The Maritime Special Purpose Force (MSPF)

Author: Eric Sof

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The Maritime Special Purpose Force (MSPF) is sub-unit of each deploying Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable), or MEU (SOC). The MSPF is a unique organization drawn from the Marine Expeditionary Unit’s major subordinate elements. The MSPF provides the enhanced operational capability to complement or enable conventional operations or to execute selected maritime special missions.

The Maritime Special Purpose Force cannot operate independently of its parent Marine Expeditionary Unit. It relies on the Marine Expeditionary Unit for logistics, intelligence, communications, transportation and supporting fires. Command of the Maritime Special Purpose Force remains under the control of the Marine Expeditionary Unit commander. The Maritime Special Purpose Force is organized and trained to be rapidly tailored to the specific mission. The MSPF does not duplicate dedicated Special Operations Forces.

Maritime Special Purpose Force tasks include:

  • Deep Reconnaissance
  • In Extremis Hostage Rescue in an urban environment
  • Special Demolition Operations
  • Clandestine Recovery of Personnel and Equipment
  • GOPLAT Operations
  • Clandestine Reconnaissance and Surveillance
  • Direct Action and CQB
  • Maritime Interdiction Operations

The Maritime Special Purpose Force is composed of the following:

  • A command element
  • A covering element consisting of one or more reinforced rifle companies- Usually a specially trained platoon from the MEU(SOC) boat company.
  • An assault element the deployed Force Recon direct action platoon (DAP). Organized to conduct on-scene command, assault, security, and support functions.
  • A reconnaissance and surveillance (R&S) element composed of the MEU(SOC) Battalion Landing Teams (BLT) Surveillance and Target Acquisition (STA) Plt. a Radio Recon Team (RRT) from the MEU(SOC) Radio Battalion Det., and elements of the MEU(SOC)intelligence section. The R&S element is organized to conduct reconnaissance and surveillance, sniper control and support, counter-intelligence, human and signal intelligence, and electronic warfare.
  • An aviation support element to provide assault support, and close air support (CAS).
  • A Naval Special Warfare element- the MEU (SOC)’s deployed SEAL Strike Plt.

Maritime Special Purpose Force Training

Initial Training Phase

During the Initial Training Phase, the Maritime Special Purpose Force receives instruction in the special skills necessary to conduct the special operations missions associated with the MEU Special Operation Capable (SOC) program. Training and evaluation during this phase will focus on individual and small unit skills. Instruction provided and/or coordinated by the Special Operations Training Group (SOTG) includes:

Specialized Demolitions 

A period of instruction that provides selected elements of the Marine Expeditionary Unit with the capability to conduct the precision destruction of targets.

Breacher Course 

A period of instruction designed for the Assault Element of the MSPF. Provides the ability to conduct explosive and non-explosive entry into a designated target. This training should include participation by Explosive Ordnance Disposal personnel.

Urban Sniper/Designated Marksman Course 

This course provides training for qualified 8541 Scout Snipers, designated marksmen, and supervisory personnel responsible for the planning and employment of urban snipers within the MEU’s Maritime Special Purpose Force. Course material will include: sniper initiated assault, surgical shooting, live night fire engagement, urban movement, counter sniper operations, rapid/multiple threat engagement, Maritime interdiction Operations (MIO), and covering force operations. Only snipers that have successfully completed this course are eligible to participate in live fire Situational Training Exercises during Training in an Urban Environment (TRUE) and Special Operation Capable Exercise (SOCEX).

Urban Reconnaissance Surveillance Course 

A course designed to train personnel from the Division Reconnaissance Detachments, the GCE’s Surveillance and Target Acquisition Platoon, Radio Battalion Detachment and the Intelligence Company Detachments in the conduct of Urban Reconnaissance and Surveillance (R&S). The course will cover at a minimum, an introduction into R&S, intelligence considerations, R&S planning, urban route planning and movements, introduction to direct action operations, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Center operations, Escape and Evasion techniques, surveillance/counter-surveillance techniques and equipment, and urban communication procedures. The training will focus on reconnaissance in support of special operations and conventional missions with specific emphasis on urban operations. This course provides an outstanding opportunity to integrate with the Amphibious Squadron’s (PHIBRON) Naval Special Warfare Detachment (NavSpecWar Det).

Security Element Training 

This course is designed for a platoon sized force. It develops the skills necessary for the force to function in support of the MSPF Assault Element. The training of this platoon will include limited Close Quarter Battle (CQB) skills, internal security procedures, hostage handling procedures, and those other capabilities required to support the Assault Element.

CQB Training 

This course is for the Assault Element of the MEU’s Maritime Special Purpose Force with a focus on advanced marksmanship skills and tactics.

Initial training phase

The following are recommended areas of evaluation during this phase:

  • Specialized demolition.
  • Urban sniping.
  • Assault breaching.
  • R&S.
  • CQB.

Intermediate training phase

The Maritime Special Purpose Force’s goal during this training phase is to integrate all elements of the Maritime Special Purpose Force in order to conduct operations with the MSE’s and the PHIBRON. Training will focus on special operations skills and capabilities, ( e.g., sniper proficiency, CQB, specialized demolitions, clandestine reconnaissance and surveillance, MIO, Gas and Oil Platform (GOPLAT), clandestine recovery, direct action and In-Extremis Hostage recovery (IHR) in an urban environment ). Remedial and sustainment training will be conducted as required to improve deficiencies.

U.S. Marines with Special-Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force Crisis Response conduct landing zone security at Tifnit Military Instillation, Morocco, April 3, 2014 during exercise African Lion 14. SP-MAGTF Crisis Response is a self-deployable, highly mobile response force allocated to U.S. Africa Command to respond to missions in permissive and uncertain environments to protect U.S. citizens, interests and other designated persons. SP-MAGTF Crisis Response participated in the exercise to train their rapid response capability. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Alexander Hill/Released)

Maritime Special Purpose Force Interoperability Training 

The purpose of this training is to integrate the Command and Control, Reconnaissance and Surveillance, Assault, Security, and Aviation Assault elements. This can be conducted off-site or locally. This training is a logical prerequisite for TRUE and may provide an opportunity to conduct basic level training with the PHIBRON NavSpecWar


TRUE provides the MEU an invaluable opportunity for training in unfamiliar urban environments. Participants are comprised of the CE and elements of the GCE, ACE, CSSE, along with the MSPF. TRUE provides an opportunity to integrate unique MSPF capabilities in conjunction with the MEU’s increased proficiency in the R2P2. This event presents realistic opportunities for reconnaissance and surveillance (R&S) in an urban environment, and interaction with the external agencies that may assist in conducting clandestine R&S operations.

GOPLAT & MIO Training 

GOPLAT and MIO training provide an opportunity for the MSPF to apply its special skills on unique target platforms. This training can be accomplished unilaterally or in conjunction with the PHIBRON’s NavSpecWar Det. SOTG coordination with civilian GOPLAT operators and merchant shipping agencies is required.

The Maritime Special Purpose Force are a unique specialized subunit capable of complementing, enable, and execute selected conventional, maritime special operations. They are also responsible for in extremis hostage rescue (IHR) in urban areas.

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