Rapid Deployment Force, United States (Peter Antill)
Throughout the 1970's, American attention gradually focused on the Persian Gulf. The policy shifted towards a willingness to use military force in the area "as a diplomatic signal, if not yet as a full-blooded counter-intervention force" and a gradual expansion of facilities. However, the Yom Kippur war of 1973, the US / Soviet confrontation and the oil embargo of 1974 which led to an American warning "that American military intervention to protect vital oil supplies" [note 1] was a possibility, served to increase attention on the area as being vital to US national interests and by the mid--1970's "the United States once again began to contemplate the use of military force. . . . to ensure the flow of oil to the West." [note 2] With the new Carter Administration elected, the new President signed Presidential Review Memorandum (PRM) 10, which undertook a evaluation of US strategy. In response to the recommendations, the President signed Presidential Directive (PD) 18 on August 24th 1977. One of the main proposals laid the basis for the rapid deployment force - and in 1978, two Army divisions (82nd and 101st) and one Marine division were earmarked for such duties. There were however no substantial funds allocated and it remained a paper exercise.
There were four basic reasons why the move to a Rapid Deployment Force was so slow in the 1970's. Firstly the US foreign and defence policies featured retrenchment not intervention. Secondly, the Administration had Europe as it's focus with conventional force policy. Thirdly, there were many objections from the Congress and the Media and fourthly, the Services were just not enthusiastic about another limited contingency organisation. However, in 1979 three events were to occur that galvanised the Administration and finally ended the post-Vietnam malaise. The first was the failure to ratify the SALT 2 treaty whose debate "revealed to both the Congress and the American public the degree to which US military power had been permitted to deteriorate in the face of an unstinting and comprehensive Soviet build-up". [note 3] The second event was the overthrow of the Shah in Iran by anti-Western Islamic fundamentalists. Not only did this remove a major ally in the area, but showed how vulnerable Western oil was to political instability. The taking hostage of US diplomatic personnel also highlighted the US inability to act. The third and perhaps most important event was the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979 All this prompted a reappraisal of official policy with the result the Carter doctrine was announced in the President's State of the Union Address on January 20th 1980, where he announced that any attempt by a foreign power to gain control of the Persian Gulf and surrounding area would be regarded as an attack on the vital interests of the USA, and be stopped by all means necessary including the use of military force. This was the first formal commitment of US military power to the region.
The RDJTF was officially activated on the lst March 1980 and based at MacDill Air Force Base under the US Readiness Command. In the words of it's first commander, General P X Kelley, "It's the first time that I know of that we have ever attempted to establish, in peacetime, a full four service Joint Headquarters" [note 4] and "the only group in this country whose current full time activities focus on joint and combined combat operations" [note 5] for a limited contingency operation. The aim of the RDJTF was that of deterrence - against possible Soviet or proxy invasion, conflict among the states of the area and subversion and insurrection within the states and thus "help maintain regional stability and the Gulf oil-flow westward". [note 6] The RDJTF was designed to be flexible - it was not designed to have specific forces but to draw in times of crisis from a central pool of resources depending on the nature of the threat, geographical location and time available for deployment. Initially the RDJTF was under REDCOM but later became a separate Joint Task Force, which started it down the road to becoming a full unified command. It's area--of-responsibility was expanded to include Egypt, Sudan, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia as well as Afghanistan, Bahrain, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Oman, Pakistan, the People's Republic of Yemen, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and the Yemen Arab Republic. The Headquarters staff were drawn from all four services. In the event a conflict had occurred these personnel would have controlled deployment and operations and been augmented by around 200 personnel from REDCOM and another 250 if they were to go to a remote area. The Commander of RDJTF was a three star position, first held by General P X Kelley and then by General R C Kingston. The Deputy Commander was usually Air Force (the top job alternates between the Army and the Marines) and at two star level there were the component commanders and their staffs, that of ARFORCOM (also Commander, 18th Airborne Corps), NAFORCOM (also Assistant Chief of Staff for Planning, Pacific Fleet), AFFORCOM (also Commander, 9th Air Force, TAC) and MARFORCOM (who was subordinated to NAWORCOM, and Commander, 1st Marine Division).
Each service earmarked substantial assets for the RWTR The Army assigned the 82nd Airborne Division, 101st Air assault Division, 6th Cavalry Brigade, 24th Mechanised Division and 9th Infantry Division. The 82nd is the Army's only airborne division and is located at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, along with the headquarters of the 18th Airborne Corps. It consisted of eight infantry battalions in three brigades with supporting assets such as air transportable armour, artillery, air defence, engineers, intelligence and signals with a total of 16,000 personnel. This was one of the key elements in the RDJTF as it could deploy a battalion plus supporting assets in eighteen hours and a brigade in twenty-four, "there is no substitute for the airborne's capability of projecting a large military force by aircraft over extended distances to seize and hold terrain". [note 7] It would be unlikely that the entire division would have been airlifted in and go into action. It is more probable that a brigade would be dropped to secure an airhead and then the rest of the division arrive. Although predominantly infantry, the 82nd has substantial organic airlift in it's helicopter assets which were to be upgraded with UH-60 Black hawk helicopters by the end of the 1980's.
The 101st Air Assault division was also unique among the Army's divisions due to it's massed assault helicopter capability. Based at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, it was organised into three brigades of three battalions each, the usual support elements and three helicopter battalions, two transport, one attack for a total of 17,900 personnel. The division uses its helicopters to provide tactical mobility. Originally an airborne division, the 101st gradually converted to an airmobile role in Vietnam, where it integrated a large number of helicopter assets as the 1st Cavalry (Airmobile) Division had done. As its experience with helicopter operations increased and tactics refined, it changed its designation to Air Assault. The division is designed to envelop the enemy with speed and firepower and had equal status with the 82nd in RDJTF planning.
