Little Groups of Marines with Switchblades
One of the most inspiring, and telling in my opinion, modern battles was the morning-long scrap between LT Keith Mills and 22 of his Royal Marines against an Argentine force on remote South Georgia Island. Ordered to give the Argies a “bloody nose,” on 3rd April 1982 his sub-platoon-sized unit did better than that.
Outfitted only with small arms and man-portable anti-tank weapons (an 84mm Carl G recoilless rifle and 66mm LAWs), they downed an Argentine helicopter and mauled ARA Guerrico, a corvette that came in to the harbor to support the invasion of the British territory.
A great, and lengthy, interview with Mills was filmed earlier this year, as we approach the 40th anniversary of the Falklands Islands War. :
Let’s talk about Loitering Munitions
Rapidly deployable loitering missile systems, designed as a “kamikaze” being able to crash into its target with an explosive warhead, are the “hot new thing.” However, as witnessed in the recent five-week Nagorno-Karabakh war, between Azerbaijan– supported by Syrian mercenaries and Turkey — and the so-called Republic of Artsakh together with Armenia (who had the low-key support of Moscow), they are a 21st Century game changer. In a nutshell, the Azerbaijanis claim to have smoked almost 400 high-value military vehicles– ranging from main battle tanks to SAM batteries– with such munitions, for zero lives traded.
The U.S. Army, Marines, and Naval Special Warfare Command have been experimenting with such systems over the past decade, such as the Switchblade shown above. The small (6-pound) Switchblade 300 and the larger 50-pound Switchblade 600 both use the same Ground Control Station (GCS) as other small UAVs in the military’s arsenal such as the Wasp, RQ-11 Raven, and RQ-20 Puma. Quiet, due to their electric motors, and capable of hitting a target with extreme accuracy out to 50 nm with a 100-knot closing speed in the case of the larger munition, they could easily target ship’s bridges or soft points with lots of flammable things such as hangars and small boat decks.
So where is this going?
As perfectly described by a panel consisting of CAPT Walker D. Mills, USMC, along with U.S. Navy LT Lieutenant Joseph Hanacek and LCDR Dylan Phillips-Levine in this month’s USNI Proceedings, possibly to a Pacific atoll near you. In short, while it is nice that the Marines are looking at long-range NMESIS coastal defense cruise missile (CDCM) systems, smaller munitions like Switchblade could prove an important tool when it comes to area denial in a littoral.
Introducing loitering munitions that the Marine Corps can use to strike warships creates combined-arms opportunities—a flight of loitering munitions autonomously launched from a small rocky outcropping could knock some of an enemy ship’s self-defense weapons offline, sending that ship home for repairs or setting conditions for a strike by larger CDCMs that deliver the coup de grace. Loitering munitions also can strike ships at close range—inside the minimum-engagement range for larger missiles. With smaller, cheaper, and more mobile loitering munitions, small units and teams operating as “stand-in forces” can contribute to sea denial and expand the threats the Marines pose to an enemy. The case for employing these weapons goes beyond speculation—loitering munitions have already been used with great effect in recent history and have proved their worth on the future battlefield.