The 3d Low Altitude Air Defense Battalion (3d LAAD) is an air defense unit of the United States Marine Corps currently responsible for providing short range air defense. The battalion falls under the command of Marine Air Control Group 38 (MACG-38) and the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (3rd MAW) and is currently based at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California.
Provide close-in, low altitude, surface-to-air weapons fires in defense of Marine Air-Ground Task Force (MAGTF) assets by defending forward combat areas, maneuver forces, vital areas, installations and/or units engaged in special/independent operations & to provide a task organized, ground security force in defense of MAGTF air sites when not engaged in air defense operations.
3d Forward Area Air Defense (FAAD) Battery (−) was activated as an independent command in the Marine Air Control Group on March 8, 1982 following 3d FAAD Platoon’s detachment from Marine Air Support Squadron 3 and deactivation the previous day. Under Maj Ralph F. Marchewka’s command, 3d FAAD Btry (-) started with 78 Marines and an H&S Platoon. It grew to five firing platoons before 3d Low Altitude Air Defense Battalion was activated under LtCol R. C. Dodt Jr. on January 22, 1987.
From 1986 to August 1990, the battalion supported several Weapons Tactics and Instructor (WTI) flight phases at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Arizona, Combined Armed Exercises at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, CA, and Exercise Red Flag at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada. During this time, the battalion also supported the 11th, 13th, and 15th Marine Expeditionary Units (MEUs) with a single LAAD section. The battalion continues to support these exercises and MEU deployments to this day.
3d LAAD Battalion experienced its first real-world test when a detachment deployed aboard the USS Okinawa (LPH-3) on October 8, 1987 as part of Contingency Marine Air Ground Task Force (CMAGTF) 1-88. In response to Iranian aggression during the Tanker Wars, Marines from B Battery provided critical air defense from Iranian aircraft and guaranteed the safety of countless merchant vessels transiting between the Straits of Hormuz and Kuwait.
With Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait on August 2, 1990, the battalion was tasked to support Operation Desert Shield. On August 14, 1990, advance elements of the battalion arrived with a contingent from the 7th Marine Regiment. The remainder of the battalion, augmented by a battery from 4th LAAD Battalion, reached the Saudi Arabia between August 17-20 as part of the 5th Marine Expeditionary Brigade. At the time of embarkation, only 45 Stinger teams and necessary support personnel were authorized to deploy. Once ashore, A Battery (−) defended the vital assets of Jubayl Airport, Jubayl Port Complex, King Abdul Aziz Naval Base, and Shiek Isa Airfield, Bahrain while B Battery (-) was in direct support of 7th Marine Regiment. On June 29, 1991, the unit returned to MCB Camp Pendleton after successfully accomplishing its assigned mission.
During the 1990s, LAAD Battalions began acquiring several new weapon systems to augment dismounted Marines carrying the Stinger missile on their shoulders. 3d LAAD Bn fielded the Light Armored Vehicle-Air Defense Variant (LAV-AD) and the AN/TWQ-1 Avenger Weapons System taking into consideration concept of employment, personnel requirements, training, logistic support, and facilities requirements.
The acquisition of the LAV-AD was not without opposition. Major General Lynch, Commanding General, Marine Corps Combat Development Command, opposed the acquisition due to other Marine Corps needs and the low priority of the LAV-AD. Brigadier General West, a Marine Corps congressional liaison, favored the acquisition based on strong congressional interest and the Marine Corps’ “Hill reputation” of buying only that for which it requests funding. Ultimately, the decision was made to purchase the LAV-AD due to table of organization structure availability, the current threat to the MAGTF, and the probable loss of the Marine Corps’ HAWK Battalions.
The Avenger Weapon System was introduced to the battalion in January 1995. The Avenger provided Marine Corps air defenders with new capabilities in a lightweight, day/night, limited adverse weather fire unit for countering the threat of low altitude, high-speed fixed-wing or rotary wing aircraft. The firing unit incorporated two Standard Vehicle-Mounted Launcher (SVML) missile pods, a .50 caliber machine gun, Forward Looking Infrared (FLIR), Laser Range Finder (LRF), and IFF capability. The fully rotating, gyro-stabilized turret was mounted on the M1097 heavy High-Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle (HMMWV). The fire unit could engage a target with missiles or the machine gun either with a gunner in the turret or from a remote location using the Remote Control Unit (RCU). On-board communication equipment provided for VHF radio and intercom operations.
In 2005, I MEF designated 3d LAAD Bn as the Fleet Sponsor for the Complementary Low Altitude Weapon System (CLAWS). Designated members of the Battalion participated in operational training with the CLAWS employing it in support of WTI 1-06. After WTI, CLAWS traveled to White Sands, New Mexico to conduct a live-fire exercise. The CLAWS team fired eight Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missiles (AMRAAMs) and successfully engaged seven targets. The CLAWS team continued preparation for the fielding of the system during 2006. On 3 May 2006, Marine Corps Systems Command elected to discontinue the program on the basis of insufficient funding and lack of necessity.