We’ve discussed and dissected the Marine Commandant’s
ill-conceived concept of small units of hidden, missile-shooting, sub-sinking wonder-warriors
winning a war with China single-handed and we’ve, rightly, scoffed at it. Setting aside the mockery, let’s take a look
at the status of the effort to establish that capability and see what kind of
progress the Commandant is making.
To ever so briefly review, the concept calls for Marines to
launch anti-ship missiles, with a range of several hundred miles, from island bases
using modified ‘jeeps’ and light trucks.
Two missile systems have been commonly proposed:
Missile (TASM) – The use of a land based Tomahawk cruise missile has been
made possible by the termination of the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces (INF)
treaty. Unfortunately, the Tomahawk is
slow, non-stealthy, non-maneuvering, and likely has a very poor survival rate
against a peer defender. It’s
essentially a subsonic target drone and can only succeed if fired in
overwhelming numbers which the small unit concept cannot generate, so … On the plus side, the missile has a range of
several hundred miles and is designed to use mid-course guidance. Where that initial targeting and subsequent mid-course
guidance will come from in the Marine’s concept is unknown and, thus far,
unexplained. Given the two hour travel
time at maximum range, some type of mid-course guidance will definitely be
U.S. Navy’s subsonic Block Va (i.e. Block 5a) Maritime Strike Tomahawk
(MST) is capable of being reprogrammed and rerouted in flight to attack moving
ships out to around 900 nautical miles (or 1,035 miles/1,666 km…the exact range
has not been fully disclosed) with a 1,000-pound warhead. Maritime Strike
Tomahawk is by far the longest-range ASCM option although it would take about
two hours to fly 900nm miles at a speed of around 550mph. The MST is
slated to become operational in 2023 with the probable preferred U.S.M.C.
ground launcher being a quartet of MK41 Vertical Launch System (VLS) cells
mounted on a towed semitrailer. (4)
A towed semitrailer is not exactly a small, nimble, easily
transportable, easily hidden piece of equipment which renders the basic concept
of small, hidden units somewhat suspect.
Such a vehicle requires roads or flat, open terrain which, again,
renders the ‘hidden’ aspect questionable.
Also, a quartet of cells provides a ‘magazine’ capacity of 4
missiles. That’s not enough to bother
any peer defender warship. Reloads are
both problematic and useless for a single engagement since the reload delay
time would preclude effective massing of missiles.
Of course, the small unit could always be provided with
several, or a dozen or more, semi-trailers to increase the ‘magazine’ size but
that would negate the small, hidden, rapidly relocatable attributes of the
Marine’s platoon size units.
|Test Firing of Tomahawk from Trailer|
Naval Strike Missile
- The Navy Marine Expeditionary Ship Interdiction System (NMESIS) combines a Remotely
Operated Ground Unit for Expeditionary Fires (ROGUE-Fires) drone vehicle, which
is a Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV), and the Naval Strike Missile (NSM).(2) Seriously, there must be an entire department
that works exclusively on catchy acronyms, right? The NSM, as you recall, is the Norwegian
Kongsberg anti-ship missile intended for the LCS. It is subsonic, moderately stealthy, and has
a range of 200-300+ miles.
uses the Marines’ High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) on the chassis
of a remotely operated version of the Army’s Oshkosh-built Joint Light Tactical
Vehicle, loaded with a Kongsberg/Raytheon Naval Strike Missile.(2)
will likely integrate the NSM on unmanned Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV) “ROGUE Fires” vehicles. (4)
Regarding the launcher,
Remotely Operated Ground Unit Expeditionary-Fires (ROGUE-F) is the launcher
vehicle for the NMESIS/GBASM [ed. GBASM stands for Ground Based Anti-Ship
Missile] system. … The GBASM project
will procure a USMC system while leveraging other Service-developed missiles to
provide a ground based anti-access/area denial, anti-ship capability.(3)
If we were shooting acronyms and abbreviations, we’d win the
war in a few hours!
|ROGUE Fires |
So, those are the two missile systems. What’s missing from that? Targeting, of course!
The glaring weakness in the Marine’s concept is, of course, targeting. The Marines have not discussed this aspect,
at all. They’ve simply hand-waved away
the issue and, just as every discussion of the overall concept begins with the
Marines already firmly established on an island, hidden from view, fully
equipped, and with the enemy absolutely clueless, so too, does every discussion
of the missiles begin with the assumption that they already have targets
sighted and locked.
