Marine expeditionary unit

A Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU, pronounced "Mew"), formerly called Marine Amphibious Unit (MAU), is the smallest Marine air-ground task force (MAGTF) in the United States Fleet Marine Force.[1] Each MEU is an expeditionary quick reaction force, deployed and ready for immediate response to any crisis, whether it be natural disaster or combat missions.[2]

A Marine Expeditionary Unit is normally composed of: a reinforced Marine infantry battalion (designated as a Battalion Landing Team) as the ground combat element, a composite medium tiltrotor squadron forms the aviation combat element, a combat logistics battalion provides the logistics combat element, and a company-size command element serves as the MEU headquarters group. Troop strength is about 2,200 and usually commanded by a colonel, and is deployed from amphibious assault ships. Currently, a Marine expeditionary unit embarks Marines and equipment onto the amphibious warfare ships of an Expeditionary Strike Group (ESG) which also includes escort ships and submarines to protect them from air, surface, and submarine threats. For further protection and strong air support, such an ESG is often deployed along with one or more carrier battle groups.


Marines loading on a Landing Craft Utility in 1999

The MEU is unique in that its air and ground combat elements are combined with a logistics combat element under one commander; other services do not unite the command of air and ground forces until much higher command levels.

When the United States Army integrates with Air Force assets, it typically is at the theater or corps level, with a general commanding, while at the division level it will integrate with Army aviation, which can be organized as organic at the battalion level.

The MEU's ground combat element also combines artillery, light armor and tanks at a much lower level than was common in the Army until the development of the brigade combat team early in the War on Terror, with a similar concept, the combat command, being utilized in World War II.

This air-ground task force concept is designed to thoroughly exploit the combat power inherent in air and ground assets by closely integrating them into a single force. The MEU brings all the supplies and logistical support it needs to sustain itself for quick mission accomplishment or to pave the way for any follow-up forces. This self-sustainment allows more flexibility in disposition and operations of forces, and allows the MEU to initiate operations sooner and let support catch up later, without having to wait for external logistical support to begin a mission. Deployments on U.S. Navy amphibious assault ships allows MEUs to seabase around the globe, ready for deployment at short notice.

A typical MEU has approximately 2,200 Marines and sailors. It is equipped with:

A UH-1N from the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit flies past an AH-1W on the flight deck of USS Kearsarge
Qty Nomenclature Element
4 M1A1 main battle tank ground
7 to 16 Light Armored Vehicle ground
15 Assault Amphibious Vehicle ground
6 155mm howitzer: M777 ground
8 M252 81mm mortar ground
8 BGM-71 Tube-Launched, Optically-Tracked, Wire-Guided (TOW) missile weapon system ground
8 FGM-148 Javelin anti-tank missile ground
4 to 6 AH-1Z Viper attack helicopters aviation
3 UH-1Y Venom light utility helicopters aviation
12 MV-22A Osprey medium-lift tiltrotor aircraft aviation
4 CH-53E Super Stallion heavy-lift transport helicopters aviation
6 AV-8B Harrier V/STOL light-attack airplanes aviation
2 KC-130 Hercules aerial re-fueler/transport airplanes
Note: usually maintained in the continental United States
2 Reverse Osmosis Water Purification Unit logistics
1 LMT 3000 water purification unit logistics
4 Tractor, Rubber Tire, Articulated Steering logistics
2 TX51-19M Rough Terrain Forklift logistics
3 D7 bulldozer logistics
1 Medium Tactical Vehicle Replacement dump truck logistics
4 Mk48 Logistics Vehicle System logistics
7 500 gallon water containers multiple
63 Humvee multiple
30 Medium Tactical Vehicle Replacement trucks multiple
5 RQ-21 Stingray UAV aviation

Many types of equipment are, or will soon, undergo a transitory phase as they are replaced. Some examples include the Marine Personnel Carrier replacing the LAV-25, the F-35 Lightning II replacing the AV-8B Harrier, and the CH-53K Super Stallion replacing the CH-53E.


Ground Combat Element

The ground combat element (GCE) is based on the battalion landing team (BLT), an infantry battalion reinforced with an artillery battery, amphibious assault vehicle platoon, combat engineer platoon, light armored reconnaissance company, tank platoon, reconnaissance platoon, and other units as the mission and circumstances require. The total strength is approximately 1,100 members.

The reconnaissance platoon provides the basic element for the Maritime Special Purpose Force. This force consists of four elements. The assault platoon (a direct action platoon augmented from Force Recon), security (a selected infantry platoon from the battalion landing team), reconnaissance and surveillance assets, and a headquarters section. The total strength is approximately 350 Marines and sailors.

