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Marines Fire HIMARS From Ship in Sea Control Experiment With Navy


ABOARD THE AMPHIBIOUS ASSAULT SHIP USS ESSEX – The daytime launch of the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System on Sunday might have seemed like another training mission if the Marines hadn’t fired it from an amphibious ship operating at sea.

A detachment of Marines with Camp Pendleton, Calif.-based 5th Battalion, 11th Marines, set up the vehicle-borne launch system on the flight deck of amphibious transport dock USS Anchorage (LPD-23). Programmed with information about the objective – suspected enemy air defenses – on a nearby island, the HIMARS launcher fired off a rocket at a target 70 kilometers away.

Target destroyed, officials said.

The missile strike, coming during the biannual amphibious task force exercise Dawn Blitz off southern California, marked a big first for the Navy and the Marine Corps.

“The ability to project power from and at sea is critical,” Lt. Col. Tom Savage, operations officer with 1st Marine Expeditionary Brigade, told a small group of journalists at a briefing aboard USS Essex, the flagship for the exercise.
“It’s a significant capability.”

Senior officials have been looking at how the Marine Corps, which is historically focused on land based operations, can support the Navy at sea and bolster the amphibious force’s ability to obtain and maintain “sea control,” in areas of current and potential future operations.

Just in the past year, Gen. Robert Neller, commandant of the Marine Corps, several times has spoken about using HIMARS to launch various munitions against targets at sea and ashore. At the Modern Marine Expo in Quantico, Va., last month, Defense News reported, Neller said “you’re going to see precision fire delivered off amphib ships, whether it comes out of tube guns or rockets or delivered from unmanned systems.”

HIMARS, a vehicle-launched rocket system first developed for the Army, is a land-based precision weapons system the Marine Corps uses for fire support against artillery, armor and air defenses. Its GPS-guided munitions travel well beyond the reach of its field artillery cannons. It’s transportable by C-130 Hercules aircraft. Each crew has a launcher, resupply vehicle and two resupply trailers, mobility that allows crews to quickly set up, fire and relocate.

The sea-based experiment during Dawn Blitz, which runs Oct. 20 to 29 with I Marine Expeditionary Force and 3rd Fleet forces, marked the first time the self-contained, vehicle-launched rocket system has been fired from an amphibious ship.

HIMARS “is very precise, which will minimize civilian casualties. It helps hit that target you want to hit and nothing else,” said Rear Adm. Cathal O’Connor, ESG-3’s commander.

Officials have wondered: What would happen – when deploying Marines bring it aboard ship – if we fired it at sea?

Unlike the steady base on land, a ship at sea “is a launch platform that is basically moving in four dimensions – time, pitch, roll, yaw,” said O’Connor, a veteran surface warfare officer, said in a media roundtable aboard Essex.

That could fray the nerves of any fire control team. So they worked with contractors to rework targeting software to hit targets at the Navy’s bombing ranges at San Clemente Island while underway. “We can be at sea and we have a mobile, maneuvering platform – hard to target – and now we are able to hit a fixed target ashore,” he said.

O’Connor said the target “could have been a surface-to-air missile. It could have been a radar site which was monitoring the area that we were operating in. It could have been a cruise missile site. Or it could have been a command-and-control center – all of which would impact our ability to go and operate where we want to be.”

“So the ability to launch that HIMARS from the sea to strike that target now suddenly says, hey I can use this capability on this ship and we can wire it together with the different sensors already in place and be able to impact that,” he said. With it, “I don’t necessarily have to launch an F-35; I don’t necessarily have to move the destroyer off its current mission to go intercept a target. I can use this same HIMARS launcher to reach that target.

“And then when I’m done, I can leave it there. I can build a base for it. I can break it down – because it’s at an expeditionary advanced base – and I can bring it back on a hovercraft.”

And once back on ship, Marines “can refit it and do all the maintenance they need to while we sail onto the next thing,” he added. That extra role “will give the folks in D.C. and the regional combatant commanders more flexibility.”

The new capability also potentially gives the Marine Corps a piece of the sea control mission.

“Traditionally, the Navy is responsible for sea control. Once we control that, we deliver the Marines ashore,” said Cmdr. Matt Hoekstra, an operations officer with ESG-3.

“We are one of the first forces in the theater,” Hoekstra noted, and “there’s a lot more that has to come in” to support initial operations and create the environment for follow-on forces and support.

