This article is organised as follows:
- Part 01; Background to the Philippine Marine Special Operations Group (MARSOG).
- Part 02: Organisation of the MARSOG.
- Part 03: Miscellaneous.
PART ONE: BACKGROUND
This article provides an overview of the Philippine Marine Special Operations Group (MARSOG), more commonly known as the Force Reconnaissance Battalion, a unit of the Philippines Marine Corps within the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).
The Force Reconnaissance Battalion is known by a number of names/terms including: FRB, Force Recon, Marine Corps Recon, Marine Special Operations Group, and MARSOG.
The MARSOG is the Philippine Marine Corps’ elite ground force performing unconventional and special operations, and is one of several units that form part of the Armed Forces of the Philippines Special Operations Command (AFPSOCOM).
Together with the Naval Special Warfare Group forms the Philippine Navy’s Special Operations Forces (SOF). Although both units are under the Philippine Navy, they do not belong to a single, unified command. Whereas the Naval Special Warfare Group is under the Philippine Fleet, the Force Reconnaissance Battalion is under the Philippine Marine Corps (Lastimado & Rojas, 2004).
Part One of this article looks at women and the MARSOG, then discusses the difference between tier 1 and tier 2 forces and highlights the methods of entry. It then outlines the roles and tasks of the MARSOG before finally providing a brief history on its origins. Part Two looks at the organisation of the MARSOG, outlines the various SOF units, and briefly highlights the training courses open to potential MARSOG members. Finally, Part Three provides some useful links and identifies other articles the reader may find useful.
The aim of this article is to provide an overview of the Philippine Marine Special Operations Group.
1.2 Women and the MARSOG
Unsure if women can join.
1.3 Tier 1 and Tier 2 Special Forces
MARSOG is sometimes referred to as ‘Tier 1’ SF units because they are the units usually tasked with direct action. Other special operations forces are referred to as ‘Tier 2’ units as they, usually, fulfil a supporting role for the Tier 1 units.
1.4 Method of Entry
Civilians cannot join the MARSOG directly, one must join the AFP first and then apply.
Typically, officers will have completed the Marine Officers Basic Course and enlisted personnel will have completed the Marine Basic Warrior Course (GMA, 2007) before applying for MARSOG.
1.5 Roles and Tasks
The role of the Philippine Marine Special Operations Group includes a number of specialist tasks, for example:
- Riverine operations;
- Mountain operations;
- Jungle operations;
- Amphibious reconnaissance;
- Counter-terrorism (CT) operations;
- Airborne operations;
- Operations in built-up and urbanised areas;
- Air, land, and water insertions;
- Interdiction; and
- Counter-guerrilla operations.
The MARSOG relies heavily on speed and stealth to effectively carry out its reconnaissance operations. MARSOG is also used as a CT unit by the Marine Brigades in its operations in Southern Philippines.
1.6 Brief History
MARSOG can trace its lineage back to the 1950’s, in the form of the Scout Raider Platoon, which was then part of the Weapons Company of the Philippine Marine Battalion.
The first personnel received formal training from the Philippine Army Special Forces while conducting cross training with the United States Marine Corps (USMC) Reconnaissance and other Special Operations units. Nonetheless, the Scout Raider Platoon was specialised in amphibious raids and not on ground reconnaissance.
Although the Scout Raiders had a very different mission profile to its contemporary MARSOG brethren, it was Scout Raiders who formed the core of the reconnaissance companies. There was confusion between the Scout Raider/Reconnaissance cross-over, which also manifested in those reconnaissance personnel who were posted to the first Inshore Boat Company, and there were various (unsupported) claims that the reconnaissance company was at one time de-activated. However, this did not officially occur, posts were just ‘accidently’ unfilled!
Key dates include:
- The Force Reconnaissance Battalion started out as the Scout Raider Platoon, part of the Weapons Company of the Philippine Marine Battalion in the 1950’s.
