In what promises to be the largest such exercise in 10 years, Marines from multiple duty stations in Southern California are participating in a massive set of drills this week, intended to approximate combat scenarios Marines may face all around the globe, including at home.

Two different sets of exercises, elements from the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing’s “Winter Fury” and the 1st Marine Division’s “Steel Knight,” are both conducted on an annual basis, but this year marks the first time they’ve been combined into a single large-scale event in a decade.  The 1st Marine Division will field more than 20,000 Marines in the series of drills, with 600 more Marine aviators, along with their crews, participating from the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing.

Although the drills in themselves are not out of the ordinary, the decision to blend them toward interoperability training is in keeping with a force-wide transition in training objectives over recent months.  The intent of many such training events has shifted toward developing the ability to coordinate large-scale offensive and defensive operations between multiple units and even nations, and perhaps more tellingly, a shift toward preparing for conventional warfare against peer-level opponents… even on American soil.

We are setting up a full command structure within the wing that will command and control all our assets flying in the air space that is real and virtual,” said Col. Michael Borgschulte, assistant Wing Commander for the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, which has units at Camp Pendleton, Miramar and Marine Corps Air Station Yuma in Arizona.  “We are doing command and control integration with the 1st Marine Division.”

The Marines aren’t the first to adjust training strategies toward the possibility for nation-scale warfare.  In November, the Army’s 10th Mountain Division conducted training that included the recapture and defense of integral infrastructure assets within the continental United States.  In the Pacific, American, Japanese and South Korean ground forces, naval assets and aircraft have been conducting near continuous interoperability training and operations, and in Europe, NATO commanders have placed an increasing emphasis on rapid communications and coordination between allied states.

After nearly two decades of fighting unconventional wars against terror groups, it would seem the United States military and its allies are once again preparing for the possibility of fighting national-level militaries. With the looming threat of war against North Korea, which would likely require a significant ground force to secure Kim’s scattered nuclear arsenal, as well as ever-present threats from Russia and China, the shift toward large-scale combat operations would seem to be in keeping with the nature of the threats facing the United States today.

We’ll move a full battalion via aviation into Twentynine Palms and establish an airfield there using upwards of 40 aircraft,” said Colonel Borgschulte, who previously served as a Cobra pilot during his 27 years in service. “We will be fighting as a Marine Air Ground Task Force where we integrate and combine arms.”

Among those aircraft are F/A-18 Hornets, KC-130J Super Hercules, AV-8B Harriers, MV-22 Ospreys, AH-1Z Vipers,  UH-1Y Venoms, CH-53E Super Stallions, MQ-9 Reapers, MQ-21 Blackjacks and drones.