USS Anchorage (LPD-23) transits the Port of Los Angeles during the second annual Los Angeles Fleet Week. US Navy Photo

But amphibious forces, such as amphibious ready groups, have shipboard self-defense systems but limited strike capability, and they typically don’t deploy with ships such as destroyers that can strike targets at sea or further inland. “We don’t have all the fires a carrier strike group would have,” Hoekstra said. So HIMARS would “augment” naval fires and, ultimately, enable and support sea control.

On Monday, a Marine raid force boarded MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotors and CH-53E Super Stallion helicopters and flew off Essex for the mission to capture an enemy-held airfield, which for the scenario was the airfield at the north end of San Clemente Island.

After capturing the airfield, they set to secure the nearby beach so follow-on amphibious forces could arrive.

“The next stage [is], let’s send the HIMARS ashore and then it can start ranging targets at sea,” said O’Connor, the amphibious task force commander for the Dawn Blitz exercise. “Suddenly, you have a mobile capability that was at sea and is now ashore, and now you’ve got an opportunity to maneuver the ships away with this providing overwatch. It’s pretty amazing.”

That plan involved sending the HIMARS crew, along with ammunition, ashore via air-cushioned landing craft (LCAC) with the forces. Once on land, the force would be poised to respond to offensive operations or against threats, whether these are at sea, say, an enemy vessel, or further inland.

The objective “could be at sea or it could be on land,” said Brig. Gen. Rick Uribe, I MEF’s deputy commander and commander of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Brigade at Camp Pendleton. “So this gives us great flexibility to be able to go after whatever it is at the moment, whether it’s a surface target or land targets.”

“It’s all hands to the fight,” Uribe said. “On ship, we have Marines sitting below deck. They have weapons. We’ve got to think about creative ways to utilize that capability… to make sure that whatever the force is, wherever it’s going, that it’s protected and we can get to our objective area.”

So Marines who are available and aren’t tasked with other missions, such as while ships are in transit, can “help the amphibious force protect itself,” he said. “These are all concepts we are looking at.”

“That’s not too different than in World War II,” added O’Connor, noting South Pacific battles during World War II where Marines with land-based coastal defense units had anti-air and some anti-ship capabilities.

Essex Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) participates in a simulated straits transit on Feb. 28, 2015. US Navy Photo

During the Battle of Wake Island in December 1941, for example, Marines firing their 5-inch guns sunk the Japanese destroyer Hayate. The heroics of that battle today are memorialized in Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 211, the F-35B Lightning II squadron nicknamed the “Wake Island Avengers” and, ironically, operating with Essex for Dawn Blitz. The squadron is slated to deploy with the Essex and the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit later next year.

The F-35 “is a game-changer,” O’Connor said, echoing an oft-repeated description of the added capabilities the jet gives the services that don’t exist in older aircraft.

The AV-8B Harrier, he noted, was “developed for specific types of missions. It wasn’t really developed for air defense missions,” unlike the fifth-generation, multi-mission role of the F-35.”

The F-35B will give options when, say, a carrier air wing isn’t available, he said. “It has the ability to go head to head with any aircraft in the world today,” he added. With its stealthy features, it can take out coastal defenses and missile sites “which pose a problem if you’re trying to do a standard, conventional type of operation.”

As for HIMARS, both commanders relayed support to their three-star bosses. But do they want it? “Oh yeah. Look at what we just did,” O’Connor said.

“One shot, to be fair, is one shot,” Uribe added. “The shot did exactly what we wanted it to do, based on the model. So it is a basis from which to go forward.”

“And then,” said O’Connor, “there is the question of trade-offs because ships are limited in volume, weight and personnel. So in order to bring X, we’d have to give up Y. So it’s something to consider.”


  • Western

    Very cool. Semper fi.

  • FresnoJoe


  • Rob C.

    That’s great, but why didn’t they start mounting the HIMARS on the other ships so they didn’t need slap s truck on the flight deck? I remember that they said that missiles were to large to mount on the smaller ships like the LCS.

    • Fred Gould

      The deck may lack the strength to support a fixed mount.

      • RDF

        What? Not much recoil from a rocket.

        • Fred Gould

          weight of a fixed mount, not the recoil.

          • RDF

            Box launcher. They heavy? Aircraft are heavier point sources I would think.

          • Fred Gould

            Based on conversations with crews who inspected the ships. Why the 57mm rather than a 76mm? Weight.

          • RDF

            the vehicle is a truck. lot lower PSI footprint than say, even a light aircraft.

          • Ken Adams

            Not just a PSI problem. The HIMARS launcher weighs 12 tons. If you got rid of the vehicle, much less problem but still needs work to decide on where it might go and if the ship could still meet its weight and stability requirements.