- Due to the formation of the Scout Raider Platoon, the Philippine Marine Battalion received formal instruction and training in combat parachuting, thus officially becoming the first airborne unit of the Philippine Navy (in general).
- In August 1972, the Scout Raider Platoon became the 1st Reconnaissance Company.
- The company saw intense combat actions alongside with the Marine Beach Landing Teams (MBLT’s) during the Secessionist Movement of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in Southern Mindanao in the early 1970’s.
- From 1975 to 1985 the unit experienced a series of combined combat and administrative operations ranging from reconnaissance missions to augmentation of the first activated Inshore Boat Company in the early 1980’s.
- On 15 September 1985, the unit was re-designated as the 61st Marine (Recon) Company.
- The unit had most of its field assignments in Mindanao, particularly in the Zamboanga peninsula where they were pitted against several dissident terrorists and the MNLF lost command.
- In 1986, the unit was stationed at Marine Barracks Fort Bonifacio (MBFB).
- In June 1987, the unit together with a large contingent of Combat Service Support Brigade units and other MBLT’s, were sent to Jolo relieving the 1st Infantry Division of the Philippine Army. From there, the unit was sent to various combat missions against several lawless elements in Basilan, Tawi-Tawi, and Palawan.
- Returned to MBFB.
- While at the MBFB, the unit was eventually deployed and utilised against the renegade soldiers in Metro Manila and successfully apprehended several of these during different raids in their hideouts.
- In 1989, the unit practically covered the entire archipelago.
- A Recon platoon was deployed in Central Mindanao, specifically in Davao and Cotabato under operational control of the 3rd Manoeuvre Brigade.
- Another platoon was deployed in Palawan under 2nd Manoeuvre Brigade, while another platoon operated in Bulacan under the 1st Manoeuvre Brigade.
- The company’s operating headquarters was under the GHQ Task Force Vulcan.
- On 15 May 1989, the 62nd and 63rd Marine (Recon) Companies were both activated although their actual fill up came up later in 1994 when there were three independent Recon Companies.
- In 1992 the 61st Marine (Recon) Company together with a weapons section from the 8th Marine Company, MBLT-8, led the assault against the main Communist Party of the Philippines/New People’s Army (CPP/NPA) Headquarters in Sagada, Mt Province.
- The success of the operation was a strategic victory for the AFP against the CPP/NPA not only in Luzon but all over the country.
- In Sept 1992, the unit maintained the same profile of deployment.
- It was intensely engaged against several kidnap-for-ransom (KFRC) gangs in Central Mindanao.
- One of the most celebrated accomplishments of the unit during this period was the rescue of Father Blanco and Anthony Biel from the Abu Sayyaf. The encounters by the unit which preceded this rescue, together with other Marine units operating in Basilan were the first ever series of encounters by the AFP against the ASG.
- The successful operation and rescue in Camp Almadina, Basilan earned for the unit not only national prestige but the second Medal of Valour for the Marine Corps; First Lieutenant Custodio Parcon PN(M), who led the assault.
- This operation soon led to several intense but nonetheless successful combat operations against the ASG and the MNLF Lost Command in Basilan and Jolo, which unfortunately escalated to alarming heights with the arrival of the Philippine Army in the area.
- The unit was designated under the Marine Rapid Deployment Force and was sent to Cotabato to face more combat operations.
- On 18 April 1995, renamed the Force Reconnaissance Battalion.
- The HQ Service and Training Company was activated with the three Recon Companies.
- Two companies were deployed to Cotabato and Zamboanga City, and one to the MBFB.
- In October 1998, the entire battalion, the HQ and the three companies, were all deployed in Southern Mindanao under the defunct Philippine Anti-Organised Crime
- Task Force (PAOCTF) – Mindanao.
- The battalion took on various special operations ranging from direct actions against the ASG and KFRG’s, to ship assault and raids on built-up areas against big time smugglers.
- In March 1999, the battalion was confronted with the war in Central Mindanao against the MILF.
