Irregular Warfare and The Marine Corps

Many thanks to Col John A. Keenan, Marine Corps Gazette Editor, (A fellow Marine and great Small Wars Journal and personal friend) and the Gazette for once again permitting SWJ to repost an important article that addresses critical issues.

Irregular Warfare and the Marine CorpsA changed security environment creates new opportunities by Col Robert K. Dobson, Jr., USMC (Ret).

After more than a decade of continuous combat operations against an elusive foe that is at times an insurgent, extremist, criminal, nonstate actor, and/ or terrorist, and often frustrated by the politics of the conflict, Marines have begun to look forward to returning to their “amphibious roots.” This has become the bumper sticker slogan that is being interpreted by many as returning to training for combat operations. This is nothing new. After the Vietnam War, the message “no more Vietnams” emanated from the defense establishment...

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CB Calif said...."Given the budgetary problems this country is having, one day we will have a President and DOD Secretary that will reorganize the military. Better for the Marine Corps to do it themselves in cooperation with the Army today then allow themselves to be put to the budget knife later."

With that in mind, does it make sense for the Marines to reconfigure themselves for naval support AND IW....perhaps by eliminating the MARDIVs and using those personnel to: (1) place all or the majority of their younger/ junior personnel in the MEUs and (2) place the majority of the more senior personnel in the IW formations the author is advocating. Is that too extreme?

Morgan:

For this to happen: "...perhaps by eliminating the MARDIVs..." I think might require an act of Congress since it is the law that the US wil have 3 Marine Divisions in its force structure (the only service I think that has its force structure legislated (3 Marine Divisions and 3 Marine Air Wings)) Of course force structure is not the same as manning levels but I think eliminating the Marine Divisions might not be approved by Congress.

If the USMC must retain its 3 divisions, do you think it possible (or sensible) to reorganize each division to meet the recommendations outlined by the author.....one division organized for "small team, BPC/ SFA" missions, one division geared mainly for IW/ UW/ COIN, and one division for traditional, amphibious Marine Corps missions? Perhaps each division organizes each of its RCTs for one of these missions? Additionally, the advisor brigade concept built around two training support battalions each with 5-6 OC/T (MTT) teams of 12-15 senior leaders could be the basis for a USMC SFA unit.

Another COA that expands a bit on the author's idea would be to reconfigure the entire USMC into the Naval Special Warfare arm. Roll the entire Navy SEAL program into the Marines and have them focus on IW/ BPC/ COIN in littoral regions as well as maritime DA/ CT missions. Weren't the Marines the original Naval "special operations" arm to begin with?

Thoughts?

I just looked the statute up and It says at a "minimum" 3 Divisions and 3 Air Wings. So by law the Corps could become very large if need be? Am I understanding that right?

I believe that would be correct but I would have to defer to the lawyers for the definitive ruling on that (and of course the authorizers in Congress would have to provide the funds for increasing the size of the Corps). But I think bottom line is the intent of the law was that we would always have a Marine Corps with at least 3 divisions and 3 air wings so we could not eliminate the Marine Divisions as was originally suggested.

The obedience to and the enforcement of statutory and regulatory law lies totally within the discretion of the executive branch of the government, i.e. the President. If the executive branch elects not to enforce a statute or proceed outside of it, that is within their domain. Courts will not and can not interfere nor can the legislature which lacks any power in these matters. It is called the principle of separation of powers.

As an example, notice recently how Obama has by verbal executive command decided not to enforce certain laws concerning certain classes of individuals illegally in this country, even giving them the right to apply for and be hired into government jobs.

The congress can budget all day long, but if the executive elects not to spend the money or redirects those funds, that is their prerogative. Watch Congresses tug of war with the Attorney General and their attempt to hold him in contempt of court and to punish him. How are they going to do it. The lawyers work for the executive, and even if the court hears a case from a lawyer hired by the Congress and wins, the enforcing marshals work for the executive, etc.

