The humid heat was just one obstacle for the Marines operating a remote landing strip in eastern North Carolina.

A small contingent from Marines Air Station Cherry Point are spending two weeks in the field fueling aircraft. They found broken equipment and a shortage of some helicopter parts, but overall they were up and running, coordinating with the USS New York positioned off the Atlantic coast, said Col. Ginger Beals. 

“This is simulating if we needed to, that the aircraft could come forward,” she said. “They could refuel. Then they could deploy with them into whatever is needed.”

Large Scale Exercise 2023 is only the second time the Navy and the Marines have tried working together at the global level -  25,000 sailors and Marines and dozens of ships  participating across 22 time zones - some virtually, while others are stationed around the world.

Marine Lt. Gen. Brian Cavanaugh said for the Marines, it’s a chance to reconnect with the Navy. 

“For two plus decades, the nation has asked us to be in other places, think Iraq and Afghanistan,” Cavanaugh said. “Those cross boundary issues are still the same.” 

The concept of the exercise is to distribute forces across miles of ocean and then coordinate an attack. Hubbed out of Fleet Forces Headquarters in Norfolk, the exercise includes top Navy commanders like Adm. Stuart Munsch, commander of US forces in Europe and Adm. Samual Paparo, who heads the Pacific Fleet.

Fleet Forces Commander Adm. Daryl Caudle said their staffs work together as multiple crises pop up around the world..

“We have a responsibility and a duty to be able to respond globally to threats, vulnerabilities, to peer adversaries and competitors,” Caudle said. "And the only way you get graded is by practicing. And you got to practice it at the highest levels.”

The Navy wants to test how it can handle at least two major threats at the same time. In the last few years, the Navy and Marines have issued a number of new strategies for handling the rise of China and ongoing issues with Russia as the U.S spends fewer resources on the Middle East. 

“Against a peer competitor, all the fights are going to be global, and so we'll be completely shooting behind the duck if we try to just regionalize the type of the strategic competitors that we're talking about,” Caudle said.

U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Cesar Durangordian, a helicopter mechanic with Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron (HMH) 461, observes the back of a CH-53K King Stallion at Marine Corps Outlying Field Oak Grove, North Carolina, Aug. 14, 2023. HMH-461 takes part in Large Scale Exercise 2023, a globally integrated exercise designed to refine how we synchronize maritime operations across multiple fleets, in support of the joint force. The training is based on a progression of scenarios that will assess and refine how modern warfare concepts. HMH-461 is a subordinate unit of 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing, the aviation combat element of II Marine Expeditionary Force. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Orlanys Diaz Figueroa)
Photo courtesy of Department of Defense 

A Marine helicopter mechanic in North Carolina works a night flight during the multi-day global exercise that included a number of Hampton Roads-based sailors and ships.

The Navy was often on the sidelines during the last 20 years of desert war. Critics charge that the Navy still has a Cold War strategy for dealing with global threats.

Unable to decide how to counter a threat like China, it attempted to invade Taiwan. In the rush to change that, Melanie Sisson with the Brookings Institute told Congress in February that the U.S should rely on diplomacy just as much as the military. 

“We do need to be ready militarily and yet this is a strategic level competition and the best thing we can do is to remember that this is not a military competition,” Sisson testified. “The military is part of it, but it’s a strategic competition with a military element.”

To get a global perspective, Large Scale Exercise 2023 relies even more heavily on virtual simulations than the first time the Navy tried this in 2021. The USS Eisenhower sits pierside in Norfolk as it finishes a maintenance cycle. The command center below deck portrays the carrier strike group as being somewhere off the coast of Europe.

“Fundamentally, nothing is different about what we're doing here, whether we're at sea, in port for training or anything else,” said Commander Alex Voeller, the battle watch captain. “The only real difference is where the information is coming from, whether it's our own sensors or other sensors ashore. It doesn't look any different for us.”

The Navy plans on doing another exercise like this in 2025, as leaders try to work through how its forces should react as the US moves beyond the Global War on Terror.