The U.S. Marines and U.S. Army: Soon to Be Navy-Killers?

David Axe

U.S. Army soldiers and U.S. Marines need to become ship-killers, one Marine Corps lieutenant argued.

With the Chinese and Russian fleets fielding more and better ships and missiles and the U.S. Navy struggling to grow its own fleet, it’s time for American ground troops to contribute to naval battles, 1st Lt. Walker Mills argued in Proceedings, the professional journal of the U.S. Naval Institute.

“Both the Marine Corps and the Army need to rapidly develop and deploy redundant land-based capabilities to strike ships in the littoral, as well as concepts for their employment,” Mills wrote.

The Army and Marines clearly agree with Mills’s assessment. "There’s a ground component to the maritime fight," Gen. Robert Neller, the outgoing Marine Corps commandant, said at a February 2019 conference in San Diego.

"We’re a naval force in a naval campaign," Neller said. "You have to help the ships control sea space. And you can do that from the land."

Marine and Army units with anti-ship missiles could spread out across islands in order to control strategic ocean checkpoints. "So there’s a lot of geographical chokepoints, and you know what they are, and the potential adversaries know what they are," Neller said. "So if you get there first and you can control that space, then you have an operational advantage."

The hardware slowly is coming. Both the Army and Marines in recent years have experimented with ground-launched anti-ship missiles.

The Army in a 2018 war game in Hawaii fired a truck-mounted Naval Strike Missile at a target vessel. During the same event, an Army HIMARS battery struck the decommissioned U.S. Navy amphibious ship Racine with five unguided 227-millimeter-diameter rockets. An aerial drone provided the coordinates for the 50-mile strike.

The Marines are buying a small number of the 900-pound NSMs to go with their wheeled High Mobility Artillery Rocket System launchers. Fighter jets could help the Marine missile batteries to locate targets. In a 2018 demonstration in Arizona, an F-35 stealth fighter detected a test target and transmitted the target's location to a HIMARS battery.

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