The 26th MEU: a dynamic force, ready to respond in the Middle East


With its arsenal and adaptability, the 26th MEU serves as a dynamic, versatile and potent combat force.

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US Marines and sailors with the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) conduct a visit, board, search and seizure during an exercise in the Atlantic Ocean, on April 17. [US Marine Corps]
US Marines and sailors with the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) conduct a visit, board, search and seizure during an exercise in the Atlantic Ocean, on April 17. [US Marine Corps]

The recent deployment of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) to the Middle East is an example of the preparedness, versatility and adaptability of this dynamic force -- which offers an array of options to US Central Command (CENTCOM).

The unit can conduct scalable combat operations from land or sea, and embodies the Marines' effort to maintain capability for major combat operations while facilitating the rapid deployment of forces for emerging contingencies.

The 26th MEU made waves in the world of military operations when it deployed in August to the Arabian Gulf, in the US Central Command (CENTCOM) area of responsibility.

As part of the deployment, the US Navy was reportedly training some 100 Marines for potential deployments onto commercial ships, with teams of 15–19 service members aboard each vessel for security.

The 26th MEU was accompanied by elements of the three-ship Bataan Amphibious Ready Group -- which includes the USS Bataan amphibious assault ship, the USS Mesa Verde amphibious transport dock and the USS Carter Hall dock landing ship.

The highly capable sea-based crisis response force can conduct amphibious operations as well as crisis response and contingency operations, and can operate in enemy coastlines or weapons engagement zones.

The MEU presence in the region serves as a crucial asset, allowing CENTCOM to proactively employ it into overall combined and joint forces. This ensures that the United States is constantly prepared to address evolving security challenges.

This capability, in addition to the many other land, sea and air assets of the US military, enables the United States to help its allies in times of need against common adversaries.

Adaptive and prepared by design

For more than 50 years, the 26th MEU has operated as a forward deployed, highly adaptive, crisis response Marine Air-Ground Task Force (MAGTF) capable of operations across the spectrum of conflict.

The task force includes a ground combat element, an aviation combat element and a logistics combat element under a common command element.

The size of a MAGTF depends on its mission, but its structure never varies. This self-contained and self-sustained air, land and sea strike force can be tailored to meet any contingency, including response to regional aggression.

The 26th MEU can be mobilized at a moment's notice and provide the United States with a broad spectrum of options to address unforeseen challenges.

Marines have the capability to deploy to battles around the world within six hours, the US Marine Corps says on its website.

The 26th MEU was redesignated as "Special Operations Capable" (SOC) in July 2023 after an intense training program.

The designation signifies the unit's ability to integrate with the joint force in support of daily campaigns, crisis response and integrated deterrence missions.

In the 2018 National Defense Strategy, the United States set up a four-layer global operating model to be ready to respond to a world of enduring competition.

The strategy includes "dynamic force employment" -- a system of scalable employment of the joint force.

At its center, dynamic force employment allows the joint force to have a wide range of options, so they can quickly deploy forces to respond for combat and still maintain readiness for other contingencies.

The 26th MEU exemplifies this dynamic force employment with its ability to rapidly deploy forces for emerging contingencies. It is poised to delay, degrade, or deny adversary aggression directed towards any US national interests.

The MEU's preparedness and flexibility enable it to swiftly respond to emerging threats, contributing to the overall deterrence strategy of the United States in the Middle East.

Armed and ready

The sizable arsenal of the 26th MEU includes the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS), a precision firepower system that is considered the world's top artillery rocket platform.

HIMARS' "shoot and scoot" capability -- or its ability to emplace, fire, relocate and reload in a matter of minutes -- dramatically reduces the adversary's ability to locate and target the launchers, enhancing crew and platform survivability in high threat environments.

It can fire missiles and rockets over impressive distances. When using the Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS), it can hit targets at ranges of up to 187 miles (300km).

ATACMS carry 227kg warheads and have an updated targeting system, making them especially lethal to moving targets such as ships and mobile ballistic missile launchers.

As the threat landscape evolves, the 26th MEU is poised to adopt cutting-edge capabilities to maintain its relevance and effectiveness.

One such innovation is the Navy Marine Expeditionary Ship Interdiction System, or NMESIS.

NMESIS is a compact and unmanned launcher based on a Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV) equipped with two Naval Strike Missiles (NSM), a modern multi-mission cruise missile designed to strike maritime and land targets.

The NSM boasts a range of 100 nautical miles (185.2km) when flying at low altitude, ensuring a versatile and potent capability.

The NMESIS gives the commander land-based anti-ship missile capability and will allow units to deny coastal areas and other key chokepoints to the enemy.

With its arsenal and adaptability, the 26th MEU serves as a dynamic, versatile and potent combat force, providing the United States with a wide range of options to address evolving security challenges.

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