“How are you going to keep the Chinese navy bottled up inside, if not the first, the second island chain?” says John Ferrari, a former Army two-star general and now a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.
A daunting task, for sure, but the United States Marine Corps — whose slogan is “Improvise, Adapt, and Overcome” — have come up with an idea.
And it’s an idea that won’t cost US taxpayers a bloody fortune, because it uses existing weapon systems.
It’s called NMESIS, and it has apparently progressed from a simple idea at the Pentagon to a functional weapon on the shores of Hawaii in roughly two years’ time, Breaking Defense reported.
For today’s US military, believe me, that is fast.
But what exactly is the Navy/Marine Expeditionary Ship Interdiction System (NMESIS)? Why is the Marine Corps so intent on deploying it to Marines in the field quickly? And, as one analyst asked, how does it fit into a broader military strategy?
Well, for starters, it’s all part of the “pivot to the Pacific” for US forces, says Ferrari.
The giant ship of state, is slowly turning against what it views as its greatest enemy, China, and that force — Army, Navy, Marines & Air Force, to name a few — is imposing.
Secondly, in August, the service was able to demonstrate NMESIS — its new ground-based anti-ship missile — during the Navy’s Large Scale Exercise off the coast of the lovely garden isle of Kauai in Hawaii.
Dubbed a top modernization priority and integral to the commandant’s Force Design 2030 efforts, the Marines twice fired and hit a decommissioned vessel, as well as practiced loading and unloading NMESIS aboard a C-130 aircraft, according to Joe McPherson, program manager at Marine Corps Systems Command.
According to Force Design 2030 tenets, the new priority is deterring China and supporting viable military options in the opening stages of any conflict with the PLA.
The new Marine Corps has also cuts tanks, some traditional artillery formations, law enforcement battalions, amphibious armored vehicles, engineering assets, helicopter squadrons, and redesigns the infantry battalion to free up US$12 billion for modernization to meet the pacing threat and resources for training.
“This week was very successful,” said McPherson. “In addition to the two live fire shots that hit the target, we also successfully deployed the system aboard the Marine Corps’ primary transport systems, the C130 and LCAC (Landing Craft Air Cushion).”
At its core, NMESIS is a combination of several proven capabilities (advantageous when budget time comes around in Congress), a key reason why the service has managed to bring it online so quickly.
The weapon itself uses the anti-ship Naval Strike Missile made by Norway’s Kongsberg; a control system operated remotely, dubbed ROGUE-Fires; and the chassis of a Joint Light Tactical Vehicle.
The missile is already in service with Norway’s navy and Poland’s coastal defense squadrons.
“Marines can control the ROGUE-Fires with a game-like remote controller or command multiple launchers to autonomously follow behind a leader vehicle,” according to a recent Marine Corps statement.
“The ROGUE-Fires vehicle, built on a Joint Light Tactical Vehicle platform, provides the Corps with a robust expeditionary system capable of operating anywhere.”
That ability to move quickly and over rough terrain is important because the fight the Marine Corps is envisioning for NMESIS will be one focused on “scoot and shoot” engagements, says Ferrari.
The service’s premiere concept of operation, Expeditionary Advanced Basing Operations, envisions a fight where Marines are spread throughout the battlespace and rely on a multitude of smaller bases quickly constructed as necessary.
Those bases can serve logistics and intelligence purposes, but they also act as a location from which Marines can deploy NMESIS.
The bases allow the Marine Corps “to project kinetic combat power to support what’s called sea denial, sea control,” said Billy Fabian, vice president of strategy at the data analytics firm Govini.
Prior to NMESIS, he said, the “United States lacked a land-based, anti-ship weapon. This is [the] first system that’s able to do that, so it is a big step up in capability for what they see these bases doing.”
Ferrari added the Army has previously considered missile systems in the past that could be launched from ground to sea as well as ones that could be deployed from Navy ships.
However, those weapons often either lacked the guidance systems necessary to hit moving targets at sea or were too large to fit the Marine Corps’ desire for a highly mobile weapon.
Still, Ferrari said that while NMESIS fits clearly into the commandant’s vision for a future, it’s less certain how it be relevant to the Pentagon’s broader strategy in the Indo-Pacific.
“The two unanswered questions are … explain to me how this fits into the [INDO-PACOM] commander’s warfighting plan,” he said. And “do we need NMESIS plus the Army systems? Can we afford all of them?”
That said, the Marine Corps has always been a budget-tight service and senior brass know that won’t change in the near future.
According to reports, a Marine unit at Camp Pendleton in California will receive NMESIS assets in October to put the weapon through its paces for the next two years.
Sources: Breaking Defense, War On The Rocks, Naval News