Posted: January 10, 2018 5:00 PM

Marines Eye Better Kinetic Fires, Fire Support

By OTTO KREISHER, Seapower Correspondent

ARLINGTON, Va. — Responding to the return of “great power competition” will drive the Marine Corps’ modernization programs, with emphasis on obtaining better kinetic fires, improving the survivability of ships and bases, and protecting the electro-magnetic spectrum and command and control networks, the service’s plans and operations boss said Jan. 10.

After 16 years of counter-insurgency operations, “great power competition spells out different challenges to our forces and, in terms of modernization, where we need to go,” Lt. Gen. Brian D. Beaudreault, the deputy commandant for plans, policies and operations, told the audience at the Surface Navy Association’s annual symposium.

The Corps also would like “a little relief” from its intensive pace of operations and crisis response to give it more time to train and work on “comprehensive readiness,” Beaudreault said.

The general returned several times to the need for improved kinetic fires, an issue also raised the day before by Maj. Gen. David Coffman, director of Expeditionary Warfare on the Navy staff.

Beaudreault saw “a lot of work being done” and was “encouraged by the directions that both the Navy and the Marine Corps are taking on increasing fires and fire support.”

In recognition of “the challenges coming our way,” he said, there were a lot of efforts being applied to providing additional fires, at land and from the sea. “I think we’re moving in the right direction.”

The Marines have lobbied for decades for greater fire support from the Navy for their forces ashore, with limited success. The latest disappointment was the Navy’s decision to shift the mission of the DDG 1000 Zumwalt destroyers from sustained fire support ashore to a surface-strike platform.

At the same time, the Marines are working to find ways they can support the Navy’s fight for sea control in a denied-access situation by providing fires from their advanced expeditionary bases or the decks of amphibious ships. 

Beaudreault noted the recent test firing of a High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) rocket from the flight deck of an amphibious assault ship. He said the Marines are exploring that as a possible sea-control weapon, but suggested it might be better deployed from an “alternative platforms,” rather than burdening the over-tasked amphibious ships.

He also mentioned efforts to provide an extended-range precision round for the 81mm mortars integral to Marine infantry battalions, which would “take an area weapon and turn it into a precision weapon, at extended range well beyond what we have today.” And he suggested rockets could be fired from lighter vehicles, or in unmanned systems to reduce the risk of counter-battery fires.

Beaudreault said the Corps would work closely with the Army to avoid duplicating what it is doing on increasing range of precision fires.

The general’s other focus area was on the increased challenges of conducting expeditionary operations in the “contested littorals” created by the anti-access, area-denial capabilities developed by potential adversaries, such as China.

That required work on increasing the survivability and lethality of amphibious ships, which currently have no offensive weapons, and raised questions about risk to the alternative platforms, which are unarmed and built to commercial standards.

He said the increased risk from ballistic missiles to bases in the Pacific meant “we do need some hardening of our bases.” Because that is not covered by military construction funding, “there is a little concern about what we’re going to do to make our bases more resilient.”

China’s electronic warfare capabilities also posed threats to the Corps’ command and control networks and the overall electro-magnetic spectrum. Protecting those assets would be the responsibility of the newly created deputy commandant for information operations, he said.

Beaudreault said he recently met in Japan with Mitsubishi Heavy Industry engineers, who are working to build on the Marines’ failed expeditionary fighting vehicle program to develop an amphibious assault vehicle with high water speed.

“They have a way to go, as we do, but it’s good to know that others are working on that as well,” he said.

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