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:
Tomahawk Anti-Ship 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 required.
The 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.
NMESIS 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)
USMC will likely integrate the NSM on unmanned Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV) “ROGUE Fires” vehicles. (4)
Regarding the launcher,
The 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!
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.
Tomahawk Anti-Ship 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 quantity.
Funding – There is no line item listed in the budget document for the NSM
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 concept.
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.
The 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 what.
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,
The 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. Larter, 5-Mar-2020,
(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,