Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Marines, Sea Control, and HIMARS

I love the Marine Corps but, I’m sorry, they’ve gone off the rails.  What is their core mission?  Well, actually, that’s a good question because I don’t think Marine leadership currently has a viable answer – they’ve forgotten their mission.  Presumably, though, the answer ought to involve some form of amphibious operations (I won’t say assault because it doesn’t have to be although that would be the classic example).  With that in mind, the Marines should be focusing on how to get as much firepower and armor ashore against peer opposition as possible, right?  But, that’s not what the Marines are concentrating on.  Instead, they’re concentrating on becoming a third air force, a light infantry force (for what reason, I can’t imagine since light infantry will get annihilated on the modern battlefield), a social/psychological warfare service (hearts and minds), a 3D printing force, and all kinds of other non-core activities.  Their latest is an apparent desire to become a land based navy to conduct anti-surface ship operations using their high mobility artillery rocket system (HIMARS).  The Marines want to get into the business of sea control from the land.  I guess they’ve solved every other problem they face and are looking to expand.

We’ve talked about this recently in somewhat general terms but let’s get into the weeds and really look at this.

A Breaking Defense website article describes the Marine’s newly desired mission (1) thusly,

“It also means the Marines need a highly mobile system that can come ashore with the grunts and keep moving to evade retaliatory fire while staying connected to Navy fire control networks. That’s a much more demanding mission than static coastal defense, the role of most anti-ship missile batteries around the world …”

The article hints at some of the challenges.

“But buying the missile is just the start. You need to integrate it with a launcher, a fire control network and a supply chain.”

The launcher is the easy part, in the Marine’s eyes.  They already have the HIMARS so they just need to find a missile that can fit it.

How is all this going to work?  Here’s the Marine’s vision.

“The Marines would provide additional “distributed” firepower from Expeditionary Advance Bases. Carved out of hostile territory by landing forces, kept small and camouflaged to avoid enemy fire, EABs would support F-35B jump jets, V-22 tiltrotors, and drones, as well as anti-ship missiles for the fleet. It’s a high-tech version of Henderson Field on Guadalcanal (part of the Solomons) in 1942. Like Henderson Field, the EABs would provide a permanent presence ashore, inside the contested zone, to support Navy ships as they move in and out to raid and withdraw.”

The unspoken assumptions that go into this vision are staggering in their magnitude and fantasy.  Let’s examine them.

That we’re going to be able to enter a “contested zone” with a big enough force to land heavy construction equipment, build a base, equip it with advanced computers, comm. gear, sensors, spare parts, fuel, and munitions without the enemy noticing is wishful thinking at its best – and we’re going to have several of these bases!

That we believe we’re going to be able to operate the highly temperamental F-35B which, under ideal and pristine conditions on a highly advanced and well equipped airbase, has only a 50% readiness rate is ludicrous. 

That we’re going to be able to transport fuel, food, munitions, spare parts, etc. to these bases in the “contested zone” without being seen is pure fantasy.

It also occurs to me that another unspoken assumption in this concept is that the expeditionary base will either be on a previously unoccupied island or chunk of land or the Marines will have to seize it.  If the Marines have to seize the land then there is no secrecy.  The enemy, having had the location wrested away from them, will be fully aware of our presence and any base that we might construct there.  That kind of defeats the fantasy of secret bases with missiles and aircraft appearing and disappearing as if by magic.  That leaves the use of previously unoccupied land.  Are there really that many unoccupied pieces of land in a “contested zone” and near enough to something of value that the enemy will have ships passing by but will not be monitoring the land for just such secret bases?  I’ve got to believe that the number of such locations are exceedingly few.

I’ve got to stop here.  We’re wandering off topic by discussing the fantasy of these disbursed, magically invisible bases.  The topic is the use of HIMARS anti-ship missiles so let’s get back to that.

There’s a fundamental problem with launching a missile, any missile.

“Once you launch a rocket, however, the enemy can see your location on radar and infra-red, so the missile batteries must practice “shoot and scoot” tactics: move to a firing point, launch, and move again to a hiding place before enemy retaliation rains down.”

Shoot and scoot!  Well that’s easy.  The HIMARS will be able to move before any counterfire can arrive.  Just out of curiosity, though, how does a 12 ton HIMARS scoot through the jungle, mountains, or whatever that the Marines have carved their forward expeditionary bases out of?  And if we limit ourselves to only relatively flat, open areas that a HIMARS can easily travel, doesn’t that negate the “hidden” part of the expeditionary base concept?  Plus, doesn’t the act of firing kind of call attention to the base itself?  Presumably the enemy can reason out that an anti-ship missile didn’t just appear from land by magic.  Once alerted, the enemy has only to conduct a cursory scan of the area and they’ll notice any base big enough to operate F-35B’s, MV-22s, drones, HIMARS.  Plus, they’ll likely notice the buildings, warehouses, comm. facilities, sensors, etc. that even a “primitive” base requires.  Henderson Field was not a secret to the Japanese!

