GEAR & TECH

The Marines are looking for a few good ship-killing missiles

Before World War II, the Marine Corps had what were known as Marine Defense Battalions. These units were used to defend outposts like those on Wake Island and Midway Atoll, and the one at Wake deserves credit for one of the great stands in Marine Corps history after being left high and dry by the U.S. Navy's answer to George McClellan.


Now the Marines may be ready to resurrect that concept. According to a solicitation posted at FedBizOpps on Oct. 27 of this year, the service is looking for some land-based anti-ship missiles that can reach out and touch the enemy at least 80 miles away. The system needs to be "employable by highly deployable and mobile forces."

Marines with the 3rd Marine Defense Battalion man a 90mm anti-aircraft gun. (USMC photo)

Such missiles are actually old hat for many countries, both friendly and not-so-friendly. Norway, for instance, relied on land-based batteries of the Penguin anti-ship missile to supplement armed missile boats should the Cold War have turned hot. The Soviet Union (and later Russia) developed land-based versions of the SS-N-3 Shaddock, SS-N-2 Styx, and the SS-N-26 Sapless. China's Silkworm missiles were famously purchased by Iran, and Iran developed the Noor, which was fired at American ships multiple times last year.

According to Marine Corps history, during World War II, 20 Marine Defense Battalions were formed. Back then, these units generally had coastal artillery to defend against enemy ships (the 1st Marine Defense Battalion at Wake actually sank a Japanese destroyer), as well as machine guns for defending against troops, and anti-aircraft guns for use against enemy planes. And of course, every Marine in those units was a rifleman.

USS Princeton fires an RGM-84 Harpoon anti-ship missile. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Jason Noble.

What sort of modern missiles might be used? The United States does have the Harpoon anti-ship missile in service – some versions of which can reach over 80 miles. Other relatively off-the-shelf options could include the Norwegian-designed NSM, or a ground-launched version of the LRASM. There is also the chance that the 155mm Vulcano heat-seeking round could be used from Marine Corps M777 howitzers.

In short, the Marines' desire for a few good anti-ship missiles could lead to the return of some little-known but storied units to the Marine Corps.