MODERN USMC AIR POWER: AIRCRAFT AND UNITS OF THE FLYING ‘LEATHERNECKS’

Reviewed by: DR JAMES BOSBOTINIS

The subject of this book immediately appealed to this reviewer, on account of being a complete aviation nerd. Harpia are a well-known publisher of aviation books, with respective series on Russia and China, being particularly well-regarded. Modern USMC Air Power follows the established Harpia format of providing an excellent balance between analysis and photographs, tables and, in this case, illustrations of unit badges. The author, Joe Copalman, is a freelance writer, specialising in historical and contemporary military aviation, in particular relating to the US Marine Corps. Regarded as a leading emerging authority on the USMC, Modern USMC Air Power is his first book.

The author aims to provide “an authoritative historical, technological, organisational, and personal overview of USMC aviation in the first two decades of the 21st century without being exhaustive”. This aim is reflected in the book’s structure, with the first chapter providing a history of Marine Corps aviation, with the second chapter focusing on the organisation and structure of Marine aviation, and chapter three covering training. The following 11 chapters cover the particular functional areas of contemporary Marine airpower, that is, heavy helicopters, light attack helicopters, medium lift, attack, fighter attack, tactical electronic warfare, and so on. This approach does result in Chapter 12, ‘VMR and H&HS Marine Operational Support Airlift’, only being two pages, which appears slightly odd.

Each chapter provides an overview of the types employed by the USMC in that particular functional area, for example, for the chapter on fighter attack (VMFA in the USMC lexicon), this covers the F/A-18 Hornet and F-35B. This is followed by operational employment, planned or in-progress upgrades, tactics, and how the capability fits into wider USMC operations. Copalman very ably covers the individual aircraft, weapons, and other systems being discussed and how they integrate to provide the tactical expeditionary airpower that the US Marines can bring to bear. Moreover, the author, whilst providing significant detail, also writes in an accessible and clear manner. As with other Harpia books, Modern USMC Air Power can be read by the enthusiast, academic or professional.

There is much in this book to inspire thinking. This reviewer was particularly interested in the discussion of how the USMC are developing ‘HI-RAIN’, or HIMARS Rapid Insertion, whereby an M142 High-Mobility Artillery Rocket System is loaded onto a KC-130J Hercules, ‘plugged’ into the aircraft’s GPS, flown to an austere location, disembarked, fires from a safe distance, and loaded back onto the aircraft and flown off. This approach is intended particularly for operations in the face of a peer threat’s anti-access and area denial capabilities. Moreover, the Marines are working to enhance the ability of HIMARS to engage mobile targets, by utilising the F-35 to find and fix such targets within otherwise denied airspace, and provide the targeting data to the HIMARS units.

Modern USMC Air Power achieves what the author set out to do, and it does so very well. The book is well-structured, features an extensive selection of colour photographs, and is, for the most part, well-written. There are some errors and typos, which should have been identified at the proof-reading stage. They do not, however, detract from the quality of the book. Modern USMC Air Power will greatly appeal to anyone with an interest in military aviation or the US Marines, and will be valuable to the academic or analyst. It is highly recommended.