Peter Ong story with additional reporting by Xavier Vavasseur
“Army land-attack…capability.” Attacking ground targets at a distance is what MLRS and HIMARS are currently for, but they are outmatched by Russia rocket artillery, and their longest-range projectile is the upgraded ATACMS missile with a maximum reach of about 188 miles (300 km). The Army is exploring a Long-Range Precision Fires (LRPF) missile with a 313-mile (500 km) range. That’s a figure set not by tactics or technology but the limits of the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty, which Russian violations have arguably rendered void. Like land-based anti-ship missiles, long-range land-based ground attack missiles are a major part of our adversaries’ arsenals which we lack.
By Sydney J. Freedberg Jr., Breaking Defense on April 26, 2016
Fast-forward to September, 2020, four years since the quote from Breaking Defense and the U.S. Marine Corps (U.S.M.C.) in conjunction with the U.S. Army do have some Land-Based Anti-Ship Missile (LBASM) options on the table for ground forces to use against threatening enemy ships since the United States abandoned the INF Treaty. The Long-Range Precision Fires (LRPF) Anti-Ship missile options include: The long-range subsonic Maritime Tomahawk, the ATACMS to Precision Strike Missile, the stealthy Long-Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM), the stealthy Naval Strike Missile, and the high-speed SM-6 multi-role missile.
Technically, another option would be 155mm M109A6/A7 U.S. Army howitzers firing guided rocket-assisted Hypervelocity Projectiles (HVP) or GPS-guided extended-range rounds. HVP rounds can have multiple purposes in downing cruise missiles, attacking land targets, to targeting and hitting moving ships, but Anti-ship artillery rounds are outside the scope of this article that focuses on Anti-ship missiles. Furthermore, the U.S.M.C. does not possess any 155mm M109 howitzers as of September 2020 and Force Design 2030 (FD2030) recommends removing the M777 towed howitzers from the Marine Corps’ inventory.
“The [U.S.] Army is pursuing longer-range, but much larger, heavier, bulkier systems than we are. But they’re not either or; we’re going to need both [U.S. Army and USMC].”General David H. Berger, Commandant of the U.S.M.C.
at Virtual Modern Day Marine Expo, 2020, commenting about Long-
Range Precision Fires differences between the U.S. Army and U.S.M.C.
The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) provides an excellent overview of the choices of Anti-ship missiles available to future U.S. ground forces. Most of these missiles are already fielded with the U.S. Armed Forces and can thus be modified for ground launch via a tactical truck or a towed trailer. The goal of the LBASM CBO list is to provide a variety of ground-fired anti-ship cruise missile (ASCM) options (for the U.S. Marine Corps) than the 100-nautical mile (115 mi) subsonic Harpoon ASCM that has not been fielded as a LBASM by the U.S. ground forces. The target year for fielding these LBASMs is around FY2023 even with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Readers should note that the LBASM options presented here, even if purchased and fielded, offer the U.S. Marine Corps a limited ground-based defense against enemy warships, and are not meant to act as a guaranteed deterrent against a huge armada attack. At best, the U.S.M.C. could field a few launchers at strategic locations to prevent a number of hostile enemy ships from encroaching, but the Corps’ logistics, tight budgets, and smaller force size than a conventional army would limit these LBASM launchers from being deployed in large quantities.
Furthermore, unlike Russia and China’s larger modern supersonic and even Hypersonic ACSMs that fly at higher speeds with the intent of ramming and detonating into NATO warships, U.S. LBASMs are often smaller and lighter, subsonic, shorter in range, stealthier in design and approach by using evasive maneuvers, and carry a lighter warhead that necessitates firing a few missiles to cripple or destroy a large warship. Some U.S. LBASMs have the smart seeker and artificial intelligence features of being programmed to hit a specific area or target on an enemy warship, such as the bridge or the ship’s ammunition magazine area. With modern warships’ electronic jamming, decoy countermeasures, and active close-in self-protection kinetic defense, a hit by LBASMs is obviously not guaranteed.
Maritime Strike Tomahawk
The U.S. Navy’s subsonic Block Va (i.e. Block 5a) Maritime Strike Tomahawk (MST) is capable of being reprogrammed and rerouted in flight to attack moving ships out to around 900 nautical miles (or 1,035 miles/1,666 km…the exact range has not been fully disclosed) with a 1,000-pound warhead. Maritime Strike Tomahawk is by far the longest-range ASCM option although it would take about two hours to fly 900nm miles at a speed of around 550mph. The MST is slated to become operational in 2023 with the probable preferred U.S.M.C. ground launcher being a quartet of MK41 Vertical Launch System (VLS) cells mounted on a towed semitrailer (see photo).
