Venom Storm – Marine Aircraft Group 39 swarms San Clemente Island

Photo By Cpl. Mark Lowe | U.S. Marines with 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division provide security for UH-1Y Venoms with Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 469, Marine Aircraft Group 39, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, at a landing zone during Exercise Venom Storm on San Clemente Island, Calif., Jan. 15, 2020. Exercise Venom Storm demonstrated the Venom’s versatility in providing lethal options, whether operating from the sea or land. It’s ability to rapidly deploy from ship-to-shore, support ground forces with its own organic fire support and be armed and refueled at temporary sites is unmatched.
January 24, 2020

Aircraft and aircrews from Marine Aircraft Group 39 and infantry Marines from 1st Marine Division, assaulted a simulated enemy objective on a remote island, predominantly with the extremely versatile UH-1Y Venom, in Southern California, Jan. 15, 2020.

Exercise Venom Storm used sea-based principles to rehearse and refine expeditionary operations and live-fire engagements to demonstrate MAG-39’s and the Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron community’s increased capability and lethality of the next generation UH-1 helicopter.

Venom Storm incorporated multiple squadrons and aircraft from Marine Aircraft Groups 39 and 16, which included six UH-1Y Venom and four AH-1Z Viper attack helicopters from Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 469, three UH-1Y Venom’s from Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 169, and four CH-53E Super Stallion helicopters from Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadrons 361 and 462. The exercise also included a reinforced infantry platoon from Echo Company, 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment.

The raid force assaulted a simulated near-peer threat on an austere island more than 60 miles from the mainland. Although the focus of the exercise was to maintain aviation proficiency across mission essential tasks, the versatility of the Venom stood out as it moved Marines, provided fire support, and the communication architecture needed to link air and ground forces together.

Last year, the Commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. David H. Berger, released guidance directing the Marine Corps be trained and equipped as a naval expeditionary force-in-readiness and be prepared to operate inside actively-contested maritime spaces in support of fleet operations.

In the time since Gen. Berger’s guidance was released, MAG-39 has conducted several intense and complicated training evolutions, including; Steel Knight 20, Viper Storm and now Venom Storm, all of which included rotor-wing operations against a near-peer threat and in a maritime-contested and distributed space.

“Venom Storm is the second in our series of events practicing different mission sets that we see potentially coming with the Commandant of the Marine Corps’ Planning Guidance and the National Defense Strategy, specifically related to maritime operations,” said Col. William Bartolomea, commanding officer, MAG-39. “Our intent with Venom Storm, a compliment to Viper Storm, was to try to communicate – not only to the Marine Corps and the joint force, but to the public and our adversaries – the unique capabilities of each of those platforms.”

Prior to the raid force committing, the objective area was secured by four AH-1Zs serving in an attack-by-fire role. They remained near the objective ready to respond to surface, air, or ground threats in preparation for the pending assault. Their enhanced flight time and ability to provide continuous fire support was made possible when a second element secured and occupied an expeditionary advanced base north of the objective.

The expeditionary site was occupied by two CH-53s from Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 462, which were laden with fuel and ammunition and additional Marines for security. Their purpose was to re-arm and refuel the raid force aircraft as quickly as possible without requiring them to shut down. The result was uninterrupted and unrelenting continuous assault and fire support for the ground force.

During combat operations, a temporary base may be established inside the enemy’s threat ring enabling Marine aviation and other fire support platforms to provide an invisible security perimeter around friendly ground forces and ultimately allow for further operations to range deeper inland.

Nearly simultaneous to the occupation of the temporary base, six UH-1Ys and two CH-53s emerged from the horizon and began their final approach to the island objective. The wave of Venoms approaching from over the ocean was spectacular and reminiscent of many Vietnam era Hollywood productions. It was rumored that several observers were heard whistling a popular tune known as “Flight of the Valkyries” as the Venoms were seen crossing the coast line.
However, the UH-1Y Venom’s capabilities far outweigh the older versions of the “Huey.”

The UH-1Y Venoms are the newest and most significantly upgraded variant of the UH-1 family, which has been flown since 1959. The Venom has a new, four-blade, all composite and ballistically tolerant rotor system. It boasts an upgraded transmission and two enhanced General Electric T700 turboshaft engines, increasing its range and speed by 50 percent, when compared to the previous version. It can carry a pilot, co-pilot, crew chief, gunner and eight combat-equipped Marines while decreasing its logistical footprint. Whether sea or land based, it can serve in multiple capacities, from gunship to assault support. The UH-1Y is perhaps the most versatile aviation platform organic to the Marine Air Ground Task Force. Exercise Venom Storm was a fantastic demonstration of the Venom’s ability to operate from the sea in support of the Maritime Force Commander’s objectives.

“The UH-1Y is a utility platform versus the Viper, which is an attack platform,” said Bartolomea. “What we wanted to highlight in particular during Venom Storm was our ability to move troops from ship to shore, to establish our Marines on the ground to address a threat, and also establish a forward arming/refueling point, which we often refer to as an expeditionary advanced base (EAB). This was our opportunity to show that the Venom can provide some great flexibility to our maritime force as an organic fire support platform and connector for ship-to-shore, ship-to-ship, and on land.”

The exercise was a great success, proving MAG-39 and its Marines are capable of providing persistent aviation support and are extremely versatile, demonstrating they truly can fight and win in any clime and place.

“The UH-1Y gets the GCE (Ground Combat Element) to the fight quickly,” said Capt. Pierce Guthrie, company commander, Echo Company, 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment. “It provides great flexibility for inserting an assault force into challenging landing zones.”

Once the raid force was in, the Marines of 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, known as the “Magnificent Bastards,” isolated and contained the objective, located the threat, and with the aggressiveness and skill inherent in a U.S. Marine, quickly overwhelmed the simulated enemy occupiers. They moved with habitual precision and called for extract nearly as fast as they were inserted, all the while supported by the Venoms and Vipers above.

Once the signal was given for “mission accomplished,” the Venoms and Marines departed and returned to base.

Speaking from the enemy’s perspective, Guthrie said the Venom’s smaller size makes it capable of using small landing zones, forcing the enemy to defend more area.

Conducting a vertical assault with multiple small landing zones puts the enemy in a dilemma and forces a choice between being strong in one area or being weak and dispersed to defend multiple areas. Either way, the raid force has the upper hand, thanks to the versatility of the UH-1Y and intense training provided in exercises such as Venom Storm.

The training validated MAG-39’s ability to provide fleet commanders the option of persistently posturing naval expeditionary forces forward in key areas as a complement to the seagoing elements of the fleet. Additionally, Venom Storm showed that MAG-39 can conduct distributed operations in austere environments in support of maritime and joint objectives.

“A key component of our expeditionary advance base operations is to go in rapidly, establish rapidly, execute the mission, and then extract rapidly. Not spending too much time in one spot makes it more difficult for the enemy to find, fix and target us,” said Bartolomea. “I think we demonstrated all of that and, most importantly, what we demonstrated was the unique capabilities of the UH-1Y Venom as a utility weapons platform that compliments the other platforms of the air combat element and supports both the maritime and ground force commander.”

Venom Storm proved that the UH-1Y is a vital platform for the future force, especially as the Marine Corps further integrates into the naval domain. As one of 3rd MAWs four MAGs, MAG-39 continues to “Fix, Fly, and Fight” enabling 3rd MAW, as the Marine Corps’ largest aircraft wing, to remain combat-ready, interoperable, deployable on short notice, and lethal when called into action.