Let’s consider the missile’s range.  The Marine Request For Information to industry (2) cited a range of “80 miles or greater”.  The problem, here, is that the longer the range, the bigger the missile must be and the bigger and less mobile the launcher must be – refer back to the “shoot and scoot” issue.  Further, the larger the missile, the more expensive it is.  This strongly suggests a fairly short range missile.  Range leads us directly to the next problem which is sensor/targeting.

HIMARS - Scooting Through The Jungle?

An 80+ mile missile is useless if you don’t have 80+ mile sensors to provide targeting data.  What are these sensors and where are they going to come from?  The obvious sensor is radar.  The problem is that a land based radar has a range of only the radar’s horizon, say, 20 miles or so.  Of course, the radar could be mounted on top of a high hill or mountain (how do we get it there from a primitive expeditionary base without calling attention to the effort?) if one happens to be handy.  Data transmission from a remote radar sensor presents another problem. 

Also, if we have a powerful 80+ mile radar scanning the area, that will certainly call the enemy’s attention to it and our “secret” base won’t be secret anymore.

Well, why not use networked sensors from other assets in the region, like the Navy?  The Navy has made an extensive investment in, and commitment to, distributed sensor networks so tapping into that should solve the problem, right?  Of course, if the Navy has to be in the area to provide sensor coverage then that means that the Navy can’t leave the area and if the Navy is in the area, why do you need a land based anti-ship missile since every ship that floats will be armed with anti-ship missiles anyway, according to the Navy (remember the Navy’s oft-repeated, “If it floats, it fights.”?)?

This smacks of budget grabbing at its worst.  With all the problems the Marines currently face, is trying to take on a new, non-core mission really the best use of their time and budget?  The Marines are on an out-of-control power (meaning budget) grab and need to be reined in.


(1)Breaking Defense website, “Marines Seek Anti-Ship HIMARS: High Cost, Hard Mission”, Sydney J. Freedberg Jr., 14-Nov-2017,


  1. The illustration in the article, showing the forward base surrounded by Chinese forces is funny.
    The next Marine request is for 12 SLDs to support forward bases. Submarine Landing Dock, conops: proceed submerged to FB, surface, unload. Submersible AAV is next.

  2. For some reason, this reminds me of the old WW2 era cartoons where superman or Donald duck defeat the whole German army by themselves with goofy antics. I feel this is the template this CONOPS is based on if we're willing to believe we can build a super-duper secret spy base on enemy territory, presumably one we're at war with, and them not notice us casually strolling up the beach with trucks and laptops, from rather large ships...

    I'm hoping I have misread this, still, after I have done so twice.

    1. Comparing the present military leadership to Donald Duck is an insult to the entire talking duck community.

  3. Is good to see that USMC is prepared to re-fight WW2 and win again Henderson field! Not! Sad.....hopefully USMC won't waste time and money on this nonsense.

  4. Jeff Goldblum voice: "You spent so much time wondering if you could, you never bothered to wonder if you should!"

    Seriously though, this looks more like military capability through powerpoint bullet points. That is the only place this looks like a good idea.

    Correct me if I am wrong, CNO, but I was under the impression that the only reason for seizing/setting up forward bases is to be able to stage weaponry from then that you couldnt otherwise, right? Like the B-29's from Iwo. But here they almost go out of their way to only list weapons that could already be deployed by the Gator Navy. It would be one thing if we had some sort anti-ship SCUD system or area denial set up we wanted to forward deploy. Or if they were advocating a rapid response/deployment THAAD and/or Patriot battery deployment capability that would be able to give ships a protective umbrella to operate under.

    Slight aside: I will always be bummed that they were never able to get that AEGIS blimp thing working properly. Something like this might be a good use of its never-realized capabilities, being able to forward deploy a sort of far-reaching AEGIS Ashore. That said, this whole half-thought concept seems like a much better fit for the Air Force special forces guys.

  5. The problem is,that no one really believes that an over the beach assault against a competent enemy is anything but suicide.

    And why is the Marine Corps even a separate branch in the first place? Why are they not a part of the army like, say, airborne divisions?

    1. They are a part of the American Navy, a sub branch I believe. They're suppose to be first response, holding out on a temporary base until the Us army can relieve them. This is the reason why their more modern jets like the Av-8 barrier and the more recent F-35B are either STOVL or VTOL. To operate from small airfields.

      To be fair, there have been large scale beach assaults in the past, look at Guadalcanal, or the marianas, Okinawa. But in each case the Marines and army suffered very heavy casualties.

  6. I just wish they would find out how well they can do this with Current equipment. As far as I know there have been no exercises to see how good current artillery would work. One advantage of guns is you can afford to miss 20 times to get 1 155mm shell on target. The big problem is the ranges their asking for.

    1. I'm not sure what you're suggesting about seeing how good artillery works. We've operated artillery for many decades and we know exactly how well it works. I think I'm missing your point. Try again?

  7. Once you have done the obvious and fired HIMARS off an Amphib, you can fire GMLRS and ATACMS off a Connector.

    Some speculate that 'shoot-&-scoot' via one/two/thee HIMARS or GMLRS per Connector can begin to be seen as Inshore Fire Support.