          • RDF

            12 ton is one fully loaded aircraft, but spread over much larger footprint. My A6 at combat GW was 29 tons. I suspect Ch53 or V22 are also significant.

          • Rob C.

            and accuracy. The They found the 57s were more precise when they struck their targets. I’d still think Navy thinks too narrowly at times not attempting to mount the launchers as part of a LPD-17s and future ships.

    • Duane

      The ATACMS rocket is roughly the same size as LRASM … about 13 ft long. But much heavier at about 3,700 pounds vs. 2,100 pounds. The angled cannister deck launchers on LCS today can’t fire that large a missile. The upgraded deck laucher developed for the LRASM on LCS and amphibs, set to be tested at sea next year (successfully ground tested last summer) may or may not be able to handle that heavy a rocket.

      In any event, the Marines ARGs don’t include an LCS, so they wanted to try out their mobile ground launcher on one of the standard ARG vessels.

      • Da Facts

        Well, the Marines don’t own the ARG’s, although they work closely with them.
        Sadly, an ARG just might be the best place to use the LCS in the future.

        • Duane

          Ownership is not an issue. Marines have always operated first from naval ships, indeed the recent Middle East wars were really the first time we divorced the Marines from ships. The Marines are determined to reorient themselves to an amphibious expeditionary force, riding ships to the theater and then getting to shore via either boats or aircraft.

          ARGs will likely involve LCS because of their ability to operate in shallow coastal waters, and because of their MCM capabilities given that mines are a typical coastal defense.

  • John Locke

    Amphibs with an NFS capability, who’d have thought?

  • Curtis Conway

    This idea has been discussed since the HIMARS came out. It is about time someone conducted the test. I wonder how many OTHER ideas are out there?

    • El_Sid

      Aren’t there some issues with the compatibility of naval structures with the missile exhaust? That was one of the problems with the German tests of MLRS on ships a decade or so ago. Exhaust matters less when you’re on a big deck and can point it over the side, but matters much more if you’re in amongst the superstructure.

      • Curtis Conway

        I suspect so. However, the temperature transient does not last that long like a landing F-35B Lightning II JSF, and Thermion would most likely take care of that problem, which should be the standard on EVERY US Navy flight deck from this time forward as a contingency for providing a Ready Deck of Opportunity for an F-35B in distress.

        • El_Sid

          It wasn’t the heat I was thinking of, but the corrosive nasties in the exhaust, which was a problem for the Germans.

    • Back before the turn of the century, Raytheon proposed putting Patriot aboard a ship. It didn’t have the range of SM of course, and I’m not too sure how they intended to compensate the radar for azimuth, pitch and roll, but it was an interesting proposal nonetheless. Has anyone ever thought of operating an Abrams above decks?

      • Curtis Conway

        I vaguely remember a picture and story of a tank turret on a European vessel. It worked but the turret was not navalized. If a piece of equipment has not been to sea, it is quite a process to marinize it so it will last and operate correctly. In the past technology did not exist that would facilitate this eventuality. With the advent of guided ammunition and smart guns that can program the projectile based upon the required response for the threat, anything is possible from here on out. As a general rule the engagement range, size and invasiveness of the installation on any given platform is a magnitude greater for shipboard use, but that is beginning to change a bit.

    • sferrin

      POLAR. Guided MLRS from the VLS system, 4 per cell. Years ago but nobody wanted it.

  • RDF

    Wonder what salt water spray does to that box launcher. Wonder what that rocket exhaust does to non-skid. Wonder what that exhaust does to RCS. Essex probably could not get bigger RCS. They must park that vehicle TOW to avoid damage from exhaust? Grunts deserve all the fire support they can get. Even this. Wonder if they have a “grapeshot” round they fire just before “away boarders”?

    • Ed L

      Marine Corp version are design to be driven through the surf from the landing craft

      • RDF

        So if they keep them on the hangar deck, well deck? And then just bring them up on deck elevator, ok. You leave them out in the salt like aircraft, different ballgame. I don’t even know if these ships have elevators like big decks. Gator Navy.

        • Ed L

          The Austin. Class LPD’s have vehicle ramps leading from flight deck to lower vehicle storage Not sure on the Newer ones. Once while station on an LPD (austin class) we bought trucks, artillery, etc up to the flight deck and off load them with the Boat and Aircraft crane. Stern gate suffer a casualty. So we continue the Nato exercise by loading the LCU’s with our crane until the Stern Gate was fixed.

