Marine Expeditionary Units (MEUs) are small and flexible combined-arms units that can act as a theater quick-reaction force. They’re designed around a reinforced battalion, also known as the Battalion Landing Team, which serves as the Ground Element of the MEU. The Aviation Element, which is comprised of helicopters and Short Take-Off and Vertical Landing (STOVL) aircraft, such as the AV-8 Harrier or the F-35B, which provide air support. A logistics combat element and a command element provide ensure operational readiness and leadership.
The USMC has steadily implemented new concepts in the 13th and 31st MEUs, which are seen as examples of how a Marine Corps geared for nation-level wars should look like. For example, during a recent deployment in the Pacific, the 13th MEU fired the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) from the deck of a ship in order to determine its effectiveness against shore targets. This testing was done with the South China Sea Islands in mind, where China is trying to construct an anti-ship zone to protect its mainland from the danger of the U.S. Navy’s aircraft carriers.
The F-35Bs also allowed for more complex operations that were previously unattainable with the AV-8 Harriers. The advanced sensors of the F-35B were used to rapidly share targeting information across the MEUs support assets and thus, coordinate strikes at a target. During the HIMARS testing, for instance, F-35Bs used sensors to locate and pinpoint targets, and share them with the HIMARS crews, who then launched their missiles.