    A 200-tons heavy-lift Connector can carry a lot of 9" or 24 guided missiles. With ranges up to 160nm - and with longer range in the works - this small-profile Connector based shore-bombardment makes DDGs 5" or DDG-1000 super-guns less relevant.

    With enough Amphib well-deck capacity, tube and barrel-artillery for IFS-duty ever-moving to evade counter-battery from close inshore is tactically unprecedented. "BBs need not apply!"

    Yes, barrel-artillery, since we can stabilize barrels and since EXCALIBUR warheads do find their way.

    6"/155mm unstabiized Howitzers have been fired off LCU. Once you stabilize-barrel and guide the projectile, then 155mm/52-cal barrel can be good for 30nm.

    Better yet with 203mm/8"...

    1. Make that 200-ton cargo-capacity Connector...
      200 tons of arti-rounds and missiles !
      And always on the move.

    2. "Some speculate that 'shoot-&-scoot' via one/two/thee HIMARS or GMLRS per Connector can begin to be seen as Inshore Fire Support."

      "Some" would be fools. This doesn't even remotely begin to constitute fire support. Go back and review the bombardment/fire support in a WWII assault. A single LSM(R) could put a thousand 5" rockets on target and that was only a tiny fraction of the fire support needs! This is nothing more than a gimmick that seems attractive only because we've forgotten what a true assault against a peer would need in the way of fire support.

      How do you propose doing reloads?
      How do you propose stabilizing the launcher?
      How do you propose tying into a fire control system?
      How do you propose providing self-defense as well as offense?
      Every connector providing fire support is a connector not transporting troops and supplies. How do you propose getting troops ashore when the connectors are tied up in fire support?
      How do you propose transporting enough fire support connectors to make a difference to the assault site?

      Answer these questions and you'll be providing an interesting and worthwhile comment.

    3. As a matter of house-keeping, let us note that your NAVY MATTERS-Index knows nothing of e.g. LCU, LCU-F, a rather astonishing indication of conceptual 'Terra Incognita' challenges, with even ATACMS only 'discovered' some 6 weeks ago, even though known as even N-ATACMS etc. for literally decades.

      "How do you propose doing reloads?"
      On one go-fast 200-tons LCU-candidate under consideration we'd find a 100'L x 13+'W x 12'H (internally-) wide-open cargo-bay, covered on demand with sliding hatches.

      Take 20' away for the M-270 12-tube GMLRS-launcher (fit for 2x ATACMS at a time), that leaves 80' for how many ATACMS
      Running the volumes conservatively, and leaving room to move the projectiles internally, we can figure 5 projectiles wide x 4 high for 20x per 14' section x 5 sections could equal 100 ATACMS plus the two already in the M-270 launcher.
      102xd 160+nm-range guided munitions you'd be hard-pressed to take out in its final approach coming in near-vertical.

      "How do you propose stabilizing the launcher?"
      Same way you are stabilizing for decades now a (USMC) HMMWV-mounted SAM AVENGER turret with 8x STINGERS plus MGs doing 35mph across the sage-brush distinctly-uneven YAKIMA PROVING GROUNDS - while keep an eye on-target.

      "How do you propose tying into a fire control system?"
      No compressed tutorial here on how land-forces do fire-support. This is all fully-understood.

      "How do you propose providing self-defense as well as offense?"
      "Fighting Connector" has since its first (modern-era-)discussion in public in 2013 always included barrel- and tube defense/offense systems. Whether you'd need to categorize a 24"diameter 160nm-range 500-lbs warhead missile as this or that may better be left up to you. But killing ships with these is clearly on the table.

      "Every connector providing fire support is a connector not transporting troops and supplies. How do you propose getting troops ashore when the connectors are tied up in fire support?"

      "Every Connector..." is your assumption, unnecessarily self-restrictive.
      At the S2ME2 ANTX '5-ARG's were discussed, consisting of 1x LHD, 1x LPD-17 and 3x LSD-41/21 for a total of 22 Connector-slots, each with up to 200 tons of load-carrying capacity - to be multiplied via cargo delivered to OTH-200 by ROROs etc...

      With LSD-41/21 about 50% of LX-R cost, getting 20 such instead 10x LX-R offers 1.3 extra well-deck length (stature) miles of Ampgib-Deck Capacity - plenty to designate 2 out of 22 slots for IFS-duty LCU-types, each with 102 'big' shots, many more 9" shots.

      All of this makes the 'mighty' 8"-55-cal cruiser-guns a bit out of sync with its unguided 30,000 yards range, last carried by USS BOSTON off Vietnam in the late 60s...

      USMC needs serious-caliber/warhead IFS. And 'Fighting Connector'-mounted tube-artillery always moving about inshore to evade counter-fire offers plausible and scalable punch.

    4. Please see my reply concerning an alternate writer in another comment.


Comments will be moderated for posts older than 7 days in order to reduce spam.