SAN DIEGO —The U.S. Marine Corps will put a new type of missile-delivery drone to the test in an operational scenario this month, following a year of developmental work, according to a senior service official.

Lt. Gen. Karsten Heckl, the deputy commandant of the Marine Corps for combat development and integration, told reporters the service had been working on two autonomous, low-profile vessels, which resemble drug runners’ semi-submersible boats seen in Central America. The boats are designed to carry two Naval Strike Missiles to Marine units ashore, stealthily delivering their payload without attracting any attention.

“They’re very, very hard — if not downright impossible — to track,” Heckl told reporters after speaking on a panel at the WEST 2024 conference here hosted by the U.S. Naval Institute and AFCEA International. That is because the boats produce almost no wake while gliding through the water, he explained.

After working with a “mom and pop shop” to design and build the two craft, Heckl said the Marine Corps has demonstrated it can launch and recover them from the Navy’s Expeditionary Fast Transport vessels and the Marines’ Stern Landing Vessels.

This month, the Marines will demonstrate the full evolution of using these boats to resupply Marines ashore with the missiles they need to fire at ships from land.

Heckl said the boats will play a role in the Army-led Project Convergence Capstone 4 event in California, featuring in a “multi-domain mobility corridor” phase of the exercise designed to test equipment for resupply and logistics missions.

Service tests so far have been “very successful,” he added, describing the price tag as so low that the craft can be deemed expendable if lost. If the Marine Corps does decide to pursue buying these in larger numbers, however, Heckl said the service will have to find a bigger contractor for production.

Megan Eckstein is the naval warfare reporter at Defense News. She has covered military news since 2009, with a focus on U.S. Navy and Marine Corps operations, acquisition programs and budgets. She has reported from four geographic fleets and is happiest when she’s filing stories from a ship. Megan is a University of Maryland alumna.

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