In stark contrast the long grinding land campaigns that defined the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Marine Corps anticipates their next big fight will take place in a maritime environment, likely in the western Pacific and against a near-peer rival. And to prepare for that contingency, the Marine Corps is undergoing what is perhaps some of the most significant change in its long and storied history.
Part of the sea change the Corps is currently undergoing involves a return to their amphibious, expeditionary roots. To that end, the Marines are preparing for a sort of island-hopping campaign, somewhat reminiscent of the Corps’ strategy during World War II—but updated for the twenty-first-century.
One mission involves teaming up highly trained Reconnaissance Marines with Air Force Combat Controllers to seize enemy-held islands from the air and quickly land anti-ship missile toting vehicles. These vehicles would rapidly target and sink enemy ships, then scuttle back onto the cargo planes they rolled off of, and back into the night.
In addition to training for a fight at sea, the Corps is also retooling—and they just test-fired what could be one of their most formidable new tools: remote controlled, ship sinking trucks.
The Marines’ new weapon of war is an amalgamation of two platforms with radically different purposes. In essence, the Marine Corps mated the potent Naval Strike Missile to the bed of a Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV). The NSM is a highly-maneuverable, sea skimming anti-ship missile that its Norwegian manufacturer touts as a potent ship killer able to penetrate even highly advanced enemy air defenses.
In this land-based configuration, driverless JLTVs would ferry NSMs around remote, austere specks of land in the Pacific and could in theory fire on and sink unsuspecting enemy ships, or keep them at bay and deny them the use of land.
Although this driverless JLTV concept is still in the early stages of development, the program hit an important milestone late last year. Reporting done by Naval News revealed that the Corps successfully test-fired the NSM from the JLTV and the test was a success in “validating certain technologies and capabilities,” according to a Marine spokesman. Previously the Marine Corps had evaluated the JLTV’s ability to host and launch anti-ship missiles, though prior test launches used inert test missiles and were not live fire demonstrations.
With this latest live-fire test, the Marine Corps is rapidly moving towards their maritime future. And, after two wars and many long years, it seems the Corps is returning to their naval expeditionary roots.
Caleb Larson is a Defense Writer with The National Interest. He holds a Master of Public Policy and covers U.S. and Russian security, European defense issues, and German politics and culture.
Image: Oshkosh Defense