As part of its bold new distributed expeditionary warfare concept to take on China, U.S. Marines were seen deploying man-portable, shoulder launched, FIM-92 Stinger anti-aircraft missiles aboard small rubber boats near Japan. The new tactics, which I have written about, require small teams of Marines to island hop by fast boats and helicopters to quickly launch anti-ship and anti-aircraft missiles at the enemy, then rapidly redeploying elsewhere before being located and targeted.
This most recent example occurred during the Hagatna Fury 21 exercise that took place earlier this month on Okinawa, as well as Ukibaru, a smaller island nearby. As The Drive notes, the exercises:
…involved mock airmobile assaults, utilizing CH-53E Super Stallion helicopters, as well as the forces in the Combat Rubber Raiding Craft (CRRC), a type of small, inflatable rubber watercraft. Marines from 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, presently assigned to 3rd Marine Division in Japan, part of the III Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF), was the main unit taking part in the training.
The CRCCs, may or may not be suitable for actually firing the Stingers (it is yet to be determined), but will allow them to be quickly deployed ashore without the need for larger beach landing ships or helicopters.
According to the Marine Corps: “The exercise demonstrated that Marines are capable of seizing, defending, and providing expeditionary sustainment for key maritime terrain in support of the III Marine Expeditionary Force.” In regular English this means they can quickly take small islands to use as bases for other combat operations.
It should be noted that back in the 1980s we had a rubber boat infantry raiding company aboard the Marine Expeditionary Unit Special Operations Capable (MEU-SOC) deployed to the Pacific. The other two primary infantry companies were helicopter assault (my company) and amphibious tractors (AMTRACS). But these rubber boats have gained new-found respect by the Marines, even before the latest focus on distributed operations.
In 2017, notes The Drive, the Corps was already talking about future operations involving swarms of small boats. Now-retired Marine Corps Major General David Coffman, then the Navy’s director for expeditionary warfare, said then: “That’s part of how you counter the peer threat: ‘I’ll out-asymmetric you.’”
Coffman added: “The Marine Corps largely got out of what we call itty bitty boats … the commandant wants us to get back in the boat business. He’s recognizing he needs to distribute his force and be able to move in smaller discrete elements and different ways.”
As to the Stinger missiles being used, The Drive adds:
The FIM-92 is a shoulder-fired, heat-seeking, surface-to-air missile, also known as a Man-Portable Air Defense System (MANPADS), that is designed primarily to engage low-flying targets, including fixed-wing aircraft, helicopters, and drones. In recent years, improved versions of the missile have been developed that offer improved capabilities against smaller unmanned aerial vehicles, which present a very real threat already and will only become more of a challenge to U.S. military operations…
Expect to see lots more Marines with portable missiles aboard ‘itty bitty boats’ throughout the Western Pacific, especially near China, in the months to come.