The Marines' Have Their Very Own Anti-Ship Rockets (Thanks to the F-35?)

David Axe

Key point: The F-35 is quickly becoming an effective force multiplier.

The U.S. Marine Corps recently proved that an F-35 stealth fighter can pass targeting data to a ground-based rocket launcher.

The test, which took place in Yuma, Arizona sometime prior to mid-October 2018, involved a Marine F-35B detecting a metal container on the ground and passing the GPS coordinates via radio datalink to one of the Corps’s wheeled High-Mobility Artillery Rocket System launcher.

The HIMARS launcher fired a rocket at the coordinates. “We were able to target a particular conex box,” Lt. Gen. Steven Rudder, the Marines’ deputy commandant for aviation, told an audience at a think tank in Washington, D.C. on Oct. 12, 2018.

The test represents the latest expansion of the Marines’ rocket capabilities, which could play a significant role in any future high-intensity conflict. The Corps doubled its spending on HIMARS from $68 million in 2017 to $134 million in 2018.

The extra cash bought additional resupply vehicles for the Marines’ nine HIMARS batteries, each of which possesses six, 12-ton launchers. The Corps is also experimenting with new operating concepts for its rocket force — for example, launching rockets from the flight deck of the assault ship USS Anchorage in October 2017 and, in March 2018, quickly transporting a launcher aboard a C-130 transport plane, firing four rockets, driving back into the plane and flying away.

The Marines are also considering buying an anti-ship missile for its HIMARS launchers. But existing rockets also work against ships. During the Rim of the Pacific war game in and around Hawaii in July 2018, a U.S. Army HIMARS battery struck the decommissioned U.S. Navy amphibious ship Racine with five rockets. An aerial drone provided the coordinates for the 50-plus-mile strike, pictured at top.

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