Modern USMC Air Power: Aircraft and Units of the Flying 'Leathernecks'
Author: Joe Copalman
Publisher: Harpia Publishing
The US Marine Corps adopted aviation early on, and their operations during the Second World War cemented the usefulness of aviation in the USMC. Continuing the evolution of USMC aviation, operations during the Korean War and Vietnam War further established the close air support role of their aviation arm, as well as the importance of helicopters in the overall Marine Corps mission. Today, that close air support mission features a layered blend of aircraft, from light attack & support helicopters to vertical lift jet aircraft, traditional jet fighters, and large support aircraft. This book from Harpia Publishing takes the reader through all the aircraft in today's Marine Corps aviation arm.
The book begins with a basic history of Marine Corps aviation, followed by an overview of the structure of USMC aviation before jumping into coverage of helicopters. The Marine Corps utilize helicopters to great effect across a broad spectrum. Everything from small attack helicopters to large heavy lift helicopters are used by the USMC, and this book details them all. The reason the book starts with helicopters is because it seems that the author chose to list the units in alphabetical order, which begins with the HMH (Marine Heavy Helicopter) units. These units are those flying the different variants of the H-53 helicopter, which currently includes the CH-53E and CH-53K, although the book also includes a section on the Vietnam-era CH-53D that was still in use in the early 2010s.
Following the HMH chapter, the next helicopter section cover the HMLA (Marine Helicopter Light Attack) units. There are two helicopters used in these units, the UH-1 and the AH-1. Initially these were very different aircraft, but a process of has resulted in the AH-1Z having over an 80% parts commonality with the UH-1Y. This has greatly simplified the maintenance process for all the HMLA units and should keep these helicopters in service well into the 2040s. With the AH-1Z scheduled to have replaced all of the AH-1Y helicopters in 2022, the next step for the Marine Corps and their HMLA needs will be to come up with their next generation H-1 replacement, and this will undoubtedly follow that same part commonality concept.
The next section makes for a great transition from helicopters to fixed wing aircraft, as it covers the HMM helicopters (the CH-46 Sea Knight) and the VMM fixed wing aircraft (the MV-22 Osprey). The CH-46 was a workhorse for the medium lift role in the Marine Corps, but by the 2000s it was reaching the end of its life. Rather than replace it with another helicopter, the USMC chose to replace it with the MV-22 Osprey. This resulted in some changes in how the Marines utilized their medium lift aircraft, as its cruising speed and range exceeded that of the CH-46 it was replacing. The advantages the MV-22 brought far outweighed these challenges, though, and today the Osprey is the sole medium lift aircraft in the Marine Corps.
For fixed wing aircraft in the USMC, there are three main mission types encompassed by the VMA units, VMAQ units, and VMFA units. The VMA units are those flying the AV-8 Harrier, while the VMFA units fly the F/A-18 Hornet. The VAQ units started out with the EA-6B Prowler, but with its retirement in 2018 the electronic warfare role has been replaced with the Intrepid Tiger pod. This pod is designed to be carried by any aircraft in the Marine Corps' lineup, including the AV-8B, F/A-18, and MV-22. The big advantage of this is its ability to be used on the amphibious assault carriers with the AV-8 and MV-22, giving that close support mission essential aerial EW support.
The next few sections cover the VMFT fighter training unit, VMGR aerial refueling transport units, VMR and H&HS operational support airlift units, and VMU unmanned aerial vehicle units. The VMFT unit is the aggressor squadron VMFT-401, which flies F-5s out of Yuma for dissimilar air combat training. The VMGR units operate the C-130 Hercules and can provide refueling capabilities for both helicopters and fixed wing aircraft. The VMR and H&HS units operate four different aircraft types: the Beech UC-12 Huron, the Gulfstream C-20, the Cessna UC-35 Citation, and the Boeing C-40 Clipper, all in a variety of support roles. Finally, the VMU units are likely to be expanded moving forward, and this section covers the RQ-2 Pioneer, RQ-7 Shadow, Scan Eagle & Aerosonde, CQ-24 K-Max, RQ-21 Blackjack, and the MQ-9 Reaper.
The final section of this book details a uniquely Marine unit, HMX-1. This is more commonly known as Marine One, or the helicopters that provide short haul transportation of the US President, generally from the White House to Andrews AFB or Camp David. This unit operates both the VH-3D Sea King and VH-60N White Hawk, as well as the MV-22, which is used to transport White House support staff such as Secret Service protective details, White House staffers, media, and other personnel & equipment.
Given the depth and breadth detailed above, you would expect that this book would only touch on each of these units. In that you would be right, but the text does a nice job of balancing between detailed aircraft histories and detailed unit histories. The end result is that you get a very good feel for both the aircraft type, how it fits into the greater scheme of USMC aviation, and how the Marine Corps have used the type in recent history. That is not an easy feat and the author definitely deserves credit for threading that challenging needle. Further adding to that great coverage is the photo content, which is excellent in its own regard. Just as a photo book this one is a worthwhile title, with some outstanding air-to-air imagery as well as operational photos. Rounding out the book with some useful illustrations and you end up with a thorough, detailed overview of modern Marine Corps aviation. My thanks to Casemate for the review copy.