Perhaps the most famous example of the supremacy of executive power resulted from an 1832 Supreme Court decision in Worcester v. Georgia. Worcester and another missionary attempted to stop the forced relocation of Cherokees from Georgia. Without going into details of a rather involved decision. the US Supreme Court ruled in Worcester's favor. He was then under arrest in State custody and the court ordered him set free. Georgia would not free him, ignoring the court order. President Jackson who also had no intention of having the executive branch obey the order made the famous response Chief Justice "John Marshall has made his decision; now let him enforce it!" Some believe this is a paraphrasing of Jackson's comments on the case in a letter to John Coffee noting, "...the decision of the Supreme Court has fell still born, and they find that they cannot coerce Georgia to yield to its mandate," or in other words the Court's opinion was moot because it had no power to enforce its edict and neither would the President. Separation of Powers prevents one branch of government from forcing another branch to follow its edicts.

Don't hang your hat on misunderstanding the non-existent value or power of statutory or regulatory law. If you had a dollar (or maybe $10.00 today after inflation) for every item in the statutory code that is not enforced, you would be rich indeed.)

Glad I found this post if only because CBCalif and I weren't agreeing on another post but can on this one...

First, it is true the roles and missions of the services to include force structure is enshrined in law. However, just like later legislation (such as Goldwater-Nichols) modified the 1947 National Security Act, laws can be changed and modified. How hard or easy that may be...another discussion.

What is far easier is to retain the division structure so as to not run afoul of the law, while addressing its purpose and mission. For example, you could retain the division while changing it towards focusing on administrative roles such as a force provider. Just like in the aviation community, there are certain centralized administrative, budgeting, and training functions that would be more easily coordinated and conducted at a "division" level even if the "division" itself was no longer focused on being a warfighting organization.

Which leads to a second point - in the Marine Corps, discussions regarding the structure of everything from squads to divisions is certainly on the table. The Marine Corps is changing the basic missions of the infantry company and the infantry battalion, and will need to extrapolate the effects of these changes both down towards platoons and squads and up towards regiments and divisions.

The lens through which these changes are being examined, discussed, experimented with, and in some cases implemented is--
- Expeditionary, forward-deployed, and middleweight.
- More dispersion of smaller and smaller units and increased independence of those units
- The "basic tactical unit" drifting downwards from the battalion

In sum, the Marine Corps is working towards being able to routinely deploy Company Landing Teams hundreds of miles inland, not just Regimental Landing Teams across fortified beaches. The units of choice are Marine Expeditionary Brigades and Marine Expeditionary Units that can disperse and fight "disaggregated."

So, sure, putting the purpose and mission of the Marine Division should be on the table. There is significant personnel infrastructure there that could be used elsewhere to make and retain a lighter, more expeditionary, more immediately deployable Marine Corps - the "sweet spot" and purpose of the Corps as the nation's crisis response force.

If I left you, or anyone, with the impression that I believe the Corps should be disbanded or merged into the Army, that was my error and in all likelihood comes my enjoying enthusiastic arguing -- maybe too much so.

Both from personal experience(during the mid-1960's) and due to the fact that I come from a many generations back family that was almost all Navy (including I as the only Officer) or the Marine Corps (with career men in both) dating back to the very beginning of the 1900's, I have great respect for the USMC. They definitely have a significant role to play, but are once again, as in the 1930's, faced with the need to define their (sea based) mission.

I agree with your statement that: "So, sure, putting the purpose and mission of the Marine Division should be on the table. There is significant personnel infrastructure there that could be used elsewhere to make and retain a lighter, more expeditionary, more immediately deployable Marine Corps - the "sweet spot" and purpose of the Corps as the nation's crisis response force" -- which will obviously be sea or forward based and transported by sea to their destination area.

I also believe that the Navy in the surface category of (combatants, auxiliaries, and amphibious) ships is incredibly understrength -- at least given all the missions the government is mentioning that need to be accommodated today. Look at what is happening in Libya at this moment and the best they can deploy is two destroyers and 50 Marines. There was once a time when we have been able to rapidly deploy a Carrier task group with at least an 8 destroyer squadron, a couple of cruisers, and an amphibious group carrying at least a Battalion Landing Team of Marines with their own air support on the CVA or on one of the amphibs wherever needed. Apparently not so today.

No worries - these are the debates and conversations that ought to be held. My biggest concern in this time of growing austerity is to avoid the creation of another hollow force - a lot of ships but not many that can be manned and deployed, a lot of headquarters but not many that have brigades or regiments with any troops or vehicles that function, a log of wings filled with pilots who can only get a few hours of flying time a month.