  • jon spencer

    Does the HIMARS have sensor fused munitions as a warhead?
    If it does, then the HIMARS can be used as a anti-ship weapon.
    Those EFP’s would seem to be a pretty good weapon against modern ships with non-armored decks.
    As for the deck being harmed by the rocket exhaust, park the vehicle on the side of the ship and swing the launcher so that the exhaust goes over the side. And if that would compromise stability, park another launcher on the other side.

    • Vincent J.

      Or shield the deck with thicker plates of steel, ceramic, etc.

    • Ed L

      I believe the warheads are design to penetrate the top of a tank

      • Da Facts

        The DPICM were, but because of the risk of unexploded ordnance residue, it like most cluster munitions are no longer widely used. The Army is trying to find a safer deadly weapon….

    • Da Facts

      HIMARS (as used my Army and Marines) has either 6 rockets or 1 MGM-140 ATACMS, same as (1/2 of) the M-270 MLRS.
      MGM-140A Block 1A carries 950 M74 anti personnel/anti material out to 80 miles.
      MGM-140B Block 1A carries 275 M74 out to 103 miles.
      MGM-168 ATacMS carries a 500lb HE warhead out to 190 miles. All a GPS aided Inertial navigation guided rounds. I can see a utility of shooting from a moving ship to a fixed in place land target. Its GPS location isn’t going to change, and presumably the INS portion wont be effected by the moving launcher. Any of the munitions impacting a ship will make for a bad day, but how is a GPS/INS going to help without terminal guidance? Would seem a redesign or different munition would be in order. Now the cancelled self guided anti tank munitions would have been interesting…

      • Cheech

        It probably was the M31 rocket with a 200 pound HE warhead

  • PolicyWonk

    Its about time! I’ve suggesting they do this for *years*. A navalized version of HIMARS (possibly with an extended range variant) could almost make a tramp steamer a powerful bombardment platform – think about what you could do with an arsenal ship based on the LPD-17 class sea-frame!

    Add Aegis/VLS for BMD and air defense, and you’ve got a lot of portable firepower.

    • sferrin

      The USN rarely listens to nobodies. I’ve suggested since the early 90s that Pershing II would have made a beautiful antiship missile for continental defense. And that they should mount an SDB on an MLRS (that Boeing / SAAB actually did it was more that it was such an obvious and good idea than because of anything I said on a forum – would also be great for the same as a stand-off ASM). ESSM (or SLAMRAAM-ER) as an AAM. A stretched JASSM for the Tomahawk replacement, etc. etc. etc. What they REALLY need is a formal mechanism for average Joe’s like us to submit ideas for evaluation by people who would actually be able to make an accurate assessment. Lots of us have ideas. Very few have the connections to get them heard.

      • PolicyWonk

        Heh – true. But I just read that the USMC is now looking for ideas for new weapons, etc., from science fiction writers.

        These are the same folks that apparently didn’t realize that creating a tank that can float in the ocean, do 30 knots, travel 100NM, and fight and survive in battle requires engineers to violate the laws of physics – and even if workable would be so costly that expending them in battle would be deemed wasteful. The EFV was exactly such a boondoggle.

        One would think that given the amount of money they’re willing to spend, it would make sense for someone to be monitoring sites such as this, where I’ve seen a lot of realistic and practical ideas. Let alone – getting some feedback from the taxpayers who’s money they are spending as if its an endless resource.

  • bobbymike34

    Now convert an LHA to carry hundreds of HIMARS, ATACMS and even larger IRBM range systems. You could park it off the Horn of Africa and be able to hit most of that continent and the Middle East.

    • Vincent J.

      Or park it in Pusan or off the south coast of the Korean peninsula; you could hit all of north Korea.

      • bobbymike34

        Why squabble let’s build two!

        • Vincent J.

          …. or three or four. OK!

  • Ed L

    years ago when I was on Amphips in high threat areas. The MAU commander authorized the use of Tow launchers and heavy machine guns were mounted at various points on our ship. On one deployment we had numberous 106mm recoiless rifles on deck

  • airider

    What’s the “per round” cost? Horizontal realestate on any Navy ship is sacred …. So using the flight deck shouldn’t be the first option. Putting these in a VLS system on LX(R) means the ARG can bring some of its own NSFS. However if the rounds cost too much, then the weapon versus target cost equation will be on the negative end which is not good.

    • Duane

      The point of the exercise seems to be that the Marines already own and operate HIMARS and transport it on their amphibians, so if it’s already on board, and a target of opportunity needs to be taken out, then now they can just haul it up on deck, and fire away.

