Upgraded Marine Corps unit in Japan has ability to fire anti-ship missiles

An upgraded Marine Corps unit in Japan now has the ability to fire anti-ship missiles

An upgraded Marine Corps unit is headed for a permanent change of station in Japan. Unlike other Marines in the region, this one has the ability to fire deadly anti-ship missiles. The new unit, to be called the 12th Marine Littoral Regiment, was sent to the area as part of the U.S. military’s strategy in deterring Chinese aggression and will also have advanced intelligence and reconnaissance capabilities.

An estimated 1,800 to 2,000 United States Marines make up the Marine Littoral Regiment, which is designed for combat operations in coastal waters. The most powerful and telling weapon in its arsenal are its Naval Strike Missiles (NSM), which are fired from mounted turrets on unmanned Joint Light Tactical Vehicles (JLTV).

The U.S. Navy selected the Norwegian-made NSM as the missile used in its over-the-horizon weapons system in 2018, after it was successfully tested aboard the Littoral Combat Ship USS Coronado in 2014. The Marine Corps’ new unit doesn’t need a whole Littoral Combat Ship to fire the weapon. The Corps calls its JLTV-based system Navy/Marine Expeditionary Ship Interdiction System, or NMESIS. 

Naval Strike Missiles are a huge step forward in anti-ship missile technology. It has a range of around 100 nautical miles, an advanced, intelligent fuze to optimize its effects on its targets, and can hit both land and sea-based targets. Infrared ranging and terrain databases allow the weapon to fly over and around land masses, operate in sea skim mode and hit ships at or near the waterline with its 125 kilogram high-explosive, fragmentation warhead. 

marine corps unit in japan with uss coronado
The littoral combat ship USS Coronado (LCS 4) departs Naval Base Guam on her trip back to homeport. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Kaleb R. Staples/Released)

Anti-ship weapons like the Naval Strike Missile can be used to devastating effect with very little effort. In April 2022, the Ukrainian Armed Forces sank the Russian warship Moskva, the flagship of the Russian Navy Black Sea Fleet, using two R-360 Neptune anti-ship missiles. Moskva was a guided missile cruiser sailing between 65 and 80 nautical miles from the coast of Odessa. It was the largest Russian warship sunk since World War II. 

Anti-ship missiles have a long and deadly history. During the Six Day War of 1967, Egypt scored the first-ever kill with a ship-launched anti-ship missile, sinking the Israeli destroyer Eilat with a Styx missile. In 1971, India used Styx missiles to cripple two-thirds of the Pakistani naval forces in two raids near Karachi. The raids also decimated Pakistan’s merchant fleet and shore facilities, all without a single Indian loss. 

Israel would return to combat with anti-ship missiles of its own, sinking Syrian and Egyptian warships in the 1973 Battle of Latakia. When fired on by enemy anti-ship missiles, the Israelis used countermeasure effectively, and managed to escape relatively unscathed while achieving naval supremacy for the rest of the war. 

During the Falklands War, Argentina’s biggest and best weapon against the British Royal Navy came in the form of a large supply of Exocet anti-ship missiles. The destroyer HMS Sheffield was sunk by an Exocet missile as was a British container ship. An Exocet missile fired from an Iraqi fighter jet hit the USS Stark in the Persian Gulf in 1987, but it was able to return to port. 

Operation Praying Mantis was an American response to Iranian aggression in the Persian Gulf in 1988. The U.S. Navy used ship-launched surface-to-air missiles in an anti-ship role to cripple Iran’s major warships in the region, including the Sahand, an Iranian frigate. 

The 12th Marine Littoral Regiment will be replacing the Marine Corps’ 12th Artillery Regiment in Japan, armed with the kind of firepower that has proven so effective in the past. The unit will be more mobile and more lethal to boot. 

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