Best to have a few ships that are well maintained, capable, and filled with competent crew - best to have a few standards for battalions and regiments filled with capable, well-trained, and well-equipped people, and a few planes with experienced and well-trained pilots.

And one comment on those ships and planes - we need to have solid ships and planes that we can actually afford, deploy, and risk in combat. To have a small stable of wonder weapons that are too expensive and or precious to lose is stupid, more so in an age of austerity.

I have a question for anyone. Having read the USMC Small Wars manual cover to cover at least 3 times(some sections 4 or 5) now and noticing some considerable differences between that manual and the new COIN manual(s). I would like people's opinion as to weather the Marines and Navy by themselves applying the techniques in the Small Wars Manual without interference of any kind to include the establishment of a military government could achieve different outcomes in both of our recent wars in the Mid-East?

While the below referenced PDF consists of pages from writings about the development of Marine Corps Aviation during the pre-WWII period, you might find the discussion on book pp. 61 and 64 or corresponding pdf pp. 12 and 16 (separated by pictures of aircraft)interesting as they note during the early 1930's the Marine Corps undertook a major review of its place in US strategy, motivated according to the author by both the budget cuts of the depression and the end of its overseas commitments in Caribbean Sea countries. While the topic is only given brief mention, there should be records or papers on the subject somewhere.

See http://www.marines.mil/news/publications/Documents/Marine%20Corps%20Avia...

CBcalif,

Thanks for the link to the article. I find the history of how and why we evolved a specific capability and doctrine fascinating. The article reinforces my view that history doesn't replicate itself but is a continuum and the further you can look back the more capable you'll be at making better informed decisions concerning the future force.

This paraphased comment reminds me of today's debate concerning the Marines. One faction argued that the Marine Corps should be able to anything the Army could do on a smaller scale. Those opposed to the “jack of all trades” wanted the Marines to focus on one specialized function which was amphibious warfare. Those arguing for the specialized function won the day.

The conclusion on page 88 points to another recent paralle, during WWI the Marines were diverted from its amphibious expeditionary mission and sent into large-scale land combat in France. After the war they returned to their amphibious roles and during the 1920s despite being hampered by limited budgets, outmoded equipment and diverted by showmanship and headline–hunting they still evolved the idea of Marine aviation making the Marine air-ground team a reality in the 30s.

Our current debate about the future force (Joint Force 2020 and beyond) is nothing new. It is a needed debate and the decisons we ultimately make will not only define our future force, but will determine if we're capable of defending the U.S. against legacy and emergent threats.

If you can locate a copy, I highly recommend the following book:

http://www.amazon.com/Mars-Learning-Development-Doctrine-1915-1940/dp/08...

I cannot vouch for how accurate the book is historically, but I found it to be a very fascinating look at how the Marine Corps actually achieved the success it did in the wars which led to the writing of SWM, and how vastly different it is from what we've been doing recently.

Slapout,

It is worth exploring, but I doubt we'll see any changes. Our interagency approach is often far from ideal because no one is really in charge, and different agencies are fighting each other for turf and the money associated with that turf. They collaborate and cooperate only when it is mutually beneficial to do so, and we often confuse these simple vignettes with examples of interagency success. At best these are limited tactical successes, but we're failing miserably at the strategic level. In reality each agency pursues its own objectives and its own strategy.

Ultimately we want to transition to civilian rule, but we were in too much of a rush to do so in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Certain conditions need to be set first, and then when that transition is made the military needs to be subordinate to the civilian authority instead of conducting a separate military campaign pursuing objectives that are not supportive to the civilian leadership objectives. In short we need one agency in charge, if we just invaded and occuppied a country then the military is probably the best qualified initially to do so. Our system has its pro's, but it is not ideal for the kind of adventures we have been conducting the last decade. I suspect we won't conduct a lot of these adventures in the future, I don't think it is the new norm, and if we get back to real FID where the Ambassador is in the lead we'll do O.K.

Is ours the only country which has two independent branches of their military, i.e. the US Army and the USMC, competing to fulfill ground force missions normally assigned to what is traditionally called an army? Perhaps it is time to end this competitive nonsense and reduce excess headquarters budgetary costs by blending them into one branch of the service -- the Army where most of the Marine Corps belongs.

The original purpose of the Marines was to guard Navy installations, provide snipers in the rigging of sailing ships, then later to provide the core of small landing forces deployed by the Navy to conduct temporary missions ashore in support of US interests.