So, now that we understand what missile systems are being
developed and what the glaring weakness of the concept is, what is the status
of the equipment and funding for the various components? Listed below is a summary of the equipment
and funding status of the various components of the concept. Items in red indicate gaps or shortcomings
related to the anti-ship concept. Funding
information largely comes from the FY2021 Marine and Navy procurement documents
(3) on the SecNav budget website. Note
that missile funding was stated in the documents as being classified at a
higher level than could be shown in the public documents so information is
fragmentary, at best.
Missile (Maritime Strike Tomahawk)
Status – The missiles are currently non-existent and
under development, however, TASMs previously existed so this shouldn’t be a
drawn out development and the upgrades appear to be ready to implement. The Marines originally requested 48 missiles
in FY2021. The Marines consider this a
longer term option.
Funding – The Marines requested $125M for
FY2021. Reports suggest that amount was
cut but it is unclear by how much.
Naval Strike Missile
Status – The NSM exists and is currently being
procured by the Navy for the LCS although production rates and, therefore,
acquisition rates are very low, at the moment.
There is no indication in the FY2021 budget document that any NSM will
be procured for the Marines. So, the
missiles are available but either not being procured or not in any significant
Funding – There is no line item listed in the budget document for
JLTV ROGUE Fires Launcher
Status – While JLTVs are currently operational and plentiful,
modified versions to carry a HIMARS launcher are developmental.
Funding – The FY2021 budget shows a quantity of 7 HIMARS for
$30M. The JLTV vehicle is being procured
at a quantity of 752 for $382M but that is for all of the Marine Corps, not
just the anti-ship concept. It is
unclear whether any of the HIMARS or JLTV are modified for the anti-ship role
and the budget language suggests that they are not which, in turn, suggests
that there is no funding for any actual launch-modified vehicles.
Status – Likely a modified semi-trailer. Currently non-existent.
Funding - Unfunded
Status – No sensor currently exists that has been linked to this
Funding - Unfunded
Regarding FY2021 funding, here’s a general statement that is
lacking in specifics but conveys a certain reluctance by Congress to fully fund
the Marine’s request.
Marines had requested $125 million for Tomahawks and $64 million for GBASM as
well as $75 million for long-range fires. The final bill essentially cuts the
GBASM budget in half and trims almost $20 million for LRPF research and
development — roughly a 25 percent cut. (1)
Note that the Marines have, at various times and by various
people, mentioned Tomahawk Anti-Ship Missiles, Long Range Precision Fires
(LRPF), Ground Based Anti-Ship Missiles (GBASM), Navy Marine Expeditionary Ship
Interdiction System (NMESIS), Maritime Strike Tomahawk, and Remotely Operated
Ground Unit for Expeditionary Fires (ROGUE-Fires), all, apparently, describing
the same or different aspects of the overall concept. It’s difficult to know exactly what refers to
Acronyms aside, the takeaway is that Congress is funding
less than the Marines requested and by a significant amount.
Noting the status of equipment existence, or lack thereof,
and funding, the anti-ship concept appears to be currently severely
underequipped and underfunded.
Admittedly, much of the anti-ship concept remains conceptual and under
development so this is not, alone, worrisome, at this time. Of greater concern is the fact that Congress
has cut funding for the concept to some significant degree and the Commandant’s
time in office is becoming limited. A
Commandant serves for 4 years with an option for a single additional term,
however, there has not been a two-term Commandant since Gen. Lejeune in the
1920’s. Commandant Berger has a bit over
two years left in office. Therefore, it
is reasonable to question whether significant progress can be made on the
concept before the Commandant’s term expires and someone else, with possibly a
different or more Congress-friendly agenda, takes over. The inescapable conclusion is that this
entire anti-ship concept may die before it can be implemented. When other items such as the Light Amphibious
Warfare ship which is critical to the implementation of the concept and is
barely even in the early developmental stage, are factored in, the future of
the anti-ship concept becomes even more suspect.
Regarding implementation timing,
Marine Corps had planned to move quickly on GBASM and wanted to field an
operational battery by FY23.(1)
This would appear to be optimistic based on reduced funding
and possible changes in concept and priorities.
It would also be somewhat disappointing that simply mounting an existing
HIMARS on an existing JLTV and launching an existing NSM would require two
years of development.
(1)Defense News website, “Lawmakers slash funding for Marine
Corps’ long-range fires development”, Jen Judson, 23-Dec-2020,
(2)Defense News website, “To combat the China threat, US
Marine Corps declares ship-killing missile systems its top priority”, David B.
(3)FY2021 Budget Justification Book, “Procurement, Marine
Corp”, Feb 2020,
(4)Naval News website, “Land-Based Anti-Ship Missiles and
the U.S. Marine Corps: Options Available”, Peter Ong, 27-Sep-2020,