As a part of the United States Marine Corps’ (USMC) massive shift from being a “Second Army” towards being an extension of naval power projection in the Pacific, the Corps is preparing to take down Chinese ships and aircraft carriers. By adapting platforms that are already in use with other branches of the military, the USMC hopes to rapidly field a potent anti-ship capability. Here’s how.
Navy Marine Expeditionary Ship Interdiction System
One of the more novel approaches to anti-ship warfare the Marine Corps is developing involves unmanned, land-based drones—the Navy Marine Expeditionary Ship Interdiction System (NMESIS). The NMESIS mates the Navy’s new Naval Strike Missile, a sea-skimming anti-ship missile, with an unmanned Joint Light Tactical Vehicle. The JLTV, sans cab space, would be remotely operated, probably from any one of a number of islands that dot parts of the Western Pacific Ocean and would provide a rugged and quickly maneuverable anti-ship capability.
While the Corp already has a land-based land attack capability with the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HMARS), the mobile multiple rocket launcher platform struggles to hit non-stationary targets like moving ships. The Naval Strike Missile on the other hand is highly maneuverable.
Although some details about the Naval Strike Missile are unknown, the manufacturer Kongsberg lists its range as greater than 100 nautical miles, or about 185 kilometers. Rather than a top-attack flight profile, the NSM can fly at an “extremely low sea skimming altitude” at high subsonic speeds in order to evade enemy radar. It is also capable of “high-G end game maneuvers” during its terminal flight phase to evade anti-missile defenses.
In December, the Corps successfully test-fired the Naval Strike Missile (NSM) from a JLTV truck to prove the platform’s ability to carry and fire the NSM. Concept art renderings show a recognizable JLTV grill and lights with a HMARS-like missile erector/launcher system mated to the frame.
Another USMC project running in parallel to the NMESIS program is an effort to adapt the Tomahawk missile for hitting ships at sea from fixed positions on land, made possible by the America’s 2019 withdrawal from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.
The treaty, signed by the United States and the Soviet Union, barred both countries from fielding land-based cruise missiles and ballistic missiles with 500-5,500 kilometer ranges, though this did not apply to air- and sea-launched variants. Depending on the variant, Tomahawk missiles range from 1,300 to 2,500 kilometers.
While the NMESIS platform will provide a short-term anti-ship missile solution, in the long term, the Corps would like to supplement the platform with a Ground-Launched Cruise Missile (GLCM) that would be able to strike targets from even farther away than the NSM—and maybe forcing the Chinese Navy farther out to sea. Combined with land-based Tomahawk cruise missiles, the USMC is close to fielding a couple of potent new ship killers.
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.