The USMC was only expanded during WWII because Admirals Nimitz and King wanted complete control over the Navy's campaign up the Central Pacific during WWII. The Admirals did not want to be dependent on the Army for the ground forces needed to seize the islands the Navy for the obvious reason that ground forces and Navy forces will not necessarily agree on which target land mass was most appropriate for any number of factors. Expanding and employing the Navy controlled Marine Corps solved that problem.

We will never see another Central Pacific style campaign. It is time to down size the Marines and turn most of their force and budget over to the Army where they belong. Then this nation's ground force can decide which mission which of their ground forces will conduct. The small number of surviving Marines can be returned to the Navy from whence they came.

Let's remember that specialization has an important place in the world. There are valid reasons why the special forces community is, in many ways, a separate service. Certainly the missions they perform are ground-centric and might be considered to belong to "what is traditionally called an army." But as demonstrated, being some subordinated, bastardized, off-shoot of the various services did not support what we expected them to be able to do. They needed to form communities with a certain amount of self-interest in order to excel at their missions.

Similarly, the Army has a very specific place and role in the nation's defense - the winner of wars, the executor of sustained land combat. And, it is not surprising that the Army likes it that way. There is a point at which, in trying to be all things to all people, and do everything conceivable, an institution is going to become too big, too ponderous, and too task saturated to do anything well.

So, is the United States the only nation with a Marine Corps and Army possessing a certain amount of redundancy? No, it's one of many - because many have recognized the need for a certain amount of specialization in their armed forces.

Why does the Navy have its own Air Force? Why does the Army? Why does the Marine Corps? Because the behemoth that would be created by having an "AIR FORCE" writ large would fail to effectively, efficiently address, or even appreciate, the nuances and requirements of the individual services. Close air support has never been a priority from an organization that has a Space Command in its portfolio. Don't be fooled by actions taken by any of the services during the "only game in town." Sure, a B-1 bomber loitered over Afghanistan 24/7 and dropped ordnance within 300m of ground troops.

It was never a question of "could" the Air Force do such things. It was not even really a question of how excited the Air Force was about being able to do such things. It was a function of - could an Air Force tasked with meeting every conceivable air mission across the defense establishment - ever do such a thing well, all the time? The answer - obviously - is no.

This logic applies when asking the endless number of possible questions that conceivably arise from a approaching the various functions of the services from a uniform, simplistic bent - "Why does the Air Force guard their own bases in war, can't the Army do that?" "Why does the Army have ships?"

All of this points to the fact that - sure - it's smart and appropriate to look at how we do business and assess it. But it's also important to remember that in the military, vice business, a certain amount of redundancy is important (remember the old rubric "two is one, one is none?"). And it's also very important to remember that a certain amount of specialization - while appearing inefficient - is contrarian - it leads to the efficiency of effective mission accomplishment.

So is the United States the only nation with a Marine Corps and an Army that possess a certain amount of overlap? By no means, it is one of many - many that have recognized the need and appropriateness for a certain amount of specialization and redundancy.

First, I notice that you must have had the same technical problems that I had the other evening with this site -- thus the repeating of your posting. They are having a technical glitch.

First, the US IS the only nation in the world that has a 180,000 man Marine Corps. Few nations have an army that size.

The other nations have VERY small Marine or Naval Infantry depending on the country. The largest is probably the Royal Marines which, before the recent round of budget cuts, was 8,600 men. The Royal Marines are part of the naval service and under the full command of Commander-in-Chief of the British Fleet Their mission is naval infantry which go ashore from amphibious ships to carry out mission comparatively close to the coast. The Russian have "naval Infantry" which during the Cold War reached a peak of around 18,000. They are down substantially since that time. The Chinese (PLA) Marines consist of two 6,000 man brigades -- and they are part of the Chinese Army.

Notice the difference in size and command structure.

Second, the strategic mission that branches of the US are assigned are not dependent on utilized hardware -- the weapons systems and platform types they use. Hardware usage is NOT a deciding factor in strategic mission definition. It is merely a tactical factor -- and nothing else.

The US ARMY (alone) is assigned the responsibility for conducting land based operations and winning ground wars, therefore destroying the ground forces opposed to this nation - regardless of whether they consist of armored division or small scale guerrilla (insurgent) type groups.

