U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Matthew Dickinson The Marine Corps is experimenting with the idea of using rocket launchers in amphibious assaults even before a beachhead is carved out, firing them from the flight decks of Navy ships. They would use the HIMARS rocket system that can strike targets at up to 43 miles, softening up the defenses so the assault force has a better time of it.
Traditionally, Marine Corps artillery has had to wait for their infantry brethren to land on a hostile beach and clear a patch of land before they can land and do their job of shelling enemy troops. Artillery howitzers and rocket launchers need patches of flat, firm land to do their work. This constraint prevents Marine artillery from contributing to the most critical phases of an amphibious operation, the pre-landing bombardment and actual landing.
Now, as the Corps shifts back to its bread-and-butter amphibious warfare missions, the Marines are looking to use new weapons they’ve acquired in the post-9/11 period to support landing operations. One new application is using their M142 HIMARS mobile rocket artillery systems to launch precision-guided rockets at distant enemy targets from the helicopter flight decks of amphibious ships. The HIMARS takes the proven 227-millimeter rocket system from the Army’s tracked MLRS system and puts it on a 5-ton truck, providing a firing platform for up to six rockets (or one jumbo-sized ATACMS rocket ) at a time.
Over the weekend, a HIMARS unit assigned to the 11th Marine Regiment launched a “Glimmer” rocket from the amphibious landing platform dock on board USS Anchorage . The HIMARS launcher, chained down to the flight deck, fired a Guided Multiple Launch System – Unitary (GMLS-U), or “Glimmer” rocket at a target 43 miles away. Glimmer is a GPS-guided rocket with a unitary, or single high explosive warhead. The test took place during the biennial Dawn Blitz exercises .
The Marines have been pushing for years for increased naval gunfire support to assist in Marine landings, and the shipbound HIMARS solution could go a long way toward filling that role. Marine HIMARS units could respond directly to fire support missions ordered by other Marines, keeping the entire process within a single branch or battalion and using established artillery fires procedures.
The only downsides? Using Navy flight decks for artillery prevents them from being used for actual aircraft, but jiggling an amphibious task group’s load distribution could ensure that some ships are used only for sea landings, freeing up their flight deck for artillery. The Navy may not appreciate their flight decks scorched by artillery rockets, but if that becomes an issue a thermoresistant coating similar to that applied to ships embarking the F-35B jet could be a solution.