- Three men were awarded the Medal of Valour.
- On August 2001, the battalion was once again deployed in Basilan to rescue the Dos Palmas hostages and to neutralise the ASG, while one Force Recon Company was committed for the Force Recon Course Class 07-01 which was operating under Southern Luzon Command (SOLCOM) area of responsibility (AOR).
- In the same year, and in accordance to Marine Corps Table of Organisation (TOE) 01-00 the 61st, 62nd, and 63rd Marine (Recon) Companies were re-designated as the 61st, 62nd, and 63rd Force Recon Companies, respectively.
- With the growing strength of the battalion, the 64th Force Recon Company was activated in January 2003.
- The battalion was now under the Combat Support Service Brigade of the Philippine Marine Corps.
- In April 2018, as part of the ongoing expansion and modernisation of the AFP, the FRB was officially renamed the Marine Special Operations Group.
“Some personnel of the Force Recon have received formal training from the Philippine Army Special Forces, those who were members of its forerunner, the Scout Raider Platoon.” (Lastimado & Rojas, 2004, p.29).
Notable campaigns include:
- Anti-guerrilla operations against the New People’s Army (NPA) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
- Anti-terrorist operations against the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG).
- Operation Enduring Freedom – Philippines.
- International peace support and humanitarian relief operations.
- United Nations operations.
- 2017 Marawi crisis.
PART TWO: ORGANISATION & TRAINING OF MARSOG
This part of the article outlines the organisation of the MARSOG, including its commander and the various units and sub-units within it.
2.1 Philippine Marine Corps
Established in November 1950, the Philippine Marine Corps (PMC) is a naval infantry force under the command of the Philippine Navy. It performs amphibious warfare, expeditionary warfare, and special operations warfare. It is led by the Commandant, a Major General (OF-7) (The Philippine Star, 2016) or a Brigadier General (OF-6) (PMC, 2017).
The PMC has approximately 7,500-8,000 personnel, of which around 500 are in the MARSOG. In 2018, there were calls by the Commandant to make the PMC an independent service (Defense Studies, 2018).
The PMC is currently organised as:
- Three Manoeuvre Brigades;
- One Combat Service and Support Brigade (CSSB); and
- Independent units (for example the Force Reconnaissance Battalion, aka MARSOG).
2.2 MARSOG Mission
The MARSOG’s primary function is to conduct reconnaissance in support of Marine Brigade operations and amphibious landings of the Philippine Marine Corps.
“The Philippine Marine special operations missions are conducted as part of the Marine Amphibious Brigade.” (Lastimado & Rojas, 2004, p.29).
2.3 Commander MARSOG
The Marine Special Operations Group is led by a Lieutenant Colonel (OF-4), based at the headquarters (HQ) in Fort Bonifacio, Makati City, in the same facility as the Philippine Marine Corps HQ.
2.4 Units of the MARSOG
In 2004, Lastimado & Rojas (2004, p.24) state the MARSOG had approximately 500 personnel and was organised as follows:
- Three Recon Ranger Companies (deployed along with the Marine Brigades).
Currently, the MARSOG was organised as follows (GMA, 2007; Holeman, 2015):
- HQ and Training Company.
- Four Recon Companies, each with approximately 100 personnel:
- 61st Reconnaissance Company.
- 62nd Reconnaissance Company.
- 63rd Reconnaissance Company.
- 64th Reconnaissance Company.
2.5 MARSOG Training School
No further information on the HQ and Training Company.
2.6 Training Courses for MARSOG
There are a number of courses available:
- 6-month Force Reconnaissance Course (GMA, 2007).
- “60” students per course (Hernandez, 2009, p.27).
- Jungle Environment Survival Training (Holeman, 2015).
- ‘Test’ Mission (GMA, 2007).
- Scout Ranger Course.
- Basic Airborne Course.
- VIP security training.