The US AIR FORCE is strategically tasked with ensuring this country has command of the air space wherever our armed forces need to operate and to provide the ability to carry and drop through bombing (via aircraft or missiles) explosive power on those designated as enemies -- whether they be nations or state / non-state guerrilla / insurgent / terrorist entities.

The US NAVY is strategically tasked with ensuring this country has command of the sea lanes needed to support our nation's military efforts wherever designated by the President and to insure that sea borne commerce into and out of this country can proceed safely and on an uninterrupted basis. The NAVY is also tasked with "very temporarily" extending sea power based explosive power ashore and to provide Marines onto geographical areas accessible by sea in emergency situations. Should that temporary presence morph into an ongoing effort -- it should be turned over to Army and Air Force units arriving deployed to the area.

These three branches of the military are also strategically tasked with preventing foreign counterparts from being able to successfully attack this country and its foreign territories in the same medium, i.e. by land, ship, or in the air.

The fact that the same types of TACTICALLY oriented weapons platforms or systems are used by these three branches of the military is not a strategic factor and plays zero role in determining their strategic mission. It would be patently ridiculous to base strategic missions or staffing on weapons platforms or systems types.

Is there an element of inter-service cooperation between the branches, certainly, and therefore on occasion the Air Force requests the Navy send carrier based fighters over land targets for close air support purpose. That is not the strategic mission of Navy aircraft -- it is just an example of inter-service cooperation.

This theory that some small tactical group can establish themselves as an independent entity within their branch of the military is a fools game. Should it occur, that independence movement will eventually be crushed. If you don't believe that, find some Army Officers from the Vietnam era and ask them what happened organizationally to members of the Special Forces of that era, favored by President Kennedy -- when they later got out of control and decided they did not have to conform to army standards. I knew a number in both the Vietnam era Special Forces and in the so-called conventional branches of the Army. Post-Vietnam the Special Forces types were almost all driven out of the Army, their organizations massively down sized, they lost their budgets, and they found out quickly promotions were over for them. Organizations have a way of crushing attempts by small groups at independence.

The USMC is a very well trained, well organized and structured, and highly disciplined force. But, in this day and age, other than providing a dozen or so battalions of Amphibious Infantry with their own ship based tactical level Close Air Support capabilities, traveling on an upgraded number of Navy Amphibious ships, proceeding under the command of Fleet / Task Force / Task Group Commanders -- for deployment in tactical support of the Navy's mission of temporarily extending sea power ashore -- why a separate Marine Corps?

What is the STRATEGIC MISSION of this nation's second large scale ground force called the Marine Corps? No one is providing a valid answer to that question.

Strategic mission, NOT tactical specialty, is the ONLY basis for having an independent branch of the military. Those units performing TACTICALLY "special"
or unique missions (and that would be every tactical entity in the military) is not a basis for an independent branch of the military -- else maybe we should have the US Armored Forces, the US Artillery, the US Infantry, the USN Destroyer Squadron Forces, the US Submarine Forces etc., etc, as independent branches of the military.

Given the budgetary problems this country is having, one day we will have a President and DOD Secretary that will reorganize the military. Better for the Marine Corps to do it themselves in cooperation with the Army today then allow themselves to be put to the budget knife later.

Yes, definitely technical issues. Ended up with four postings of the same thing, and since "delete" is not an option, went with the next best thing which was "edit" and just threw in a random character or so.

In some ways we are arguing past each other. Strategy is about employing the instruments of national power (diplomacy, information, military, and economy) in a synchronized or integrated manner to achieve some national objective. Based on that definition, the means to achieving an objective could be any manner of things most appropriate to the situation and the desired end state.

Therefore, I am approaching this from a point of purpose and a point of need. And you are correct to say that both require periodic assessment. If you have five screwdrivers in your toolbox, two different sized Phillips head and three different sized regulars, the purpose is obvious, but you still have to ask about the need for all five. Depending on what you are doing most often, the kind of projects you find yourself facing on a regular basis, you make a decision about whether you need all five, need less, or perhaps even need more.

From this standpoint, none of the services have a strategic right to exist but rather defend themselves, their equipment, their budget, etc., on the needs they meet in terms of purpose. The Marine Corps provides a forward deployed, crisis response force that enables the Navy to project power ashore for limited periods of time. This is a purpose for which most still feel there is a need.