      The Navy is also looking at adding missile launchers of their own to the amphibs via the newly modified angled cannister deck launchers the Navy is testing out. These can launch several mid-sized missiles including Harpoons, NSM, and LRASM for anti-ship fires. Potentially these could launch other missiles for surface to air or surface to surface fires as they are developed and integrated onto the ships. ATACMS may be a bit heavy at 3,700 pounds for these launchers, but smaller missiles like JASSM and JASSM-ER would work.

  • Snoooopy

    Looks mighty calm out there – no doubt there will be further shots including weather?
    I mind me of the years I spent trying to get the surface Navy to adopt an avionics box we had developed for NCTR – know what you might be shooting down before you fire – fear and superstition ruled the day at first.

  • BlueSky47

    What do you bet that some LCS fanboy is going start saying “this was the plan for the LCS all along, that’s why it needs to go in shallow water, that’s why it has such a large flight deck, that’s why it needs to be fast, that’s why it need waterjets, blah, blah, blah…”

    • R.d. Kirkpatrick

      Well, actually it was discussed as the LCS was being developed… after all meant to fight in the littorals so why not have a ship-to-shore-fires capability option, could prove right useful there.

    • Ken Adams

      I did analysis on that idea – probably still have the layouts somewhere. You could get 1 maybe 2 launchers on the flight deck, but no place in the design to stow reloads. No provision to stow the launcher below deck either, so it would have to go in the hangar to get out of the weather.

  • Matt

    Looks like the Marines are the first to deliver a missile launcher for a ship that is RE LOADABLE at sea no matter what the sea state is. Destroyers can’t even do that, much less subs unless the water is calm. Oh, and the cost is what? Zero! When is the last time you heard of a new capability that is FREE?

  • R.d. Kirkpatrick

    Yep, good idea that’s why USMC and LM has conducted such demonstrations of HIMARS and MLRS firing off of amphib ships since the late 1990s. Having a good idea, like firing TACMS out of the MK-41 VLS… also demonstrated a-way-back-then are easier to develop and demonstrate than get funded giving DOD budgeting what it is. It was also opposed by elements in the Navy not excited about essentially giving USMC control of a NSFS capability and fiercely opposed by elements of the Naval Air Wing that concluded it was a competitor in the littorals for one of their important CAS roles and would draw funding away from getting the V-22 fielded. But just too good of an idea to go away. It is well past time to do both.

  • Marine Captain 3 Percenter

    Another dog and pony show complete. Amphibious assault is dead. EF 21 says the Amphibious Ready Group has to stay away from anti-ship missiles to the tune of 65 nautical miles or 130 km. The AAV can swim maybe 10 km max. See the problem?

    But oh we just shot a HIMARS and killed the anti-ship missiles. Yeah right. No Captain is taking their ships anywhere near enemy held islands with mines and more anti-ship missiles.

    Do I need to remind the audience the last amphibious assault as in 1953 at Incheon? what country is going to seize islands that we care enough about to assault via the water? None. China is building some artificial islands. Who cares.

    The ACV is being selected soon, we already wasted 3 billion on the EFV. Let’s waste billions more on the false idea the Marines are storming the beaches like world war 2 that ended 70 years ago.

    • sferrin

      ” Let’s waste billions more on the false idea the Marines are storming the beaches like world war 2 that ended 70 years ago.”

      No kidding. Think how much we’d save if we just disbanded the USMC in toto. And since the last time one of our subs torpedoed an enemy ship was in WWII we could ditch those. And of course we’ve NEVER fired an SLBM at an enemy so the SSBNs are a useless waste of money as well. /sarc

      • BlueSky47

        Let’s get rid of the nuclear triad while we’re at it. After all, when was the last time we nuc’d somebody?

        Let’s get rid of the US Army while we’re at it. After all, when was the last time we were invaded?

        Let’s get rid of the air force while we’re at it. After all, no foreign enemy can fly their plane here, we’re too far away.

        Let’s get rid of the whole Navy while we’re at it. After all, China owns the South China sea, India owns the Indian ocean, Iran owns the Persian gulf, Mexico owns the gulf of Mexico. Russia owns the arctic. We don’t own any seas or oceans, so we don’t have permissions to go there.

        Let’s get rid of USNI and this blog while we’re at it, after all “sferrin” makes total sense, let’s turn off the lights and all just go home.

  • John B. Morgen

    It is a start of the right direction, but I would like 155mm gun turrets be fitted on the LPDs’ forecastle decks.