Marines participating in Full-Scale Exercise 2021 used a pair of naval strike missiles that traveled more than 100 nautical miles through mountain ranges and simulated shipping lanes before hitting a naval target ship at sea.
The long-range, live-fire precision strike mission was the first tactical demonstration of the flexibility and lethality afforded by Marine Expeditionary Forward Bases, a key component of Marine Corps Force 2030 design efforts.
The Marines and Sailors of 1st Battalion, 12th Marines conducted the mission Aug. 15, 2021, aboard Pacific Missile Range Facility Barking Sands on the Hawaiian island of Kauai. The missiles were fired from a Navy Marine Expeditionary Ship Interdiction System launcher. Their operation began days earlier, landing ashore using a US Navy landing craft air cushion hovercraft and an MV-22B Osprey tilt rotor aircraft. Once on the beach, the Marines and Sailors of 1/12 established a firing position, defined security perimeters, and deployed state-of-the-art command and control technology to support their combat operations center. The unit used the Networking-On-The-Move – Utility Task Vehicle, which looks like a buggy equipped with wireless satellite communication equipment. Other command vehicles carried additional command and control systems that provided enhanced battlefield knowledge, target tracking, and long-range communications with ships and aircraft.
“It’s impressive to me to see how the Marine Corps advances our long-range marksmanship capabilities, both from the way we target and process missions to how we engage them with the platform. NMESIS, “said Lt. Col. Richard Neikirk, commanding officer of the 1/12 officer. “The capabilities of a fire direction center now rival those of a shipboard combat information center.”
These new systems and capabilities represent a major shift for the artillery community as it focuses on implementing Force Design 2030 concepts and refining its support for distributed maritime operations. But one particular piece of equipment caught the attention of the Marines throughout the exercise – an NMESIS launcher. Many Marines recognize the familiar form of a Joint Light Tactical Vehicle – a large, heavy truck built for rough conditions in difficult locations. This unknown new equipment looked like a JLTV but without a cabin, fitted with an assortment of sensors and cameras, and topped with a prominent missile launcher. The ability of the unmanned system to be remotely controlled by a remote operator or its ability to track a leading vehicle captivated the Marines. It was the latest indicator that Marine Corps operations have changed in order to keep pace with the changing international security environment.
Throughout the weekend, the EAB on Kauai maintained a weak electronic signature while maintaining a connection with others like him operating across the island of Oahu. Together, they kept an eye on the ocean around them, looking for threats and keeping an eye out for digital gunnery missions performed by adjacent units via LSE 2021’s live, virtual and constructive training systems.
After days of tracking down naval targets, the expected 1/12 mission crossed their screens: the EAB sensors had detected an aggressor ship. The Marines contacted the target, identified it, and developed a targeting solution. With its launch tubes elevated, the NMESIS fired a naval strike missile that shot through the sky and the horizon. It traveled over 100 nautical miles before crashing into the opposing ship, played by the ex-USS Ingraham, a retired Oliver Hazard Perry-class guided-missile frigate. Smoke and flames billowed from damaged sections of the ship as the second NMESIS missile found its mark. In order to avoid an adversary’s counterattack, the NMESIS launcher followed its lead vehicle to a Marine KC-130J waiting on the nearby airfield.
The Marines of the Artillery and the loaders of the KC-130 worked together to maneuver the NMESIS inside the body of the aircraft. The aircraft and the NMESIS remained on the ground, but the evolution demonstrated the ability of the system to get to any location usable by a KC-130.
“This scenario is representative of the real world challenges and missions that the Navy and Marine Corps will face in the future,” said the brigadier. General AJ Pasagian, commanding officer of Marine Corps Systems Command. “This exercise also allowed us to work alongside our service partners to refine the modernization concepts of Force Design 2030.”
The next day, the NMESIS was loaded onto an LCAC and transported back and forth to the well deck of the USS San Diego, an amphibious transport dock. This demonstration of the system’s transportability and mobility, along with the previous loading aboard the KC-130, highlighted the operational flexibility that Artillery Marines will provide in the future to fleet commanders seeking to achieve a denial of sea or control of the sea in significant areas of the ocean.
“It’s not like a traditional cannon fire direction center with a lot of noise and chaos while calls to fire are being processed,” Neikirk said. “A lead arrives, is analyzed, disseminated and engaged. Then we move on to the next one.
The PMRF Shipwreck Operation highlighted the new and important roles that Marines will play for the naval and joint force in future global competitions and conflicts involving key maritime terrain. Marine Fires EABs will create options for fleet commanders, either with their own weapon systems or by playing a key role in enabling the process of targeting and joint fire.
“Although the systems and methods used to locate maritime targets are classified, they allow our EABs to detect and make sense of the threat environment. Long-range precision shots can then be delivered from marine platforms or transferred to the joint force for optimal attack, ”said Neikirk.
Large-scale exercise 2021 set the conditions for future large-scale naval exercises and demonstrated the ability of the naval services to use precise, long-range and overwhelming force in a contested environment. The exercise involved forces and ships from three Naval Component Commands, five numbered fleets and the three Marine Expeditionary Forces spanning 17 time zones. This is the first iteration of what will become a three-year exercise with allies and partners around the world.