The Marine Air-Ground Task Force

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U.S. Marine Corps. JROTC
Category 5 – General Military Subjects

Skill 6 – Chain of Command

The Marine Air-Ground Task Force


This lesson provides cadets with the organization of the Marine Air-Ground Task Force (MAGTF). Upon completion of this lesson, cadets will be able to describe a MAGTF, the different types, and their organizational structure.


Marine Corps doctrine normally dictates the employment of Marine forces as integrated Marine Air-Ground Task Forces (MAGTFs). This doctrine emphasizes the employment of all elements of the force under a single commander, thereby obtaining unity of effort. The MAGTF is unique to the Corps. It is trained and equipped not only for amphibious warfare but also for a variety of combat situations. Its structure and its emphasis on strategic mobility make the MAGTF exceptionally useful in a wide array of crises. Its organization by task enables the commander to tailor the force to a specific contingency. The MAGTF can fight well and harmoniously within a joint or combined task force in a land campaign or provide a one-service force of combined arms for a variety of situations.

When employed in other than amphibious operations, MAGTFs are capa­ble of functioning as self sustaining forces under the operational command of the unified, subunified, or joint task force commander. Their organization and training for amphibious warfare, which the Marine Corps pioneered and con­tinues to perfect, enhance their capability to deploy rapidly by any means.

Marine Air-Ground Task Forces

The MAGTF is not a permanent organization; it is task-organized for a specific mission and, after completion of that mission, is dissolved in accordance with prearranged plans. A MAGTF headquarters is structured to control whatever forces are assigned; thus, the Marine Corps can rapidly converge forces from any or all of its base locations to form a composite MAGTF without re­gard for parent administrative organization. To shorten the response time and reduce strategic lift requirements, the Marine Corps has prepositioned equip­ment and supplies in or near potential crisis areas. The prepositioning of ma­terial for use by Marine forces has led to a renewed emphasis on airlifting Ma­rine combat forces to marry up with that equipment. The Marine Corps endorses airlift as an alternative for rapid deployment of its forces in situations permitting nonhostile entry.

The current and planned uses of Marine forces reflect an understanding by the National Command Authority of the unique role amphibious operations would play in a limited or worldwide war. Marine Expeditionary Units are con­tinuously deployed on amphibious ships in the Mediterranean Sea and Pacific Ocean and visit the Caribbean Sea and Indian Ocean, thus providing a peace­time presence and rapid response capability that contribute to deterrence and forward defense strategy.

Deployed MAGTFs provide the means to rapidly project U.S. power in sup­port of vital U.S. interests anywhere in the world. Able to move on and be sup­ported from the sea, MAGTFs, with associated amphibious shipping and car­rier battle groups, are free from dependence on basing or overflight rights and provide an effective force presence without political commitment. During peacetime, they provide assurance to our allies and demonstrate commitment to our adversaries.

Marine Air-Ground Task Force Elements

The composition of a MAGTF may vary considerably but a MAGTF organizational structure, by definition, will always include the following four elements:

  1. Command Element (CE)

  2. Ground Combat Element (GCE)

  3. Aviation Combat Element (ACE)

  4. Combat Service Support Element (CSSE)

MAGTFs are readily available, self-sustaining, combined arms warfighting organizations composed of Marine forces from a division; aircraft wing; service support group; and the surveillance, reconnaissance, and intelligence group (SRIGs) under a single commander.

Command Element (CE)

The command element is the MAGTF headquarters. It is composed of the commander and a separate Air-Ground headquarters with a staff and communi­cation and service support facilities. The establishment of a single headquar­ters over the aviation, ground, and combat service support elements provides the command, control, and coordination capability essential for effective planning and execution of operations. In amphibious operations, when Marines constitute the preponderant force, the MAGTF command element serves also as the landing force headquarters.

Ground Combat Element (GCE)

The ground combat element is a task organization tailored for the conduct of ground maneuver. It is constructed around a ground combat infantry unit and varies in size from a battalion landing team to a reinforced Marine division or divisions. The ground combat element also includes appropriate combat sup­port and combat service support units. Normally, there is only one ground com­bat element in a MAGTF.

Aviation Combat Element (ACE)

The aviation combat element of a MAGTF is task organized to fulfill the six functions of Marine aviation. These functions air reconnaissance, anti-air war­fare, assault support, offensive air support, electronic warfare, and control of aircraft and missiles are provided in varying degrees based on the tactical sit­uation and on the size of the MAGTF. Usually, there is only one aviation com­bat element in a MAGTF. It includes those aviation command (including air control agencies), combat, combat support, and combat service support units required by the situation.

Combat Service Support Element (CSSE)

The combat service support element provides the primary combat support to all elements of the MAGTF. Depending on the mission, it is task organized to meet any or all of the following functions: supply maintenance, engineer, medical/dental, automated data processing, material handling equipment, per­sonal services, food services, transportation, military police, disbursing, and fi­nancial management. It is capable of providing smaller task organizations for support of MAGTF operations as required.

Types of Marine Air-Ground Task Forces

Although a MAGTF is a task organization tailored to accomplish a specific mission, there are three basic types of MAGTFs:

  1. Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU)

  2. Marine Expeditionary Brigade (MEB

  3. Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF)

There is also the designation of Special Purpose MAGTF (SPMAGTF) for any unit smaller than the MEU.

Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU)

The Marine Expeditionary Unit is a MAGTF normally built around a rein­forced infantry battalion, a composite helicopter squadron, and a MEU Service Support Group (MSSG). The composite squadron normally includes several types of helicopters, although it may include fixed wing aircraft. The MEU is commanded a colonel. The MEU is usually considered to be the forward element of a larger MAGTF.

Marine Expeditionary Brigade (MEB)

The Marine Expeditionary Brigade is built around a reinforced regiment, a Marine Aircraft Group (MAG), and a Brigade Service Support Group (BSSG). The Marine Aircraft Group will contain all types of aircraft required by the mis­sion. A brigadier general commands the MEB.

Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF)

The Marine Expeditionary Force is a MAGTF normally built around a Ma­rine Division, a Force Service Support Group (FSSG) and a Marine Aircraft Wing that will contain all types of aircraft. A lieutenant general commands the MEF.

Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force (SPMAGTF)

The Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force is the fourth type of MAGTF organization. It is normally used for a special purpose or unique instances where employment of one of the three basic MAGTFs would be inappropriate. Special purposes can include disaster relief, humanitarian assistance, noncombatant evacuation, operations, or security operations. A unique instance would include the Exxon Valdez oil spill containment.

t will be composed of the four elements. Its command element is structured to conduct command and control of operational functions and is tailored to the mission and task organization of the SPMAGTF. The ground combat element is at least a platoon-sized element. The aircraft combat element is a task-organized detachment of the aircraft. The combat service support element is task-organized to meet the specific service support requirements of the SPMAGTF and is centered on the unit designated to provide most of the service support.


The MAGTF can be seen as the culmination of 90 years of the U.S. Marine Corps evolution from a ships’ police force to a standing ready force. Its genesis lays in the Huntington Battalion of 1898 (Guantanamo), modified by the development of the air weapon, the Pacific War of 1941 45, and joint forces and combined arms experience since the Korean War. 

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