The 6th Cavalry (Air Combat) Brigade based at Fort Hood, Texas, was formed initially as the second brigade for the 1st Cavalry Division as it tested the triple capability concept and as a result of these tests became the only Air Cavalry brigade in the US Army. The brigade is made up of two aviation squadrons with support, communications and headquarters elements. The brigade had scout (OH-58 Kiowa), attack (AH- 1 Cobra) and transport (UH- 1 Huey, replaced by UH-60 Black hawk and CH-47 Chinook) helicopters and operates the same tactics as the 101st, emphasising speed of attack and envelopment. The 9th Light Division was conceived as a "High Technology Light Division" and provides the same firepower as a normal infantry division but with far fewer aircraft sorties needed for deployment. The division emphasised "heavy firepower, long range mobility, interdiction capabilities to the enemy's rear elements ("extended battlefield concept") with light forces and long range weapons, and improved C3 and real-time information analysis for effective targeting and weapons utilisation". [note 8] The division was organised into three brigades of ground troops with a mix of heavy and light battalions, as well as combat support for a total of 14,500 personnel. The fourth brigade was an air attack cavalry brigade with two battalions of attack helicopters, a cavalry squadron with two ground and two air cavalry troops and a transport helicopter battalion.
The Marine Corps contribution amounted to the lst Marine Division (of 18,000 men based at Camp Pendleton, California), it's aviation support group, the 3rd Marine Air Wing (159 aircraft), 1st Force Service Support Group and 7th Marine Amphibious Brigade (of 11,000 personnel). The Marines have had a long experience of rapid deployment and power projection, but "even under the most favourable conditions the amphibious assault is one of the most complex types of military operations, but is one of the strongest means of conventional power projection against a relatively sophisticated enemy as compared to other means such as paradrop, air attack or offshore presence". [note 9] The Marines provide the capability of projecting sea power ashore and then conduct land operations. In an amphibious operation there can be three types of unit used: a Marine Amphibious Unit (MAU) which is of battalion size with a squadron of support aircraft and is forward deployed to certain areas; a Marine Amphibious Brigade (MAB) which consists of a regimental landing team (two MAUs), a tank company, artillery battalion, support elements and a Marine Aircraft Group; and a Marine Amphibious Force (MAF) which consists of a Marine division (three MABs), a tank battalion, artillery regiment, a Light Attack Vehicle battalion, an Amphibious Attack Vehicle battalion, engineer battalion, reconnaissance battalion and a Marine Air Wing (600 aircraft).
The Navy's contribution consisted of three carrier battle groups (one each in the Indian Ocean, Mediterranean Sea, and Pacific Ocean), a surface action group, antisubmarine warfare patrol aircraft, the amphibious ships to carry a MAU on station and the propositioning ships at Diego Garcia which by 1982 could provide the supplies to sustain the 7th MAB for over two weeks and supply several tactical air force squadrons. The Navy also operated Military Sealift Command (MSC) which would have been tasked in providing the RDJTF with long term sustainability. The heavier items of equipment would also have to be transported by sea such as the 100,000 tons of equipment for the 24th Mechanised Division (which would take five weeks by air using every transport available). While bulky items and sheer tonnage are the advantages of sealift, it's main disadvantage is speed - it will take longer, and be more vulnerable to enemy action. Finally, the Air Force committed the 1st (F- 15), 27th (F-111), 49th (F-15), 347th (F-4), 354th (A-10), 366th (F-111) and 388th (F-16) Tactical Fighter Wings (TFW), as well as three other tactical fighter groups, a tactical reconnaissance group (RF-4), one electronic warfare group (EC-130) and the 552nd Airborne Early Warning and Control Wing (E-3A). The Air Force also controlled the Military Airlift Command and thus "the credibility of the word "rapid" in Rapid Deployment Joint Task Force is based upon available airlift". [note 10] The RDJTF relied upon the C-5A (70), C-141 (234) and C-130 (490) aircraft of MAC to deploy the fastest reacting ground forces, the forward elements of the 82nd Airborne, Special Forces and USMC personnel of the 7th MAB. The US could also call upon the Civil Reserve Air Fleet (CRAF) of 111 long-range cargo and 231 long-range passenger aircraft.
[BACK] 1 Frank Davies "Oil War: American Intervention in the Persian Gulf", Strategy and Tactics No. 52, September / October 1975, pp. 4 - 17, p. 5.
[BACK] 1 M A Palmer, p. 100.
[BACK] 1 J Record Revising US Military Strategy, 1984, 1st Edition, Pergammon-Brasseys, McLean, Virginia, p. 36.
[BACK] 1 General P X Kelly quoted in Dr E Asa Bates "The Rapid Deployment Force - Fact or Fiction?", RUSI Journal, June 1981, pp. 23 - 33, p. 23.
[BACK] 1 General P X Kelly "Progress in the RDJTF", Marine Corps Gazette, June 1981, pp. 38 - 44, p. 38
[BACK] 1 John Clementson "Mission Imperative: The Rapid Deployment Joint Task Force", Armed Forces, July 1983, pp. 260 - 265 and August 1983, pp. 304 - 308, p. 260
[BACK] 1 Dr E Asa Bates, p. 24
[BACK] 1 D Eshel The US Rapid Deployment Forces, 1985, 1st Edition, Arco, New York, p. 120
[BACK] 1 D Eshel The US Rapid Deployment Forces, 1985, 1st Edition, Arco, New York, p. 173
[BACK] 10 Dr E Asa Bates, p. 27
How to cite this article:
Antill, P. (2001), Rapid Deployment Force, United States, http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/weapons_rdf.html