Aviation Combat Element

The aviation combat element (ACE) is a Marine composite squadron (reinforced) composed of a medium tiltrotor squadron augmented with detachments of heavy, light, and attack helicopters, one detachment of amphibious flight-deck-capable jets, and a Marine air control group detachment with tactical air command, air traffic control, direct air support, and anti-aircraft assets, as well as wing headquarters, wing communications, and wing support squadron personnel. Total strength is approximately 600 troops.

Logistics Combat Element

The logistics combat element (LCE) (formerly combat service support element or CSSE) is based on the MEU combat logistics battalion (CLB) (formerly MEU service support group or MSSG). It contains all the logistics specialists and equipment necessary for the MEU to support and sustain itself for up to 15 days in an austere expeditionary environment. It includes service support (postal and disbursing), medical, dental, intermediate maintenance, intermediate supply (consumables and secondary reparables), transportation (distribution and landing support), explosive ordnance disposal, utilities production and distribution, bulk fuels, internal communications, and various other technical experts. It consists of approximately 300 Marines and Sailors.

Command Element

The command element (CE), which includes the MEU commander and his supporting staff, provides command and control over the other three elements. It includes specialized detachments for air naval gunfire liaison, reconnaissance, surveillance, specialized communications, radio reconnaissance (SIGINT), electronic warfare, intelligence and counterintelligence, law enforcement, and public affairs missions. The overall strength is about 200 Marines and sailors.

Expeditionary Strike Group

Recently, MEUs have been deployed within an expeditionary strike group (ESG) in the Mediterranean, the Western Pacific, and periodically, the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. An ESG is typically composed of three amphibious ships that embark the necessary troops and equipment and are escorted by a guided missile cruiser (CG) and guided missile destroyers (DDG) and submarine (SSN) support.

Before the ESG, MEUs were typically deployed as part of an Amphibious ready group

The MEU Cycle

For detailed information on special operations certification, see Special Operations Capable.

MEUs maintain their subordinate elements in fifteen month cycles: a nine months stateside (with six set aside for training), and a six-month deployment aboard ship. These cycles ensure that at least two of the seven MEUs are deployed forward at any given time.

Interim or buildup period: Upon completion of a deployment, the Marine expeditionary unit remains "special operations capable" for approximately one month, prepared to respond to events around the world. They are not, however, considered a special operations unit by the Department of Defense. The MEU then releases its major subordinate elements (MSEs), retaining only its command element. This period provides the command element a chance to rotate select personnel and begin planning for the addition of newly assigned MSEs and “work-up” training. When the MSEs are received, the MEU begins six months of intense pre-deployment training.

Work-up period: Training during the six-month work-up period is often referred to as "crawl, walk, run". The Marines and Sailors progress through curriculum and exercises that teach individual, small unit, and unit tactics while integrating the separate MEU elements into a cohesive, flexible, and powerful force. The work-up period includes training in many combat and noncombat skills, to include:

Exercises conducted during the work-up period can include:

Deployment: Following the work-up period, the MEU deploys for six months in support of geographic combatant commanders. During this time, the MEU is a forward-deployed, self-sustaining force that combatant commanders can direct to accomplish a variety of special operations and conventional missions.

The missions may include:

List of MEUs

West Coast MEUs

West Coast MEUs fall under I Marine Expeditionary Force, and their main area of operations includes the western Pacific and Indian oceans (to include the Persian Gulf).[3]

Official Name Insignia Headquarters
11th Marine Expeditionary Unit
Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California
13th Marine Expeditionary Unit
Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California
15th Marine Expeditionary Unit
Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California

East Coast MEUs

East Coast MEUs fall under II Marine Expeditionary Force and maintain presence in the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea.[3]

Official Name Insignia Headquarters
22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit
Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, North Carolina
24th Marine Expeditionary Unit
Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, North Carolina
26th Marine Expeditionary Unit
Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, North Carolina

Japan MEU

The 31st MEU is the only permanently forward-deployed MEU, maintaining a presence in the Pacific Ocean at all times as part of III Marine Expeditionary Force.[3]

Official Name Insignia Headquarters
31st Marine Expeditionary Unit
Marine Corps Base Camp Smedley D. Butler,
Okinawa, Japan

See also


  1. What is a MEU? II MEF website
  2. What is a MEU? 22nd MEU website
  3. 1 2 3 profile at
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