tactics, techniques and procedures and analysis of threat.”
During the three and a half weeks of the WTI flight phase, the training progresses in the opposite direction – from specific to generic. It starts in a specific flight phase where a given aircraft will fly only within their own community while mastering their systems, weapons and tactics, and threats.
The second week of flight phase is the common flight phase where rotary wing flies with rotary wing, tactical fixed wing flies with other tactical fixed wing assets and so on. Finally, the generic flight phase culminates with large-force evolutions – fully integrated, complex exercises that integrate multiple aircraft missions and types in support of ground forces. The final week of evolutions is commonly known as the Final Exercise, or FINEX.
WTI 2-13 included the combined arms coordination of aviation-delivered fires and surface-to-surface delivered fires was conducted using training evolutions with artillery, tactical air control parties and forward air controllers – airborne (FAC-A). In addition, the heavy-lift community–the CH-53E Sea Stallion helicopters– integrated with the ground forces by moving Marines and artillery batteries between positions out on the range.