Marines Want to Field a Long-Range Anti-Ship Missile ‘As Fast As Possible’

February 19, 2019 7:55 AM
U.S. Marines with Fox Company, 2nd Battalion, 14th Marines, 4th Marine Regiment, fire a High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) during Weapons and Tactics Instructor Course (WTI) 1-18 in Yuma, Ariz. on Oct. 17, 2017. US Marine Corps Photo

SAN DIEGO, Calif. – The Marine Corps wants to select and field a long-range anti-ship missile “as fast as possible” to support the Navy in a fight for sea control, the commandant told USNI News.

The Marine Corps has been refreshing its doctrine and concepts for naval warfare, and the Expeditionary Advance Base Operations (EABO) concept in particular is already informing wargames, exercises and acquisition. Fielding a long-range anti-ship missile is an important part of this concept, which calls for the Marines to spread out over islands or pockets of beaches and using that temporary base to secure air and sea space.

“There’s a ground component to the maritime fight. We’re a naval force in a naval campaign; you have to help the ships control sea space. And you can do that from the land,” Neller told USNI News on Feb. 15 at the WEST 2019 conference, cohosted by the U.S. Naval Institute and AFCEA.
“We’ve done it with airplanes historically in World War II. Marines’ traditional mission is the seizure and securing of advance naval bases for the prosecution of the naval campaign. But if the air space is more contested and you want to be able to keep ships away at some distance because they’ve got long-range strike, you’ve got to be able to strike them. So you need to have a capability to control the maritime space. So I think we’re in a good place to control the air space – we need more air defense, we need more counter-missiles capability – but we’ve got to be able to attack surface platforms at range, and so that’s what the capability requirement is.”

Asked why the Marines feel such an urgency to acquire a long-range anti-ship missile, Neller said that “the urgency is just the situation security-wise we find ourselves in the world. So there’s a lot of geographical chokepoints, and you know what they are, and the potential adversaries know what they are. So if you get there first and you can control that space, then you have an operational advantage. So we’re going to test, there’s a couple capabilities out there and we’re going to test them – working with the Navy, because this is the same type of stuff you’d want to put on a ship.”

Earlier in the conference, Marine Corps Warfighting Lab commander Brig. Gen. Christian Wortman called a long-range anti-ship missile a “relatively near-term capability that we’re making a significant investment now.” The lab is among the organizations at the forefront of determining how to conduct Expeditionary Advance Base Operations and what weapons and systems are needed to support that concept. Wortman told USNI News in November that the lab would host a massive sea control experiment and exercise in Fiscal Year 2020 that would include the use of a long-range ground-based anti-ship missile.

During a panel presentation at WEST, Wortman said the Marines’ aim going forward is to operate as a fleet marine force in support of at-sea ships and aircraft, and to that end the service is looking to acquire a range of weapons to support sea control from the shore. In addition to the anti-ship missile, Wortman spoke of loitering munitions, multi-mission and multi-payload weapons that could deliver combined arms effects against a target, and aviation-deployed weapons. Wortman noted that the F-35B would be a powerful tool for the Marines but that the F-35C carrier-based variant would open up even more options due to its enhanced payload capability.

Wortman said his goal for the Marine Corps was to support ships at sea in a way that is akin to the submarine force – lethal to adversary ships but harder for the adversary to detect and attack.

Wortman also spoke of enhanced naval integration, saying that future additions in sensors and weapons must be compatible with Navy systems.

“We want to be able to sense the environment for them, and we want to be able to benefit from the sensing that they’re doing. We want to be able to shoot for them … or we want to be able to have them put in a position where they can take a shot off of our sensors. We want to be able to apply information warfare capabilities in a manner that benefits their survivability,” Wortman said.
“We want to have naval command and control capabilities in the right places to extend the reach of our fleet commanders and their composite warfare commanders.”

Megan Eckstein

Megan Eckstein

Megan Eckstein is the former deputy editor for USNI News.

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