The culmination of MARSOG training is the test mission, consisting of a live operation against enemy combatants. In 2007, only “29 of the 44-man class survived the clash.” (GMA, 2007). Force Recon Class No.13 saw 15 candidates die and 10 injured, with a report 42 ASG deaths (GMA, 2007). In 2013, “Seven soldiers were killed in the force reconnaissance team’s 30-minute encounter with the Abu Sayyaf Group in Patikul last May 25.” (de la Cruz, 2013).
MARSOG personnel are, typically, airborne and Scout Ranger qualified. Personnel may also undergo VIP security training in preparation for assignment with the Presidential Security Group.
PART THREE: MISCELLANEOUS
3.0 Useful Publications
- Lastimado, A.R. & Rojas, A.G. (2004) The Armed Force of the Philippines and Special Operations. Master’s Thesis. Naval Postgraduate School. Available from World Wide Web: https://apps.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/a429856.pdf. [Accessed: 21 August, 2019].
- Headquarters Philippine Army Letter Directive dated February 24, 2004, Subject: Rightsizing of SOCOM.
- PAM 3-071: Philippine Special Forces Operations Manual.
- Philippine Navy Manual 3-27: Philippine Marine Corps Special Operations. 15 April 2002.
- Hernandez, E.V. (2009) Assessing the Parameters for Determining Mission Accomplishment of the Philippine Marine Corps in Internal Security Operations. Master’s Thesis. Marine Corps University. Available from World Wide Web: https://apps.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/a509218.pdf. [Accessed: 10 September, 2019].
3.1 Useful Links
- Marine Special Operations Group (MARSOG): https://en-gb.facebook.com/forceReconPH/.
de la Cruz, K. (2013) AFP: Sulu Test Mission Needed to Prove Marines’ Competency. Available from World Wide Web: https://news.abs-cbn.com/focus/05/30/13/afp-sulu-test-mission-needed-prove-marines-competency. [Accessed: 10 September, 2019].
GMA. (2007) Elite Unit’s ‘Students’ in Basilan Clash now Graduates – Marine Chief. Available from World Wide Web: https://www.gmanetwork.com/news/news/nation/57064/elite-unit-s-students-in-basilan-clash-now-graduates-marine-chief/story/. [Accessed: 10 September, 2019].
Hernandez, E.V. (2009) Assessing the Parameters for Determining Mission Accomplishment of the Philippine Marine Corps in Internal Security Operations. Master’s Thesis. Marine Corps University. Available from World Wide Web: https://apps.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/a509218.pdf. [Accessed: 10 September, 2019].
Holeman, J. (2015) Philippine, US Recon Marines Learn to Survive in the Jungle during PHIBLEX 2015. Available from World Wide Web: https://www.marines.mil/News/News-Display/Article/621805/philippine-us-recon-marines-learn-to-survive-in-the-jungle-during-phiblex-2015. [Accessed: 10 September, 2019].
Lastimado, A.R. & Rojas, A.G. (2004) The Armed Force of the Philippines and Special Operations. Master’s Thesis. Naval Postgraduate School. Available from World Wide Web: https://apps.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/a429856.pdf. [Accessed: 21 August, 2019].
PMC (Philippines Marine Corps). (2017) The Commandant, Philippine Marine Corps. Available from World Wide Web: https://www.facebook.com/1121514281263067/posts/the-commandant-philippine-marine-corps-bgen-emmanuel-b-salamat-afp-presides-chan/1295115887236238/. [Accessed: 10 September, 2019].
The Philippine Star. (2016) New Marine Corps Commandant Named. Available from World Wide Web: https://www.philstar.com/nation/2016/08/26/1617272/new-marine-corps-commandant-named. [Accessed: 10 September, 2019].
Defense Studies. (2018) PMC was Proposed as Independent Military Branch. Available from World Wide Web: http://defense-studies.blogspot.com/2018/04/pmc-was-proposed-as-independent.html. [Accessed: 10 September, 2019].