Marines participating in Large Scale Exercise 2021 employed a pair of Naval Strike Missiles that traveled more than 100 nautical miles through simulated mountain ranges and shipping lanes before striking a naval target ship at sea.
The live-fire, long-range precision strike mission was the first tactical demonstration of the flexibility and lethality enabled by Marine expeditionary advanced bases, a key component in the Marine Corps’ Force Design 2030 efforts.
Marines and Sailors from 1st Battalion, 12th Marines carried out 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 U.S. Navy Landing Craft Air Cushion hovercraft and MV-22B Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft. Once on the beach, the Marines and Sailors of 1/12 established a firing position, set security perimeters and deployed cutting-edge command and control technology to support their combat operations center. The unit used the Networking-On-The-Move – Utility Task Vehicle, which resembles a dune buggy mounted with wireless satellite communications equipment. Other command vehicles carried additional command and control systems that provided enhanced battlefield awareness, target tracking and long-range communications with ships and aircraft.
“It’s impressive to me how the Marine Corps is advancing our long-range precision fire capabilities, both from how we target and process missions to how we engage them with the NMESIS platform,” said Lt. Col. Richard Neikirk, 1/12’s commanding officer. “The capabilities within a fire direction center now rival those previously found in a combat information center aboard ship.”
These new systems and capabilities represent a major change for the artillery community as it shifts focus to implement Force Design 2030 concepts and refine its support to distributed maritime operations. But one particular piece of equipment attracted the Marines’ attention throughout the exercise – a NMESIS launcher. Many Marines recognize the familiar form of a Joint Light Tactical Vehicle – a tall heavy-duty truck built for tough conditions in tough places. This unfamiliar new piece of equipment looked like a JLTV but without a cab, equipped with an assortment of sensors and cameras, and topped with a prominent missile launcher. The unmanned system’s ability to be remotely controlled by a distant operator or its ability to follow in-trace of a leader vehicle captivated the Marines. It was the latest indicator that Marine Corps operations have changed in order to keep pace with a changing international security environment.
Throughout the weekend, the EAB on Kauai maintained a low electronic signature while maintaining connection to others like it operating across the island of Oahu. Together, they kept an eye on the ocean around them, scanning for threats and keeping tabs on digital fire missions carried out by adjacent units via LSE 2021’s live, virtual, constructive training systems.
After days of stalking naval targets, the mission 1/12 had been waiting for crossed their screens: the EAB’s sensors had detected an aggressor ship. The Marines gained contact with the target, identified it, and developed a targeting solution. Its launch tubes elevated, the NMESIS fired a Naval Strike Missile that streaked into the sky and over the horizon. It traveled more than 100 nautical miles before slamming into the adversary ship, played by the ex-USS Ingraham, a retired Oliver Hazard Perry-class guided missile frigate. Smoke and flames billowed from the damaged sections of the ship just as the NMESIS’ second missile found its mark. In the interests of avoiding an adversary’s counter-attack, the NMESIS launcher followed its leader vehicle to a Marine KC-130J waiting on the nearby airfield.
Artillery Marines and KC-130 loadmasters worked together to maneuver the NMESIS inside the body of the plane. The aircraft and NMESIS stayed on the ground, but the evolution highlighted the system’s ability to go to any location serviceable by a KC-130.
“This scenario is representative of the real-world challenges and missions the Navy and Marine Corps will be facing together in the future,” said Brig. Gen. A. J. Pasagian, commander of Marine Corps Systems Command. “This exercise also provided an opportunity for us to work alongside our service partners to refine Force Design 2030 modernization concepts.”
The next day, the NMESIS was loaded onto an LCAC and transported round-trip to the well deck of the USS San Diego, an amphibious transport dock. This demonstration of the system’s transportability and mobility, as well as the previous loading aboard the KC-130, highlighted the operational flexibility artillery Marines will provide in the future to Fleet commanders seeking to achieve sea denial or sea control in important areas of the ocean.
“It’s not like a traditional cannon fire direction center with lots of noise and chaos as calls for fire are being processed,” said Neikirk. “A track comes in, gets analyzed, disseminated and engaged. Then we’re on to the next one.”
The sinking exercise operation at PMRF highlighted the new and important roles Marines will play for the naval and joint force in future global competition and conflict involving key maritime terrain. Marine fires EABs will create options for Fleet commanders either with their own weapons systems or by playing a key role in enabling the joint targeting and fires process.
“While the systems and methods used to locate maritime targets are classified, they enable our EABs to sense and make sense of the threat environment. Long-range precision fires can then be delivered from Marine platforms or handed off to the joint force for optimal attack,” Neikirk said.
Large Scale Exercise 2021 set conditions for future large-scale naval exercises, and demonstrated the naval services’ ability to employ 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 all three Marine Expeditionary Forces spanning 17 time zones. It is the first iteration of what will become a triennial exercise with allies and partners from around the world.