The Marine Corps' New Priority: A Ship-Seeking Cruise Missile

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The Army fires a Naval Strike Missile from a Palletized Load System truck, hitting a decommissioned ship at sea, 63 miles north of Kauai, in July 2018 as part of the monthlong Rim of the Pacific Exercise. David Hogan/AMRDEC WDI
The Army fires a Naval Strike Missile from a Palletized Load System truck, hitting a decommissioned ship at sea, 63 miles north of Kauai, in July 2018 as part of the monthlong Rim of the Pacific Exercise. David Hogan/AMRDEC WDI

The Marine Corps has been working to develop ground-based missiles for engaging ships at sea, but now it wants one that can track and destroy moving enemy vessels sailing hundreds of miles offshore.

"What we are seeking now is a system with an active warhead, an active seeker, that can go after a [moving] ship," Lt. Gen. Eric Smith, commander of Marine Corps Combat Development Command and deputy commandant for Combat Development and Integration, testified Thursday at a hearing before the House Armed Services Committee's tactical air and land forces subcommittee.

"We are capable of firing Army [Tactical Missile Systems] off of our High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, but what we are not capable of is going after a ship that is moving," he added.

Top Pentagon leaders have tasked the service to take over the "ground-launched cruise missile way forward," Smith said.

Related: Marine Corps Gets Long-Range Missile to Take Out Enemy Ships

Under the effort, the Marines will evaluate weapons systems such as the Navy's Tomahawk Cruise Missile, which has an active seeker and is capable of ranges out to 750 nautical miles, he said.

"That is what matters in a contested environment in the South China Sea or in the [Indo-Pacific Command] area," Smith explained.

In the near term, the Marine Corps has identified the Ground-Based Anti-Ship Missile (GBASM) as its top ground modernization program.

"We have to get that if we are going to be the component that ... the fleet commanders need our Fleet Marine Force to provide to the joint force," Smith said.

Right now, the service is evaluating the Naval Strike Missile (NSM), which is already in the Navy's inventory, as a solution for the GBASM, he said.

"We will test-fire that system this June," Smith said, adding that the Corps already successfully test-fired the sled for the NSM, which was mounted on a Joint Light Tactical Vehicle in December.

"We will be in a position to take advantage of that and actually move forward with a capability to move forward with what the joint force wants and must have to compete with a peer competitor," he said.

Rep. Vicky Hartzler, R-Missouri, asked Smith to explain how the Marine Corps is working with its sister service on the effort since the Army has identified long-range precision fires as its top modernization priority.

Smith said the Corps is coordinating closely with the Army and the rest of the services.

"We are coordinating ... and I think much of what we do in the ground-launched cruise missile arena will be things we will actually pass for consideration by the Army," he said.

-- Matthew Cox can be reached at matthew.cox@military.com.

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