WASHINGTON — The U.S. surface fleet’s brand-new anti-ship missile was used as part of the barrage of rockets and missiles that put an end to the landing ship tank Racine on July 12 during the Rim of the Pacific exercise, but it wasn’t shot by the Navy.
The U.S. Army shot the Naval Strike Missile from the back of a truck using its Palletized Load System in a demonstration that is likely to raise eyebrows in China. The missile, a joint venture between the Norwegian company Kongsberg and Raytheon, was fired from the Pacific Missile Range Facility in Barking Sands, Hawaii, at the former USS Racine, which was floating 55 nautical miles north of Kauai, Hawaii.
Joining the U.S. Army was the Japanese Ground Self-Defense Force, which fired Mitsubishi’s Type 12 surface-to-ship missile.
The Navy inked a contract with Raytheon to start buying the NSM for its littoral combat ships and likely its future frigate. The Army’s shot successfully detonated on target, according to U.S. Pacific Fleet officials.
The shots dovetails with a concept that the Army and the JGSDF have been developing, known in some circles as “archipelagic defense,” which in essence calls for the use of ground forces to deny Chinese forces free movement through the theater by deploying anti-ship and anti-air missiles throughout the island chains that pepper the Asia-Pacific region.
Deploying ground forces armed with anti-ship and anti-air missiles throughout islands, while leaving those forces open to attack, complicates what many analysts see as China’s goal of exercising de facto military control of 1.7 million square miles of the East and South China seas.
In a 2015 article in Foreign Affairs, Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments analyst Andrew Krepinevich argued that deploying ground forces to the first island chain (a region that refers to a line of islands that runs from Japan’s southern tip through the East and South China seas) could change China’s game plan.
“If Washington wants to change Beijing’s calculus, it must deny China the ability to control the air and the sea around the first island chain, since the PLA [People’s Liberation Army] would have to dominate both arenas to isolate the archipelago,” he wrote. “The United States must also integrate allied battle networks and strengthen allied capabilities — both of which will help offset the PLA’s efforts to destabilize the region’s military balance. By and large, those goals can be achieved with ground forces, which would not replace existing air and naval forces but complement them.”
The concept has gained traction in some circles, but the Army has been touch-and-go on the notion as it balances security concerns in Europe, said Jan van Tol, also an analyst with CSBA.
“Archipelagic defense has some merit to it, and there was initial excitement when we started talking about this a few years ago, but it has seen less emphasis recently, especially as the Army is focusing more in Eastern Europe,” he said.
The former head of all U.S. forces in the Pacific, Adm. Harry Harris, told a conference audience in Hawaii in 2016 he wanted the Army to think about ways of using its High Mobility Artillery Rocket System and 155mm Paladin artillery to target ships from land.
“One thing I can tell you: The question of the role of land forces in ensuring access to, and maneuver in, shared domains is something the U.S. and our friends, partners and allies must address,” he said. "Not only as a matter of security, but also a matter of economic prosperity. ... Our adversaries get this.
“If we get this right, the Army will kill the archer instead of dealing with all of its arrows.”
David B. Larter was the naval warfare reporter for Defense News. Before that, he reported for Navy Times.