ATACMS => Precision Strike Missile
The Mach 3+Lockheed Martin MGM-140 U.S. Army’s Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) could be converted into an U.S.M.C. LBASM with a new seeker head to target moving ships, and enhanced with longer range estimated to be around 313 miles (500 km) in range. Such a modification to ATACMS is called the Precision Strike Missile (PrSM) and uses the latest weapons miniaturization technology to slim down the ATACMS missile’s diameter, allowing for two PrSMs to fit into a pod once occupied by a single ATACMS. Plans call for the PrSMs fielding in 2023 with upgrades of an imaging infrared seeker and home-on-radar seeker in 2025 with further plans to increase the range to 700-800 km or 430-500 miles. The preferred Marine Corps ground launcher would be a FMTV 6X6 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) M142 tactical truck with a box launcher capable of carrying two ATACMS or four Precision Strike Missiles.
Long-Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM)
The stealthy Lockheed Martin air-launched AGM-158C Long-Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM) is a high-subsonic ASCM with an estimated range of 300 nautical miles (560 km, 350 mi) and carries a 1,000-pound warhead.
LRASM uses its stealthy design, a jam-resistant GPS/ Inertial Navigation System, and an imaging infrared homing seeker feeding a library of target matching software to fly around countermeasures and enemy radars using radar warning receivers. LRASM uses a low-power datalink and the described sensor features to plot and fly the best evasive maneuvers to approach, hopefully undetected, against an enemy warship and avoid its countermeasures. LRASM does not emit signals, and can be programmed to select a specific target area on the ship. In addition, LRASM could also attack land targets following a software upgrade. All these features do not come cheap as a single LRASM will cost the Marine Corps around $3 to $4 million dollars in FY2021.
If selected, the preferred U.S.M.C. ground launcher for LRASM would probably be the M142 HIMARS, as well as the Medium Tactical Vehicle Replacement (MTVR) truck and the Logistic Vehicle System Replacement (LVSR) from Oshkosh Defense.
Naval Strike Missile (NSM)
The Norwegian Kongsberg Naval Strike Missile (NSM) is mounted on the U.S. Navy’s Littoral Combat Ships and has a range similar to the Harpoon ASCM of 100 nautical miles (115 mi). This Anti-ship/ Land Attack Cruise Missile has a small warhead of 276-pounds and flies at high-subsonic speed.
In May 2019, it was announced that the USMC will be procuring Naval Strike Missiles from Raytheon. Naval News understands that the USMC will likely integrate the NSM on unmanned Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV) “ROGUE Fires” vehicles.
Built using a stealthy design and a composite structure, the NSM has an extremely low sea skimming mode and makes random high-agility maneuvers on terminal approach to avoid the enemy warship’s hard and softkill countermeasures. Using imaging infrared, GPS, inertial navigation, and terrain reference sensors, the NSM can automatically recognize, discriminate, and target enemy warships independently. If selected and fielded as part of LBASM, the U.S.M.C.’s preferred ground launcher would probably be the M142 HIMARS, as well as the Medium Tactical Vehicle Replacement (MTVR) truck and the Logistic Vehicle System Replacement (LVSR) from Oshkosh Defense with each truck carrying four NSMs and up to six launchers providing 24 NSMs that can be networked together with radio or optical fiber up to 10 km (6.2 mi) away.
Standard SM-6 Block 1A missile
The U.S. Navy’s RIM-174 Standard Extended Range Active Missile (ERAM), or Standard Missile 6 (SM-6) Block 1A family of Anti-air radar inertial-guided, active and semi-active radar homing missiles can also assume the role as Anti-ship missiles. Currently in production for the U.S. Navy, the SM-6 has an estimated “official range of 130 nmi (150 mi; 240 km), but it could be anywhere from 200 nmi (230 mi; 370 km) to as much as 250 nmi (290 mi; 460 km),”. According to TheWarZone, the U.S. Army wants the naval SM-6 Block 1A as a LBASM so the U.S. Marine Corps might follow if the Army decides to field it.
Unlike the other LBASMs listed here, the main benefits of having the SM-6 Block 1A as a LBASM are that it can fly at Mach 3.5 (instead of subsonic speeds) and has the added multi-role advantage of being able to provide Anti-air, Anti-missile, and Anti-ship defense on one tactical truck using the proper radar sensors unlike any other LBASMs shown here.
The main disadvantages of using SM-6 Block 1As in the Anti-ship role is their small 140-pound blast fragmentation warhead, meaning more than one SM-6 is required to cripple or destroy a large enemy warship, and the high cost of the missile at $4.87 million each, way more than the base price of firing a Maritime Tomahawk (estimated at $1.87 million each) or any of the other LBASMs listed here. The high unit cost makes the SM-6 not the primary choice for a LBASM. Nonetheless, 500 SM-6s were delivered to the U.S. Navy with plans to produce 1,800 missiles, some of which may become LBASMs fired from to-be-determined U.S. Marine Corps tactical trucks and trailers if fielded.