How that need is fulfilled can certainly be debated - do we need 180,000 Marines or 140,000 or 80,000? That has much more to do with the demand of our national commitments than a formula. And culturally, how do we want that need fulfilled?

Various countries solve these things in various ways. In China, everything from the Navy to the Air Force to their nuclear forces (2d Artillery Corps if memory serves) is subordinated to the Army. That works for them - it doesn't for us. The British spent a huge amount of time trying to figure out who was going to be who regarding naval versus land based aviation and decided to separate them. The Russians didn't.

I would argue - perhaps not convincingly for you - that the nation wants a Marine Corps, that the Marine Corps fulfills a purpose, and that purpose is specialized enough that it requires a certain amount of institutionalization.

Valid comments CBCalif. However, I would argue that having a Marine Corps and Army provides a very important element mostly found only in the private sector and lacking in the government sector; competition...in doing similar tasks better, thereby improving those proficiencies in both components.

CBCalif said "The USMC is a very well trained, well organized and structured, and highly disciplined force. But, in this day and age, other than providing a dozen or so battalions of Amphibious Infantry with their own ship based tactical level Close Air Support capabilities, traveling on an upgraded number of Navy Amphibious ships, proceeding under the command of Fleet / Task Force / Task Group Commanders -- for deployment in tactical support of the Navy's mission of temporarily extending sea power ashore -- why a separate Marine Corps?"

Other than that...

Having served in both the Army and Marine Corps I would say the Marines could provide on "ODA like" construct for IW without the need for alot of NCOs. Notice I said "ODA like" and not necessarily an exact duplicate an ODA. This to me is more of a mitigating strategy for IW and that is something to keep in mind. Marine culture molds its personnel to take on more responsibility in its enlisted ranks then the Army does. For example, an platoon SGT in the Army is an E-7 while in the Marines its an E-6. I've also known Lance Corporals (E-3s) who could put some Army E-5's to shame. We should also remember the Medal of Honor winner and Green Beret SSG Robert J. Miller (KIA) was an 18X, one of the first Special Forces soldiers recruited and trained straight from the street and he had no previous operational NCO experience to draw upon...if my memory is correct. My point is that intense training and discipline can offset experience to some arguable degree. Another example is that MEUs often go through a SOF certication process before some deployments with no major changes to their MTOE structure, which is built around infantry, air and logistics components.

Great article. Several people, including some on SWJ, have hinted at or advocated for such a capability within DoD/ USG.....Thomas Barnett's SysAdmin Force comes to mind. Bringing back Army Constabulary units (from post-WW2 era) is a similiar idea.

Were a 30,000 man force created in the USMC, it seems that, intially, it may require another round of retiree recalls since, as COL Maxwell points out, such teams are effective because of senior NCOs. This would impact retired officers as well. These guys would have to be maintained at least until the active USMC has had enough time to age a portion of their force to mitigate the need for the recalled bubbas.

This is a very interesting excerpt from the article.  By my math that would 2,500 US Marine Corps A Teams. Even accounting for supporting and enabling capabilities, using half from that 30,000 number would still provide 1250 Marine "ODAs" .  There are currently approximately 360 active duty US Army Special Forces Operational Detachments - Alpha. I agree that the ODA "model" has been very successful in Special Forces. However, to try to replicate it on this scale would probably use all the senior NCOs in the Marine Corps. Probablly the number one characteristic of the SF ODA that makes it so successful (beside having one of the most effective small unit combined arms capability) is the experience of its senior NCOs. I would caution that just putting together 12 Marines or Soldiers will not equal an SF A Team and we should be careful if the Army or Marine Corps tries to replicate the model that these teams will not be a replacement for SF ODAs.

Excerpt:

In order to be persistently present in 10 

to 20 countries for the next 10 to 20 

years, the Marine Corps will need to 

develop an irregular warfare capacity 

of approximately 30,000 personnel

It is recommended that the highly successful operational detachment “alpha” 

team model of 12 multiskilled personnel be used as the start point for the 

basic operating unit in the necessary 

organizational realignment. The current 

ground organization of fire team, squad, 

platoon, company, battalion, regiment, 

and division is not an appropriate organizational construct for the persistent 

build partner capacity missions.